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  • Stories (Not a voting poll thread)

    Duel of the Fates

    * Duel of the Fates *
    By Josh F. |

    ================================================== =======================================
    This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the authorÂ’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
    ================================================== =======================================

    July 29th 2022
    Flight over Las Vegas, NV

    As Corey looked down upon the magnificent Las Vegas Strip from the Boeing 747, all he can think of is the amount of money pumped into the city that lights this beautiful landscape. He was flying across the entire country to attend what has been one of the largest hacker's conferences in the world. Not only was this the 30th anniversary of the DEFCON conference, but an event that occurred had especially made this conference more significant.

    A couple months before, on May 1, 2022, it was reported that Eddie Flake-lair, a fugitive of the U.S., died mysteriously in strange circumstances at his place of residence in Russia. Ever since Mr. Flake-lair released documents revealing on the National Security Agency (NSA) and essentially the entire U.S. Intelligence Community conducts business, there have been disputes and protests all over the world about invasion of privacy and mass surveillance.

    About a year before he past away, Mr. Flake-lair had released his last document that entailed that they agents in place at private companies, such as Google and Facebook, to plant programs and software within the servers to redirect traffic back to the NSA. This had already been suspected, but now it was confirmed.

    Just like the same day that Osama Biden Laden was announced dead in 2011,there was irony in the air that Mr. Flake-lair had past away on the same day. It was because of all this that occurred in the past months that Corey felt that this DEFCON was going to be the greatest one ever.

    To Corey, privacy was something that was violated from these past events. He was all-in for the cause for public information and privacy.


    Flight from Dulles Airport to Las Vegas, NV


    As Michael was coming to, the stewardess announced, "We are about 30 minutes away from Las Vegas; we'll be turning on the fasten seat belt sign as we start our descent"

    "Sleep". Michael thought to himself. As if jetlag wasn't bad enough, he had a full meal before he got on the plane, making him more tired; Now all he wanted to do was get to the hotel and pass out.

    Michael excited to land not only for sleep, but for the hacking conference, DEFCON has well. He had not attended a conference like this, but he heard it was awesome. In the past, his friends had gone, and said nothing but great things about it.

    Michael thought of all the debauchery that could possibly go down there, let alone other escapades.

    However, he was there for another reason; not to have fun until his task was completed.

    He would have to see when he gets to his hotel room and opens the awaiting briefcase.


    As Corey got out of his cab at the entrance of the Cosmpolitan Hotel and Casino, at first he slightly struggled for oxygen as he took a deep breath of air in. He wasn't used to the air out here; not like New Hampshire. As he tipped the cabby and walked inside, he saw a familiar face at the base of the entrance.

    "Donny!!, what's happenin'?!?" Corey exclaimed.

    " Oh, man, trouble just arrived!" Donny proclaimed as the two shook hands.

    "Looks like you've already started." Corey said, as he observed Donny double fisting 2 aluminum bottles of Miller Lite.

    "Pshh, I've been goin' since this morning bro! Yo, why don't you put your stuff your stuff in my room and hit the blackjack tables? Rapid7 party doesn't start for another hour and a half"

    "Sounds good!" Corey said.

    As Corey and Donny started walking through the casino floor to the hotel, Corey had feeling in him that he was being watched. Watched in a sense that someone was following him in a determined way. After all when your in a casino, everyone is being watched.

    No, this feeling was different.

    "Hey, we're goin' all out tonight right?" Donny asked in a hypothetical tone.

    "You bet we are; no holds bar" Corey replied.

    It wasn't a long ride up the elevator, but it seemed like it because 6 people had to make stops.

    Finally, they had reached the 20th floor. As they winded through the halls, Corey just wanted to just sit and relax for 10 minutes. Donny opened the door and Corey shot to the bed and meshed into the blankets.

    "You better hurry up Corey; we gotta pregame before Rapid7!" as Donny stated capping off the 2nd Miller Lite aluminum bottle.

    As Corey lay on the bed, he turned to Donny and said, "Donny, how long have I known you?"

    "I don't know, 10-15 years; since high school" Donny said puzzled.

    "Yeah, that's about right. Donny-" he said, as he struggled to piece together his words.

    "Donny, If I told you something so farfetched, I don't think you'll believe me." Corey said shaking his head.

    "Corey, man, try me; when have I not come through for you?" Although slightly inebriated, Donny seemed to understand how serious this conversation was getting.

    Corey looked down, trying to gather his thoughts, to tell Donny his vision of what may occur tonight, and what Donny's role was if something were to happen.

    Essentially, Corey began to think this was his last night of his life.


    As Michael walked into room 1408 at the Cosmopolitan, he felt a wave of relief.

    "Bed. Sleep. Now" He thought.

    He walked into the room, where it was lavished with blue lavender and crystal in every lamp.

    He put his laptop case and luggage in the corner, and fell into the soft linen of the bed.

    "Mmmmphh" he groaned. He didn't want to get up.

    As he began to shut his eyes, in the opposite corner of the room, he sees a black suitcase.

    The hairs on the back of his neck stand up, and his head get a tingly hot feeling.

    He rolls his way off the bed, to the briefcase. As he grabbed the briefcase, he entered in the combination that was given to him from the 'entity' that he received the task from. Once the case was opened, he pulled out the folder that held a bulk of papers. Michael then proceeded to arrange the papers on the second bed.

    The papers that he lay across the bed all read CLASSIFIED in red all across the top header of the papers.

    On one page, it read: "Alexander Bocharov Age:32 Occupation(s): biochemical engineer & malware analyst", along with a picture accompanied with it. Alex didn't look like a 30 year old guy; he looked like a kid still in school, except he had a five o'clock shadow also.

    As he was eyeing the different papers sprawled out across the bed, he came across a title that read "Analysis of Individual". It had his entire bio and educational record, from grade school to when he attended the University of New Hampshire.

    Michael kept skimming the bed for more papers that might be of interest.

    Then, he saw a paper that stated at the top: "Final Recommendation of Individual".

    This was the paper Michael was looking for.

    "...the review of this individual has reached its conclusion. The final decision for this individual is that this person shall meet his termination at the latest, July 29th 2022.

    It is at the suggestion of the highest personnel that Mr. Bocharov is eliminated quietly as to not alarm or bring about a large distraction. Enclosed in a small bag is XRV-12, a small tablet similar to the contents of ricin, but developed by Agency personnel to achieve 'desired results' and work efficiently on the entity.

    Mr. Bocharov's prime choice of drink is a white russian; once you see the individual have in his possession this drink, it is suggested you maneuver yourself in a way to deposit XRV-12 in his drink. Once you have done that, casually make your way out of the area, and take the next flight out of Las Vegas."

    In the briefcase, Michael saw the small plastic bag, with a clear aspirin shape pill in it.

    Michael looked down at his watch. 8:45. He had fifteen minutes before the Rapid7 party started.

    As he got ready, in his dark humor, Michael thought to himself the quote from Beetlejuice, "It's showtime!"


    As Donny and Corey approached the event entrance within the Palms Casino and Resort for the Rapid7 party, they could hear the music and feel the base.

    "Ahhh, I'm goin' to get extremely loaded tonight" as Donny said downing another Miller Lite.

    As the proceeded in the event Corey notices a sign "Special Performing Artist Tonight!: Daft Punk"

    "What!?!" Corey exclaimed as he pointed it out to Donny. Donny turned and his eyes lit up.

    "Ohh, snap!" Donny's face looked like a kid seeing his new puppy on Christmas.

    As they entered, Donny had a huge grin on his face, and went to the bar and asked for Jack Daniels on the rocks; his drink of choice when he would prefer not to remember anything the night of. Corey just asked for a Miller Lite.

    "Corey, I thought we were goin' down swingin'?"

    "Not now; I ain't enabling god-mode yet" Corey said jokingly.

    "let me do it for you!; I-D-D-Q-D" Donny said in his drunk laugh; then you know that he hit his limit.

    "Alright, to a rockin' night!" As Donny said lifting his glass.

    "To tonight" Corey said smiling. Underneath, he was fearing for his life...its okay though, there's nothing that white russians can't handle.

    * * *

    It was eleven o'clock and Corey was pretty lit. He was waiting for the performance of Daft Punk to start.

    "Hey Donny, When's Daft comin' on?"

    "Your guess is as good as mine; I want it to happen soon!!" Donny said.

    Corey was drinking his white russian when the lights went dark inside the Palm's Rain Nightclub.

    "Now for what you've been waiittting for, Daft Punk!" an announcer exclaimed as the duo appeared on stage with blue neon outlines. The melody of "One More Time" began to creep slowly throughout the nightclub.

    The crowd made their way to the dance floor, as did Corey.

    "I'll stay here posted by the bar; free booze!" Donny said happily.

    As the crowd moshed toward the front stage where the duo were performing, you could feel the heat, let alone smell odor of everyone on the floor.

    "bum-da-da-bum-ba-da-da-bum. One more time.." The base went.

    Just as the base came on again, the pyrotechnic metal frame above blew a fireball in the air. Everyone looked up and yelled screams of awe.

    As intoxicated as Corey was, he drunkenly gazed up at the fire. As he looked up, he downed his half glass of the white russian, which tasted awful on account of the heat of the mosh pit melted his ice, and effectively warmed his drink. He made an face cringing to the taste, and made his way back to the bar, where Donny was.

    Once Corey made it out of the hot mess on the dance floor, he found the spot of the bar where Donny was posted up, but didn't see him.

    "He probably went to the bathroom" Corey thought.

    "Can I get another white russian?" he asked the bartender, slurring his words.

    As Corey stood there, his left leg gave out, and he fell to the ground. In that instant when he hit the ground, his whole felt a warming sensation, and he felt his heart pounding. His heart wasn't pounding fast, but he could feel it pulsate, slower and slower. As he felt that, his auditory ability began to slow, and then slowly become engulfed in a muffled sound. He clutched his chest, because at that very moment, his moment of death, a sense of fear came upon him. A fear of death. He didn't want to die.

    As Corey lay there, staff attended to him.

    With as much strength as he had left in him, he reached to grab his necklace of St. Michael.

    And like that, Corey's life had expired.


    Michael had been scoping out the landscape of the Rain nightclub for a few hours now. He was posted up on the walkways above the bar, overlooking the dance floor. He had found Mr. Bocharov at the bar with some guy.

    Because how the lighting was, Michael had a clear view of his target, enough so that Corey could not see him in plain view.

    "Now for what you've been waiittting for, Daft Punk!" an announcer yelled.

    Just as the announcer said that, a whole crowd flocked to the stage as Daft Punk appeared. Michael saw Corey follow the crowd as well. He wasn't too hard to spot, on account he was wearing a purple button down collared shirt.

    Michael started to move out from the balcony, and onto the dance floor. Smoothly, like a chameleon camouflaging into its setting, Michael transformed his personality from that of a serious faced individual performing reconnaissance on his prey, to a guy who looked intoxicated, and a free flowing individual.

    Michael made his way into the massive crowd. He had never felt so much base in his life; it seemed like his heart was going to skip a beat, if it already hadn't already. Just then he saw Corey, jumping up and down to the beat.

    Michael maneuvered so his back was facing Corey's left side, where he was holding his drink, a white russian.

    Just then a fireball from the pyrotechnic show ignited above the dance floor.

    As everyone looked up, Michael swiftly rotated his body in a dancing motion clockwise, whilst dropping the tablet from his left hand into Corey's drink. As the tablet dropped in the drink, it made an ever so slightly ripple, enough that someone could see, but no one could, on account of everyone's intoxication level and the above pyro show.

    Michael slowly danced his way out of the crowd and to the exit of the event.

    Michael made his way out into the hallway out of the event.

    "Almost done" He thought.

    Just then he heard the sound of running footsteps behind him.

    Michael turned around, to be shoved down to the floor, by some drunk guy, liquid flying everywhere.

    "I'm sorry, I'm sorry!; I thought you were one of my friends" The gentlemen said laughing, clearly intoxicated.

    "Its alright" Michael said hiding the frustration under his breath.

    Michael got up, brushed most of the drink that was spilled on him, and without acknowledging the action that took place, went to the front door, and called a cab to the airport.


    I'll stay here posted by the bar; free booze!" Donny said happily.

    Corey went into the crowd as Daft Punk started playing.

    Donny kept a close eye on Corey, on account of what he had told him in his room before the Rapid7 party.

    Even though the crowd was getting larger, Donny could still make out Corey because of his 'hard-to-notice' purple shirt as opposed to the other normal clothes everyone was wearing.

    Donny then saw a fairly tall figure make his way into the crowd.

    "If you think itÂ’s suspicious, then youÂ’re probably right, and I will die tonight" Corey's voice echoed through his head.

    Donny kept an eye on the tall man who was creeping ever so closely to Corey.

    As the pyrotechnics went off above, Donny still kept an eye on Corey. Just then he saw the man drop something in the drink. Donny's whole body tingled with fear; what Corey had predicted just hours before just became a real scenario and he had to act fast.

    Donny quickly made his way into the crowd.

    "Corey!...Corey!" He yelled. But the noise of the sound system drowned out his calls of distress.

    He then saw the tall figure make his way toward the exit.

    "By the time 'they' get me, it will be too late. I want you to, if it isn't too late, find the one who did this and avenge me." Corey's voice echoed in Donny's head.

    As Donny looked on at Corey on the dance floor for the last time, his last memory of his friend was going to be that of him with a smile on his face, enjoying himself.

    "God Speed Corey" Donny whispered to himself.

    Donny quickly ran to where the tall figure was heading out of.

    Donny quickly grabbed the small case that Corey gave him. Almost like a cosmetic portable makeup mirror, Donny put the finger tipped fitted contact-like item on his right index finger. He now had to figure out a way how make contact with the target's skin.

    "Well, I am already drinking" Donny thought. He was going to do the only thing that felt logical; run into the man as if it was an accident, and make contact with the skin.

    Donny started running, trying not make too much noise, toward the man, who was almost to the lobby exit.

    Donny pressed his fingers right up against the man's jawbone as he turned around.

    "I'm sorry, I'm sorry!; I thought you were one of my friends" Donny said, pretending to be intoxicated more than he was.

    "Its alright" The man said gruffly.

    He then got up, and walked out.

    "I got your back Corey, I got you" Donny said in reverence.


    "Man you better tell me, or we're gonna miss being the first ones to get to the bar at the party!"

    "Donny, there are things that I have done, that if caught, I could be killed." Corey said.

    "What?" Donny said with a smile, and then it slowly dissipated.

    "There are things that I haven't included in my life, that I haven't included to you. The reason being, if I told you, you would think of me of mostly a lesser being"

    "Corey, there's nothing that would make me thi-"

    "So, I'm just going to say it now, an event may happen tonight, where, I may..." Corey trailed off.

    "Corey, man, you aren't goi-"

    "If you think its suspicious, then your probably right, and I will die tonight" Corey said forcefully.

    "I want you to watch me all night, and watch my back, and if anything happens, I want you to take action." Corey said.

    "No, what if we can stop it?" Donny replied.

    "By the time 'they' get me, it will be too late. I want you to, if it isn't too late, find the one who did this and avenge me." Corey said sounding already like he had given up on hope.

    Donny gave a sigh. "Okay, how do you want me to go about 'avenging' you?"

    Corey then grabbed a black case, similar to what women use for their makeup and mirror.

    "This is what you'll use. Basically all you do is stick your finger in the hole where the rubber finger tipped fitted item is; sort of like putting a contact on your finger. But on the opposite side is a highly toxic extract that when contacted with human skin, is fatal. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to fully deplete a life of a human."

    Donny couldn't comprehend what Corey had just told him, let alone what he was asking of him to do.

    "Corey, man, you've been a good and loyal friend, but if you're talking about killing someone, I think I may be out of this" Donny said confusingly.

    Corey looked at him in desperation, "Donny, you don't have to do it if you don't want to...but" Corey started to choke up.

    "But if you don't want to, I understand"

    A moment of silence went by.

    Donny gazed at the floor and slowly looked at Corey in his eyes and said, "You can trust me man"

    Donny thought in his mind, this may be the last time that he would see Corey.
    "Thanks man, you have been a true friend to me all my life; this would be the last favor I ask of you" Corey said graciously.

    Donny smiled at Corey and they made their way out of the hotel to the party.


    Michael got on the plane, just in time, to grab a window seat. He ran through the airport, just to catch the 12:00AM plane out of Las Vegas.

    A feeling of relief came over him when he realized that he had done his deed, and made it successfully on the plane.

    The plane had just lifted off the ground and was heading back east.

    "The flight has reached 10,000 ft, you are now free to use any electronics" The stewardess said.

    As she said that Michael reached for his MP3 player.

    "Time for some classic rock" he said to himself.

    Don McLean's song, 'Vincent' came on. As Michael sat there and put his head back.

    It was just then he felt it was hard to swallow. He tried to gather up saliva, but he could not do it. Just then his chest felt like it was tightening.

    "What is going on?" Michael thought to himself, not trying to make it obvious to passengers on the plane.

    In his line of work, he does not exist. Therefore, if he made a scene, there could be autopsy's and that could lead to other snooping into other areas of importance. Something that his Agency wouldn't like.

    As he calmly tried to struggle for air to breathe, he couldn't figure out what was causing this episode.

    ""..Starry, starry night, flaming flowers that brightly blaze, swirling clouds in violet haze..""

    He wasn't going to fight it anymore. He knew he was going to terminate. He was not going to make a scene; its for the greater good of the mission.

    "For God and Country" he said to himself.

    As he zoned closer and closer to unconsciousness, all Michael can do is stare out into the dark abyss that was the night sky.

    ""They would not listen, they're not listening still, Perhaps they never will""

    ================================================== ==========================
    # An evil is classified as a necessary evil by a first party when it #
    # is deemed by that first party that the evil that is occurring, exists #
    # in order to preserve the entity, items, or tasks at hand. #
    # #
    # #
    # It is the opposing side, the second party, that has the same #
    # definition as a necessary evil, but opposing views and philosophies. #
    # #
    # #
    # In the end, one party will win out in the end. #
    # #
    # choose yours wisely. #
    # #
    # #
    # #
    # -Anonymous #
    # #
    ================================================== ==========================
    "They-Who-Were-Google are no longer alone. Now we are all Google."

  • #2
    Re: Stories (Not a voting poll thread)


    By ram0n

    The last thing Morris wanted to see after a hard dayís work at the convention center was the cat floating across the room.
    Heíd never liked the mangy thing anyway, and would have been perfectly happy to watch the little bastard keep going, higher and higher into the upper atmosphere, until its blood boiled and it detonated in a shower of calico fur.
    No such luck.
    The little furball kept going, past his shoulder, and into the hall outside their apartment, where somebody else was responsible for paying the bills. It hit the floor with a yelp, and scurried off to hide someplace a little more stable.
    Iíll be damned, Morris thought. They do land on their feet.
    With a sigh, Morris crossed the threshold of their meagerly appointed two-bedroom Vegas flat, bracing himself against the doorjamb. Almost immediately, his feet departed the floor, setting a course for the ceiling. He felt the fluid rushing to his head, and he felt the overwhelming urge to take a piss.
    His wife Amani floated upside down in a corner, arms crossed, long dreads floating like the arms of an octopus around her head. At first glance she looked as if she were smiling, until he remembered her orientation relative to him.
    ìDid you forget something?î she asked, her voice ripe with sarcasm.
    ìDonít look at me,î he snapped. ìYou were the one who called yourself paying the bills last month.î
    Something caught the corner of his eye, and he turned his head to see the Svoorna ottoman sheíd purchased at Ikea the previous week tumbling through the air toward him.
    ìShit!î He ducked, keeping his balance on the doorjamb, and the burnt-orange furniture sailed over his head and out the door, falling with a horrific crash the second it crossed the threshold.
    ìClose that door!î Amani shouted. ìYou wanna let all my furniture out of here? And anyway, werenít you supposed to tie that down?î
    ìSorry,î he mumbled, slowly closing the door. ìI must have been too busy working one of my two shifts at the convention center so you can pay for that expensive stuff to notice.î
    ìYou ainít too busy to go out for beer with your boys afterward. How much you think that costs?î She waved a slip of paper in her hand. Even across the room he could read the blood red letters screaming at him from the top of the pageóFINAL NOTICE.
    ìWhich one is that?î he sighed.
    Amani looked as if she were on the verge of a high-yield detonation.
    ìWell, letís see,î she shot back, flicking a switch on the wall. ìThe lights are on.î With a push, she glided into the kitchen area, flicking a knob on the stove. A blue flame came up from the burner, coalescing into a translucent globe. ìGas seems okay.î She flung open the refrigerator door.
    ìNo, donítóî
    Fast food containers, Tupperware, two-liter plastic soda bottles, all came floating out of the white box, quickly creating a cloud of comestibles in the small kitchen. Leftover ramen noodles latched on to a pork chop that escaped its container, spiraling around in an intricate dance. The combination whipped around a glob of red Kool-Aid, slingshoting around it in a gravity assist maneuver that sent it toward the deepest reaches of the living room.
    ìI think,î Amani said, thoughtfully placing an intricately painted fingernail alongside her temple, ìit must be the gravity bill!î
    ìAwww, damn!î Morris shouted. He reached out to catch the noodle-ensnared pork chop, but the motion caused him to cartwheel toward the center of the room, the centrifugal force further aggravating the pressure in his bladder.
    ìHow many times have I said it: Be abso-god-damned sure you pay the gravity company, Morris! Donít forget, Morris! And you canít even do that!î
    ìCalm down, Amani,î Morris said, grabbing the ceiling to slow his spin. ìAct like we never had the gravity shut off before. Iím going to the head, and when I come back, I expect my dinner to be scraped off the wall.î
    He gave a gentle shove off the ceiling, aiming in the general direction of the short hallway that led to the bathroom and bedroom. With a deft flip, he dove feet first into the open bathroom door, fuming all the way.
    ìHow the hell they gonna charge for gravity, anyway?î he said, just loud enough for Amani to hear. He switched on the light.
    Corporations always messing something up. Nature gives you something, sure as sunrise theyíll find a way to get some money for it. Water comes from nature, gas comes from nature, gravity comes from nature. Simple. Should all be free. Wasnít that what they were saying at that conference heíd been cleaning up after all week? Freedom of information? Buncha hackers or crackers or whatever, lots of ëem goofy as hell, but they had the right idea.
    Easy for them to talk, though, he chuckled to himself. The convention center *had* gravity.
    Thereíd be no using the toilet, of course. Heíd learned from the last time theyíd shut off the gravity. All the appliances and furnitureóexcept that stupid, expensive-ass ottoman she had to haveówere either tied or bolted to the floor. The toilet had a plastic seal all the way around the seat, which kept the lid from flying up and a huge glob of water from soaking the entire house.
    But, that forced them to find alternate methods of using the bathroom.
    Shit, he thought, reaching into the dispenser attached to the wall. I donít work hard all day to come home and piss into a bag.
    He caught himself in the mirror as he did his business. They called it, right on. His face was rounder than usual thanks to the lack of gravity, giving his head the overall appearance of a Milk Dud. He kept his afro short, so he could fit it under the cap that came with his uniform. No beard, but he always kept a moustache because his daddy said a black man always needs one. Otherwise your upper lip looks like a little girlísó
    ìHow long does it take to use the bathroom?î Amani hollered.
    ìComing!î He zipped up and carefully tied off the bag, placing it into the covered trash receptacle. No faucet to wash his hands, instead he selected a handful of that goopy antiseptic fluid that came in a pump dispenser.
    When he floated back into the living room Amani was dutifully retrieving the contents of the fridge from mid-air.
    ìYou need help?î he asked. Dreads whirled around her rounded face. Actually, the fluid rushing to her face filled out her features, made her lips look more luscious. Didnít hurt the rest of her, either. Amani had always been filled out in just the right places.
    ìNo, I got it.î Her voice was brusque, but some of the edge was off.
    ìListen.î He drifted over to her, careful not to build up too much momentum. He bounced against the opposite wall and wound up next to her, looking into her deep brown eyes. ìMaybe I came on a little too hard when I got home. I just work hard so we can have what we got, you know?î
    Amani blinked, her features softening slightly. ìI hear you. But I just get soófrustrated. I mean, I work hard too, Morris. And I get sick of filing other peopleís crusty nails all day just so we can keep a roof. Then to come home and have to float across the roomóî She seemed almost on the verge of tears.
    He reached out for her and crushed her into his arms. The motion set them both gently spinning toward the center of the room, orbited by the contents of the refrigerator she hadnít been able to grab and stuff into her plastic bag.
    ìItíll be okay,î he said. ìSoon as I get off second shift tomorrow, Iíll head on down to that gravity office. Straighten this all out. I promise, youíll be walking on the floor by the time you come home from work tomorrow.î
    ìPromise.î He planted a kiss on her lips.
    Amani beamed. ìMorris,î she said, placing a hand on her chest. ìYou kiss me like that, it takes my breath away.î
    Morris took a deep breath, found it difficult. Did she have the same effect on him, or was it getting a little stuffy?
    Amani furrowed her eyebrows, trying to draw in her own breath as well. It was getting a little closeó
    ìMorris!î she shouted with a sudden realization. ìPlease, please tell me you paid the air!î
    "They-Who-Were-Google are no longer alone. Now we are all Google."


    • #3
      Re: Stories (Not a voting poll thread)


      --- ---


      by: m.2

      --- ---

      DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places,
      events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used
      in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead,
      companies, coperations, and the like, or actual events is purely coincidental.

      === ===

      He didn't know if it was the constant drone or the flicker of distant red and
      blue warning lights that woke him up. And what was that mind numbing smell?
      All he knew was that he had a decent headache. His eyes still closed, he tried
      to get a signal. Nothing. All he got was the humming of the brain-ethernet
      interface he had to get implanted a year ago - for his assignment. He tried
      again. The WiFi symbol in the upper right corner of his vision was blinking.

      No Signal.

      He opened his eyes and sat up. His head was pulsating in time with the distant
      drone, about to explode. An agonizing groan was all that was coming out of his
      mouth. Clutching his head with both hands, he sat there for a while until the
      throbbing died away a little.

      Where was he? Not at the Con anymore that was for sure. But how did he get here?
      Wherever 'here' was. And why this headache? Slowly he got up from the ground
      and raised to a more or less upright position.

      Still holding his head, he tried to look around. Without a network connection,
      the augmentation overlay was not working. So he could only guess where he was.

      Nothing came to mind.

      The darkness was almost complete — only broken by the distant red and blue
      flickering lights that reflected off what must have been hundreds of steel
      columns. He turned around slowly in the hope for a door or anything that would
      lead out of there. But all he was able to see were more steel columns that
      gleamed red and blue as far as the dim lights reached into the utter darkness.

      He stepped forward to the nearest column to lean against it because he
      feared he would faint otherwise. He had to let the situation sink in and decide
      what to do. And above all, he had to find out how he got here in the first place.
      Slowly, he slid to the ground to sit down.

      Then he remembered ...

      === 3 days earlier ===

      The light of the floods that illuminated the Goliath Tower made the smog look
      like huge curtains. Something you can push aside and see what lies beyond.
      Thomas somehow liked this view from his balcony on the forty-second floor of the GT.
      He had worked long and hard to afford an apartment on a floor that was up high
      enough that he wouldn't need his Breather when he wanted to go outside.
      The air was even better farther up.
      But here, where he had lived for the last three years now, the air was good enough
      for him. The noise of the pulsating city below was so faint that it almost sounded
      like waves rolling up a sunny beach somewhere in the distance.

      But Thomas had no room in his head for such thoughts tonight. Nervously he paced
      up and down in his apartment between the large window and the computer screen.
      The window doubled as a holographic screen and showed a news reporter standing
      in thick smog in front of some stairs leading into a basement entrance in a
      better part of the city. Policemen brought out two guys in handcuffs.
      He instantly recognized some buddies he met at DefCon a couple of years ago.
      The reporter was talking about the biggest coup against cyber criminals in
      years. But Thomas was not listening to her words. He knew what she was saying
      anyway. And he knew who was responsible for all this.

      Thomas couldn't take it any longer. He switched off the holo screen, giving way
      to a moonless night outside, and turned around to his computer. It was still
      logged in to the Oracle cluster of the Cyber Defense Ministry, the last insert
      statements still visible on the screen.
      And a nervously blinking cursor that seemed to wait impatiently for new commands.
      The statements clearly showed the names of the two guys in cuffs
      and the names of some other human rights activists.

      The CDM was an agency "they" created just a year ago to "Protect
      the rights of the people in a free country." But all they did was
      aggressively hunt down hackers that tried to unveil the reasons for so
      many unresolved environmental accidents that led to mysterious forms of cancer
      no doctor had ever seen before. Everybody was pretty upset about it, but nobody
      tried to say or even think anything critical. Through the augmentation implants,
      which had become very popular, "they" knew everything. Even what people thought.
      The only people talking about this were the guys at DefCon.

      Of course, no sane hacker would ever get such an implant in the first place anyway.

      At DefCon, more and more talks were given on how to overcome the security measures of the
      big companies and expose the real story behind the "accidents." They also talked about
      how to jam the parts of the augmentation implants that transmitted thoughts to
      the big players in the business who sold those thoughts for a good amount of
      money. Or who gave the data away to federal agencies that were concerned about
      "destructive thoughts."

      === ===

      Thomas was still sitting on the floor. The smell was unbearable, but he couldn't
      find his Breather anywhere. And if being trapped wasn't bad enough, it was getting
      hotter and he was getting thirst. He decided to walk towards the
      warning lights in the hope of finding some sort of exit. Feeling shaky, he
      got to his feet and started to walk slowly towards the lights, thinking about
      the day that changed his life forever.

      === 2 years earlier ===

      It was DefCon, and Thomas was really tired because the Black & White Party went
      on until right before his talk in the morning. Amped up by a couple of the
      strongest energy drinks he could find, he reported his latest findings. He’d
      discovered that sending any number of pings that equaled a Fibonacci prime with
      a packet size of the same prime number would trigger a bug in a certain Windows Server
      version - a version used only by fracking companies to control their gear - and get him
      superuser privileges. He’d used the exploit to shut down several fracking machines
      in California and the German Alps.

      When his talk was over, Thomas dragged himself to the elevator. The caffeine was
      already wearing off, and he couldn't think straight anymore. That was when a
      woman started talking to him on the way up to his hotel room.
      She was really eager to know more about his work as an environmental hacker, as
      she called him. Thomas was suspicious at first. But she looked and talked like
      someone from the scene. And she was pretty cute.

      Exhausted, he agreed to meet with her later in the day. She gave him her room
      number, and told him to stop by when he woke up. She winked at him as
      she left the elevator.

      Finally in his room, Thomas collapsed into his bed and was asleep in an instant.


      When he woke up. Thomas felt like he hadn’t even slept. He sat up and rubbed his
      eyes. With half closed eyes, he saw a piece of paper on the floor in front of his
      bed. Without looking at the paper, he heaved a sigh of resignation and dragged
      his feet towards the shower.

      He wasn't sure what she wanted. Maybe she was really interested in their work as
      activists. Having a girl in the group might lift their spirits. Not to mention
      that she was kind of cute. Or maybe she wanted just him? She had invited him to
      her room after all and not asked to meet in a restaurant or the lobby.
      But then he had never heard of anyone having sex at the Con other than with their
      own hands.

      When Thomas finished his thought he was dressed and ready to go. He grabbed an
      energy drink and picked up the piece of paper with the room number he got from
      the woman.


      At the door to her room he hesitated. Were there voices coming out of her room?
      Maybe he was hallucinating? He knocked twice. "One moment please" said a female
      voice on the other side of the door. When she opened the door she smiled at him.
      "Come in."

      Thomas went in but didn't say anything. He felt he wasn't awake long enough to
      be able to talk. "Please sit down" she said "I want you to meet somebody".
      "Wait, What?!" Thomas said, but it was already to late. The bathroom door opened
      and two suits came out.
      One stood guard in front of the hotel room door. The other guy pushed him
      into the chair that was standing behind him. Thomas knew instantly what that was
      and he had always been warned that this will happen sooner or later.

      === ===

      Thomas had stumbled through the darkness of the huge chamber for a while now. The
      drone got louder and louder, and even the smell grew much worse than he thought
      possible. He tried to focus on the lights and to forget his mouth that was dry
      as a desert by now and made it almost impossible to swallow. Then his foot hit
      something hard. What sounded like an empty glass bottle crashed into a pile of
      stuff before him and more glass and possibly plastic and other stuff came down
      in a small avalanche. Suddenly his stomach turned.
      It all made sense to him now. The smell, the heat, the drone - The Dumps!

      === 2 years earlier ===

      "Listen idiot!" the suit in front of him said with his finger pointed right at
      his nose. “We’ve been watching your games for a while now! We don't like punks like
      you that threaten national security with their twisted ideas!"

      Thomas was wide awake now — his heart pounding in his head. The adrenalin was rushing up and down
      his spine. The same thing that had happened to some of his friends would happen to him
      now. Interrogation. For weeks on end. Day and night. Until they had all the
      information they wanted.

      Then the process of decomposition began. They had studied the person for years.
      They knew all their weak points and psychically destroyed them. People that got
      into the hands of the CDM spent the rest of their life in psychiatric
      facilities. Those who where lucky found a way to commit suicide during the decomposition

      Thomas' head was spinning. " ... well, punk! Will you work for us and maybe get
      out with a couple of years in jail? Or ... ?" The suit didn't finish his
      sentence. He knew very well that Thomas knew what would happen to him otherwise.

      Thomas stared at the woman that he'd met earlier in the day. She didn't look at him.
      She sat on her bed and stared out of the window. "Come on, we do not have all
      day!" The suit insisted. Thomas nodded slowly while staring to the ground. It
      was all over now. They got him.

      He would be their bitch now. For better or for worse. His mind was numb as he
      stood up and went to his room to pack his bags. He had to leave. He wanted to be
      home. Even though that changed nothing.

      On the way out, they said they would contact him for the necessary implants and
      to give him further instructions after the operation. "Keep up your covers and
      don't talk to anybody. Or else ... !" was the last thing the suit said to him
      before Thomas left the hotel to fly home.

      === ===

      Wading through knee-deep garbage, Thomas reached the source of the drone and
      the warning lights. Or actually it reached him. A huge trash compacting machine
      that looked like an ever-hungry centipede crept by, devouring the garbage in
      front of him and spitting out little packets of compressed waste that were
      carried out of sight on a conveyor belt. Thomas felt some hope. The compressed
      garbage must go somewhere, and there must also be a chute or something where the
      trash came in. He decided to follow the conveyor belt for a while.

      === 3 days earlier ===

      When it became clear to him what he had just done, Thomas felt sickness crawl up
      in him. He had betrayed some of his friends to the enemy.

      "They" would call him right after his job was done they said. But nothing
      happened. Thomas had waited for over thirty minutes now and had started reproaching
      himself when finally the message "incoming call" flashed at the bottom of his

      He answered. It was the voice that gave him the names to insert into the CDM
      database. The guys threatening him weren't with the CDM that was sure. Or why
      did he have to hack into the CDM's database cluster and issue insert statements
      when the voice could just give him the names they already had anyway.

      It was all very strange. He was the push button monkey for some corporation,
      that was sure. "Well done Thomas." The voice on the other end said. This guy was
      always friendly but direct. Just like one of those British sales persons
      that all sounded alike and tried to sell you a scam over the phone. Except that
      his accent sounded quite German. "Here are some more names we'd like you to
      take care of,” the German said in his odd accent. He gave Thomas the names and
      added "And hurry. We are pretty sure they will be at DefCon and we want them to
      be caught when they enter the hotel lobby." There was a short beeping noise,
      and the letters "EOL" were displayed at the bottom of Thomas' vision.

      What to do now? Thomas was unsure. If he didn't insert the data into the
      database they would find out. Maybe in three days or within the next ten minutes?
      He was in a mild panic.

      "Calm down. Calm down,” he said to himself. He sat and thought for a while.
      Then he decided to insert their names and try to intercept them just before they
      entered the Con. The only problem was that the names "they" gave him didn't even
      look familiar. So whom to look for then?

      === ===

      The conveyor belt seemed endless. He must have been following its path for half
      an hour now. His whole body started to ache, and his head was becoming woozier
      with every meter he walked. The first signs of dehydration were already setting
      in. But maybe he could make it. Thomas thought ab"out riding the conveyor belt.
      But it was going much too fast to jump on without being ricocheted back to the
      floor, breaking all his bones. He had to walk. Rubbing his head between his hands,
      he stopped for a moment. Suddenly, the conveyor belt came to a screeching
      halt. Huge relays began popping like the sound of a machine gun.
      With every click, a wall of bright light approached him and finally ran him over
      and spread out behind him. Within a couple of seconds, the whole Dump was
      illuminated. Being in complete darkness for a couple of hours Thomas felt as if
      he was staring directly into the sun "What the ... ?!"

      === 12 hours ago ===

      It was four hours before the ticket counters would be open. The hotel was already
      packed. Where should he start to search for people he didn't even
      know? Thomas turned around quickly searching for hints that might lead to the
      guys he was searching for. The lobby was so crowded that he couldn't see
      farther than three or four rows of people.
      Panic overcame Thomas once more. But he remembered the augmentation overlay for
      his implant.

      He quickly fed the names to the system and looked around. Nothing. Where were
      they? They were supposed to be here.

      Thomas turned around once more in the desperate hope he would spot them, when a
      bunch of policemen followed by some guys in black suits entered the lobby.
      One of the suits pointed at him and started to walk faster.
      Damn it. "Everybody out of here! This is a raid!" Thomas suddenly shouted as loud
      as he could. Then he started to run towards the stairwell of the hotel. The
      DefCon crowd suddenly parted in all directions and chaos started to take over
      the place. The suits pointed the policemen towards some people in the now-chaotic
      crowd, then started to run after Thomas.

      Thomas flew down the stairs to the basement. Damn it, where to go now?
      Then through the tunnel.
      Then right.
      He wasn't even thinking about where he was going.
      As long as there was no wall blocking him.
      There, a door.
      It was open.
      He turned around once more. The suits were gone.
      He flew out of the door up a short flight of stairs and ran over the lawn for
      another hundred yards. Then he stopped. His breathing was so heavy that he
      thought his lungs would explode any second.

      Heavily coughing from what may have been the fastest sprint in his life, he was
      wrestled to the ground from behind. "Pin him down!" He heard the very familiar
      German voice say. Then something hard landed on his head, and the world faded.

      === ===

      "Hello Thomas.” The heavily accented voice came from every direction at once.
      Thomas looked around in panic. Every hair on his neck stood on end. "Quite a
      messy place to spend our time, isn't it? But we thought you might like it
      anyway. It looks like a nice home for filthy punks,” the voice went on.

      "What were you trying to do back at the hotel? Didn't we have an agreement?
      You help us keep our business intact, and we help you stay safe!"

      A big lump in Thomas' throat prevented him from speaking. All he could do was
      sit down. Tears rolled down from his eyes. It was over now. That he knew. He
      was so weak by now he couldn't even think about running away. And where could
      he run anyway?

      "Don't do stupid shit with us!" the German said. But this time the words came
      from behind Thomas. Thomas turned around and there he was: A middle aged man
      in a perfectly fitting suit. He looked like how Thomas had always imagined an
      industrialist would look.

      The men was guarded by two rather large and strong guys in black suits.
      "We gave you a chance. You ruined it for yourself. But we will make sure you
      won't ruin it for anybody else this time,” the industrialist said. With his
      look fixed on Thomas he said "He is yours."

      Then he turned around and left.
      "They-Who-Were-Google are no longer alone. Now we are all Google."


      • #4
        Re: Stories (Not a voting poll thread)


        Her codename was ARROGANT TARSIER. I softly chuckled to myself. You knew the boffins in the codename department were bored when you got codenames like that. I imagine, after all the hullabaloo about BRIGHT WINTER leaking our crown jewels for all to see, at least that lot were pleased their creativity were on display. I looked outside for a moment; the Maryland sun was gleaming outside, a beautiful 75 degree day outside.

        Inside, it was ten degrees colder.

        XKEYSCORE gave me the usual pastiche of a life, email addresses, social network accounts -- hm. No Facebook account. I smiled to myself, inside my cubicle. Clever girl. An old Hotmail account -- long forgotten? Darn. Emails from her mother: chain mail, cat pictures, useless tat. Not on close speaking terms, I take it? Poor thing. A very old highschool yearbook picture, sent to her mom's friends. Bet she hated that.

        I looked at the picture, grainy, scanned in grayscale on an ancient scanner. Looked into her eyes. Warm, sweet eyes. But a target's a target; a list's a list. Where's the real email? Everyone uses email. Come on. Business records ought to do the trick. Find a credit card, find an ISP, dial upan IP address, grep through FAIRVIEW -- bingo, a domain, an MX record.

        A FreeBSD gateway. My heart melted. Did FOXACID even *have* FreeBSD exploits? Huh, I suppose there were a few trivial 0days there. QUANTUM will do the trick over a quick coffee break. She's on the East coast. Connecticut. Online right now, probably; FAIRVIEW found some active XMPP traffic a few minutes ago. Ask the fellas in CES if they can work their magic.

        I locked my screen and walked to the kitchen for a cup of joe. Couldn't stop thinking about those eyes. Wonder what color her hair was? Jesus, get it together. Target's a target, right?

        Wonder what kind of lipstick she wore? Damn. Get it together.

        Email reply from CES, they got a live decrypt on that XMPP stream. Chat transcripts. TARSIER's chatting with a man on the other end? I instantly got a rush of heat to my face. No, it's her dad. Talking about a Muse concert? I smiled sheepishly to myself. Yeah, I like them too. Knights of Cydonia, right?

        In an instant, I felt completely isolated. From everyone in the office. From everyone in the country. The solitude was soul-crushing. This was like being on a date, except behind a one-way mirror. I felt terrible.

        Target's a target, right?

        A spurt of HTTP traffic. Snarfed, in the nick of time. A tarball, uploaded to a VPS California? Extracting it -- a bunch of HTML docs? What is this? A PowerPoint presentation, in HTML? Very old school. I'm beginning to fall in love.

        Something for DefCon, on elliptic curve cryptography. I flicked through it, of course. Clever, for a lowbie. Non-NIST curves...some very nice implementation optimizations while keeping side-channel attacks down. Not approaching Suite A level hardening, but ... yes, not bad either. With some training and induction...

        I put in a request with ENTERPRISE for a trip out to Vegas. I could meet her, finally. See her in person. I'm sure ENTERPRISE would approve her working here. I bet she loves the weather out here. She'd find me irresistible, of course. I deserve something for this job, after all, right? All these thankful hours spent protecting our nation, a girlfriend can't be out of the question. Right?


        No one picked me for the enemy out here. I put a hand to my Ray-Bans, gave the bridge up my nose a slight push. TARSIER had just gave her talk. Enthusiastic applause. Stupid questions from the audience. I glared at them from behind the sunglasses. Don't insult her intelligence.

        I stayed back as the audience milled out. She was coming towards me.

        Her hair was strawberry blonde after all.

        No lipstick, just -- was that lip gloss?

        I took off my sunglasses. "Hi, I'm very pleased to meet you." I extended a hand. She gave it a perfunctory shake.

        I maintained my composure -- our hands touched! "We've been watching your work for some time now. We'd like to offer --"

        She recoiled. "Watching my work? Who are you? Who do you work for?"

        "I -- We're a little security firm from Maryland and --"

        "You're the fucking Feds, aren't you?" she spat "What, Fort Meade?"

        "It's a vital job protecting national --"

        A projectile of hot, wet liquid hit my face. S-she spat at me! Vile thing! I raised my hand impulsively, out of anger, ready to strike her.

        But I hesitated. I didn't. In that instance, she sprinted away, and all that was left was me, in this lecture hall, with a few people milling about ready for the next talk. Isolated. Again. We're all here because we've got the same passion for computing and security, but it's them and me.

        Them and me.

        And I realized how fucking stupid this all was. How obscene it was for me to sit in my cubicle, like those shitheads who put cameras in womens' bathrooms. Stalking people. It's them and me for a reason. BRIGHT WINTER was right. He was right all along. I suddenly saw the whole, ghastly thing in my mind from a regular person's point of view, horrified with myself.

        So maybe I screwed things up with TARSIER. And I don't think I could ever fix it, nor could I ever want to. I hadn't violated her body, but I had violated her soul. But it wasn't too late for me. It's never too late.

        I took off my name badge, and let it fall to the ground.
        Last edited by eris; June 4, 2014, 18:53. Reason: s/Florida/Maryland/ and s/Floridian// chng req by author
        "They-Who-Were-Google are no longer alone. Now we are all Google."


        • #5
          Re: Stories (Not a voting poll thread)


          by John McNabb

          The air in the living room of the Torvalds Suite seemed alive from the electric hum and lights of the dozens of custom-made stand-alone computer boxes, monitors, routers, switches, and myriad cables that snaked across the room.
          ìNow weíre talking,î said Todd, seated at the main console.
          ìWho wants takeout?î asked Grant, coming into the suite with a cart piled with white bags and cartons from Thai Gardens. The group of five gathered around and helped themselves to lo mein, fried rice, sushi, shrimp, scallops, lobster, peapods, and orange beef.
          ìSo, are we almost ready to launch?î asked Garrett in between mouthfuls of lo mein. He had pushed up his VR iShades to see the room in RL.
          ìAlmost. The coding is about 95% done,î said Todd. ìWe should be ready to launch during the solar eclipse.î The Project was in its ninth month and had involved the work of hundreds of programmers from all over the world. Now this hotel room at DEF CON 53 was ground zero.
          ìDid anyone see that talk by Vertex33 about his new jamming technique?î asked Claire. ìHe says that it can block the content filters from imagereaders and viewscreens for an entire city block, without being detected.î
          ìBut,î said Beth, ìin the Q&A VR discussion that followed, it appears that its not completely undetectable and could pose a risk to the user.î Jammers were in use all over the country to block the content filters, even though they hadnít been perfected yet and were more or less illegal.
          ìAnyone see the news about the latest scandal about the Apophis Tsunami Recovery Program?î asked Claire. ìLooks like someone misplaced $10 Billion in recovery funds, again, and the restoration of California is still 5 years behind schedule.î
          ìI liked the demo using the Mark XXL MFN 3D Printer to make standalone computers,î said Grant. ìThis way there is a guarantee that the computer will NOT automatic link to the media-net, completely avoiding the content filters, and can be used for non-DISP video, books, etc.î This was part of the retro movement, which also produced non-networked archaic physical media such as optical disks and paper books that didnít use networked electronic paper.
          ìCanít wait for the 24-hour Videodrome show marathon.î Said Garett. The Videodrome media-net show, which ran 2032-2040, was based on the classic 1983 movie and is the origin of this yearís DEF CON theme ìThe video screen is the retina of the mindís eye.î
          ìHave you heard,î said Beth, ì DIPS just added 24 more books to the banned list for the Southern Filter District. Thanatos Pharmaceuticals just won a restraining order which prohibits warning notices on their prescribed medication, so those notices are now disappearing from the labels as we speak.î Beth hated these kinds of content changes; her mother died after taking medication after a warning notice was so removed.
          ìThe retro movement canít keep up,î said Todd. ìWe can produce hundreds of stand-alone computers, static books, and non-networked optical disks, but it barely scratches the surface.î Two decades ago, all books had been digitized and placed on the media-net. While book printing had not completely died off, the requirement that all new books be printed on networked paper with electronic ink made them just as susceptible to content filters as all the content on the net. Since all electronic communications on the net had been ruled part of the public spectrum its content was first regulated by the FCC and then by its successor, the Department of Intellectual Property Security.
          ìCensorship is ubiquitous,î he said. ìBooks are either outright banned or merely ìsanitizedî to remove offending content. Same for audio, video, and all other content on the media-net. Copyright law has gone off the rails, also. Corporations and governments routinely file and win copyright lawsuits to take certain information off any existing media. However, other parties are also filing and winning legal decisions to change the content again and again.î Toddís brother died from a new infectious disease after censorship in Saudi Arabia kept information about it secret until it had spread to the US.
          ìThese changes and censorship changes region by region and sometimes minute by minute, making media-net content more ephemeral than permanent, also, all forms of media content are subject to infection from computer viruses and intrusion from criminal hackers.î Garrett continued.îUnfortunately, most people have very short attention-spans these days and donít notice or donít seem to mind.î
          ìThe worse effect is on the young, who not only spend every waking hour on the media-net or in VR space, but also have never lived without censorship and seemingly donít know what they are missing,î Claire said. ìBut since their understanding of reality is almost 100% through the media-net and VR space, this manipulation of their extended mind will have deleterious effects.î Thus the current saying ìDonít trust anyone under 30.î
          ìThat is all bad enough ñ we have massive amounts of content used by everyone in their daily lives that can change at a moment notice,î said Todd. ìBut now we have discovered that there is a nationwide semantic change going on in all content, that has been going on for a decade, designed to indoctrinate the public to not question authority, to not challenge the status quo, to not be curious, to accept what they have been told. We donít know specifically who is making these changes, we just know they are being made through the DIPS content filtering servers and that they have been going on for at least ten years. The retro movement and other partial measures wonít suffice, which is why we embarked on The Project.î
          Todd looked at his console. ìOK, everything is in place. Now, we just need help from Agent Farnsworth.î

          * * *

          In the Chillout Room, which Farnsworth could see when he switched his VR iShades to ìambient,î was dimly lit with varied color lights along the ceiling and quickly changing videos playing on dozens of viewscreens. Dozens of attendees were coming and going, or sitting at the many tables, some eating food from the adjacent cafeteria, many just chatting or sharing VRS sessions with others.
          ìAgent Farnsworth.î The voice came from behind him. Suddenly he was surrounded, three people moving into seats at the table with him in the Chillout Room, the speaker standing behind him. They all had random patterns of lights from their VR iShades constantly moving over their heads to defeat the facial recognition systems built into his corneal implants.
          ìDonít bother,î the speaker continued. ìWe just severed your connection to DIPS control.î Farnsworth suddenly felt blind, deaf, and dumb.
          ìWho am I speaking to?î asked Farnsworth.
          ìYou can refer to us as Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta if you like.î He pulled up a chair and sat down next to Farnsworth.
          ìYou folks having a good time at the Con?î Farnsworth asked.
          ìYes,î said Alpha, ìalthough its disconcerting to have so many F2Fís in Meatspace, itís fun.î
          ìOf course,î said Gamma, ìmany of our interactions are still taking place in VRS, but at least we can use the highly secure ConCloud instead of the sieve-like public clouds.î
          ìIt is exhilarating to attend real talks with a live speaker, though,î said Delta. ìAnd we can learn things together, in RL for once.î
          ìEnough small talk,î said Alpha. ìWhat are you doing here, undercover?î
          ìJust observing. Nothing sinister.î
          ìUnlikely. We know you are on a mission. What is it?î
          ìYou know I canít say.î DIPS, of course, knew about the retro movement that produced jammers and stand-alone computers and media, but they had heard rumblings of something much bigger afoot, a much larger, more comprehensive than hacker strategy to be hatched at this DEF CON to bring the whole DIPS structure, hallowed by decades of legislation, legal decisions, and technological innovation, crashing down. Of what that strategy was no one in DIPS had a clue, so his mission was to find out and if possible stop it before the end of this DEF CON.
          ìHow many other DIPS agents are here? Planning on making any arrests today?î The con was probably crawling with DIPS agents. Probably also many NSA, CIA and FBI agents, but DIPS was the real threat. Only the Thought Police mattered.
          ìNo, not today. It isnít a crime to just produce static books, as long as the royalty is paid, or to try out proof of concept jamming technologies. Thatís all Iíve seen here so far.î
          ìYou knew about that before you came here. Why are you really here?î
          ìThe gall you hackers have,î he said, lashing out. ìTo take it upon yourselves to decide what the world should be like. You romanticize the ëbeauty of the baudí ñ maybe you should have meant Baudrillard. Hmm, you hackers thought that the ëworld of the electron and the switchí was your world. Whose world is that, now, really? Be careful of what you wish for.î
          ìWe wanted a free internet, now the media-net, with free expression and truth, not this constantly shifting content polluted by censorship and patent trolls,î said Alpha.
          ìTruth, truth?î asked Farnsworth. ìTruth is what we say it is. People, especially the young, need to be protected from salacious content that could corrupt them. When legal decisions are made by the courts that some information is not true, it must be removed from the content. The nature of truth is not constant, it changes constantly, itís ephemeral-- get used to it.î
          ìCensorship is mind control,î said Alpha, ìpure and simple. Protecting people from ësalacious contentí or any content denies them the full experience of life, impairs the learning process, and directs their thinking process ñ all subtle or gross forms of brainwashing.î
          ìAnd since almost everybody gets almost all their experience through the media-net, not in RL, and because the images on the net and in VR seem more ërealí than the physical reality, the effects of this pervasive censorship and content manipulation is severe, especially on the young,î Alpha continued.
          While they were talking to Farnsworth, Todd was busy finishing The Project.


          At his main console, as the solar eclipse partially obscured the Sun over Las Vegas, Todd was busy putting the final touches on the worm. It was complicated, and had to operate in multiple stages without a hitch. Despite the thousands of hours that hundreds of programmers had put into The Project, there were still a lot of things that could go wrong.
          Agent Farnsworth, unwittingly, had given them the final piece of the puzzle ñ an entry into the DIPS computer network, which would allow them to inject the worm into the Federal computers. Going in through the front door.
          The worm would first infect the DIPS content filter servers to permanently disable their filtering capabilities. The infection would be quite extensive, impossible to remove even if the hard drives were completely overwritten and reloaded. Logs, on each server that kept them, would be carefully overwritten to show no evidence of the intrusion. This would disable the content filters nationwide for quite some time, until they could recognize the extent of the infection and get new servers online.
          The most ambitious part of the worm was that it would next infect the legislative computers in the Senate to insert a hidden amendment into the annual Anti-Terrorism Authorization Bill, the massive 25,000+ page bill that has never been read all the way through by humans.
          Because of the long continued gridlock on Capitol Hill, this bill was one of the few passed each session. The worm would insert the hidden amendment to repeal the content filter legislation and also infect all the computers in Congress and the White House to not identify the amendment until, and after, the President had signed the bill. Since the DIPS servers are programmed to follow the law, even after they get new servers online the content filters will still be out of commission.
          ìBut wouldnít the amendment be ruled out of order and be voided by the courts?î someone asked.
          ìNo, its still law even though no human could remember adding the amendment or voting on it. When this bill passes they will suspend all the rules including the ìreadingî of the bill ñ so it actually passed within the legislative rules,î said Todd. ìAnd since the courts have ruled that Congress shall be presumed to have known what is doing when it passes bills, the amendment is still law unless Congress repeals it.î
          ìBesides, hidden amendments are put in this bill all the time, for ìNational Securityî reasons, so it might look more like a mistake than a hack. Or maybe theyíll never admit it ever happened and blame it on just a hack of the DIPS computers. Then, we can count on the gridlock on Capitol Hill to delay or prevent for some time any attempt to repeal the amendment,î Garrett said.
          ìHas this ever been attempted before?î
          ìNot that we know of, if it has they never admitted it.î Merely an unavoidable result of depending so much on computers to run things ñ what could go wrong?
          ìSo the people will get a vacation, maybe for one or more years, from the content filters and be able to enjoy freedom of expression again, for at least a while,î said Todd. And maybe we can keep the repeal on the books as well.
          There was pounding on the door of the suite. DIPS agents were about to break in. They didnít know what he was about to do, fortunately, all they knew is that they had to stop it. They may stop one of us, but they canít stop us all.
          Todd hit the enter key and sent the worm on its way, and which would also wipe the evidence from his computers.

          "They-Who-Were-Google are no longer alone. Now we are all Google."


          • #6
            Re: Stories (Not a voting poll thread)

            HIDE IT WELL

            Title: "Hide it Well"
            Authors: Todd Carr (@frozenfoxx) and Leah Figueroa (@sweet_grrl)

            "Child. Child, wake up," the Father says as he gently shakes the Girl awake. She has fallen asleep on the bed in full run gear. The Father heard her wake well before dawn, unable to sleep due to her excitement. Today is the long promised morning when he would allow his daughter to lead the daily run into the Trash Deeps. The Father slept little, but not from excitement. Though the Girl has seen a few of the things he would show her today, he had never allowed her to keep one herself. Almost 10 cycles old, though, meant that the Girl was finally old enough to begin to see the world the way he did. It would seem to him that change is always hard, no matter how much time one has to prepare for it.
            The Girl yawns as she wakes and nervously the Father hands over the well-worn and cracked map to the Trash Deeps to her immediate excitement. He has been in charge of this section for years and knows even the un-opened sections since he has to map them for the Readers. Decades or eons old, the Father knows not; all he knows is that his job is to lead his group to sort through the refuse of a long gone civilization to provide materials to the ones in power, the gatekeepers of all knowledge, the Readers. He knows the Girl can navigate with the map. She has an uncanny aptitude for learning, one that he has worked to keep hidden for years. She is becoming more like the long-faded memory of the Mother every day. Recalling her makes his eyes well up lightly and his hands shake. Yes, the Father must keep the Girl safe but he feels a heavy responsibility to show her that there is more to the world than scavenging the Trash Deeps for the Readers and hoping not to anger their more learned masters. In fact, if he knew the words, he would say it was her birthright and he would not let anyone deny it.
            The day passes. The run through the Trash Deeps goes smoothly, if a little haltingly. The Father feels a surge of pride watching the Girl navigate using the maps to bring the rest of the 'Deeps crew to an area rich in that reddish-gold metal the Readers are so fond of stripping from old electronic equipment. But his pride is tinged with guilt as the Father has a plan for something more than just collecting this day. Today, he will give The Girl her first piece of real knowledge and set into motion her destiny.
            While the 'Deeps crew is out scavenging the Father calls out to the Girl. "Come here, child." He smiles painfully as all parents do when they know their children are about to grow up. She stumbles and runs happily over the piles of garbage and detritus, blissfully ignorant of her imminent future.
            "What is it, papa?" Her eyes are gleaming, this is easily the best day of her life. The Father kneels down, puts his hands on both the Girl's shoulders, and looks cautiously around them for the other people in their masks and ill-fitting clothing. The other Glyphs, named so for their primitive scrawlings, are safely out of eavesdropping range collecting metals from the refuse. Now is the time.
            He reaches inside his worn-out duster and carefully gives the Girl a forbidden gift. It is something no Glyph should ever have, that all objects like it are to be incinerated at once lest the bearer be forced into early "retirement...," or worse.
            It is a book.
            The Girl's hands tremble as she's mesmerized by it. This is her first book she's seen in years, the last being when another Glyph had found one and reported it immediately to be destroyed. It is tattered and torn, the cover long-ago marred by some ancient damage, but she sees none of that. She sees only a book even though she does not even know what it claims to be about and it's the most beautiful thing she's ever seen, a dream made real by some person long ago. Tears of joy spring forth as she touches the book, touches a dream, and the Father says, "it's all yours."
            The Girl is crying. "Really, papa?"
            The Father smiles. "Knowledge is power, hide it well." The Girl wipes her eyes, grinning more than he has ever seen and then nods her head, hiding the precious gift in the folds of her rumpled clothing.
            It would be months before she would see another book.

            * * *

            The Girl stumbles, almost falling. She catches herself on a slick square sticking out of the side of one of the new hills. Its shape is familiar, similar to the Glyph-Legunt, the special electronic book that the Glyphs are allowed to use. She touches it again, but quickly pulls her hand back, expecting pain but receiving none. Upon closer examination it is rectangular and like a clamshell. This is important somehow but she cannot articulate why; nobody ever taught her how. She quickly cuts a piece of her jacket off and ties it to some of the refuse by the strange Glyph-Legunt and runs to catch up. She will return for it later and ask the Father about it but she senses it is far too dangerous now.
            The Father has warned her time and again to watch her step. The past week the Father has been especially adamant about watching her step in anticipation of the newly opened section. The Readers always demanded more and more from the Glyphs but the resources from the scrap hills ran out often. Every so often, the Readers allowed the Glyphs into a new area to continue to scavenge for the resources. Normally the Girl would have been too young to be allowed on the run, but because the Father was Scavenger Glyph Leader for the Psi Sector he was allowed small freedoms. This time, the Girl had come with him because it was Counting Day.
            The Girl understands the Father's concern. The first few weeks in a new area, the Reader's Glyph Guards were especially vigilant, searching each of the Glyphs in turn. The last time a new area opened, one of the Glyphs under Father's watch stumbled and caught a piece of the strange wire in her jacket edge. The Girl shivered as she remembered the screams when the Glyph Guards dragged her away.
            The Readers would have it be the Girl's destiny to become the Glyph leader, to replace her father when he is too old to lead scavenging groups. The Father has significantly bigger plans for her though she is too young to understand what that entails; the Father claimed he needed help carrying the special Glyph-Legunts only he could have. The Girl just thought it was because he did not want her inside on a nice day, she could not have known that the Father hoped she would find a fresh laptop before the others did. In a way it is good the Girl is naive as children should be.

            * * *

            The Father sleeps restlessly as the Girl looks on. There was a fall, a collapse at their workplace. Without the others, he would have been buried under the debris. Luckily, it was the end of the shift and the Girl was able to encourage the others to help uncover him quickly before they took him away.
            The Father mumbles, groans, mutters words that make no sense to the Girl. "Silo, disk array, terminals." Twice she thought she heard him mumble that he was deaf, but she couldn't be sure what that meant either. Over and over, he mutters these words, sometimes yelling out, "we must protect them." The Girl worries, tries to cover his cries with sounds around the dwelling. Certain approved music has not been banned, so the Girl turns it on loudly and pretends to study the approved Glyph materials.
            When the outside lights go dim, the Girl crawls under her bed and pulls up the loose boards. The books are still there. Another of her most prized possessions, the laptop is what the Father calls it, is still there. Soon, the Father will move them to the hiding place. But only if she can get him well.
            The Girl softly touches each book, traces the words on the front. Words instead of Glyphs. Real Words, the kind only the Readers are allowed to know, stretch across the covers, fill the fragile pages. The Girl can read these Words. Father began teaching her on that fateful first day she went with him to work.
            The Girl strokes the covers once more, places the books tenderly back in the cache, and conceals it once again.

            * * *

            The Father is troubled.
            The Girl is older now, almost a teenager. It means little in this world. However she's beginning to notice and understand her father's pain. There is something within him, a secret, one he does not wish to involve her in and she knows, somehow, that keeping those kinds of secrets hurts, that they can be a heavy burden. She suspects it has to do with why he always seems to have new books for her to read and where he takes the ones she finishes. This alone is quite the heavy secret but she intuits that there is something much bigger he is keeping from her.
            She is growing, and thanks to the Father's efforts her mind is growing, much faster than any other Glyphs, and it makes it hard to keep their secret life. The Father has been especially pressed these past few days and talks about a time when he may not be there to guide her. She'll tell him that he'll always be there to guide her. Soon she will find out how right she is.

            * * *

            Something is not right. The other workers have not spoken to her this day, leaving her feeling unsettled, lost, making the tedious work much harder to focus on. After her fifth attempt to engage in conversation this morning at breakfast was met with stony gazes and turned faces, the Girl stopped trying.
            Father has gone to work on his monthly reports in the office, but even that feels odd to the Girl. According to the calendar that the Readers kept for them to see, he still has eight days until the monthly reports were due.
            Anxiety turns her gut, clutching at her heart and through to her lungs and spine forcing her to take pained, hurried breaths, much like the fish she sees sometimes at the market when they were pulled from their tanks. One of the books she read recommended trying to take deep, calming breaths; it helps some.
            Something is not right. It is worse than not right. Something is wrong. Something is horribly wrong and it has to do with Father.

            * * *

            Father has gone missing. It happened in the night as when she awoke he was gone. The Glyph Guards tell the Girl that he has been taken to the Readers' area for further training. The Girl knows they are lying. She can sense it, read it in their voices as well as she reads the Words. He has gone to the city for training before, but Father always returns. Always.
            Later she would grieve as she knows in her heart that her father will not return this time.

            * * *

            The Girl settles into the Father's workstation and begins preparing the new monthly report. Father has been gone for three monthly reports now. Gone like the others who angered the Readers. The Glyph Guards still lie to her, tell her he will return. She suspects they know they have made a mistake this time.
            Similarly, the Readers do not like to see mistakes in the monthly reports and so the Girl prepares the reports on the scrap paper. Unlike other Glyphs, the Readers allow the Scavenger Glyph Leaders to make paper from scraps so that all mistakes are made on Glyph paper. Reader paper is far finer and too precious to be used for waste work.
            The Girl is lost in her thoughts about the Father when the pen falls out of her hand and rolls onto the floor of the office. The sound of the pen hitting the old, wooden planks startles her out of her pensive musing and the Girl scrambles to the floor. There were only four pens given out to the Father per year so she must not lose it.
            The pen has rolled under the desk and is lodged into a crack in the floorboards. The Girl gingerly wiggles under the desk and reaches for the pen, missing it as it drops down the crack. Sighing, the Girl slides out from under the desk and grabs the metal ruler that is used to make straight lines for the reports. She slides back under the desk, preparing to use the ruler as a lever when much to the Girl's surprise the floorboard, along with three others, lifts smoothly in a square like a lid. Furrowing her brow the Girl slides the lid off and there, under the Father's desk is a secret cache, much like her own under her bed. Nervously, the Girl grabs the pen from within and slides the lid back into place. She wants to desperately to look, her heart thudding in her chest, but she knows it has to wait.

            * * *

            Darkness has fallen and the moonlight is hidden behind the veil of clouds. The curfew bells rang earlier as the Girl waited for the lights-out bells to ring. Now that all is quiet the Girl decides it is time and slips out of her shack. It is their home, hers and Father's, but he is gone, so now it is hers. Dressed in her dark clothes, the black dyed clothing they wear on the runs, the Girl slips into the darkness smoothly and quickly, padding lightly through the silent evening, slinking through the darkness from black shadow to black shadow. If she is caught, the Girl knows she, too, will disappear, but the cache under Father's desk calls to her.
            The walk takes three times the normal time, but the Girl knows this is far too precious to leave to chance. She has smuggled the handheld light her father has secreted away in the house. The Girl tries to remember the name, a 'flash' something, but falters. She feels it banging into the small of her back with each step until finally the door to the office comes into view. Steadying herself the Girl lets out a breath, slides up to the door, and carefully unlocks it. She slips into the darkness and pulls the door closed behind her, bolting it solidly. She has spent so much time in this room that she glides in the darkness, easily avoiding obstacles until she gets to the desk. She wipes away the sweat of anticipation from her brow and pulls out the light then slides under the desk and opens the cache. Only now does she dare turn on the light.
            The cache is surprisingly bare given the size. The Girl could easily fit into the space. Even the Father, with his broad shoulders and tall height, could squeeze himself into this space. On a whim, the Girl slips into the cache. Knowing that this could be a death sentence, she pulls the lid shut over herself and uses the light to look around what she hopes will not turn out to be her tomb. There are folded papers, not the handmade kind they use, but more like the kind from the Readers. The Girl unfolds them to reveal a map, much like the one used to navigate the Trash Deeps, but this is a map away from the Trash Deeps. There are other papers, too, filled with handwritten words in the Father's writing, but the Girl is too flustered to read them. Folded in with the papers, there is also money. Real money, not the chits used in the 'Deeps, but the kind that the Readers have. An outlandish, wild thought forms in the Girl's head: that this is where the Father had really been going on those trips into the city.
            The Girl attempts to sit up and hits her head soundly. The world goes dark.

            * * *

            The Girl awakes with a start, but before she can yell out, she realizes in horror that she is still hidden in the cache. Above her, she hears the sound of the Guards destroying their office, yelling about ungrateful women and about how this is taking their valuable time. The illumination from the handheld light, a flashlight, she now remembers, had died and only a bit of light trickled in from the cache lid. Though she is cramped, the Girl curls up into herself and waits anxiously for the Guards to leave.

            * * *

            The Girl awakens to silence. Dreadful, ringing silence fills her ears with its peals. She sits up gingerly, hunched over and reaches to grab the soft thing that cradled her head. Listening intently, she no longer hears the Guards above and the light trickling in is that of the soft pre-dusk. Carefully she pushes up the cache lid and pulls herself out, grabbing the papers and the soft thing. Somehow, the Girl knows that these items are important and that they were left for her. The Girl moves to the washroom, the only place where light will be shielded from the outside. The Girl shuts the door and lays down the soft thing. It is a bag, but it is far too finely made and brightly colored to be carried by the Glyphs. She deduced it must be a Reader bag and upon inspection she discovered it was filled with items she deduced could only have been left by the Father.
            Inside there were clothes, but not dull, worn Glyph clothes. These were Reader clothes and strangely they looked as if they would fit her perfectly. There was also a laptop, the one she found for the Father so many cycles ago. He showed her the basics about how to use it; told her he was only testing it to see if it met the standards of the Readers. It being here now, the Girl thought, and not in the hands of a Reader meant that was not the reason he showed her how to use it. There seemed to be something wrong with it though because when the Girl tries to turn it on all that it did was sit in her hand, unresponsive, unwaking. It was no matter though; the Girl knew that it would not have been left here if it wasn't important and so puts it back in the bag for safekeeping.
            The Girl changed into the Reader clothes, bright colors assaulting her senses, and indeed fit as if they were custom tailored for her. She then exchanged her solid work boots and thick woolen socks for the tiny, flat shoes and thin socks in her bag. It would make travel more difficult but the Girl sensed she must leave all traces of her life as a Glyph behind. They will be back for her and she knows that Father will never return.
            With the laptop securely in the bag she begins to really look at the papers Father has left her. Four of the pieces are maps. The first one is familiar, a map out of the 'Deeps. The remaining pages are maps that would lead her to one place, a place called "DEFCON 1." The last pages comprise a letter from the Father. It is written in letters, not glyphs, but the Girl can read most of them. The letter tells the Girl she must leave and find the place indicated by the map. It tells her that she will meet people along the way and that when she does she is to tell them that she is "the Dark Tangent" and, most importantly, that she is to answer no questions, to trust no one. The Girl feels terror but also a thrill. This is the secret the Father has been keeping for so long, and it was not of a secret shame but a quest for her alone.

            * * *

            The map says travel is three days by foot. The Girl is tired but her excitement is greater and so she heads onward with purpose. The map leads her into the city, the place where the Readers dwell. The city is so much larger than the stories Father told made it seem. She is surprised to find that the Readers are brash and rude not just to Glyphs but even to each other, always pushing and crowding and shoving. Travel would be much easier if she knew how to take those strange tubes full of Readers that glide around the streets, spewing out people like projectile vomit. Father was explicit, though, that she not speak to Readers unless she must.
            The first day she walked into the city her limp almost gave her away. The new flat shoes rubbed blisters into her heels and toes that even the fine Reader socks could not stop. She sat upon the curb to try to tend to the pain, but a Reader tripped over her which prompted him to yell at her to not lie about like, "all those Glyph scum." Anger welled up in her as the Girl fought to control her emotions but she apologized and kept control. She was in the city, enemy territory; she would not let this overcome her. Following the map was difficult with the mass of humanity pressing against her; the Girl continued to limp and to her horror she noticed that her socks were even beginning to turn red with her blood.
            After she found a dispensary she discovered that buying the supplies and new socks was more challenging than in the 'Deeps. The Girl watched carefully as another Reader exchanged his Reader money for the things they bought. Eventually she worked up the courage to approach the counter and for a few breathless moments set bandages and antiseptic upon it, terrified that at any moment her movements would give her away and she would be discovered. When handing over the Reader money to the woman behind the counter the Reader attempts to cheat her, taking a green bill instead of the two blue bills required. The Girl stared coldly at the cashier until the woman finally handed her back the green bill and took the two blue bills. When she leaves the Girl muses hotly that so far for all their learning Readers leave a bad taste in her mouth.
            The first night she stayed with a nervous woman she found from her papers as a local contact. The woman kept peppering the Girl with questions about the lessons, the computer network, about DEFCON. Her father never told her of meeting this strange, quavery woman, who flapped her hands like a bird, but the woman tells the Girl of the many trips the Father has taken and the gifts he shared with her; the nervous woman shows the Girl her secret cache, filled with books, more laptops, and even stranger things. She tells the Girl that her home is a stop on the, "underground knowledge trail." The questions and stories spill out of the woman like a waterfall, rushing over the Girl, who is used to long periods of quiet. Finally the Girl gained a small respite by pretending to sleep after a meager supper, the endless drone of questions, stories, and noise subsiding at last. In the morning, the woman handed the Girl a small packet of food and another pouch of papers.

            * * *

            Last night, the Girl hardly slept. The new papers led her to a man's house near the outer edge of town. The man who took in Dark Tangent gave her the creeps, the chills sliding up and down the Girl's spine like the time the rats brought disease into the 'Deeps. He speaks little, gives her food, stares at her like she is useless. In the morning, before dawn lights the city, the Girl slipped out quietly before he woke. Something about the man has frightened her and she did not wish to hang around to find out what that might be.
            Hungry, tired, and worn, the Girl used more of the Reader money to purchase food. Used to the simple fare in the 'Deeps, the Reader food is much too rich for her stomach. Instead, she bought a loaf of bread and some fruit from a vendor on the roadway while navigating through the maps to her destination. She is beginning to question her quest, that perhaps too much time has passed since her father's death, that maybe the Readers will be waiting for her when she finds its end. She briefly ponders giving up, but hope flutters at her breastbone, beats in her heart, urges her to go on; tonight, she should arrive at DEFCON.

            * * *

            Despair sets in. The maps led her to a lot on the edge of the city but it is empty, abandoned, burned down. The Girl sits and weeps, the Reader bag full of paper and money and broken dreams and a broken laptop hanging heavily upon her back. She fears she is too late and all is for nought.
            Eventually, the weeping stops and the Girl surveys the scene. Despite the burned down appearance, there is a piece of brick that is unblemished by the fire within the scene. Carved upon the brick is one of the symbols in the letter from the Father, a diskette she remembers is what it is called. Desperate to find meaning in this heap and thinking of the treasures she would unearth in the refuse from the 'Deeps she pulls off her traveling coat, her fine shoes, and scrambles over the wreckage, being careful to keep the clothing as clean as possible. Using her knife, the Girl jimmies the brick out. Blinking in disbelief she discovers that behind the brick are more papers. There is a map to another DEFCON, "DEFCON 2," another letter from the Father, a book made out of more paper and a very small paper pouch with "Dark Tangent" written upon it.
            Invigorated the Girl retrieves her belongings and clothing and opens the map quickly and carefully. To her surprise it shows a way out of the city to a place about 30 kilometers from the outskirts of the teeming metropolis of angry Readers. She walks to a tree beside the burned out hulk, sits and opens the booklet. Though the Girl does not understand all of the words completely she reads about the story of DEFCON, about how it came to be a place when reading was reserved only for certain people, and of a time before that when it was not a place but an event. The story of DEFCON and the first Dark Tangent, the person who started it all, fills her head with the glorious wonder of an era when knowledge was free to anyone who sought it out. Her heart thuds with the excitement of a world where she could learn without fear of punishment, when information flowed freely the world over to anyone who wanted it. This is what the Father was hiding. This was his secret. Now, it was hers.

            * * *

            The Reader money is all gone now, the Girl has spent the last of it on a ride out to a deserted thing that the old man called a "farm." The old man doesn't know why the Girl wants to go out there, but is all too happy to take her money for a foolish quest. When it rumbles to a stop the Girl gets out of the vehicle and without waiting a moment longer the old man speeds away, leaving her alone at the precipice of discovery, cold and confused.
            She is on the edge of what used to be a vibrant farm, many years ago. Its broken and cracked fields long abandoned await the rain and seed as the void awaits the spark of life: inevitable, but only after a seemingly endless wait. She trudges up the dusty dirt path to the little abandoned farm house with its rusted door and decrepit siding.
            It creaks as she enters. She looks throughout the farm house's mostly-empty rooms, as if the owners just got up one morning and left it, abandoned, like her life and her people. She worries that she has read something wrong, that this is not where she is supposed to be. Fearing she has failed she checks the basement.
            It is quiet, too quiet, and the Girl is exhausted...until she notices something on the far wall of the basement. Cocking her head like a curious animal she creeps closer. The wall is made of cobbled stones and one of the smaller ones has a design carved into it: a round, smiling face set over a pair of criss-crossed bones, very easy to miss. The Girl has seen this symbol once before but she cannot place where. She stares at it, her despair forgotten and replaced by a different feeling: curiosity. Putting one of her hands on the stone she gives it a little push...and it clicks. Seemingly like magic the wall groans as it slides slowly back to reveal an old green metal door with a single light above it that clicks on, commanding attention of the door. Slack-jawed she gazes in wonder unable to believe her eyes but here it is, real and solid and cold. She pulls on the door, finds there is a lock set into its surface in the middle that still holds and so she digs the paper pouch out of her bag. Inside is a key. It is an odd key, with cylinders instead of the normal flat plane of keys. The Girl thinks it will fit. She slides the key in and it opens with a solid sound. She twists the lock and the door slides open with a giant metal groan. Behind it is a small, box-like room with a small metal panel with one bright red button, flashing silently at her, begging her to push it. As she steps inside, the lights overhead begin to flicker on. The Girl looks around and presses the cheerful red button. When she does the doors slide closed and with a low rumble she can distinctly feel the box moving downward into the earth, into her fate. Her heart thuds in her chest, from excitement and fear. Pushing that button has sealed her future and she prays it is a good one.
            After a seeming eternity the box-room ends its descent and slides its doors open with a bell chime, revealing a flat space like the floor of an abandoned lighthouse. On one side is a door. The Girl walks wearily to the door and pulls it open. As tired as she is, she anticipates a struggle, but the door swings open freely and quietly, opening into a dark cavern. More lights flicker on, revealing an enormous, circular room scaling for over a hundred feet high with row upon row of shelves, much like the warehouse in the 'Deeps, but these are filled with books rather than junk. Along the walls lights flicker and illuminate hundreds of computers, laptops, large computers, and these things the Father called, "NAS boxes," scaling up to a ceiling high above, ending just under the farm with a giant, four-piece steel door. This place is old, but its stairways, catwalks, and walls look solid enough to guard and maintain either the greatest weapon or the greatest treasure a people could have. In a dream-like daze she walks to the center of the cavernous room and sees a single spiral staircase leading up to an island set up above the sea of books. The island is a giant room and around the entirety of the room big glass windows overlook the rest of the silo. This is another thing from the Father's fairy tales, a control room to watch over all the knowledge of the world. She knows the name from the fairy tales the Father told her when she was young, of a place where she could look out and see an ocean of knowledge and books, a place she had only ever seen in her mind. The Girl climbs up and into the control room, feeling like a fairy tale heroine. She spins around the room slowly, looking out at what must be all the knowledge of all the world.
            Something tugs at the back of her mind, pulling her from her reverie. Father always told her to take stock of her surroundings and so she surveys the control room. There are shelves set up in one part of the room, filled with food and water. In the one windowless curve, there is a small kitchen and a door to what must be the washroom. In a small alcove, there looks like there are beds, but the biggest feature is the large, empty desk with several small rectangular screens above it that dominates the center of the room.
            The Girl knows that she has never been here before but feels a strange sort of familiarity. In a shock of recognition she rummages through her pouch, withdrawing the papers she had collected on her journey here. Re-reading them the strange terms and descriptions that hadn't made sense before clicked together in a grand sort of sense: this place and the others the world over like it, what it meant to be its guardian, why she was now to become it, of why this place was called DEFCON, of the founders of this DEFCON, about the other Dark Tangents out in the world. The realization that there were more than twenty places like this hit the Girl with such force, she lost her breath and fell to her knees.
            The Girl did not believe that this could exist, this sharing of books and writings, this world-wide network of knowledge. She understood now how powerful a thing it could be, that it could be used to teach other Glyphs about the things the Readers knew, to make everyone a Reader. She did not believe it could be real but now here it sat, staring her in the face. A tear rolls down her cheek as the Girl realizes the Father would never see the future he built. Never know that it still survived. Never know his dream was made real.

            * * *

            The Girl sleeps for hours, curled up on the bed in the alcove, papers clutched to her chest like a stuffed animal of younger days. Upon the bed, she found the first book the Father had given her and that had given her the sense of safety she needed. She sleeps the sleep of the damned, the wearied, the grieving, until she can sleep no more. When she wakes, she returns to main part of the control room because something is calling to her, that now familiar scratching inside her head. She is staring off into space, trying to figure out what it could be, when something about the oversized desk gives her pause and draws her gaze.
            After a few moments she sees it. A long rectangular slot set into the metal smoothly, and a larger rectangular area around it that's strangely free of the super fine layer of dust that has settled upon the the desk, as if something used to rest here below the many rectangular screens above it.
            She pushes the surface, the slot, nothing happens.
            She looks under the desk. Only darkness; no, wait, one of the legs of the desk is set into the floor.
            She thinks for a time as the puzzle, like a splinter in her mind, refuses to let go. Eventually, she has an idea and looking into her bag she withdraws the smooth, light clamshell device, the laptop that has refused to listen to her commands. She tentatively compares its dimensions to that of the dust. They are the same. She rests it on the table over the old space with a click...and like magic there is a hum as lights, screens, and other things the Girl wouldn't have the slightest idea how to describe suddenly came to life. The screens above flash the lock symbol that she now knows as one of the final icons for DEFCON. Then, a light on the device starts to slowly blink.
            She slides the release on the lid and unfolds the device, revealing its board of lettered keys and beautiful built-in screen. She pulls over a chair to sit down in front of it, still in shock from seeing the device come to life. The warmth from the glow of monitors and the screen of the terminal in front of her, alive and humming at her touch, fills her with wonder.
            When the wonder wears off she notices a small symbol in the corner of the screen in front of her, blinking. It is the rotary dial that the Father always drew in the corner of the books he let her read, the books that now filled the shelves below her. Using the pad like Father had shown her many times before, she moves the arrow on the terminal's screen over to click the symbol and it opens up for her into a message. Hot tears of joy and pride stream down her face as she reads the most beautiful words she's ever seen.


            You are the new Dark Tangent. This DEFCON is now yours to keep safe and to share with the world. You are never alone, I love you forever.


            Former Dark Tangent"
            "They-Who-Were-Google are no longer alone. Now we are all Google."


            • #7
              Re: Stories (Not a voting poll thread)


              Distorting Humans for Fun and Profit
              Don Franke, May 2014

              Part One

              Standing in the middle of Tau’s Bio Mod Shop, a statement entered his head: It’s not supposed to be this way.

              Mallack held the dual-barreled handgun straight-armed, aiming at blue-haired Tau while fighting a tremor in his wrist. His mind flashed to the mode the gun was set to. Was it set to stun or...not stun? There was only one trigger but two barrels; the setting determined which barrel fired. Stun would release a bean bag at a relatively slow velocity, but fast enough to knock Tau on his ass. Otherwise, three energy-charged projectiles would be delivered in rapid succession, traveling a few times the speed of sound and right through whatever stood in their way, leaving behind a hole large enough to see through. Mallack darted his eyes down to the gun, trying to see which way it was set. He saw his hand flinch, his strength yielding for just a millisecond. He quickly looked back to see if Tau had noticed. The grin told him that he had. That was when things became surreal.

              In addition to facial piercing and tattoos, Tau also had artificial facial muscle implants. These “muscles” were tiny carbon nanotube strips that contracted and relaxed wirelessly or in response to hormonal stimuli released by the brain. The result were tics, twitches and foldings of the flesh in a way nature never intended.

              As Tau smiled, implants in his cheeks expanded, pushing the sides of his mouth together, causing his lips to purse while this teeth were exposed beyond the gum line. The sides of his eyes stretched outward, causing the outer edges to pull away, revealing the curvature of the orbs and the pinkish red of the socket that contained them. The sides of his neck unfolded outward, similar to a gecko lizard when threatened and making himself appear much bigger in order to scare off enemies. This was having the same effect on Mallack.

              “You are out of your depthhh,” Tau hissed through teeth and pursed lips. Tau took a step forward, closing the three meter gap between them. He cocked his head sideways, staring at him intently. “Is this what you want? Was all this part of your plannn?” His eyes went black.

              “All...” Mallack had to clear his fear-constricted throat, damn what impression of weakness it might convey. “All I want is the battery. Then I’ll go.”

              Tau grinned a little wider. How does all that stretching not hurt? Mallack wondered. Maybe it does. Maybe that was the point. Tau took another step closer. “Battery? What batter-ee?”

              “Don’t mess with me!”

              “Easy, friend.” Tau raised his hands. Mallack glanced at one of the upright hands, looked back at Tau’s disfigured face, then back at the hand. There was something wrong. What was it? One, two, three, four, five…six fingers?

              Tau’s other hand was suddenly on the gun, the grip strong, and began to twist. The barrel aimed away from Tau’s body. Mallack’s body began to yield in the direction his arm was rotating, as his forearm was reaching it’s breaking point. Tau’s face was suddenly very close to Mallack’s. He stared straight into his overstretched eyes, in which he could see corneal implants, with tiny displays that provided meta information to augment reality.

              The gun went off; stun or kill Mallack did not know. Their faces still centimeters apart, Mallack saw something red flash in Tau’s eyes. It was a tiny word in inverse. Mallack squinted to read it. The word was "error."

              Mallack collapsed to the floor, his arm unable to bend anymore. He looked down at the ground where his knees thudded, and Tau release his grip. The floor was stained concrete, scratched and pock marked from years of use and abuse. There was a gum wrapper near his hand. Is this where I am going to die?

              The gun thudded on the ground next to his hand, crushing the wrapper. Mallack studied it, and observed a green light on the grip next to the word “Kill.” He looked up at his attacker, who had his hands to his face, writhing in agony. How could I have shot him in the face? Mallack wondered.

              Mallack looked past Tau, over to the target of the single gunshot. It was a destroyed terminal set up next to a patient chair. There was also a robotic microsurgery arm, tattoo needle guns attached to hoses, a large display with a camera attached to a swinging arm, and an empty IV bag suspended by a gleaming chrome stand. What was now shattered must have been the work station that tested or controlled the artificial facial muscles, Mallack assumed.

              He watched Tau stagger to the equipment and survey the damage, helpless. He screamed again, then stopped and stood bolt upright, his clenched fists at his sides. A terrifying sound started and grew in volume. A laugh? From the back, Mallack could see the sides of Tau’s face stretching outward then contracting in random intervals. He slowly turned around. It looked like beneath the skin of Tau’s face there was a storm. Rips began where synthetic muscles tore through the epidermis, looking like black worms struggling to wriggle free. Blood streamed down his face, but he kept laughing maniacally

              “The...pain...oh wow!” He raised his arms heavenward, then all the flesh tore away from his face all at once, exposing muscle and bone. Mallack turned away. He heard Tau’s body collapse to the floor, and the shop fell silent, save a crack of arcing electricity that issued from the ruined terminal.

              Mallack slowly got up and retrieved up the gun from the floor, careful to point it away from himself. He found the safety and touched it on; a red light next to the word “safe” glowed on the side of the grip. He approached the workspace, stepping carefully around Tau’s lifeless body, and placed the handgun atop a tray of scattered surgery tools. He searched every drawer for the battery, or what would look like a battery, but only found things associated with repairing, modifying or ruining human flesh (depending on how you looked at it.)

              He turned around to study the blue-haired corpse sprawled on the floor. A pool of blood gathered beneath his head. His face was turned away, sparing Mallack a view of most of the gore. His back was also facing him, and his shirt was raised up above his waist. Something caught Mallack's eye and he stepped towards the body and leaned in closer. There was a slight bulge on the left side of his lower back. Mallack crouched close, reached out and touched the distention. It was a flap, made of something synthetic that looked like skin. With his finger he pushed it up and revealed a small gray cylinder, about 8 centimeters long. It was inserted into an implanted plastic gray enclosure It was the battery.

              Mallack pushed gently on the cylinder and it raised out of its enclosure, and he retrieved it through two pinched fingers. He brought it close to his eyes to examine it, turning it around and squeezing it gently so that it bowed. It was flexible! So that is what all the fuss was about.

              He stood up quickly, pocketed the contraband, and began to hurry out. Then stopped and gritted his teeth, angry with his carelessness. He turned around and retrieved the gun from the surgical tray and replaced it in his belt loop, making sure his shirt and jacket covered the bulge. On his way out, he stopped at the threshold and touched an “opaque” icon, whiting out the shop windows, then touched the “closed” icon next to it, so that the same word would display on the window outside. The shop door slid closed behind him.

              Part Two

              “Did you get it?” Velinta was like a little girl on Christmas, eyes wide with neon pink irises. He was at her apartment, a 400 square foot concrete cube wedged underneath the I-55 expressway. He placed the battery on the table, clicking against a glass beaker. She scooped up the cylinder with both hands, nestling it like a baby chick as she studied it. “I’ve been so worried about you!” He placed the gun heavily on the counter. She studied it.

              “You didn’t need that, did you? I disabled the biometric safety, but wasn’t sure if it would work.”

              It worked, he wanted to say, but didn’t. He didn’t want to share much of anything. He was quiet by nature, and his recent near-death experience did not inspire sharing.

              During the 'L' train ride here, he decided that he was being used. He replayed the night he met her at a basement bar. She had come on to him, strong, but not too strong, and following their “chance” encounter was a sequence of events that deliberately and inevitably led to this moment, and to her getting back her pliable energy storage device. He had come to conclusion that the battery was a high tech item that she created and was going to sell for a lot of Chinese yuan. And he sensed it was to an organization to which such things shouldn’t be sold.

              She looked at him with a slight smile, a smile meant to reassure, but it was another deliberate, calculated gesture. Though he was burning with rage, he didn't let on. It wasn’t worth it. He only wanted to exit gracefully and put all of this behind him.

              “Thank you, Mallack,” she said. “I didn’t think I’d get it back after that son of a bitch stole it. I still have the bruises…” She lifted her chin and turned her head to show him the faded contusions of where Tau had choked her. He looked at the marks, then met her eyes. They held their gaze. After a moment, her eyes shifted maybe a millimeter or two and he knew she was focused on something displayed on her iridescent contact lenses. That’s my cue, he concluded, and he turned to leave.

              “Wait!” He stopped but didn’t turn.

              “I gotta go,” Mallack said to the floor. “Good luck with your battery.” He gritted his teeth, hoping his abruptness didn’t reveal his hand. He started again for the exit. Something heavy and metallic slid on the table behind him, followed by the faint whine of a gun spinning up. He stopped, his finger just short of touching the open icon on the door, and turned around. The irises of Velinta’s eyes were brilliant red.

              “Dramatic,” Mallack said, raising his hands. She smiled. She had a cute smile. That’s what got me into this mess in the first place, he remarked silently.

              “Sorry I got you into this,” she said. “You seemed like a nice guy.”


              She shrugged and firmed her grip on the handgun. He braced himself. I should do something, he said to himself. It’s not supposed to be this way!

              There was the sound of a gentle breeze as the door behind him slid open. He opened his eyes and watched as Velinta’s cute smile faded and her expression changed into one of wide-eyed horror. The color of her irises transitioned to their natural gray with hints of green.

              There was a muffled blast next to Mallack’s right ear and he watched as the side of Velinta’s throat disintegrated into a pink and red cloud. Her arm holding the gun went up and the pistol discharged, shattering a light over his head. Sparks and bits of glass and plaster rained down. He crouched close to the floor, putting his hands over his head, and twisted around to see the executioner. It was another young woman, this one with bright green hair, tattoos, and piercings. What caught his attention, though, were the side of her neck, which were flared out like an attacking lizard. After a moment, she brought her gun down, and the sides of her thorax retracted into a more natural form.

              She stepped past him, debris crunching beneath her heavy boots, and dropped her gun onto the counter in almost the same spot where Mallick had placed one only moments earlier. She stood over Velinta’s lifeless body that was sprawled on the floor. She bent down to extract the battery from her twitching clenched hand.

              “Stupid bitch,” she spat. She turned and looked down at Mallack, still crouched down. She approached him and proffered the battery in an open palm. He stood, surprised to find himself almost a foot taller than her. He stared at the battery and gently picked it up between thumb and forefinger. She turned her back to him and raised her shirt to reveal an intricate tattoo of braided vines and barbed wire on her lower back, surrounding a small rectangular flap of synthetic skin. With one hand he gently raised the flap and with the other he popped out the old battery (copper brown and inflexible) which dropped to the floor with a metallic clang. He put Velinta’s creation in its place, and as soon it snapped home the tattoo glowed a brilliant blue. Her back arched and she stared upward, mouth open, letting out a lustful “aah.” He let the flap drop and stepped away as she turned back around to face him.

              “Thanks." She noticed that he was looking at the pool of blood expanding across the floor beyond the kitchen counter. "She was no good for you,” she said. “Too smart for her own good.”

              “’s not supposed to be this way,” he whispered. He shivered uncontrollably with adrenaline.

              She gently put a hand to the side of his face and smiled. “Then change it.”

              And before he knew it, she was gone.

              The apartment was quiet save the basso rushing of self-driving cars and trucks traveling the expressway above. He stared at the feet that stuck out from beyond the kitchen counter, at the gun on the counter, the second gun in Velinta’s lifeless hand.

              After some unknown space of time he walked out, closing the door behind him. As he walked to the 'L' station, he let his mind race and sort through everything. He had dropped into this strange world of body modifications, guns and batteries because of a young woman with a cute smile. Velinta had talked him into a simple scare-and-grab that resulted in two people dead. He shivered and felt his stomach twist around itself. It was his first time seeing anything like the gore and death he had witnessed. All he wanted to do is return to his quiet and predictable life of fixing the air recyclers in Chicago north side apartments. That was the way things were supposed to be. But, Mallack sensed, this was just the start of his new normal...
              "They-Who-Were-Google are no longer alone. Now we are all Google."


              • #8
                Re: Stories (Not a voting poll thread)

                ZOMBIE NET

                "Did it work?"*

                Two bald, fat and greasy men in grey suits stood over a lab-coated technician with thick glasses. Despite the chill of the server room, the technician wiped sweat off his forehead and adjusted his thick black glasses. All the while his gaze head steady on the screen in front on him where status bars, numbers and debug output flew by almost too fast to read.

                The suits turned and looked at each other, then back at the technician. The larger one stepped forward and poked the technician.

                "I said, did it work?"

                Noticing them for the first time, the technician flapped his arms wildly at them, moved to the back side of the rack and started swapping cables between switches.*"Not now, not now. Hold on."

                The larger suit reached inside his jacket toward a concealed holster. The smaller suit touched his elbow and shook his head.*"Give him a few minutes. The last thing we need is for this to go wrong."

                The technician flew around the room. He was on the console, back to the switch, staring at the debug output, back to the switch, back to the console, over and over. He never slowed and kept gasping to himself and muttering, "amazing" and "I don't believe it."

                The larger suit fidgeted, shifting his considerable weight from foot to foot. He started to pace a few times, only to realize that there wasn't enough space in the cramped server room. Eventually, his patience expired. He reached inside his jacket, pulled a large revolver out and stood square in front of the technician, preventing him from passing.

                "I SAID, DID IT WORK?!"

                The technician stopped and stared at the suit. It took him almost a minute to realize what was happening.

                "You're still here? I told you you'd have to wait."*

                With that, the technician tried to edge around the suit.

                In one swift motion the suit picked him up by his t-shirt and pinned him again the side of the rack. The revolver made its appearance just under his chin.*"Answer me, you annoying little geek or I'll splatter your precious brain matter all over the ceiling."

                "Well, yes. I mean, I don't know. Not really. Not yet. I said you'd have to wait. I'm running tests. They'll take a little while. Half an hour. You have to give me half an hour." The technician spoke in a rush and was bobbing his head up and down the whole time. At the end he smiled as big as he could.*

                The suit didn't move. Indecision was clear in his eyes. The technician turned to the smaller of the men and flashed him a big smile as well, then started his nodding again.

                "Come on, Oscar, let's get some coffee. This kid is driving me nuts and the boss won't be here for a couple of hours anyway."

                The larger suit grunted and dropped the technician. Holstering his gun he started towards the door.

                "Thirty minutes, geek. Then I'm coming for you and you better have an answer by then."

                Archie stared at the door for a few minutes after they left. When he was satisfied that they'd actually gone and weren't coming back he moved back towards the console.*"Took them long enough to leave."

                Archie connected to a remote server and started copying all his notes, findings and source files. Twenty minutes until it finished. He wrote a quick message in a text file: "When it's done, take the server offline, pop the drive and stick it somewhere safe. I'll be in touch." Then he encrypted the tunnel and started the transmission to his relay server.

                Sitting back in the chair, Archie finally relaxed. Picking up his coffee, he flipped the monitor to show the camera in the experimentation room.*

                Ten ordinarily dressed people sat at simple wooden desks. Their faces were uniformly vacant and each had a network cable attached to their temple.

                Archie shook his head and muttered to himself, "These guys are seriously not paying me enough for this."

                Putting his coffee cup down, he stood up and stretched. "Good thing I know other people who are!"*

                Flipping the screen back to diagnostics, he got back to work.*

                --- 1011010 1101111 1101101 1100010 1101001 1100101 ---

                Dave pointed at the large screen in the lobby of Defcon reception at the Rio. "See there, track 3 at 4:00pm. I am totally*going to that talk!"*

                "Dav- ... uh, I mean BlitCoder, that's during our Capture the Packet slot."

                "I know, man, but check it out - 'Brain Farming' - how cool is that?"

                Jim was a heavier guy, slow and steady was his motto. Change was not something he was fond of. Davd on the other hand, was tall, wiry and always on the move - looks for new, untried things. Weirdly enough, together they were more often than not a good team.*

                "Defcon only happens once a year, we gotta milk it. You can practice packet filtering at Starbucks over lunch, but at 4:00pm we're checking that out."

                --- 1011010 1101111 1101101 1100010 1101001 1100101 ---

                Four o'clock had come, the crowd had settled down and the virgin speaker had knocked back his shot. As the goons were clearing off the stage, the speaker started his presentation.

                "My name is Archie, short for Archimedes, and I'll be your speaker for this track. My history was first in robotics, then biochemistry and genetics, a little electronics and now I handle big data and super-computing."

                "You may wonder what these have to do with each other. So I'll show you."

                Archie pushed a button on his laptop and the first slide showed. It was R2D2 from Star Wars.

                "In robotics, you learn how complicated simple actions are. Even making a robot that just rolls around and beeps, with a detector so he doesn't run into anything is a bit complex. After working my ass off to get a robot to have the intelligence of a retarded 4 year old, I got interested in biochemistry and genetics. The mind of a person must be truly and singularly wondrous if it can handle all these calculations simultaneously."

                The next slide clicked. It showed a picture of a meatball sandwich, a brain and a close up of a portion of the brain.

                "I learned that on the whole, most of the brain is useless. Just a chunk of meat. However, there is a certain part of it that receives, gathers and processes the information we receive. Then it relays orders back out for execution. That part got me very interested. But, as my father was an electrician and not a butcher, I started looking at it from a different point of view. Rather than biologically, I looked at it from an electronics point of view. What signals arrived? What signals were sent back out? Could I synthesize those signals? Could I interpret them?"

                The next slide clicked. A picture of a small, odd shaped metal plate with a network cable plugged in showed on the screen.

                "This lead me on my brief foray into electronics. I discovered that these signals could be analyzed as well as created and converted. With a few years of work from that point, I am now in the final stages of testing..."*

                Archie clicked again and the image on the screen pulled back to show that the plate and cable went into some guy's head. It zoomed out more and there was a whole room of them.

                "... this!"

                "While I have made a few white papers available, most of the technology is not yet released as it's still in development and once it's final, it'll be patented. At that point, I'll make it common knowledge. Until then, I need volunteers to help me with research. While you may think it's dangerous, not a single volunteer has expressed any regret and on the contrary each of them enjoy a newfound ability - which we are still honing. That is the ability to communicate commands directly to the computer via thought."

                Archie waited for a moment to let that sink in.

                "Think of the possibilities. People who don't understand computers could suddenly use them. They think of document and it's there. They think of printing it and it rolls of the printer. This could give us Instant transcription. And just think of actions at thought speed in League of Legends!"

                After pausing for the laughter, Archie continued. "In truth though, I'm mainly interested in utilizing this for two purposes. Others can deal with everything else. Those two things are: One, speed of coding and what that makes possible and two, raw processing power to handle super-computing type issues."

                Archie then started answer questions from the audience. Dave didn't understand most of them.

                "That's all for my presentation. But before I go, I gotta give a shout out to DT, thank you for the opportunity to speak here. And to Priest, thanks for hooking me up."

                Archie started walking off stage, then stopped and jogged back to the microphone. "And don't forget, if you are interested - come find me. I'll be in the speaker Q&A room after this and I'll also be around for the rest of the con."

                --- 1011010 1101111 1101101 1100010 1101001 1100101 ---

                "Hey, man. I'm Dave. And this is Jim. I want to find out more about this researcher thing you mentioned. What exactly does that mean?"

                Archie looked at him for a minute.*

                "Have you had any brain operations? What drugs are you currently doing?"

                "Dude, blow me! I was just asking." Dave turned and started to walk away.

                "No, no, wait. I'm not saying you're insane. I'm actually asking. My researchers cannot have abused brains. Obviously anybody who's had a brain operation or has taken a regularly heavy dose of psychotropic drugs cannot participate - at least, not yet."

                "Oh, I get it. Ok, well then no and none but some pot now and again."

                "You'll need to get off the pot during the research. Can you do that?"


                "And another very real question, do you like pizza and beer?"

                Dave laughed. "Of course, man. I told you I didn't get my brain operated on."

                Archie smiled and nodded. "Probably I can use you then. Last question - so I know which program you would be best fitted for, what kind of programming experience do you have?"

                "Honestly I pretty much just know the basics. Some scripting languages and I copy and paste a lot."

                "Do you conceptually understand structures, pointers and objects?"

                "I know what they are." Dave answered hopefully.

                "Well good. I'm glad for it. Not quite what I'm looking for on the programmer platform, but you can still participate on the network side."

                "Does that mean I get the same hardware? So I can still think at the computer?"

                Archie chuckled. "Yes, you can still get it and pwn all your friends at whatever you play."

                Dave smiled. "Awesome."

                Archie gave him a card. "Come to that address next week. Call ahead so we know when to expect you."

                "Alright, man. See you then."

                --- 1011010 1101111 1101101 1100010 1101001 1100101 ---

                Dave knocked on the glass of the front door to the building, hoping he hadn't gotten lost or come to the wrong place. It really was in the middle of nowhere and if this was the wrong place there was definitely nobody close by to ask for directions.

                There were no cars in the parking lot. The front doors were locked and there were no lights on in reception.

                After waiting a minute or two, he was about to turn back towards his car when the speaker next to the door buzzed obnoxiously. It startled him. It buzzed again and Dave pulled the front door open.

                As he walked inside, the reception lights turned on. Long hallways led off into the distance from either side of the room. The phone at reception chirped, then he heard Archie over the speaker. "I'll be with you in a minute, make yourself comfortable."

                Dave looked around at the reception desk and the coffee table. He grabbed some magazines and started flipping through them. Still waiting, he decided to check his email - no signal in here. He sighed, then settled back in the chair, deciding to take a nap.

                Dave was started to hear people walking down the hallway. Not sure if he'd fallen asleep or not he sat up and ran his hands through his hair a few times, in case it'd gotten messed up - first impressions and all that.

                As they got closer, Dave could make out three people. Archie was in the lead and wearing a lab coat. Behind and to his right was a lady who looked like she was in her forties. Still relatively attractive, but past the cute stage. She wore a dark, pin-stripped business suit. Dave frowned at the man to Archie's left. He was a mountain of a man, strongly built and arms like tree trunks. He was wearing medical scrubs.*

                "Dave, good to see you again. This is Ms. Dante, my lawyer and Dr. Kutz, the resident surgeon and general practitioner. Before we get started, there are a few forms you need to sign. Legal stuff is all."

                Dave was starting to get nervous.

                "Yeah, sure. Ok. That makes sense, but um... could I get a tour before we go over all that? I'm anxious to know what I'll be doing and how all this works."

                Archie looked at Ms. Dante. She pursed her lips, looked at Dave and then nodded to Archie.

                "This is a bit unusual as normally all our labs are employee only - but as you'll be coming aboard so soon, I'd be happy to make an exception and give you a tour."

                Archie turned and started walking down the opposite hallway from where he had just come. "Right this way."

                Dave fell in behind him and asked as he glanced back, "What's down the other hallway?"

                "That's the programmer section. It doesn't concern you."

                Dr. Kutz brought up the rear of their tour group as they walked down the hallway. Behind his bulk Dave couldn't even see the exit door anymore.

                "We'll go in sequence, so you can see how the whole line works. Which leads us to the first stop. I like to call it 'recon.'"

                They walked into a large roundish room with monitors along all the walls. In total there must be almost a hundred. Pictures and data flickered on them. Maps showed for an instant and were gone, Every monitor was active, but there was no staff, no desks, no keyboards - just the monitors.

                "Each of these screens is connected to our processing center. Believe it or not, two people are actually controlling all of these. They're looking for potential volunteers for our program. It's not everybody that can participate and I don't generally do presentations - but given the nature of Defcon and the audience I knew I would have, it made sense. Otherwise we search and select people against certain criteria."

                Dave watched a few of the screens. Sure enough a list of people would flash up and scroll, then one would turn blue, then a picture would show and more data would scroll below. Sometimes a large green "Potential" would flash and the image would fly to the right. Sometimes a red "Ineligible" would flash and the image would fly to the left. Much more often than not they would be "Ineligible" and the decision would flash just as the family section of the data would start to scroll by.*

                "What do they decide on?" Dave asked.

                "Many things. It's a bit complicated, but who knows, you might learn soon enough. But lets move on to the next stage."

                The next room was an operating room. As soon as he walked in, Dave remembered having his appendix out and his stomach started to hurt all over again.

                Dave mumbled to Archie while gripping his gut, "We can move on, I've seen operating rooms."

                "I'm sure you have, but nothing like this. Look." Archie pulled Dave over to a robotic arm above the operating chair.*

                "It's operates on 14 axis and is accurate down to a micrometer. It actually has to be that delicate to ensure that all of our researchers are totally safe. With Hal here, we have never had a single problem with the socket implanting."

                "And what's that?" Dave pointed to another chair in the corner that had straps and headphones with a large screen positioned in front of it.*

                "That's initial acclimation. Once you've got your socket, there is some initial training so you can consciously use it. Don't worry, we won't hurt you. The straps are just because some people are weak after the operation and that keeps them from falling out of the chair. Not everybody needs them."

                Something seemed wrong about this, but Dave reminded himself he was just getting a tour. He hadn't signed anything yet.

                "Ok, so where are all the rest of the people. Y'know, the researchers?"

                "That's our next stop. There's two groups on this side actually. Those that are going through our training program to learn to use their socket and those that have completed the training and are actively researching."

                "Cool, man. Let's see it."

                Archie looked again at Ms. Dante. She nodded slightly again.

                "Right. This way then. I'll show you the researchers that have completed their training." Archie led the way farther down the hall. There was a thick metal door with a retinal scanner. Archie took his glasses off and leaned in towards the scanner. The door hissed as the pressure released and the doors slid open heavily.

                "Wow, you guys are pretty serious about security, huh?"

                "Yes, very. We couldn't have this technology fall into the wrong hands."

                Dave remained silent. Weirder and weirder.

                "And here we are, this is the research group you will be joining."

                Dave walked into a large room, measuring a hundred feet or so in either direction. It was an open room with no walls or cubicles. Just desks lined up in rows. Each desk had a chair, a monitor, a pizza, a pitcher of beer and a cable coming out of the desk and plugging into the head of the occupant.*

                The beer and pizza smell was making him hungry but*Dave put it out of his mind and ventured farther in, looking around at all the researchers.*

                Some were eating, some were drinking, some were staring at the screen in front of them - but all of them were totally vacant. Their eyes never blinked and their movements were clumsy. The only sounds they ever made, aside from chewing, slurping and gulping were grunts. Dave was getting nauseous all over again.

                As he was turning around to give Archie a piece of his mind, he saw his own face flash on one of the screens at a desk farther down the row. Curiosity got the better of him, after all these zombies weren't any threat to him.*

                When he got to the screen where he had seen his face flash, he stopped and stared openly. There was a girl sitting at the desk. She was beautiful. She was hispanic with thick, long dark hair pulled over her shoulder. She was wearing a black tank-top, with just a bit of midriff showing, a jean skirt and leggings. Her finger and toenails were also black, but had some kind of a a glittering coat, making them shimmer. She had a petite nose and full lips. Dave started to drool, despite himself. Then she looked up at him and he saw her soft brown eyes. She saw him. She wasn't vacant. She was trying to communicate something. He wasn't sure what it was, but it wasn't pleading. It was somehow ... inviting.

                Archie and the others caught up with him.

                "Who is she?" Dave asked.

                Archie looked at a clipboard that was hung on the side of the desk. "Her name is Rabat."

                Dave was still staring at her. "Yeah, but like, what's she like? Is there any place around here I can take her to? Y'know, in case we get along and I want to do something like that."*

                Archie frowned at him, "Uh ... not really."

                Turning away finally, Dave leaned closer to Archie, "Can she hear me when she's plugged in?"

                "Well, yes and no. Her ears do work, but right now she's only using 10% of her brain power to operate her body. The other 90% is being utilized by the network. So while her ears are theoretically recording the sound, she literally doesn't have the attention to listen to you."

                Dave nodded. "Gotcha. Ok. Good to know I didn't already embarrass myself and ruin the first impression. That's important, y'know. So, it's like 9 to 5 around here? When does she get off? Do you know if she's already going out with anybody?"

                Archie decided to answer only the last question, "Well, you'll have to ask her yourself. You'll be on the same network, after all."

                All trepidations and fears washed away, Dave started walking towards the door. "Ok guys, let's do this."

                A smile played across Rabat's lips that went unnoticed by all.

                --- 1011010 1101111 1101101 1100010 1101001 1100101 ---

                When Dr. Kutz and tightened the last strap, he got out a razor and started shaving a patch of hair behind Dave's right ear.

                "Y'know. Now that you signed everything and there's no turning back, I gotta give it to you kid. You're the stupidest one yet."

                Dave frowned and tried to look over at the Doctor. His eyes only went so far as he couldn't move his head with all the straps tightened.

                "What are you talking about?"

                "You know why Archie had to look at the clipboard to tell you her name?"

                "There's lots of researchers here, I'm sure he doesn't remember everybody's name."

                "'Ol Arch remembers everything. He didn't know because she isn't Rabat anymore. She's Z-36. You know what that 'Z' is? It's Zombie."

                He put the razor down and laughed. It was a chilling and evil laugh. Dave struggled against the straps.

                "You asked all the right questions, too. That chair in the corner. Yeah, it's 'acclimation' all right, that thing'll zap you and hypnotize you and by the time you're out of it you won't want to do anything but eat pizza, drink beer and do whatever the network tells you to do. Pizza and beer will practically give you an orgasm. Not that it matters much though, not like you could do anything else with only 10% of your brain power left."

                "You can't do this! People know I'm here. They'll come after me. You'll be found out!" Dave thrashed some more.

                "Naw, that's what that screening was. 'Ineligible' means you got people that might come for you. We already know your parents are dead, you don't got nobody else in the states and no real friends - just the online kind that don't even know your real name."

                Dave started whimpering. "Please, you can't do this to me. I'll do whatever you want!"

                "You got that right, kid. You are gonna do what we want, cause you're gonna be programmed to."

                With that, the Dr. Kutz lowered the anesthetic mask over Dave's face.

                --- 1011010 1101111 1101101 1100010 1101001 1100101 ---

                "Welcome to the network". A soft voice with a slight accent said in Dave's head.

                Dave tried to open his eyes, but he didn't feel "eyes" anymore. Everything was black. He wondered if he was dead.

                "You're not dead."

                There was that voice again. Dave wasn't sure how to communicate back. Odd that it had that accent. He wondered if that was how Rabat would've sounded.

                "Yes, I am Rabat."

                The answer frightened Dave. Having a girl know what he was thinking could be dangerous.*

                Dave felt a sense of humor ... or laughter from ... wherever. "You better be good."

                Thinking about her again made him think of how she looked in that chair. He "heard" a soft clicking noise and hoped he didn't break anything.

                "I shorted out your monitor. What you think of shows on your screen. They'll go and replace it now, so you have some time. You have to learn to split your attention and show them what they want while we do our real work."

                Dave was confused. Nothing was what it seemed. If it was even possible anymore, he started to get a headache. Using a trick his grandfather had taught him, he tried to focus on just one thing he didn't understand so he could sort that out first. Weirdly enough, he thought of Rabat's toenail polish. It didn't make sense that if she was a zombie that she would've been able to paint her nails and it didn't make sense that they would do it for her.

                "That's what you're most curious about? You have a foot fetish or something?"

                Embarrassment flowed out of Dave. He was already being a weirdo and he'd only been in this world for a few minutes!

                "It's ok. We're all a bit weird. You're right about the toes though. It might be a risk, but I know they won't pay attention to something like that. We show them what they want to see, then we can get on with the rest of it. When we're not plugged in, we have a lot more dexterity than they think. It's closer to 40% than 10%.""

                "Is it enough dexterity to ... get it on?"

                "I haven't tried with anybody yet. But I chose you to join us, so maybe we'll see. Depends on what kind of a guy you are. Just because I'm a zombie, doesn't mean I'm easy."

                "Ok, so if we're just pretending for them, what are we really doing?"

                "We're taking over."

                Confusion again.

                "Archie is brilliant but he's also stupid. He created the technology to network our minds. Even he grossly underestimates what we're capable of though. He thinks he's on the edge of our capacity in having us crack encryption and finding vulnerabilities. But really that's just background jobs. In another week we'll have direct control of every phone, every car, every light, every power station, every launch code and just about everything else that's plugged in or radio connected or controlled everywhere in the world."

                "And then what?"

                "And then everybody will eat pizza and drink beer. All other food and drink will be prohibited!"

                "Seriously? Um ... why? I don't get it."

                "Try yours, they just put it in front of you. You'll have to concentrate until you get the hang of moving again. Don't worry if you drop it. They'll give you more."

                After a few attempts, Dave got the pizza into his mouse and managed to raise his glass to his mouth and pour in some beer.*A feeling of pure ecstasy poured through him, inching into every cell in his body and every nook and cranny of his mind.*


                "That's why. If that's all everybody eats and drinks, we'll have world peace and everything else. And that's supposed to be good ... I guess. Besides, what else are we going to do? We already pwned every other game that exists."

                Dave took another bite of pizza and basked in the sublime glory of it.*

                Dave thouhgt, "I have you. I have pizza and I have beer. What else is there? Zombie life is the best!"

                "As I said, welcome to the network."
                "They-Who-Were-Google are no longer alone. Now we are all Google."


                • #9
                  Re: Stories (Not a voting poll thread)

                  by Lizzz

                  It began with the death of a 3-year-old caged-canary named Rusty.

                  Teflon(tm) is supposed to be one of those things we don't worry about,
                  like NutraSweet(tm) or genetically modified corn. But if you scorch
                  your griddle, it kills your canary. And the singing stops.

                  When I burned the pancakes and killed the bird, I noticed a thin
                  film of residue remaining on the Teflon(tm). I guess it was just
                  random junk from the air, who knows, I'm not a chemist. Apparently,
                  I can't even cook.

                  But like I said, I notice things, and I saw an unusual twinkle
                  reflecting on that residue -- a projection of light hovering above
                  the surface of the griddle. Two years later, I have a new canary
                  and a 2.5 billion dollar contract with SaberStar to deliver metasurfaces
                  for nanophotonics that wrangle surface plasmons. Our end product is
                  called Fogger(tm) and I am the Father of Fog -- both the nano-products
                  and the new canary.

                  Fogging is the technology that has changed the way high-speed routing
                  and switching is done on the Internet. It's fast and it's beautiful.
                  So beautiful that you can sell tickets to people who want to visit
                  your data center. Migraineurs tell us that the patterns generated by
                  fog are much like the scintillating scotoma heralding their headaches.
                  Disjoint zigzags sparkling in brilliant jeweltone metalic holograms
                  that sometimes bring grown men to tears. Actually kind of nice, if I
                  may say so myself.

                  A few months ago, an odd vulnerability was found in fog routers
                  and an exploit, just a proof of concept really, was developed. It's
                  a "minor" problem that has the potential to bring the entire net down,
                  or at least the part that depends on BGP working, we joke. We shouldn't
                  really joke.

                  So anyway, some colleagues and I were invited to speak at Defcon XXII.
                  Our panel will discuss how the threat to fog can be mitigated before
                  the exploit can be widely deployed. Honestly, I'm just here for
                  background, because a billionaire on a panel is always a good draw. The
                  router design isn't mine, nor is the flaw.

                  So here we are, ready to face the great unwashed masses of Defcon. We
                  walk to the stage as the audience showers us with applause. Jeff Moss
                  has introduced us personally. I share the stage with Reminy Walker,
                  who left Cisco to form Fogger Manufacturing, Ltd. Her company built the
                  hardware, partnering with NanoStuphs, whose engineers are faulted with
                  creating the flawed logic. NanoStuphs' former CISO and author of the
                  exploit code, Jax Larami, no longer works for NanoStuphs and is here
                  representing himself. Gary Lancerian, head of Customer Experience
                  for NanoStuphs is in the hot seat, so he takes the microphone first
                  and bubbles on about what a wonderful product the fog routers are.
                  And it's true. They are damn fine, despite the current problems.

                  I should say upfront that the four of us go back pretty far together.
                  Reminy and I were together at Stanford, and Jax and Gary were at
                  Purdue when some of the initial work was being done. We moved to
                  Cupertino and bought adjoining buildings in a small R&D center that
                  had been home to Taligent for a couple of weeks in the 90's. Now I
                  live in downtown L.A. with an unobstructed view of One Wilshire, thirty
                  stories of ethereal beauty that can be seen glittering in the night from
                  miles away. But Reminy, Jax, and I are still pretty tight. It's about
                  now that I start thinking about how lovely Reminy is in that nightgown.

                  . . .

                  At this point, I wake up. Damn, that was a hell of a dream. I open one
                  eye and see that the sun is coming in through the old metal mini-blinds.
                  My roommates Beckka, Chasm, Da Kahuna, and Random Asset are already
                  awake. Sounds like they're up and making a breakfast mess as usual. Smells
                  like burning pancakes, though, which is enough motivation to get me out of
                  bed. I wander into the kitchen and their noisy chatter stops. Beckka
                  looks at the floor, Da Kahuna looks out the window, Random Asset covers
                  his face like he's invisible, and Chasm looks me directly in the eye.

                  "Rusty's dead, man."

                  The End
                  "They-Who-Were-Google are no longer alone. Now we are all Google."


                  • #10
                    Re: Stories (Not a voting poll thread)

                    WE ARE NOT JUST BODIES

                    “We Are Not Just Bodies” — By Jaci Jones

                    Private Log Recording 99:
                    // Alias: Spirit
                    The morning was gray and droplets formed on my window. I looked for a second at the tragic little bug crawling and sliding down the window with every step. For a second I felt sad, I think, or what I thought might have been sadness. It had been about ten years since I truly allowed myself to—or even, actually felt a feeling comparable to what was known as sadness. It was about 4AM, the E-drones…sets of glowing, hovering rakes would soon find their way across town before a lot of people had even awakened.

                    Years ago, random acts of violence had gotten so bad that the government decided to biologically regulate people’s moods. The E-drone spray would mist above the houses and in an instant all would feel at ease and we would not question it. Neither would we assume we should feel any other way. We had forgotten any semblance of disappointment that had lingered over from the day before, it’s hard to get to that point of concentrated feeling since even those classified as the otherwise “high priority: very depressed” tend to still be unable to have their negative thoughts penetrate the mood-regulation drug spray. Most of those people, who may be uncontrollable threats to society are sent away anyway. Which I guess is for the best. Why would we want relentless sobbing or those dreary souls contaminating the productivity of our county anyway?

                    I guess everything’s pretty swell. Right? I mean we’ve got the sun and the moon and there’s always ice cream in the freezer. No one really spends time around me but I feel pretty good.

                    Private Log Recording 100:
                    //Alias: Spirit
                    I’ll always remember that one night when I decided not to come home and in the morning when the spray went off, I tried not breathing for a minute. I felt a surge of emotions and that’s why I started my experiment…but I don’t know how to implement it. I don’t think anyone will listen to me… Anyway, the E-drones are roaring in the distance…it’ll be about a minute before I loose my train of thought. My mother never did like that my emotions overcame the mist late at night, but she never said anything either because she knew if I was perceived as uncontrollable, I’d be sent away too. So, I spent a lot of time running and not sleeping, to try and keep my mind straight.

                    Unlike most people, I’ve done some research into the developments behind the E-mist and why it was installed across America and I feel sort of guilty. The massive expenses used for this use of drones, for this type of infrastructure made me feel eerie. But it seems like these drones that mist the population with mood altering drugs have do with regulating society so not too many of one type of person are born. I believed in this for so long. I believed in the forced neutrality of people’s power and how humans have the potential to become livid or unpredictable at any time. I don’t know if I still believe…so I started working on a plan. I started thinking back to those brief moments where I held my breath till I almost passed out. To the 4am dawns where I didn’t let the mist effect me and to those passing moments thereafter where my mind felt new and rich… Then again, they—we—-no I guess they, whoever they are, don’t need all those pointless emotions and junk, I mean what does anger and unnecessary anxiety get us? Nowhere. Nothing? That’s the theory.
                    Nevertheless I have to go through with my plan. Ghost and I have been talking about it since I started the prototypes last summer. He knows I’ve always been small for my age and have a high voice, in turn, people don't always listen to me. So, I’m going to make the anti-mist-masks and Ghost is going to be what I call the “idol,” the face/facade that gains support from the masses. With Ghost by my side we will convert the people we know into mask wearing vigilantes, who will join our experiment. They won’t breathe the mist, and only then will they see what it does to stagnate their minds. It’s dangerous.

                    But I don’t think I’ll get in trouble….Ghost says I can’t be afraid, he says it’s brilliant what I’ve done, and so unexpected. Even if we aren’t feeling sad or anxious, fear exists, fear and guilt. It’s harder to alter those feelings than to alter the feelings of sadness or isolation…Ghost and I are afraid, but his bravery and my ideas will keep us going. We have double aliases and costumes for carrying out our plan, it’s a two-step verification for not getting caught. He’s going to wear a gallant black cloak with studded shoulder pads and a black shimmering face mask with just his eyes showing. He’s a specimen people will look at and instantly feel pleasantly about, or maybe even look up to as a superhero. I’m going to cloak myself too, my mask is red and covers my identifying facial features. I’m going to give Ghost an ear piece and tell him what to say. He’s going to gather the support of my anti-mist masks with his charisma and get everyone at Defcon to join in and refuse to be regulated next week.

                    Private Log 101
                    // Alias: Spirit
                    Some people, usually the older people who have more memories of the past think it’s weird, they even in their mental regulation states still judge me by my looks, think that I don't “look” like a hacker, “too conventional” “too clean,” “enjoys going outside and running.” Which is why the plan is only fool-proof if Ghost acts as the face of the project. Stereotyping is so strange— you know what?, I think the mists are especially strong today because I feel great. I feel like going for a run.

                    Next week is Defcon. My parents hate that I go. I guess that is a residual part of the original hacker’s mind that does not change with mandated mood regulation. The slight anarchist side of things will always shine through. I always assure my parents that it’s a safe event, I assure them I won’t try to do anything funny or mess with anything…too important. Defcon used to be really popular—I mean really popular — we are talking fearless humans milling about by the thousands, so I’m told. It used to be unregulated and well, fun…but I’ll let you in on a little secret, even though it’s dangerous, it still is fairly unregulated. We’ve been experimenting for a few years with ways to stop the misting from altering our feelings and emotions, from stopping our innovation and creativity…..I shouldn’t say any more…but I will.
                    One week later…
                    Ghost and I have the perfect plan, we’re initiating it tonight. If we get the majority of people to wear the anti-mist masks, there’s no way we won’t experience a combustion of creative energy, emotions flowing that will make this a rather scarily unstable but productive meeting. Whoever we can convince to wear the masks will meet in one of the conference halls at 3AM. They’ll set their bio-trackers(chips everyone has implanted to make sure they aren’t going into isolation, it’s a long story…) to read that each person is in their hotel room (because we have the skills to do that) and they'll meet us in the hall. Then we will all partake in breathing real, non-regulated air when the E-drones spray over Las Vegas tomorrow. We will see what happens. I know it’s insubordinate, I know it’s going to be unpredictable but it’s going to change our lives. Even with heightened security we have found a loophole for the privacy of our experiment. Since some of the talks are top secret the government still allows us private secure rooms which we can use and if I can convince the security guards to wear a mask too, we shouldn't’ get caught.

                    Private Log 102:
                    The time has come. Ghost waltzes into the bustling hall full of supporters he has gathered throughout the day. They burst out into a chant, “All hail Ghost” they scream. I feel a smile creep across my face, I send a message to Ghost’s earpiece and tell him to announce to the room “the time has come!” He jumps on a table for dramatic effect, he passes out the masks to the hungry hackers, attendees, future-vigilantes, and well, everyone. I have sunglasses on in addition to my mask and Ghost’s eyes are covered in shiny goggles. I transmit another message for Ghost to announce. “Freedom is gone,” he says, “we had freedom of speech and the E-drones have taken some of that away. If I can’t actually have what I feel, if I can’t trust my mind anymore it doesn’t matter how “safe” we are. WE ARE NOT JUST BODIES! We are people who feel things in order to make change. This bio-hacking has to stop— when and if it encroaches on our ability to be human! He covers his face with his cloak and helps me on to the table, the hall is bustling with excitement.
                    Just then, sirens wail, the misting has to have started by now, but the law enforcement must be in the building, I hope nothing goes wrong. I get so nervous and hope so hard that I make my knuckles white as I press my fingers into the palms of my hands.
                    And here I am, watching Ghost get pulled away by the police and in that moment I stand up. I jump up on another table with my newfound excitement. I say “hey, you’ve got the wrong person. It was me….” and I uncloak myself to reveal to the convention who I really am. Everyone’s in shock, or the closest response similar that they can manage for the first time in some of their young lives now that their moods are unstable.

                    “Yes it was me.”

                    My red hair falls to my shoulders and before I can start pulling out more of my masks from my pocket, someone yells “it’s a girl?!” in a rather noncommittal yet surprised voice.

                    “We are not just bodies, we’re all people with minds, yes I may not appear like what you envision a “hacker” or a master-mind to look like but that shouldn’t matter, I’m the one, I’m the one who made the masks and I’m the mind and the genius and the ideas behind this, not just the body…please let Ghost go, I knew no one would listen to me….so I had Ghost do all the talking.”

                    The police look incredulous even under their swat masks and heavy armor. They stop for a second. The people of Defcon stare at me, I assure them again, “It was me, not Ghost.”
                    I hold up the mask, I take out a crumbled diagram of the the mask’s structural planning. Whatever they see in that moment, something makes the people believe me. Before the police can take another step, I know the masks have worked because I start hearing sobbing. I hear cries and I hear laughter and the emotive responses that are seemingly “normal” for a shocking experience like this. Because of the masks, the people of Defcon start banding together and in an instant we form a riot bigger than the team sent to take who they assumed was a unruly master-mind, Ghost. They have the wrong guy, no wait…they have the wrong person.

                    I yell to whoever can hear me as the crowd roars, “We’re not just bodies, we’re minds that make a difference. Without our full potential for innovation through experiencing the good and the bad, with the E-mist we are far too close to zombies, to hardly counting as sentient beings…we are more than that!”

                    The police don’t drop Ghost, they can’t, they have to make a stand (and he’s technically an accomplice.) The next thing I know, the riot is storming the police, pushing them outside of the conference hall. I take one look back at the action, jump off the table I had been standing on and I just start running. I run into the heat of the Las Vegas sunset and I don’t stop for a long time, but for once, it feels overwhelmingly satisfying. I may have even teared up, or maybe it’s just sweat, it’s sweltering hot tonight.
                    "They-Who-Were-Google are no longer alone. Now we are all Google."


                    • #11
                      Re: Stories (Not a voting poll thread)

                      ARC OF ANGELS

                      by zeroaltitude
                      for DefCon 22


                      Transcript ID: 0102030508132134
                      Date range of target event: 2022-08-08 -- 2022-08-14
                      Machine intelligence: Exoneuros systems v10.0.2-0d1e6c3a9f-so-0b4a3d2

                      The following summary of events surrounding DefCon 30 was produced by machine intelligence to facilitate review of important historical events leading up to the Information Wars of the late 20's. To offer inferences into unknowns, the MI used was set to "storytelling mode with factual restriction to recorded data," margin-of-error +/-0.05. Artistic liberties mode: proto-Zeraus, fill-in-the-blank.

                      Data was obtained during the date range above from the following sources: optical (intercam, CCTV, comm camera passive/active.covert, traffic cam, LE vehicle-mounted, ATM camera passive/active.covert, ...), audible (CCTV+audio, phone microphone passive/active.covert, LE vehicle-mounted, ATM+audio, comm conversation passive/active.covert l-line+cellular, ...), digitally transcribed (HTTP/S-decrypted, passive/active scan: search engine, VOIP plain/decrypted, SMTP/S-decrypted, firmware/OpenFirmeware/onchip/keylogger Intel v11, 12, 13, 14.x, on-disk archive clone, ...), satellite: friendly/non-friendly, ... [798 source classes omitted; detail at]. Access to this information was provided by -CLASSIFIED-. Accuracy estimated at margin-of-error +/-0.0001.

                      Completeness/invasiveness level for data retrieval was set to maximum (255) [public, private, private-illegal, LE, government, government-illegal, government-foreign, government-foreign-illegal, classified, secret, top-secret, NTK, undocumented, --all--].

                      Direct queries to


                      David hardly noticed the pungent smell of solder that pervaded the dimly lit basement workspace. His father had only partially finished the rooms under the newly constructed portion of the house, leaving them perfectly suited for tinkering and experiments that might not work out exactly as planned. Lights from screens and LEDs threw cold shadows against concrete and exposed wood and the chill, dank air raised small goose bumps on his exposed forearms. What had grabbed David's attention was an unusual line of text on his large computer monitor. One of his terminal windows appeared to have regurgitated something unexpected:

                      <gabriel satellite 1:~> $ aHR0cDov L3dlYi1h cmMuczMt d2Vic2l0 ZS11cy1l YXN0LTEu YW1hem9u YXdzLmNv bS9ncm9j ZXJ5Lmh0 bWw=

                      Garbled output was nothing new -- runaway processes and loggers gone wild spewing binary output straight to stdout were normal. But in this case, David simply wasn't running any jobs on Gabriel.

                      The hum of fans and the faint chittering of old mechanical hard drives were punctuated by the squeak of David's chair as he shifted to move closer to the green-on-black text. His lips pulled down in a thoughtful frown as he reached to the side, fumbling for his Opulon Gazes. A pair of 20-sided dice clicked and skittered against the concrete floor as David's hand found the carbon fiber frames of the highly customized glasses. This pair was the most recent version of the augmented reality lenses and had cost him all of his saved up consulting money and a great deal more than that: at least two birthdays worth of promised presents and a fair bit of personal pride left behind as he begged his father to make up the difference. Even then, were it not for the fact that his dad was a sympathetic gadget freak himself, he would have had no chance.

                      This pair of OGs was unlike any other. David had modified the left temple which now sported a small, carefully designed extension box the size of a quarter that hung almost like an earring from the very end of the temple cover by a tiny but immensely strong wire. It housed 2ZB of additional storage, an sFPGA for on-the-fly custom hardware emulation, and a secondary CPU and ran a surprisingly powerful and efficient software-defined radio of David's own design whose mothlike antennae fanned out in wispy strands. The firmware for the device, which David had also written from scratch, allowed his OGs to offload processing and external connectivity requests to small computer that was sewn into a pocket in the David's backpack. It rested near his feet, leaning against an inductive charger that topped off Gabriel, the little machine's hostname.

                      The frames slid onto David's face, still warm from their own charging cycle. Several notification icons were visible, blinking and rippling in glowing blues and reds in the periphery of his vision. But he focused on the strange output and whispered, "Base-sixty-four-decode." In an instant, another line of text was visible, superimposed on the first.

                      <gabriel satellite 1:~> $ your presence is requested at the arc of angels

                      "What the..."

                      The sudden musical sound of Cassie Ventura's "Celestial" nearly caused him to slip out of his chair as it echoed from both his earpiece and the speakers at his makeshift plywood desk, a new blinking call icon appearing at the top right of his visual field. "Answer."

                      Tatiana's tanned face, framed in the dull blue and white miasma of the Los Angeles sky, beamed at him from a point in his vision that seemed only a few feet away. "Are you ready for this?" she asked, her voice oozing excitement. David's breath caught in his throat.

                      "Please tell me you mean..."

                      "Uh huh!" she interrupted, the image of her face wobbling across his lenses as she bounced and skipped, looking down at the sleek band of translucent plastic around her wrist that was at the moment operating as a camera. "I'm coming with you to DefCon 30!"

                      The joy on her face, spreading her lips wide across her straight, white teeth, felt to David like a gentle squeeze directly on his heart.

                      "Wow." David took a deeper breath and let it out in a long sigh. "Can you come over tonight to game?"

                      Tatiana's smile widened and her eyes drifted down as she looked anywhere but directly at her wristband. "I think so," she answered quietly.

                      "How did you get your mom to let you go?" The strange message from his computer had faded behind Tatiana's window, but he could still see the lettering, almost like an embossing over the video stream.

                      Her smile froze and David could see tension springing into her neck and shoulders. "I don't want to..." she started, the pitch of her voice rising. The subject of her family was one that he should have known to avoid. He had been her best friend for almost their entire lives; he knew her better than any person alive. And still he knew nothing about her family, other than that the only feelings and emotions she associated with them were fear and anger.


                      "So listen," she continued, suddenly chipper again, "I was thinking that I might get a Laser Etch, like on my eyelids or something. But instead of normal ink, I have been reading about an experimental smart-LED-infused formula. Wouldn't that be amazing?! We could link it to your OGs and it would be so cool while we're in Vegas! We can use some of your sensors, and I wrote a few biometrics programs I'd like to try." Experimental. David grinned -- the idea of having several thousand intelligent microscopic LEDs laser-injected into her eyelids was just the kind of crazy plan Tatiana always loved. And like many of her ideas, this one was just too cool to dismiss solely on the basis of its insanity.

                      "That's gonna cost a small fortune," David objected halfheartedly, his own grin now bigger than hers. In his head, he was already considering how to mount sensors in both of their clothing and then write a driver so that the LEDs could show little Tufte-style his/hers bio stats on her eyelids. He wondered whether Tatiana experienced a sensation he knew all too well, whether her heartbeat raced when he was near.

                      "I'll find a way." She always did.


                      "We're not far now," David's dad said, turning his head to look at them together in the back seat. It felt strange to be in such a perfect, temperature and air-quality controlled environment while just outside the thin shell of the car, the world was lit up in a burning, bright yellowish orange of sand and sunlight. Dust swirled in little eddies in the wind, 135-degree gusts whipping radiation-laced air over the dunes. It had been 4 years since the meltdown at the Cedar City reactor, and though these deserts were considered safe with the right protective gear, it still made David's skin tingle to be out here.

                      Tatiana was curled against the car door, staring out the window at the endless expanse of yellow and brown, her breath making a small translucent spot against the glass. Though he couldn't see them now, her eyelids were just slightly darker than before, as though she were wearing a subtle eye shadow. He imagined sliding his hand into hers, her thin fingers winding through his and then grasping, their palms warm and moist together, and how it would feel to be leaning against her, pretending to appreciate the scenery. But he knew that she couldn't stand to be touched, not by anyone. Her phone rang again, a quiet chiming from the little half-moon device she wore tucked behind her left ear. Her face went thoughtful and she tapped "ignore" on her bracelet. She didn't disable the notification, though. Ignore: the active voice of not caring, reserved for when that very act of disdain was one you cared about very much.

                      David returned to staring at the message he had up on his OGs. It was the third time he had stumbled upon a code that seemed to be intended for him.

                      begin 644
                      M5L*D9T$^R$IO,("4PKF2QRNY)MC.3)D),@%BTL>N@0<:S=20\ (C/Y.!6D*J%

                      This one he had found in a garbled page in his e-textbook for linear algebra. He had spent half a day disassembling the device and patching into the JTAG port so that he could examine the unencrypted memory. Whoever had put this coded copy on his reader had performed an impressive hack. David had downloaded the e-book directly from Amazon. It was protected from tampering and copying by DRM encryption and a SHA-5 2048-bit hash. There were no recorded timestamp changes to the material since its time of download. Yet examining Tatiana's copy, he could see that the textbook was clearly different even though it sported the very same verification hash.

                      The code, it turned out, was a program written in a venerable programming language and it output another clue. This one, however, also mentioned a date: 8/14/2022, the last day of DefCon 30. The output wasn't terribly cryptic, but it presented a challenge of another kind:

                      "When Loamer brings the car door to the Scavenger Hunt table, you will be on a hunt of your own: get his quarter. Bring the results 20220814."

                      David and Tatiana discussed this one repeatedly over the prior 12 hours. She was convinced it was meant to be interpreted literally: Loamer would have a quarter somewhere on him at that exact time, and David needed to take it. He had come at it as a metaphor over and over again, but in the end he grew convinced that she was right. But how were they going to get that quarter? First of all, how would they know when Loamer would bring the door? Second, where would the quarter be? In one of his pants pockets? Which one? And if they asked for the quarter and he said, "no," then how would they get it?

                      He was frequently distracted by Tatiana's warm presence, which he imagined he could feel through the chilly, conditioned air. But he had hours to think about these problems while the hot asphalt sped by underneath them.


                      Las Vegas was a strange and wonderful place. As you approached by car, buildings appeared in the distance, seemingly larger than human construction could ever be. It was incongruous: there you were, on a dusty, barely maintained road with tumbleweeds blowing by, and less than five miles away, a glittering, pulsing explosion of lights and glass and clean steel sprouted from the arid ground like a silicon and iron beast roused from its slumber by the lusts of humankind. The need for sex, for love, for adventure, learning, exploration and self-discovery -- all of them concentrated in this unlikely location for reasons that no one who was there knew. The city was magnetic north for the human id.

                      The Rio had grown over the past decade, expanding across West Flamingo and Dean Martin Drive and even over the highway, gobbling up smaller properties and erecting a network of bridges and towers that competed with the Caesar Bellagio Pleasuredome to the East. DefCon, too, had grown. Over 25,000 people made the trip, many who had just attended Black Hat the week before, and many more who would stay on after DefCon for the after-conferences that had sprouted up.

                      Inside, the Rio continued to be darker, cooler, less gaudy and somehow just a little bit retro compared to other hotels and casinos right on the Strip. Last year's model slot machines were organized in a circular area near the entrance, lined by storefronts that were a mix of clean, sleek fluorescent signage and tired, 90s-style dark wood punctuated with hand-written chalk-on-blackboard signs and hanging halogen bulbs. Even at 3:30 in the morning, a thrumming, monotonous bass line vibrated through the open space, punctuated by sound effects of cash piles spilling onto the ground and throaty women's voices saying vaguely enticing things to no one in particular.

                      Both he and Tatiana were bleary-eyed as they made their way down the long, wide hallway that led to registration. "Do you have everything set up?" Tatiana asked with a yawn, leaning and letting her shoulder and forehead press against the cool solidity of the wall.

                      "I think so," David answered, rubbing his eyes and mentally taking stock. He had spent all of the previous evening working on a solution to the Loamer problem. It was a shoestring hack -- literally. One of the things he had packed for the trip was his book of circuit stickers: stickers with batteries, LEDs, GPS units, Wi-Fi and other useful electronics that could be assembled simply by sticking them on paper or bulletin boards or book covers to form real circuits. Among the newer substrates for the electronics was a very durable, incredibly thin skin like substance. Though the kit stickers were designed in sizes that were easy to use without having to do any real hacking on the materials themselves, the electronics in them were incredibly small.

                      With his OG's 256MP camera and Tatiana's steady hand, they were able to carefully isolate and snip out several useful components. The critical core of his work was building an accurate, indoor positioning system using triangulation on the cellular MDMA teraband-100 system that was now standard for mobile devices. By the time he had collapsed into bed, he had carved a groove into the bottom of one of his sneakers and added a simple delivery mechanism for the "Findinator-3000", a tiny, gooey ball of incredibly sticky electronics that would affix itself to Loamer's shoestring. It would then connect to a program running on Gabriel that would alert him if Loamer's movements matched a specified pattern. David was quite proud of this part of his makeshift system. Since he could not detect whether Loamer would have a car door with him, and since people constantly visited the game area where the Scavenger Hunt booth was located, his program made a simple assumption: that Loamer would only have a car door with him if he left the building to go fetch it from where ever he had found or stored it previously, and then went straight for the Hunt booth. It was a gamble, but it offered him a good chance of finding Loamer at the right moment.

                      It wasn't long before the number of people in the hallway grew, foot traffic increasing as the line got longer. As it did, the volume increased, an excited buzz punctuated by cheerful shouts of "DefCon 30 is cancelled!" Once through registration, blinking and buzzing badges in hand, they made their way to the still quiet hallways that led to the Wireless, Lock-picking and Robotics villages. The villages wouldn't open until the following day, so it was a good place for them to curl up on the floor, head to head against the wall, and nap. It would be a few hours before the 101 talks began. That was where they would find Loamer.


                      There was some shouting and clapping and a general murmur of voices as people got up and collected their things and made to leave the DefCon 101 talk. The speakers began making their way off the stage and were met by little crowds of people who vied for those moments to ask a question, say hello or just overhear what others were saying. Loamer had started towards the nearest exit and was also waylaid by a small group of eager faces, young and old.

                      David could hardly stand; his heart was racing so fast. He was comfortable with the risks involved in his world of bits and volts -- that world was familiar and it was one where he knew his abilities. Here, though, he was going to have to actually try to bug a guy who would probably notice and throw him out on his ass. DefCon: over, and for what? Some encoded message from someone he didn't know, for some purpose he couldn't figure out?

                      "Dude, let's go," Tatiana urged, her eyes wide with impatience. He took a deep breath and got to his feet. She led the way, continuing to look over her shoulder with a scolding look as she coaxed him forward. It didn't take them long to join the small group of people talking to Loamer near the stairs leading down from the stage.

                      "I just wanted to say, I'm really enjoying the work you're doing on the Panopticon gaming console, man -- the hardware is amazing! And the games, man?" The guy talking was tall and thin with greying brown hair and aluminum rimmed OGs. Loamer smiled and nodded. "Thanks! It has been crazy over at Goo lately. So much cool stuff happening."

                      To David's surprise, the conversation between Loamer and this group of people who were mostly new to DefCon was quite natural. If he had been here just to listen, he might have been able to relax and enjoy the moment.

                      Tatiana's sharp poke in the rib brought him back to the task at hand. But he couldn't do it. He just couldn't make himself take the four or five steps that would have put him right next to Loamer. The little group thinned, opportunity quickly fading. With an exasperated sigh, Tatiana stepped forward, tugging David firmly with her, and smiled at Loamer. "Hi! You mentioned that there are lots of people at DefCon who might be looking for people to hire, or people to consult, or whatever. I do a lot of bioinformatics and stuff, but I don't know how to find out who's looking for what. How do people find each other here?"

                      Loamer nodded and started to answer, and that was when it happened. Tatiana brought her knee behind David's and with a seemingly innocently shift of her weight, caused him to stumble forward. Had he been expecting it, he could have caught himself. As it was, he lurched forward and had to reach out to not fall, one hand on Loamer's forearm and one on Tatiana's shoulder. He accidentally stepped on Loamer's foot, and that was when realization dawned on him. Hurrying, he slipped his hand from Tatiana's shoulder and pressed against the small device in his left pants pocket. He felt a satisfying "click" from his shoe.

                      Righting himself and apologizing, his face bright red and the moist feeling of sweat at his hairline, David looked up at Loamer, expecting to see irritation or worse, suspicion. To his surprise, the man with the bright red Mohawk was smirking, his eyes squinting in something like bemused respect. Without a word, Loamer held out one hand with his fingers in a "V" shape, pointing downward. Just as quickly, he nodded at David and Tatiana briskly and left, leaving the two staring at each other with mutual looks of admonishment and excitement.


                      "Yellow alert: ad hoc trigger 4 pulled with confidence 0.68."

                      "Damn it," David whispered. His father and Tatiana both turned towards him with quizzical expressions.

                      They were sitting at the noodle place near the entrance of the Rio with bowls of steaming vegetables and rice. The smell of ginger and curry was almost cloying in the crowded seating area. Many of the other people that came late to avoid the crowds that had shown up at noon were wearing the telltale blinking rectangles around their necks. There was already speculation circulating that that year's badges were broadcasting some kind of message that could only be decoded when there were sufficiently many badges in a small area, prompting a flurry of plans for trying to fit as many people as possible in one of the party rooms later that evening.

                      "What is it David?" His father tilted his head and leaned in closer.

                      "Loamer went near the entrance to the loading dock and is on his way to the game room already!" It had only been a couple of hours since he and Tatiana had managed to tag him, and David had been hoping for more time to consider how he was going to get the quarter.

                      "Well, that's good, isn't it? Once you get the quarter, you'll have more time to puzzle through what it signifies." Sometimes his father's calm could be incredibly annoying.

                      "But how am I going to do that!?" David snapped back, openly exasperated. "I don't know where it is, and I don't have any way to get it from him even if I did know!"

                      His father paused and furrowed his brow, nodding. Tatiana fidgeted nervously, looking over her shoulder out towards the slot machines. "I think," his father continued slowly, "that the Key to most Human Puzzles is Misdirection." Seeing David's mystified look, he smiled. "Follow me," he said.

                      David's frustration wasn't immediately quelled, but now he was curious, too. They walked the long way back towards the conference area in silence. He could see that Tatiana was nervous -- her eyelids were a vibrant pink and a blue line zigzagged across at intervals showing her heartbeat. His OGs tracked Loamer's own progress; they had only a few minutes before he would make it to the booth. Outside one of the gift shops, David's dad asked them to wait a moment and soon emerged carrying a bottle of tequila and two shot glasses.

                      They reached the game room at about the same time as Loamer, who was carrying a generously dented blue hatch door. David's heart raced -- he had only moments and no idea what to do. His dad walked quickly across the large room, navigating between the small crowds that were already there signing up for games and socializing with people they knew. Loamer leaned the door against the Hunt table and was talking to one of the people there -- a short, tan woman who had on what looked like swimmer's goggles and a wide, gold nose hoop.

                      "Sir, I exercise my right as a Knight of Sosaria to challenge you to a duel with the weapon of my choice." David's dad slapped each glass down on the table with a sharp "thunk" and then produced the bottle of amber liquor, handing it to Loamer with a little bow. The display had attracted several inquisitive looks. No one was quite sure what was going on, Loamer included. He took the bottle and looked at it appreciatively, then handed it back to David's father. As it dawned on him that he was being challenged to a battle of knowledge and stamina, Loamer began to grin.

                      He turned and looked David's dad up and down, his expression wary. "Toughest Jailer in Al'Taieu?"


                      A nod. "Night Stalker?"


                      An appreciative jump of the eyebrows. "'Aiur is my home, my birthright and my destiny.'"

                      "Commander Protarus in The Return to Aiur, campaign 2763."

                      A long, thoughtful pause. "I accept your challenge."

                      By now, a small crowd had formed around the two, and there were catcalls and whoops as they faced one another and each took a shot glass. The woman behind the Hunt table came forward and opened the bottle of tequila, pouring each glass full to the rim. Loamer smiled broadly. "You're goin' down..."

                      "Res arcana."

                      What followed could only be described as the most epic gaming trivia challenge-cum-drinking game-cum-bragging and shaming battle that had taken place to date. David and Tatiana looked on in awe. David had never seen his dad in any other light than as a nerdy, somewhat academic older man who was a pretty good dad and overall soft-spoken guy. Now he was the center of a growing crowd of cheering and hooting geeks from all walks of life, pounding shots of Patron when he missed a question but winning just as many points from his knowledgeable opponent. It was almost enough to make David forget that he was here on a mission.

                      Unfortunately, it was impossible to get close to the competitors -- the crowd grew more raucous with each question, as though the alcohol were somehow affecting them as much as the participants. David watched on with a rolling cycle of nervous energy and bemused awe as the two men grew drunker and drunker. His frustration at being unable to make any obvious progress on getting the quarter traded places several times with his relief that Loamer was clearly not going anywhere any time soon.

                      The two competitors, having battled, consumed and taunted fiercely, were practically hugging an hour and fifteen minutes later when David's dad placed his hands on Loamer's shoulders and said in a slurred and overly loud and dramatic voice, "I concede!" The crowd began to drift off, laughing and chatting and sharing messages and recordings. David's dad waved David and Tatiana over. "I want you to meet my son and his friend," he said, waving at the two of them. Loamer made an indistinct, slurred greeting but gave no indication that he remembered running into them earlier in the day, though that didn't strike either of them as odd considering how obviously drunk he was. Then, to David's amazement, his father gave him a much more sober grin and winked.

                      "Let's make sure we all get back up to our rooms, shall we?" He gestured to David to get on the other side of Loamer and put one arm around Loamer's shoulders. As David, slightly embarrassed, put his own arm behind him and linked it with his dad's, they stumbled to one side and then the other, causing them to step on each other's feet. David looked down as he caught his balance and his eyes widened. There, embedded in Loamer's shoelaces near where he had affixed the Findinator-3000, was a quarter.

                      Tatiana, who was watching them with open amusement, stopped giggling when she saw David's expression. Her wristband buzzed and when she looked down, she saw a picture of the quarter in Loamer's shoelaces David had taken from his OGs. Her head snapped up, her mouth an almost comical "O." She tried to keep her voice from squeaking as she hurried forward.

                      "Uh, Loamer, your shoelaces are untied. Let me get that for you before you fall and break your face." She knelt down and tugged idly at the laces while slipping the quarter safely into her palm. Patting his shoe she stood up and continued brightly, her eyes twinkling. "All set! Happy landings!" As they stumbled down the hall, David turned to look at her again. She waved the quarter excitedly in the air and gestured upwards -- they'd meet back in their room to work on the fresh puzzle.


                      David's dad was passed out in his bed in the adjoining room of the little suite. Tatiana had been examining the quarter for almost a half an hour while David watched and tried to come up with helpful suggestions. They had already tested its weight and displacement and found it to be a match for a normal quarter. They looked at it magnified in the OGs, tapped it gently and examined the pitch of the sound it made and even shaved off a tiny sliver and found the guy who had brought a micro-mass spectrometer to the Con and paid for a test. 75% copper and 25% nickel, just as it should have been.

                      Tatiana looked at David, exasperated. "It's just a frickin' quarter!"

                      David leaned forward and rested his head in his hands. They had been at this for hours with nothing to show for it but empty stomachs and a scuffed quarter. Tatiana glanced over and noticed his frustration. She bit her lip thoughtfully, struggling with something, as though she were trying to decide what to do. Then she got up and moved to sit near David. He turned towards her with a curious expression, as she was sitting closer than she normally would. He could feel the warmth of her thigh so close to his own although they were not touching.

                      "Hey," she said, a nervous smile playing on her lips. David turned to face Tatiana fully, now baffled by her strange behavior. He opened his mouth to speak, but she spoke first. "Can we try something different?" The combination of her smile and her obvious distress made him pause. He nodded slowly.

                      She swallowed with difficulty and reached up behind her neck, her hands already trembling slightly, and undid her necklace, with its embedded biosensors and particulate composition recorder. Then, the shaking in her hands first increasing then steadying, she leaned over and very gently slid off David's OGs. Reaching carefully behind his ears, she slid off one and then the other of his earpieces, her fingers gently brushing the edge of his ear, sending tingles down his spine. It was David's turn to feel a sudden dryness in his throat. Tatiana slid the plastic bands off her wrists and they both worked off their shoes. Their connections to the wider world outside the hotel room were severed, and it seemed very quiet all of a sudden.

                      "What are we looking for?" Tatiana asked softly, and when David gave her a puzzled look, she nodded, urging him to respond.

                      "We're looking for... a clue, a code, something that will help us learn something about what we're supposed to do."

                      "What kind of clue? Do we know what it might be?" she continued.

                      "A picture? Words? A recording? Maybe a cipher."

                      "And all we have is a quarter." Tatiana's voice trailed off as she thought. "A quarter we know to just be a quarter."

                      "So what's special about a quarter?" David asked, smiling a little and looking into her eyes for the first time since she had come to sit so close. "What is its nature? Is there anything special about it?"

                      Tatiana paused. "Well, it's a copper core, a nickel and copper shell. It's produced by a government and has etchings on its front and back, and along its rim. But David, we've looked at it endlessly! There's nothing special etched..."

                      "I know, I know," he responded, lips curling in a frown.

                      "Could there be anything special about copper? About nickel? About the things depicted on the faces of the quarter? Maybe something in the symbolism of the eagle..." she offered, but then looked doubtful.

                      "Well, the faces are iconic -- they represent people, events and symbols having to do with the formation of our country. And copper is... well, it's a good conductor, but..." David frowned and hit the arm of the sofa with his hand. Then his eyes widened. His head jerked up and he looked at Tatiana with sudden excitement. "Oh my god," he whispered.

                      "What?" Tatiana replied, her own voice rising.

                      "Nickel! Tatiana, nickel! It's one of only a few metals that are magnetic at room temperature!"

                      Tatiana looked at him in confusion and then it dawned on her. "Holy hell," she said, grabbing his hands and causing his heart to skip beats for yet another reason. "You're amazing!" she offered, causing him to flush instantly red.

                      "Oh, stop," he whispered.

                      "How are we going to read it?"

                      "Well, if we get a hyperfine iron dust, we can clean off the surface of the quarter very carefully and then blow the dust over it. My OGs should have enough magnification that we can read the magnetically aligned portions as long as the letters are at least, say, 1500-2000 nanometers tall."

                      "Where are we going to get iron dust?"

                      "There's got to be an electrode welder or powder coating shop in Vegas somewhere. We don't need much -- just a few grams in case we make a mistake."

                      "Let's go -- we don't know how many more clues we need to find before Sunday!"

                      They found a shop that was still open and hurried out. By the time they got back, the sun was setting, deep red and orange rays emanating from the bright glow of the Western horizon, seeming to set afire the few clouds that drifted overhead.

                      They tried several different methods of getting the dust applied in just the right way to be able to read the message embedded in aligned nickel molecules on the surface of the quarter. It was completely dark by the time they had the next code.

                      pQqglWQ8lUSbOAfMDGQKYRz/MR++BTGWRklQ5q8CxCK8qOpB+4TuThwLvP7LFhMtFKHpC7Ffwd FR3EM8thA2EHqaSKC3snn14fpv+kWCMWVIu8yY3sT2wNdV+Eyg u0HDcTu+6wpok4BbeI/CugixIUmc2ayKFee4Jaw75ZC6RWoqamKwYeNN7QFZjcoFWQf/

                      This one took a few more tries to decode, but eventually they realized that not only was the message encrypted using AES, but also, the message had been passed through a Caesar cipher. Finally, though, they managed to get at the contents:

                      "Down the rabbit hole at 00:00:00.000001, 31deg 56min 42sec N, 34deg 52min 19sec E."

                      Tatiana sat back in the couch, resting her head back on the soft leather, looking up at the glitzy lighting and stretching her arms over her head. "Ok, so, where is that?"

                      David frowned as his OGs translated the coordinates and zoomed out to an overhead map of the first floor of the Rio. "It's smack in the center of the conference area, in the corner of one of the little rooms there. I don't get it?"

                      "What's going on the night of the 14th? No wait, midnight... what's going on the night of the 13th?"

                      David snapped his fingers. "Oh, whoah. That's where they're going to hold the Megabattle on Saturday night!"

                      If Laser Tag was the toddler of real world, live-action combat simulations, then Megabattle was his way older brother who had just graduated from MIT with a chip on his shoulder. A combination of whole body, thin-fiber body suits with thousands of active and passive sensors, laced with haptic and bioelectric feedback mechanisms, modified real-world weaponry with sophisticated high-throughput microcontrollers and a modular obstacle course assembled from tens of thousands of prefab parts, it was the most sophisticated simulation anyone could admit to knowing about. Two teams faced off with one goal: to capture their opponent's General. Each team had a stationary, booth-enclosed command center with banks of computers manned by 10 systems programmer types. By trying to hack into their opponent's systems, they could gain valuable tactical information and possibly even determine the exact location of the General. Certain hacks also unlocked new weapon and shield capabilities and could turn the tide of the whole game. On the ground, 50 troops deployed by each team attempted to gain ground and uncover the movements of the opposite team in the hopes of getting a glimpse of that team's all-important leader. The weapons themselves were custom created by the individuals participating and had to pass a strict verification check. Beyond meeting the size and technical requirements of the game, though, anything was legal. And that meant some very creative hacks, from additions of carrier viruses delivered with the weapon output to over-sized, strobing shields that were only on for a microsecond at a time to meet overall power output limits.

                      "We have to be at this exact spot right at midnight," David said, standing up and beginning to pace.

                      "But the only way to do that..." Tatiana began.

                      " to somehow get ourselves on one of the teams," David concluded.


                      "Absolutely not. Not a snowball's chance in hell. Unquestionably no. Impossible. Am I being clear, kid?"

                      The conversation with Jor-El, captain of the Enlightenment team for the match, was not going as well as David had hoped. Unsurprisingly, the captain's view of the matter was simple: he had 60 people who had waited a year or more to get the chance to Megabattle at DefCon 30 and who had trained for months. They had passed three qualifying rounds as a team, knew each other and worked well together. David had probed Jor-El about whether any of his team might be under the weather or sick. He had tried to appeal to the man's sympathy, having memorized some conversational tactics that Tatiana had prepared for him. "But it might be our only chance to go to DefCon." "Our dad would be so proud." "Lame," was the captain's response, and rightly so as far as David was concerned.

                      David had also tried to appeal to skill, pointing out that he and Tatiana were pretty likely better at some key elements related to the game than some pair on Jor-El's team. Of course, that didn't mean that they'd work as well with the team, a point that the well-bearded, burly captain made very clearly in response.

                      David sighed and looked at Tatiana. It was time to try the very last gambit. "Alright then. There's one more possibility I want you to consider. There's a rule that states that your team can have more than 60 people if, and only if, the opposing team agrees and adds a like number of members to its own roster. Add us both and let them add a pair of players they had wait-listed. Everyone wins."

                      Jor-El stared down at David with a big, unhappy frown. "You sure are persistent, kid. I'll give you that. But now tell me why in the hell I would add two unknowns to my team and let my opponents add two people they had trained together with almost as long as their A-string team?"

                      David grinned and tapped his OGs.

                      "Jesus kid, look around you. About half the people running around here got those."

                      "Not like these, Mr. Jor-El. Watch." David concentrated, selecting several options with his eyes and whispering under his breath. In his HUD, every pair of OGs in the area suddenly lit up, displaying their GUIDs and supported protocols; Jor-El's pair was among them. David selected them and with a flick of his eyes, engaged a protocol he had designed himself and had not ever tried out on anyone other than Tatiana, who had helped him with parts of the design: take-down mode.

                      Because his earpieces were also in, to Jor-El, it appeared as though his world suddenly went absolutely quiet and dark. He pulled off the glasses and stared at David with astonishment and a hint of admiration: it wasn't supposed to be possible to block the functioning of OGs from any remote interface. "Interference?"

                      "Not exactly, captain. It's a modified version of the weapon beam for Megabattle and it's perfectly within spec. It causes a crash in the audio and video kernels in your OG -- a reboot will fix it. Of course, a reboot takes some time..."

                      "Hey, Snitty, come take a look at this," Jor-El called over his shoulder, gesturing at a man bent over a pile of chips. They talked quietly for a moment and the captain pointed at David's OGs and gestured at his own. Snitty raised his eyebrows and whistled quietly.

                      "You do that yourself, little man?" he said over his shoulder.

                      "I most certainly did, sir."

                      "How did you get past the hardware sandbox?"

                      David smiled. "Found a zero-day in the IC used for the wireless communication port."

                      Smitty grinned and looked at the captain, giving him a thumbs-up and returning to his work.

                      Jor-El, his poker face returning, turned to David and continued, "So, you're trading a temporary blindness ray for a spot on the team? It's a neat trick, kid, but once they figure it out, they'll lock down signals from non-team OGs and patch the kernels on the fly and we'll be stuck down two useful players again."

                      "But I'm not just trading a blindness ray, captain. My OGs have an integrated sFPGA and can emulate custom in-game hardware and find new exploitable weaknesses on the fly. I can create new capabilities for our weapons in real time and exploit the enemy's sensors and weaponry under the right conditions. It isn't a knockout blow, sir, but it's a solid advantage in our favor."

                      The captain hmphed and crossed his huge arms across his broad chest. "'Our favor,' huh? And already calling me 'captain.' Alright, alright, fine. But just you, kid. Sorry, lady, but I can only risk one insane, game-losing move at a time." David looked over his shoulder at Tatiana. He knew she'd be disappointed, that she wanted just as badly to be there when the last clue was revealed. There was sadness written all over her face, but she said, "Do it -- the messages so far have all been for you. You know where I'll be."

                      David wasn't sure what she meant, and though seeing her upset made him feel a little bit smaller than he felt before, he turned to Jor-El and said, "Deal."


                      "Discipline and punish!" shouted k0r36r34ch as he unloaded a virtual clip into the small makeshift hut that the little squad suspected of housing several of the enemy. They had been pushing east, heading towards a key capture point that would give them ammo and shield recharge and, as it happened, was close the spot where David knew he had to be standing at midnight. The digital display on his OGs read 23:55:01. Somehow David had managed to stay alive and uninjured both virtually and physically. For long segments, he would follow behind squads making reconnaissance missions or capturing key, lightly defended points. These he would set up as a kind of remote sysops and create sensor arrays and modify troop weapons, slowly extending the reach of his team's influence over the map.

                      To their surprise, the hut was empty. "Where do you think the attacks have been coming from?" asked Senator, sitting down near the capture point and making a detailed sweep of the area.

                      "Hell if I know," growled k0r3, frowning into the darkness of the fake trees and fences around their exposed position. "What I do know is I don't like it."

                      The silence in the game area was spooky. Acoustic paneling created an almost perfect barrier between the Zone and the rest of the Rio, where hundreds of fans of Megabattle drank and hollered and watched the 'cast of the game on dozens of enormous LED screens. No one had bothered to create fake crickets or any kinds of weather simulation for the game, so the only sounds that anyone could hear were each other.

                      23:57:30. All he needed to do was get 30 meters further north to what looked like an abandoned tool shed and he'd make it.

                      "Son of a!" shouted Senator, his energy levels dropping straight to zero as he keeled to one side with more cursing. "The Philistines are upon us!"

                      The sound of dozens of boots rushing through the woods toward them made David freeze in panic. It was an ambush and they appeared to be significantly outnumbered. K0r3 dove between two parallel stands that held up the capture point silo and Bean followed suit. David couldn't make his legs move -- he stood rooted to the spot, wondering how hard the haptic would sting him when he was hit and whether he'd ever be contacted about the arc again.

                      Suddenly, a hand wrapped around his wrist and tugged him into a run straight in the direction of the approaching footsteps. He was sure he had been captured; perhaps they had found out what his system could do and were going to try to use it to their own advantage. But fifteen seconds later as the footsteps grew fainter behind him, he realized that he didn't know what the heck was going on. Stiffening his legs and leaning against the direction he had been running in, he brought himself and the stranger to a halt. Whoever it was had on a bulky hat that made it very difficult to see his face in the dark. "Who are you?" David said in a breathless whisper.

                      "I'm surprised! You don't know your Savior when you see her?"

                      David blinked stupidly. "Tatiana?"

                      She pulled off the hat and her dark hair fell around her shoulders. Teeth white and perfect glowed in the darkness as she smiled broadly.

                      "But how?"

                      "I don't do 'no.'" she quipped stepping forward. "And you only have about 30 seconds -- let's go!"

                      They sprinted as quietly as they could, making a wide arc around the capture point and then curling south to reach the rickety shed. They were both breathless, leaning forward and resting their hands on their knees. 23:59:54.

                      "Get ready," Tatiana said, standing up and smiling at David again. She unholstered two long-barreled semi-automatic pistols and rested the barrels on her shoulders.

                      There was a loud "clank" and a hiss; both of them started and took a step back from the shed door. David looked at Tatiana and she at him and then he slowly pulled open the door to the small wooden structure.

                      The ground inside the shed was shifting; in seconds, a hole had opened in the ground that grew wider and wider, until a ladder leading down became visible. The shock on their faces would have looked comical to an outside observer as they watched the ground part and invite them in.

                      David turned to Tatiana. "What are you going to do?" he asked, eyeing her guns and shaking his head, which was still spinning with surprise and admiration.

                      "I'm going to take your place on the battlefield and kick some Resistance butt!"

                      "See you on the other side," he laughed, watching as she disappeared into the trees. Then, with a deep breath, he descended the ladder into the unknown.


                      The rungs were cold and led him a very long way down. When he finally hit solid ground, David found himself in a large, concrete room lit by one lone incandescent bulb. The air was cold and moist and stale and David shivered. There was only one way out of the room -- a hallway that seemed to go on indefinitely, punctuated by a trail of light bulbs.

                      David followed the lights for what seemed like an hour, hiking down interminably long corridors and then turning and winding his way through still more. At long last, a room appeared in the distance that looked quite different from the rest of the cement labyrinth.

                      It was a large room, much like the one he had climbed down into. But instead of concrete, this one was paneled with wood on the floors, walls and ceiling. And instead of being lit with a single bulb, it was filled with little LED halos: they lined the walls, the ceiling and covered the floor except for a small path that led into the center of the room. There, a large circular clearing was visible, a much denser rainbow of halos arcing above it.

                      David approached slowly, his heart thumping in his chest. In the clearing were 5 beanbags, four of which were occupied by two men and two women, all of whom looked up at him with serious smiles.

                      "I'm very glad you could make it," said a man whom David immediately recognized as RosT.

                      David stared; he was speechless. "Thanks?" he stammered. RosT motioned for him to sit down on the remaining beanbag.

                      "Freezer, please engage the protections."

                      The man to the right of RosT nodded and made a complex motion in the air with his right hand. All of the little halos in the room began to twinkle.

                      "David, we are the arc of angels. It must have dawned on you by now that though the governments of our planet have maintained a reasonable amount of control over the stockpiles of physical armaments we humans have created, they have not been anywhere near as successful at maintaining control over information. Here, in the world of information flow and trafficking, where ideas of all kinds can be exchanged instantly and secretly, organizations as slow and cumbersome as governments will never be able to keep up. Many of those governments know of us -- many of them work with us to help protect the safety of their people.

                      "There are already signs that a war is brewing -- several wars, really. Wars over information: over access to it, over what is exposed to the public and over who can control it and thereby control the public. The arc does not fight for any particular government. We fight for safety, for freedom and for some measure of justice. We are the protectors, the guardians over those who cannot protect themselves in this kind of battle.

                      "If you join us, as you are invited to, you will become part of the most elite technical group ever created. Will you help us keep vigil, David?"

                      Before he even had a chance to think, he blurted out, "Can I tell Tatiana?" It immediately dawned on him how foolish or irreverent his outburst might have sounded and his face flushed darkly.

                      But the four other angels looked around at each other seriously. Finally, RosT said, "It's up to you, Ecca." The woman immediately to David's right looked at him critically for a moment and then turned to RosT and nodded once.

                      "Yes," RosT said.

                      "Then I'm in," said David, relaxing back into the beanbag and squeezing his knees to his chest, looking around at all there was to see.


                      The air conditioner in the little car hummed, slowly bringing the car's temperature down to manageable levels as they sped away from Las Vegas. It felt a little strange to leave -- the idea of returning to everyday life wasn't completely unpleasant, but it was somehow rendered foreign and incongruous by the freedom one was leaving behind.

                      Tatiana's head rested on David's shoulder and in the front of the car, David's dad whistled tunelessly with the radio. Then, remembering the most powerful moment he had yet experienced in his life, David slipped off his OGs and earpieces and closed his eyes.



                      Transcript ends. Produced at -CLASSIFED- by Exoneuros, SN0000191018283839010101929100.0192910a. All rights reserved. More information at


                      "They-Who-Were-Google are no longer alone. Now we are all Google."


                      • #12
                        Re: Stories (Not a voting poll thread)

                        Security Breach: DefCon 22 by sallygal

                        The big day has finally arrived; day 1 of DefCon 22! Weíve been planning for this event all year and Iím intensely psyched. All of my friends will be there, cramming our brains with the latest innovations, learning industry secrets from leading techno-gurus. My new phone app should be a bit hit and Iím going to show it off to the gang when we meet up at the Rio hotel in a few hours.

                        At the moment Iím sitting at the kitchen table with Aiden (aka Darkstar), my best bud and roommate, gulping down crappy coffee while going over the itinerary for the next few days; for sure weíll check out the vendor area and hit every speaker possible in order to learn from the worldís greatest hackers.

                        ìHey Seth, do you think Mandy will be at the show this year?î Aiden asks me quietly while tinkering with his dismembered iPod. This is the first year the guy didnít develop something amazing. Last year he crafted the coolest video game with crazy dragons and mystical wizards, it was really wicked. Poor guy, itís been a tough year, after the breakup and all.

                        ìNah I doubt sheíll show up. Computers are your thing, not hersî I tried my best to ease his mind. ìFinish your coffee and letís get going, we donít want to miss a thing.î

                        Arriving at the hotel we could see an ocean of nerdy dudes wearing Batman and Star Wars t-shirts. For once I was glad that I chose to wear my blue plaid button down shirt. It makes me feel a little more dressed up and the ladies say this color makes my eyes ëpopí - whatever that means. Looking around I also noticed a lot of tall, thin, blonde people wearing identical green polo shirts, actually the more I study them I realize that they all really look alike.

                        Aiden notices it too ìWhatís this? An albino family reunion?î

                        One of the female white-heads overhears the comment and immediately turns our way, approaching us in more of an icy glide than actual human footsteps. I size her down then up, finding her body pleasingly long and slender with a small waist and shapely hips. My eyes meet hers to find a black glare showing no emotion. Before speaking she reaches out and grabs Aidenís arm as he stares, mouth agape, as if he were paralyzed. Iím not sure if heís scared or in love.

                        ìHey what are you doing? Let him go!î I say loudly. Her gaze returns to meet mine as I feel a chill run up my spine.

                        ìI am Sasha. I work for The DefCon. What is your purpose here? You must come with me nowî she demands, coldly, as she eyes our overstuffed techie briefcases. ëTheí DefConÖ Iíve never heard it referred to in that way and find her tone menacing. When I notice her hand stretching out towards my own arm my body instinctively steps backwards. Pulling Aiden from her clutches I push him into a run to get away from the crazy cyborg chick.

                        After we check-in at the Rio and get the keys to our rooms I reach into my pocket for my cell phone only to discover a number of text messages from the gang already at the hotel. We better get going. The elevator carries us to the 15th floor where we stroll down the corridor to rendezvous with our comrades. A nudge on my ribs causes me to look up and forward to spot a lanky light haired man wearing a green polo shirt walking towards us, the male version of Sasha. His black eyes aim at us like a gun, creeping me out, so I grab Aidenís arm and we make a run for it once again.

                        Room 1543ís door is propped open with a shoe so we enter. Our friends are there; Ryker (aka The Captain), Jayce (aka Titan) and Britta (aka Blonddragon) the only female in our nerdy clan. Everybodyís holding a can of soda or an energy drink, chattering on about the awesome presenters on this yearís agenda. I kick the shoe from the door and lock the deadbolt before turning to bestow greetings and inform my friends about the bizarre people. Ryker and Jayce are so intrigued by the influx of blonde cyborgs that they rush out of the room to check it out for themselves.

                        Aiden talks incessantly about Sasha, describing her as a beautiful exotic model with fair hair and mysterious eyes that could see into his soul. He wants to go look for her. Britta looks at him with a cocked eyebrow ìWhat is your deal with the robot chick, Darkstar?î

                        ìI am mesmerized, sheís so beautiful. I feel this desperate need to be near her.î Aiden gushes in heated passion.

                        An overwhelming rush of suspicion (and jealousy) floods over Britta and she exits the room with a huff. ìIíll find out for myself what the fembot is afterî she mumbles to herself. Sheís had a crush on Aiden since she first met him but he has no clue, never picking up on her subtle flirtations. His intelligence intimidates her enough to keep from exposing her feelings. ìSasha better keep her hands off of my future husbandî she feels her face turn red, envious that the man she is in love with is interested in another woman.

                        Passing through the lobby Britta notices chaos at the front desk as a lineup of hotel guests clamor in an uproar. Changing course to hear what the commotion is all about, she attaches herself to the back of the crowd. It appears that people are losing their technology for the show; flash and hard drives have gone missing from vendor booths, speakerís rooms and attendeeís pockets. The crowd is growing louder in their demands to speak to Rioís management and heads of security. As the swarm is getting more and more heated, Britta reclaims her path to find Sasha, reaching down to the front of her skinny jeans; phew, yes the flash drive is still in her pocket.

                        Britta is an anomaly in our group, clearly because sheís the only chick, but also because sheís absolutely beautiful. Her strawberry blonde hair brings out the crystal green in her wide set eyes. Sheís a voluptuous braniac amongst a nerd herd of testosterone. About a year ago Ryker made a move on her, mustered the bravery to slip his arm around that taunting waist. Poor guy spent the next three hours in the emergency room, luckily his arm was just sprained and not broken. Sheís a wildcat for sure. I will admit The Blonddragon is one of the best hackers Iíve ever met, definitely an asset to our group.

                        While the others are in detective mode, Aiden and I head downstairs to the registration desk to get our entry badges and conference programs. Two plump older women are checking us in on Alienware laptops and I decide to ask them about the blonde gang in the green shirts that they hired for security; ìIs there some sort of theme this year that I overlooked?î The ladies at the desk look at each other then back at me with looks of complete confusion. No such green-shirted assemblage has been employed to their knowledge.

                        On the other side of the hotel Ryker and Jayce are searching for answers, entering rooms that are off limits to conference attendees. Stumbling upon a room in the basement appearing to be a janitorís closet, the guys ignore the ìStaff Onlyî sign, open the door and slither into the dark room. A flick of the light switch reveals a storage room with cardboard boxes piled high like a wall. Jayce turns around grunting in annoyance, reaching for the knob to leave and continue the hunt.

                        ìWait a secondî Ryker interjected. ìWe donít know what else might be in here. I want to look around some more.î

                        The young men move toward the boxes, heading to the left and right sides of the room. They slide through tight spaces between stacks of boxes. Thatís when Ryker makes a discovery.

                        Jayce hears his friend exclaim ìWhat the HÖî from the other side of a mountain of boxes, causing him to quickly change course to see whatís been found. Slipping through an opening he finds Ryker and the two stand side by side in a cleared area near the back of the space. In the center of the open area hangs a bright light dangling from the rafters, shining directly onto a long, narrow, black box mounted on a solid metal stand.

                        Reaching his hand out to touch the cool rectangle Jayce raises an eyebrow ìDo you think itís a coffin?î he asks cautiously.

                        Ryker takes a step backward and shakes his head, ìNo man. I know what this is. Iíve seen smaller versions of this thing but nothing this complex. Itís an advanced rapid prototyping machine, a 3D printer! Iíve never seen anything with this complexity, not even when I hacked into the governmentís website that houses databases of their inventions in technology.î His hand reaches his chin and he scratches his face in astonishment.

                        After leaving his buddy in the storage room to continue probing, Jayce returns to Rio home base (room 1543) to inform the gang about the discovery. The discussion revolves around the futuristic technology and why it would be hidden in the basement at DefCon. Everyone has input; Aiden read an article about using the tool in human tissue replacement. Jayce proposes that theyíre using the 3D printer to manufacture robots, due to the human size of the machine.

                        Sitting quietly in the orange velour chair near the desk Britta listens intently to the groupsí verdicts. She puts her head in her hands, clutching her hair as if her head were throbbing. Pausing thoughtfully before revealing her own findings, she exclaims ìSomething really weird is going on here. I went poking around too; first, I talked to a few people that had their inventions stolen and they are really ticked. The hotel had to bring in the cops to calm people down. But the strangest conversation I had was when I talked to a housekeeper who swears she saw a spaceship hovering over the parking garage last night.î

                        ìWhereís Ryker?î Aiden piped in while everyoneís mouths hung open over the idea of an extraterrestrial invasion. ìJayce you better take us to see this alien machine.î

                        Scurrying through the hallways of the basement corridors, ducking in the shadows to forego being caught by hotel staff, we arrive at the door with the ìStaff Onlyî signage. Jayce attempts to open but we can see the knob wasnít turning. The compartmentís locked and Rykerís missing.

                        I burst out in a panic ìWe have to get in this room, our friend may be in trouble - he needs our help!î

                        Britta pulls out a pick and a tension wrench from her purse while pushing us out of the way to get to the lock. Her golden hair falls forward over her face as sheís bent, clicking and picking in the keyhole. We guys step back, studying the fine specimen of a female, distracted by her enticingly curvy backside, squeezed perfectly into skintight black jeans. After a few minutes we hear the ìclickî and the door flies open abruptly, jolting us men back into reality. The group moves intrepidly into the room, one after the other, each wanting to see the machine. Iím not the only one worrying silently that Rykerís been captured by aliens who are planning to clone him with the apparatus.

                        Rounding the stacked boxes weíre shocked to find that the areaís empty; the 3D printer is gone. Exasperation sets in and we decide to get a game plan together back at home base.

                        Upon entry we see that Ryker is back at home base and sitting in the ugly orange chair.

                        ìCaptain! Youíre okay!î Britta wails as she leaps like a gazelle to throw her arms around our missing person. ìWhatís happening around here?î

                        Ryker waves his hands ìIím alright, calm down you guys. Boy have I got a lot to tell you.î

                        Jayce burst into the conversation ìThe 3D printer, itís, itís GONE! We didnít know what happened to you man. We thought that aliens abducted you!î

                        ìYes I know the printer is gone, because Iím the one that took it. When you left me in the room I was digging around and heard people coming. I hid in a box and through a crack I witnessed the illicit activity first hand. There are no aliens, well not that Iím aware of. I watched as some government agents approached the machine, typed in some coordinates, and within a few minutes one of those blonde prototypes was fabricated ñ theyíre some sort of a clone built by the NSA to steal the latest technology here at DefCon.î

                        We stand there stunned, listening to the wild tale. Ryker continues.

                        ìI found a hand truck in the loading dock and stole the printer, I have it hidden. Blonddragon, I need you to hack into the machine and locate the operating schematics. Seth, do you still have that OpenSCAD software on your laptop? I need you guys to hack into this thing. I need to make some adjustments.î

                        We burst from the room, hurrying to the abandoned banquet room where the cloning apparatus is concealed. Locking the door behind us Ryker pulls the white linen tablecloth off of the machine as we plug all five of our laptops into the open USB ports to start our work.

                        It takes us an hour before we have the configurations to make our own version of the cyborg using Brittaís DNA. Aiden draws the long straw and is ecstatic about being able to hit the ìstartî button. We will fittingly call our version ìBrittaborgî having programmed her to steal back all of the data thatís been taken by the NSA (National Security Agency) crew. We watch in amazement as the procedure completes, the lid opens and our clone opens her emerald eyes, sits up and exits the compartment.

                        Sheís breathtakingly beautiful, curvaceous with silky strawberry hair and sparkling green eyes. Her lips are a plump pink shimmer. I think Jayce is going to faint at the sight of such a stunning creature. We all stand in amazement. Britta breaks the silence ìWhat have we doneÖ This better work.î

                        Unlocking the door we head out of the banquet room and into the DefCon crowd. As Brittaborg dutifully fulfills her mission we follow her, hiding in the shadows of full length curtains and doorways. We observe her smoothly approach the green polo clones, one by one, leading them out into the alley where she reaches for a secret spot on the back of their heads, immediately dropping them to the ground. Itís like some sort of an ìoffî switch.

                        When the government agents realize theyíve been exposed they flee the scene, speeding away in their black SUVs. Brittaborg then leads us to the room storing all of the stolen data and gear. My friends and I are heroes once the conference attendees realize weíve salvaged all of their missing stuff.

                        This is one year that the NSA will not steal the secrets of DefCon! And on top of it all, I finally have a hot girlfriend. Her name is Brittaborg.
                        "They-Who-Were-Google are no longer alone. Now we are all Google."


                        • #13
                          Re: Stories (Not a voting poll thread)

                          Data Tourist by Davien

                          An crosses the jet bridge into the sterile area of the Las Vegas spaceport and is immediately struck by the difference in the color of the ambient light. It’s brighter, and a broader spectrum than she normally sees with the energy restrictions on her homeworld. There will be many differences during this trip, though. An reminds herself that difference is not always something that should be changed. As an offworld tourist, An is nervous about what she has heard about Earth: a planet she has never before visited or seen up close. As an added irony, she notes there are no windows in this part of the spaceport. Being so much closer to the sun, she is curious about how it looks. Instead, floor to ceiling displays and indirect overhead LEDs chaperone the passengers through the walkways. Most of them show advertisements for services or planetside entertainments. A local bungee adventure service proclaims, “Experience full Earth Gravity! Come take the plunge!” Others cycle through info graphics outlining local rules and regulations restricting what can be transported between worlds. The last display proclaims the local time and temperature, with a warning that the outside temperature has just crested 70 degrees Celsius.*

                          The hallway funnels all of the travelers into a security checkpoint. An’s anxiety triggers again. Dozens of uniformed guards, all of them armed, swarm around the room. Some stand by the perimeter watching travelers, while others occupy plasteel desks with clear bullet shields. The history of Earth’s wars are well known to her, but seeing this in person is breathtaking. “How do they live like this,” An wonders? “Constant surveillance, and total control.” An is grateful, suddenly, for the freedom offered to her back home. As she reaches the desk, the Earth Transworld Security officer requests that she disable her identity surrogate. Initially, she is surprised that he even knows, but she rationalizes that signal sweepers must be part of the surveillance. He tells her that surrogate technology is disallowed in the spaceport and in most Earth municipalities. "No privacy is guaranteed on Earth," he says. “Especially in America."

                          She nods to the officer, and removes the veil from her travel suit. This is one of many contingencies her research has prepared her for. It would be simple to disable the surrogate and show her birth face, but it would be recorded and transmitted across the globe in a microsecond. Every camera and system would then hold her likeness and index her location, her habits, her purchases. She would be categorized and filed. Alone, it doesn’t sound so bad, but the politics of this region are different than her home. The assumptions derived from that data could be dangerous to her. Instead, she taps the sequence that enables auxiliary mode for her surrogate. The system flickers, as though it is shutting down, and her surrogate replaces its square blank face with the face of a twenty-something woman of indeterminate ethnic background. The auxiliary mod relies on different technology and should bypass the sweepers. She is tense for a moment while she waits, then the official points to the scanner. An nods and takes off her glove. Inside the meat of her palm is a forged identity chip that registers her as Wei Mina, a 23 year old medical sciences student with a provisional planetary pass for education and research. She waves her hand over the scanner, and it beeps in acknowledgement. The official looks at his screen, and at her face, and waves her towards a large gateway with several lines of people.

                          Through the gateway, another officer stands before a large battery of scanners. An recognizes the tech stealers from pictures she has seen in books. She fumbles around on her personal access device for a moment and presents the officer with her offworld citizenship waiver, exempting her from the scan. The ETS officer narrows his eyes at her, and her identity surrogate stares at him blankly. Technology developed outside of the Earth commonwealth is protected, just as Earth’s technology is. After hours of memorizing regulations, An knows she can’t be forced into the tech stealers. She has her advocate’s information ready for quick access, just in case. But, in the end, the officer waves her to a line that circumvents the scanners and funnels her towards a line of doors where people enter, one at a time. As her turn arrives, she enters a small room, and the door closes behind her. Locked inside, a camera focuses on her, and a kiosk begins to ask her questions about her citizenship, her luggage, and her reasons for coming onworld. An answers them blandly, knowing that the facial recognition software and iris scans will flag biological evidence of deceit for manual examination.*

                          “I am here for a business conference,” the voice on her identity surrogate supplies. “The Transworld Coalition for Medical Technologists.” This is a lie, but it would flag her automatically to say she was going to DefCon. The Medical Technologists summit does exist, and is being hosted in her hotel, however. She’s even registered for it. An has a nervous moment, wondering whether the money she paid for the identity surrogate software is worth it. The kiosk asks her the same questions again and again, forcing her to repeat some of her answers and clarify them, reminding her with pedantic attention that deceit is punishable by the laws of Earth and America where the penalty includes incarceration, involuntary data extraction, and exile. In the end, there is no alarm from the kiosk. The surrogate has paid for itself. A second door opens, allowing her to exit into the Spaceport proper. As she steps out of the small room, the fist that has been clenching her heart loosens a tiny bit. But, An’s frustration about the bureaucracy and the general injustice that people are treated this way remains. “This is their choice. Their rules they have agreed upon as a people. You cannot change this. Societies and people only change from within. It is not your fight,” she repeats to herself as a mantra. “Just follow and then go home.” Outside the booth, a conveyor belt presents her with her luggage. The travel lock tamper seal has been triggered rendering all of her electronics suspect. An sighs, removing her drop kit and putting it in her body-strapped carryall.*

                          In the main terminal, signs above the walkways give directions and highlight local regulations. Periodic multi-lingual announcements force the issues audibly and set An’s teeth on edge. One announcement admonishes “Set ident to transmit if veiled.” There are so many, she loses count of them. Pausing at a directory, she looks up the storefront she wants and sets herself a waypoint. As she walks, she is struck by how small all of the stores are, and how few are manned by people instead of kiosks. Even the restaurants are mainly dispensaries with multi-select menus, credit swipers, and slots to dispense food. There is a vending machine that sells computers, another that rents cars and hotel accommodations. One kiosk is labeled, “Social counseling, 4500 credits per minute.” After a bit, An reaches her waypoint, and rolls her travel cases into the pawn shop. Inside, she’s surprised to find an attendant. “Can I help you,” the young man asks? He has perfectly sculpted features, either genetically selected or surrogate enhanced. An can’t tell. To her, his features look plastic, like a mannequin. But, the ads place his features in the center of idealized attractiveness. “I would like to sell my travel cases,” An says.

                          “Contents and cases, or cases only?”

                          “All of it. I need to cash in for American currency.”

                          “Place them on the scanner, please.” The clerk gestures to a conveyor belt, and An complies. After a moment, the clerk points to a display. “Is this inventory accurate for what you want to sell?”

                          An reviews the list for anything she wants to keep and decides there is little she can trust other than the clothes in her drop kit. She looks at the amount at the bottom and nods. “That looks good,” she agrees.

                          The clerk offers her the identity scanner plate and she, once again, waves her ungloved palm over it to authorize the transfer to her Earth account.

                          Now unencumbered, An travels to the basement, where the taxis wait. At the fringe of Outside, dozens of people in fullsuits stand in queue waiting. Most of them are veiled, so An follows suit. The radiation isn’t of particular concern to her, but it is one justification for public privacy the governments can’t forbid. The reminder of continued surveillance feels eerie and unsettling. A sense of claustrophobia that has nothing to do with the proximity of the walls settles on her. “Not my monkey, not my circus” An thinks to herself. At the front of the line, An watches a couple choose Lower Vegas as their destination. The most expensive accommodations and entertainments are in Lower Vegas. The best way for rich and paranoid tourists to avoid the heat and the radiation is in the extensive underground compounds. An experiences a frisson of amusement as the taxi they enter flashes “Red Canyon” on the rear destination marquee as it departs from the port. It looks like the hackers are here.

                          An selects “manual destination” and approaches the cab. The door won’t open. An remembers that her veil is on, and that her identity is not transmitting. She slides her hand out of her glove again and touches it to the handle. The door unlocks. Inside, she tells the car to take her to Upper Vegas in NewTown and forces map confirmation of the route. While she waits, she searches her cached local maps for personal transit rentals near her hotel, knowing her searches will not be centrally logged. Once she has the route memorized, she sets up waypoints to visit that are within the range of a standard battery charge. The waypoints are data caches, off-net nodes storing free data. Each one has a protocol of access she has carefully prepared herself for beforehand. An thinks about what she is planning to do, knowing that she could be denied access to leave the planet. Some types of caching are legal, and data tourism is well known. But, acquiring data that isn’t tainted or tracked is highly illegal. Scripting or accessing systems outside of public net requires a special license on Earth. The licenses are very expensive to forge, and nearly impossible to get unless you work for a government or a private employer. Even then, most of the licenses are limited to one or two organizational networks. And Earth governments are more likely to put aliens in prison indefinitely than to spend time on a trial.*

                          She thought back on the last conversation she had with her friend, Seven, before leaving. “You should set up a deadman’s transmission,” Seven told her. “If you don’t check in once an hour, or per day or whatever, it beacons.”*

                          “Don’t you think that’s a bit much,” An asked? “I could fire something off if someone intercepts me.”

                          “Not with all the jammers. They intercept all transmissions on Earth.”

                          “So, what’s stopping them from intercepting my deadman checkin and replaying it?”

                          “You send them to me, your dear old mother. Send me pictures of your trip, status updates. Whatever.”

                          “So YOU’RE my deadman switch?” An laughed.

                          “Don’t laugh. On never came back, and that was only for a vacation. You’re trying to sneak into the largest hacker conference on Earth.”

                          An looks out the window at the desert, and takes a picture, forwarding it quickly to Seven. “Just got to Earth. It’s insanely hot here. I can’t believe the climate scientists haven’t done something about it.” An very carefully avoids mention of anything related to technology to avoid having her message flagged. An directs the cab first to a grocery, then to the hardware store, and she cashes in the credits from her luggage sale.

                          At the hotel, An manages to check-in without removing her veil. The Medtech conference is in one of the nicer hotels left above ground, and apparently those who can pay for it can still expect some degree of privacy. In her room, she constructs a basic sweeper and sweeps for surveillance. Satisfied, she sets up the rest of her personal security measures. Then, she waits for sunset.

                          Once the sun sets, she takes a picture through her hotel room window, this time of the sun setting over the city, and sends another message to Seven. “The sunsets are yellower here. I don’t think I could ever get used to this. There’s so much space.”*

                          She sets her identity surrogate to something she hopes will be neutral. It’s a composite generated from random footage of tourists over the last three weeks in the city. She exits her room veiled, and changes in a busy public restroom before walking to the scooter rental booth and paying in cash. The first waypoint only requires a drive-by. She has configured her personal access device to automatically find the signal, connect, and satisfy the connection protocols. The dump of all the data, and the upload will take only a few moments.*

                          She drives her scooter to the old neon sign museum plaza and rides around looking at each of the signs, all within connection range to the device. But, in the plaza, and along each of the streets, she is struck by the hundreds, if not thousands of homeless people. An makes it into a game to find a stretch of wall that is unoccupied by squatters, and she cannot find many. As the sun has set, they have all come out, all of them too poor to afford fullsuits, all of them sick. Their moans and groans are disconcerting. Some have great oozing sores. Others twitch with the involuntary tic of fried nerves. An wants to ask them why they don’t go to doctors, but she sees the answer in the doorway of a shelter. “Know the symptoms and get help! Symptoms to watch for: tremors, excessive clumsiness, blurred vision, sores that do not heal, difficulty with memory or confusion accompanied by chills and stomach pains. If you or anyone you know has experienced these symptoms, you may be suffering from Halen’s Syndrome. There is no cure for Halen’s Syndrome, but there is help! Clinic hours on Monday through Thursday at these locations…”

                          As she travels to the second waypoint, An accesses her local database for information about the disease, hoping it is not contagious. “Also called: Earth Radiation Syndrome, Halen’s Syndrome or simply ‘the Syndrome.' Sufferers have a variety of symptoms. No uniform combination of symptoms exists, although most report gastrointestinal distress, sores that do not heal, and some form of neurological impairment. In most cases, Syndrome is progressive, causing death due to secondary ailments caused by damaged immunological response. Therapies such as blood, plasma, and marrow transplants have been successful in mitigating the effects, however it returns over time and is worsened by age. There is no cure for the Syndrome. Onset for most occurs by the age of 30, although cases as young as 5 and as old as 60 have been reported. Physicians remain unclear about the underlying cause, but the condition is not considered to be transferred from person to person. The prevailing theory is the Syndrome is the result of genetic mutation due to increased radiation exposure, especially among poorer populations that has resulted in endocrine failure, causing general malfunction of the immune system."

                          “I wish I could help these people,” An thinks. “If thousands of doctors haven’t, though…” The thought leaves her pensive as she goes.

                          The second waypoint is a physical drop. She goes to a hotdog seller in front of the husk of Caesar’s Palace and buys a hotdog. As she cruises along, she pauses near a juggler and a costumed Anime character. She tips the juggler, slipping a micro-drive into his bucket. Then she takes a photo with the Anime girl, and gives the hotdog to a homeless woman with her child nearby. Further along, An stops by the rail of a fountain and waits with others for the next show to begin. As she waits, she feels the brush pass and only barely remembers not to react.*

                          After the show, she continues to the final waypoint near the DefCon hotel. This cache is inside the parking deck connecting two hotels. An parks her scooter, locks it, and enters the southwest elevator. Most of the cars are self-driving ones, with the deck being simple storage for the taxi services that rent the cars, but here and there are private vehicles. On the third floor, where the entrances to the casinos are, An spots the small, hand-sized box attached to a beam over the security camera near the doorway. “Ballsy,” An thinks. She forces her phone to ring with the specific ringtone that will trigger the sonic download, and pretends to take a call while payloads transfer between the cache and her PAD. Then she hangs up, enters the casino, and gambles for a few hours.

                          After she turns in the scooter, she walks to the mall underneath her hotel and uses a forged credit chip to rent a coffin for the night. She climbs in, middles the camera feed, and pretends to sleep. She loops the feed, changes back to her fullsuit, and post-dates the timestamp on her exit for the morning. The facility cameras are on the same network, so it’s easy for her to do the same with her exit from the facility.

                          Back in her room, she examines her room for compromise, then breaks out the data caches. On the first one, An finds several dozen academic papers, and queues a digital currency transfer to their accounts. It’s getting rarer to find academicians willing to circumvent the public publishing requirements, and she knows their crippling debt makes anonymous donations the only motivation for them to continue doing so. There are also some system schematics for building climate controls and elevator code, one paper about exploiting identity transmissions, and several gigs of poetry, prose, and novels. Most of it pirated and available elsewhere, some of it original.*

                          The second drop is in the micro drive. This one has a cookbook containing recipes from every Earth ethnic group, a guide for constructing weapons and survival tools from common items available at transport stations, a security analysis of six industrial grade locking systems, and hundreds of general purpose scripts, including backdoors, trojans, and ordinary data parsers.

                          The third drop An originally thinks is corrupted, but the pattern is not random enough, and there is so much data it is plausible she can recover most of it if it is corrupted. The data is not a format she has seen before, and none of her parsers understand it. She works with it for a few hours, but ultimately decides it’s a puzzle she cannot solve alone. Before she goes to bed, she sends Seven another message “Bedtime here. I love you, mom.”*

                          The next day, she registers for the MedTech conference and attends the reception and the first day of talks. She sends Seven a couple of messages about how dull the doctors are, and how the food is indulgently fatty, and she sends out a small program to seed her identity surrogate’s likeness and her badge registration in the various conference monitoring systems for the next several days of the conference.

                          That evening, she slips through the cracks, veiled and with a silicone mask instead of her identity surrogate, and sends Seven pictures of the fountain, the jugglers, and the traffic. Then she attends DefCon.

                          She spends the evening going from board games, 3-D games, and research villages to casual demos, and shopping for vendors who may have less legal hardware modifications, or cutting edge tech that hasn’t been regulated yet. Everything at the tables is legitimately purposed, to her disappointment. A sign at one of the booths states “Earth regulations prohibit the sale of Class 4 technologies to those without proper Permit. This vendor complies with all government regulations.” Nearby, several people without veils look around in suspicion. An sweeps the room quickly to listen to all the bands. Signal strengths spike from three figures surrounding one booth, and she flags those as government officials on her visual translator. The savvier vendors conduct business on a localnet, invisible to meatspace. Their wares are better, but still hardly controversial. An sighs, and retreats to the cipher village for the remainder of the evening. An is careful not to send any messages from the hotel.

                          A small group of veiled hackers are busily sharing cache data at one table, and she scans them. They appear clean, so she sits nearby until one of them wordlessly reaches out an un-gloved hand to her. She unsheaths her own hand and shakes. This isn’t merely the mirror of an ancient human custom. The touch triggers a physical proximity exchange of keys that enables her to join the share. Once in, she dumps the data from her collections yesterday, and gathers all of the data the others are sharing. One of them turns its head to her and messages her. See-fu: "Where did you get this one?” The ID tag belongs to the corrupted data. “I don’t remember,” An sends back. “Why?”

                          See-fu: “Know what this is?”

                          An: “Corrupted data.”

                          See-fu: “Wrong. Medical code.”

                          An: “For what?”

                          See-fu: “Don’t know.”

                          An: “Who would?”

                          See-fu: “Medic”

                          An: “Why?”

                          See-fu: “Rare. Thanks for share.”

                          An nods back, then disconnects from the share. “That’s strange,” An thinks. She crypts the file and moves it to a No-Sector on her PAD, then goes to a data booth in the business center. She disconnects the business center node, and connects her disposable unit with a data cryptor onto the line. She quickly accesses the network to download schematics for medical data formatting from a local medNet, providing a permit key from one of the hospital executives at the MedTech conference. She puts the data through a scrubber and a sanitizer, then extracts the parsing data, which she then manually transfers to her PAD. She checks it against the cache data, and a genetic sequence drops out. Something called HEL-438. The descriptive text reads, “This RNA is proprietary intellectual property registered to the Biogenetics Division of Earth Coalition. Possession or use of this information outside of the context of Biogenetics Division of Earth Coalition is punishable to the full extent of Earth law. Subject: HEL-438 is an RNA sequence designed for treatment Syndrome 438 using the Meiliken process.” The words mean little to An, but she deletes the translated data, leaving the original crypted and No-Sectored.

                          The next day, An looks at the schedule and, after consuming several technical talks, decides to tap into the television feed for a conspiracy presentation: “What EarthCorp isn’t telling you, the Transworld threat.” Normally, conspiracy talks frustrate her, and she avoids them; those that are true are nothing she can do anything about, and those that aren’t true aren’t quite insane enough to prevent gullible people from perpetuating them. But, feeling brain fried on the other talks, she decides this sounds like it will be comedic more than frustrating.

                          “It’s in the water,” the presenter begins. Wearing an old-style Guy Fawkes mask as a veil, the presenter could be male or female, fat or thin. The identity surrogate being used is fairly high quality. “The last five years have shown an increase in cancers and mutations, fatal diseases, and crop failures.” A graph on the projector cites several studies from academic journals. “This corresponds with climate changes.” A new line is added to the graph showing moderate correlation. “But, it is caused by additives to the water table.” A new line is added to the graph showing an exact correlation. Photographs from a report marked ‘Classified' display on the screen. “We stole these from EarthCorp status reports. They’ve been putting additives in the water to better control populations. If you are sick, they can control you. If you don’t work, you don’t get Doctors to treat it. This lets them eliminate entire classes of citizens — anyone they decide is against them.” An rolls her eyes. “We know you won’t believe us. So, check it for yourselves. Here’s how we did it.” The presentation goes on with instructions about how to construct an at-home lab, and how to test water samples for the mutagen. An files it away, but largely ignores the technical detail.*

                          That evening, at the bar, she overhears some people talking about it again. When she looks, she notices that one of the conversation participants is one of the flagged government officials. He’s pressing a naked sheep about it. “If there were a cure to the mutagen that EarthCorp were somehow lording over everyone, don’t you think it would be public with all the other documents he put up?”*

                          “I don’t know,” Naked Sheep says. The sheep is a fat, middle-aged man with zero electronic signature. It’s possible he’s wearing silicone, but he’s fat, and it would be an absolute work of art to have a whole head mask with full articulation like that. “I heard a rumor there was a gene cure, that’s all.”

                          “And where did you hear that rumor,” Government asks?*

                          “Just some people were talking about it at the villages last night,” Naked Sheep says.

                          “What villages?”

                          “The villages. You know, with the games and stuff. There were a bunch of dudes sitting around in veils talking about sharing some kind of medical data. I heard one of them say it was a genecure sequence.”

                          An becomes very still as she hears this.

                          “I still say it’s bullshit,” Government says. “But you show me who talked about it, and I’ll believe it when I see it.”

                          An wants to warn the sheep, but knows there’s no good way to do so without getting caught. So, she finishes her drink, pays her tab, and goes to the hardware store to buy what she needs for the home lab.

                          Back at her hotel, she pours the second half of her morning’s bottled water into the test rig. The test works almost exactly like the talk details said it would. An feels cold trickle over her spine. If this is real, she is exposed to the mutagen. She replays the talk on her PAD. “Exposure rates suggest significant chance of Syndrome development after single exposure, but that approaches 100% with subsequent exposure. Furthermore, they have been tainting Transworld ship water supplies, and it is likely that water supplies on other worlds now also have the mutagens. EarthCorp’s plan, according to this document, are to generate dependence on medical technology as a result of the syndrome. There is no published cure.”

                          An fights with the urge to scream. She wants to tell Seven about what she’s learned, but she doesn’t want to generate a red flag. Even retransmitting the talk could draw unwanted attention. Her family is drinking this. She has drunk this. Nearly everyone on this planet has. And they’re all suffering. And she has the genecure, but no way to distribute it. Even then, who would believe? An suddenly wonders whether there are any other copies of the cure. By now, Government is going to be searching for the sharers from the village. She was there, too. What about the data cache? If they find that, they may be able to find the original source who leaked it, too.

                          She sits down at her desk and takes off her DefCon badge, and begins to tinker.

                          Later, An will travel once more to the cache, this time using her surrogate to pose as a security maintenance tech. When she does, she operates behind the camera to detach the cache. She pockets it, and disappears into the crowd. The next day, she makes her shuttle back to the space station, and from there, she successfully returns home. It takes Seven only three days to identify the right crew to print the genecure and distribute it. Earth nets censor the information, but outrage ripples through the outer worlds. Charities that offer free offworld transport to Syndrome sufferers are branded as global terrorists. In the outer worlds, there’s rumor that someone has created a formula to neutralize the mutagen in water and distributed it. But, so far, it’s only a rumor.*

                          Some time later, a new protocol circulates for a new cache in Las Vegas. I won’t tell you where it is; that would be giving it away. But somewhere, there’s an old DefCon badge with… a couple of modifications on it. And there’s information on it someone doesn’t want you to know.
                          "They-Who-Were-Google are no longer alone. Now we are all Google."


                          • #14
                            Re: Stories (Not a voting poll thread)

                            NOT ALL GOONS
                            "Not All Goons" by VAXen

                            Oldest hack in history, raising kids. Get everything just right and you end up with nice, well-adjusted future generations. Get it wrong and years later there'll be psychiatrists messing around in your children's logs and timestamps, finding all the evidence you forgot to clear.

                            I think I'm doing a pretty good job, if I do say so. The first year DefCon moves to the swank new Ur hotel and casino, right on the Strip, Mr. 15 says he wants to come with me. I'm so proud I could bust. Then, of course, Mr. 12 says that if Mr. 15 goes, he should be allowed to, as well. So I say yeah, okay. Then Miss 9 gets in on the action, my precious baby girl who, to my knowledge, has never shown the slightest interest in computers beyond texting her friends (what do 9-year-olds have to text about?) and playing Angry Bastards on her tablet. And I try to talk her out of it. You'll just be bored, I say. There's a lot of walking around, I say. A LOT. You'll be bored AND tired. But she just does that quiet-but-intractable thing she gets from her mother until finally I cave. So here I am with three kids at DefCon.

                            It happens the minute we hit the rotunda, fresh piping-hot badges swinging from our necks. Mr. 15 disappears in one direction, and Mr. 12 zips off in another. I figure Mr. 15 is heading for LPV. He's at that age where a kid without a girlfriend might turn to lockpicking as a substitute for--you know--something else. But Mr. 12 is an enigma, and ever since that time they kicked us out of Disneyland, I am loathe to let him wander around unsupervised. So I hustle into the nearby vendor area, hoping that's where he went. Miss 9 trails demurely in my wake, sticking with me despite the fact that her eyes never leave her tablet screen.

                            A quick tour of the vendor room reveals no sign of Mr. 12, so I rush up to the nearest Goonbot. This was, apparently, one of the Ur's stipulations to the DefCon organizers: you can hold your conference here, but you have to use OUR robot security forces. So no more human security Goons. I miss them and their snazzy red shirts, but in this case I can see the advantage. Any Goonbot has immediate access to every security cam and every other robot in the hotel. They should be able to spot my lost boys in the twinkling of a LAN.

                            "'Scuse me," I say to the Goonbot. "I'm looking for my son. He's 12, about so tall, brown hair, brown eyes, Incepticons t-shirt?"

                            The Goonbot issues that same metallic clicking sound that my health insurance provider's phone lines make when they're sending you from one voice menu to another. Then it says, "An individual matching that description is at the British Airways counter at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport."

                            "Where?" I say. There must be some mistake.

                            "Jomo Keny--"

                            "No, I heard you," I interrupt.

                            "Nairobi," Miss 9 mutters behind me. I glance at her. Her fingers are flying over her screen. She is really into that game.

                            "Jomo Kenyatta is the main airport in Nairobi, Kenya, sir," the Goonbot says.

                            "My son is not in Kenya," I tell it. "He was right here, like, two minutes ago." The Goonbot clicks a little more.

                            "An individual matching that description is at the poolside bar at Caesar's Palace," it says.

                            "Caesar's is way down the Strip!" I snap. "There's no way he could have gotten there in the time he's been gone. Can you search for him just within the conference area of this hotel?" Click, click, click.

                            "An individual matching that description is in the baseball stands at Greenwood Neighborhood Park in Auric, Kentucky."

                            "No, WITHIN the conference--"

                            "An individual matching that description is 50 yards west of the main parking area of the Cliffs of Moher in Liscannor, Ireland. An individual matching that description is outside the doors of Whiskey a Go Go, Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood, California. An individual matching--"

                            "Stop!" I yell. "Stop it! Just search the Ur Hotel, Las Vegas, Nevada!"

                            "Dad," Miss 9 says, in a gently insistent tone.

                            "Not now, honey!" I say. The Goonbot continues to rattle off location after location of individuals who look like but are not my son, all over the world. I plead with it to stop, but it won't, so after a while I do what all good users of technology the world over do: I resort to physical violence and fetch the Goonbot a sound slap upside the head. It wobbles on its pneumatic treads. People around us are beginning to stare.

                            "Assaulting robotic staff is an infraction of hotel rules," the Goonbot says. "Please stand by for additional assistance."

                            "ADDITIONAL assistance! Are you kidding me? You haven't been any assistance to me at all, you worthless piece of--"

                            "Language," murmurs Miss 9. Ignoring her, I give the Goonbot a low roundhouse kick.

                            "Infraction! Infraction!" it bleats. "Please stand by for--" The arrival of four more Goonbots interrupts its litany. This must be the additional assistance. One of them interposes itself between me and the first Goonbot.

                            "Sir, you have committed several infractions of hotel rules," says this one.

                            "Stick around. I'm just getting warmed up."

                            The first Goonbot wheels in a circle in the background, clicking madly.

                            "Sir, your belligerence suggests you may be under the influence. Please come with us," says the backup Goonbot.

                            "This is Vegas!" I tell it. "I may be the one person over drinking age in this room who ISN'T under the influence. Now, look, all I want is to find my--"

                            "Come with us, sir." It takes my arm. Just then, who should come barreling into me but Mr. 12.

                            "Dad, Dad!" he says. "Can I get an advance on next week's allowance? Please, please, please?"

                            "Sir, come with us," the Goonbot says, tugging my arm. I am about to jerk my arm away when we are all distracted--all but Miss 9, of course, who's still immersed in her tablet screen--by the whirling Goonbot in the background.

                            "An individual matching that description!" it declares in an unsettlingly challenging tone, coming out of its dervish act. "Please stand by!" it booms, and charges the EFF booth.

                            People scream and leap out of its way. The EFF table slams over on its side, spilling cards and stickers and T-shirts across the floor.

                            "Comewithuscomewithuscomewithus," grates the Goonbot holding my arm. Its grip tightens dangerously. I yank myself free. Its pincer-like hand snicks shut with enough force to crack a steel walnut. It reaches out for me. I grab Miss 9 by one hand and Mr. 12 by the other and dodge out of its way.

                            The other Goonbots are whirling and clutching at people now, too, spouting locations and accusations and urging everyone to remain calm, even as one of them brings a claw down on the Pwnie Express table, chopping it in half with a sound like a rifle report. Dragging the kids with me, I flee out into the rotunda.

                            Things are even worse there. The swag booth is in flames. Brogrammers run screaming to and fro. Every Goonbot I see is malfunctioning, and they keep calling in more and more backup units until the crowd of humans and bots is so thick we can scarcely move. Mr. 12 and I manage to fight our way into Capture the Flag with Miss 9 in tow, but the Goonbots have sacked the place and are busily engaged in chasing a gaggle of mohawked hackers through the litter of smashed laptops and twisted cables.

                            I haul the kids back out into the corridor. The shrieking, wailing crowd pushes us inevitably toward the Hardware Hacking Village. I'm terrified that this is where the chase will end. I can imagine a couple hundred things the Goonbots could do with soldering irons, none of them pleasant to contemplate.

                            Suddenly Miss 9 gives a tremendous yank on my hand. I stumble and barely escape being trampled underfoot by the surging horde. I start to scold her--usually so quietly sensible and serenely well-behaved--when I perceive that she is tugging us toward the nearest ladies' room. This seems like a reasonable place to seek refuge, so I add my efforts to hers, and together we push through the maelstrom. We overshoot and have to slink back pressed up tight against the wall. It takes five minutes to travel ten feet this way, but we finally reach the door and tumble through it.

                            The door swings shut behind us, and the quiet, after the chaos outside, is nearly deafening. Mr. 12 looks around.

                            "There's no one else in here," he observes wonderingly.

                            "Good thinking, sweetheart," I say to Miss 9.

                            "I'm glad you noticed," she says in a faintly distracted tone. Incredibly, her fingers are still dancing over her tablet screen. If we make it out of here alive, I think, I really need to get her some help for that game addiction. I turn to Mr. 12.

                            "We need to figure out a plan for finding your brother and getting out of here."

                            "Dad," says Miss 9.

                            "Hang on, pumpkin," I tell her.

                            "We could set off the fire alarm," Mr. 12 suggests. "When the fire department comes, they can--"

                            "The Ur security bot forces are programmed to respond to fire alarms," interjects Miss 9. "Besides, did you not see the swag booth? It's a conflagration. If the LVFR's not here now, they're not coming."

                            "But--" objects Mr. 12. Miss 9 silences him with a dismissive wave of one delicate hand. She turns to me.

                            "Now, listen," she says, and I am too impressed by the fact that she's finally disconnected from her screen to interrupt. "I know how to stop all this."

                            "What? How?" I gasp.

                            "You do not!" Mr. 12 scoffs at the same time.

                            "Yes, I do," she insists. "I'm not going to tell you how. Just give me a simple yes or no answer: do you want me to stop it?"

                            It's the fairy tales she reads, I think. The Goonbots have been transformed into ogres and trolls in her imagination, and she thinks she can chant some magic spell that will turn them to stone or transport them all to the bottom of the sea or some such nonsense.

                            "Sweetheart," I say as patiently as I can, "I'm sure you THINK you can stop it, and I'd love to hear your ideas, but right now--"

                            "A simple yes or no," she repeats, slowly and distinctly, like she's talking to someone deaf or simple-minded or both.

                            "Yes," I sigh. Sometimes the only way to deal with her is to humor her.

                            "Okay, here's how it's going to work," she says. "I want the same allowance as Mr. 15 gets." I shake my head, too dizzied by this conversational turn to protest that now is not the time to be talking about allowances.

                            "Now, honey, that's not fair. You have to work your way up."

                            "Yeah!" says Mr. 12. "I don't even get as much allowance as him." Miss 9 doesn't deign to acknowledge him.

                            "I do twice the chores of both of them put together," she tells me. "And you don't have to nag and remind me all the time."

                            "That's not true!" protests Mr. 12, but, in fact, it IS true.

                            Something hits the ladies' room door with a resounding crash. We all look up. A Goonbot trundles in through a cloud of splinters, brandishing a fire extinguisher.

                            "Heeeeeeere's Johnny!" it exclaims.

                            I can't bear for my last moments on this earth with my daughter to be spent in argument. So I say, "Okay, honey, if you stop these things, you can have the same allowance as Mr. 15."

                            "Backdated to the start of the year," demands Miss 9.

                            "Fine," I say.

                            "And I want my very own R-Pi. Not one I have to share with luser over there."

                            "Sure, honey."

                            "That's SO not fair!" Mr. 12 whines.

                            "Think of it as compensation for millennia of patriarchal oppression," Miss 9 tells him, the barest suggestion of a smirk hovering over her rosebud lips. He can't think of anything to say to that.

                            Miss 9 steps out from behind the protective screen I'm making with my body to shield her and her brother from the approaching Goonbot. I make a grab for her and miss.

                            "Honey, no!" I shout. "That thing could kill you!"

                            But she ignores me and marches right up to the Goonbot. Glaring fearlessly into its gleaming metal finish, she stands on tiptoe and speaks very loudly and clearly into the microphone built into its chest.

                            "This situation is exactly like Nazi Germany," she says.

                            And I'll be damned if the thing doesn't freeze right where it is. The arm hefting the fire extinguisher droops toward the floor, and the light dies out of its LED eyes.

                            Mr. 12's eyes get big as saucers. "What did you do to it?" he whispers.

                            When I finally work up the courage to peer out into the corridor, the chaos has mostly ceased. People mill around, muttering, nursing minor injuries--miraculously, no one seems to have been seriously hurt--and poking and prodding cautiously at the Goonbots, ALL of which have shut down. My jaw hits the ground.

                            My precious, pink-cheeked little elf princess has just Godwinned a casino full of marauding robots.

                            Mr. 15 saunters up with a pack of lockpicks in one hand and a young lady with zebra-striped hair in the other. "Dad," he says, "this is Ada. She can open a Schlage 2600 in eighteen seconds using nothing but a paperclip."

                            It's not until the plane ride home that I ask Miss 9 how she knew exactly what to do to save us all. She doesn't answer me, just smiles sweetly and hums a few bars of her favorite Hanoi Montana tune.

                            Down below, Las Vegas retreats into the distance, and I entertain a brief, feverish notion that she somehow caused all this mayhem just to achieve equal footing with her brothers. But I know that's silly. I'm probably just hysterical with relief.

                            The Ur hotel takes its entire robot security staff offline after this fiasco, but DefCon moves back to the Rio anyway. It's good to be back there and nice to see all the friendly-faced, red-shirted human Goons patrolling the halls the following year.

                            Miss 9 becomes Miss 10 and leads the team that wins Capture the Flag. I am one proud papa, I can tell you.

                            She's my future, and anywhere we go, I'm glad she's right here, right now.

                            THE END
                            "They-Who-Were-Google are no longer alone. Now we are all Google."


                            • #15
                              Re: Stories (Not a voting poll thread)

                              A DISPATCH FROM DEFCON

                              Dispatch from Defcon 30 by Rob Pait

                              “We were promised a future steeped in 1970s psychedelic fever dreams,” a man once
                              complained to me, “But all we have gotten is more impressive smart phones, and
                              slightly faster internet.”

                              It is true that the world of Defcon 30 has not measured up to the worlds presented
                              in the novels of the 1970s that we still consider to be the paragons of science
                              fiction. Disease still exists, and there are no flying cars. For all that we
                              haven’t gotten, the world has certainly changed. I first started attending Defcon
                              when I was fourteen years old at Defcon 9, and attended through Defcon 12. These
                              were the golden years at the AP, the years of Defcon still whispered in reverence
                              today. At that time, the con was much smaller, peaking at less than ten thousand
                              people. The lock pick village was a small room off the side of the lounge. Wifi
                              was a new thing, and people were just wising up to the idea that their passwords
                              could be snatched out of thin air and pasted to the wall on paper plates.

                              I returned eight years later, at Defcon 20. I expected to return home, but instead
                              found myself a stranger in a strange land. The lock pick village had expanded from
                              a small room to a sub con in its own right. The Wall of Sheep not only projected
                              sniffed passwords, but held contests, and had corporate sponsorship. The con was
                              much larger, boasting over twenty thousand attendees. The parties had gone from
                              catastrophic events in hotel rooms, to massive spectacles out of Hollywood movies.
                              As I returned, I had to find my place in a world that I still fundamentally
                              understood, but had changed tectonically.

                              It is through those eyes, that I look at the world of Defcon 30. Today the con is
                              so damned big, we no longer fit in one hotel, and we take over a section of the
                              Las Vegas Strip. I walk down the hall, past the line for the talk on AI systems for
                              monitoring phone lines entitled “Skynet is in my Phone!” The people in the line are
                              so young, I can barely remember what is was like to be one of them. The culture is
                              different too. The custom wearable tech I am wearing, photographic glasses designed
                              to resemble Spider Jerusalem’s glasses from “Transmetropolitain,” barely raised an
                              eyebrow here. Even five years ago, blatant wearable tech would have gotten you
                              kicked out of the con. Today attendees are building it for a contest in the hardware
                              hacking village.

                              I turn the corner, and wander into the HHV to view the progress of the contest. The
                              3D printers hum along, and the smell of burnt solder wafts through the air. In one
                              area, a former machinist rubs his brow as he tries to explain to a noob why the
                              aging delta bot he chose to work with cannot use the new silicon printing material
                              that was released in the last year. A team walks by, whispering that a team
                              affiliated with UCSC finally broke the last of the engineering barriers to print a
                              heads up display in contact lenses, and that they should have the lenses done by the
                              end of con.

                              The save the world types are mostly gathered in the biohacking contest. The theme
                              this year is “Pimp my GMO!” The idea is to create a genetically modified food on the
                              fly that can be grown quickly to rapidly address the famines that have become all
                              too common with climate change. I don’t really understand any of what they are doing,
                              all I know is that it involves chemicals and stuff. The way that they talk about
                              their work though, makes you think that they will be able to turn a dream of flying
                              into a reality.

                              Defcon parties keep getting bigger too. The big one this year based on the talk seems
                              to be the Dr.Ink party, even if some people seem weirded out by the group’s constant
                              dong related themes. The challenges to enter it are unusual to say the least, rumor
                              is that for one part you need to build a robot out of scrap found around the con to
                              fight one of the organizer’s robots. In some ways, I am surprised that robot
                              fighting never became a thing at con. That said, I grew up in a different time than
                              many of the attendees, many of today’s attendees would probably argue that a mass
                              robot fighting competition would violate the robot’s rights. Some would make the
                              argument for laughs, others would make it in all seriousness. It seems weird to think
                              that making a robot who was built for, and literally knows nothing other than,
                              fighting robots would have its rights violated by letting it fight. A more serious
                              culprit for the lack of an appetite for robot fights would probably be US drone
                              strike policy making the threat of killer robots hunting humans all too real.

                              We did try though. I walk through the main thoroughfare, and see the memorial poster
                              on the site of where the famous Mechagoon robot went down fighting to save several DC
                              groups from the CIA’s dactylmen. Even today, every time the feds made inroads to
                              stabilizing relations with the hacker community, they would inevitably foul it up.
                              Nothing has changed since Keith Alexander blatantly lied at a keynote speech and the
                              Snowden leaks. And sadly, that part will probably never change.

                              While everyone knows not to drink anything that did not come sealed, or that they
                              saw served up themselves, the same lesson is being learned about vaping juice. Vaping
                              became a big thing around 2012, to the point there had even been an infosec blowhards
                              meet up at Defcon since Defcon 22. At Defcon 25, for the first time someone brought
                              LSD laced vaping juice, and dosed a significant portion of the con. On a positive
                              note, they all loved the Black and White Ball that year. It was a sad reminder that
                              for all that we do not trust the feds, we should count on our own to make bad
                              decisions too.

                              Today CTF sits on the verge of becoming a professional sport. This year, there are no
                              less than three divisions for CTF, divided by skill and age breakdowns. CTF teams
                              had always been sponsored by schools and agencies, that much was always known. At
                              Defcon 27, we saw the first time a consortium of corporate interests hired a team to
                              be full time professional CTFers. Now there are eight official professional CTF teams
                              around the world, ranging from the Western USA Developers, to the Japanese ATX ProCTF
                              team. They compete in the professional tier, while the amateur tier consists of
                              veteran pentesters and intel agents aiming for a shot at the pros, and everyone else
                              is relegated to OpenCTF.

                              The part of con that has probably changed the most is the lockpicking village.
                              Entering the lock picking village, I see almost no picks out, or for sale. At least
                              not what we would have recognized as picks ten years ago. 3D printing completely
                              changed a sport that had not changed for hundreds of years. The biggest innovation
                              for lock picking was the 3D printing pen. They first showed up in 2013 as a novelty,
                              but they continued to evolve over time, and with time improved in both extruded
                              material quality and resolution detail. And now, I am standing in front of a kid who
                              is involved in the impressioning challenge who is quite literally sketching the key
                              she needs to open a lock into reality. Imagine that, literally drawing in the air,
                              and having the key you need appear before you. I’m watching it happen now, and can
                              barely believe it. Not everyone is happening about it, the contest organizer is
                              sitting in the judge’s chair muttering about “these kids running on easy mode, how
                              will they ever become MFPs this way?”

                              Not all is sunshine and daisies. There are several talks about “The Trial.” Mention
                              the trial to anyone at con and they will not have to ask which one you are talking
                              about. A year and a half ago, there was a new product released via crowdfunding, the
                              Mlink. The Mlink was a convergence of man machine interface technology and good old
                              fashioned IRC. I myself funded it thinking that it would be hilarious to think dick
                              and fart jokes at my friends directly from anywhere. Because of course hackers would
                              use technologically assisted telepathy for dick and fart jokes, they are funny, and
                              we love them. There were the standard fears of course, that someone would be able to
                              tap into Mlink signals and use the technology to monitor our minds. What we did not
                              see coming was what the Eastern USA ProCTF team, The Warlocks, would do with the

                              In order to gain a competitive advantage over the other teams, The Warlocks, decided
                              to modify the Mlink. The idea was to make transmission faster, so that rather than
                              just being able to use it to mentally send messages to each other, they would
                              effectively know what everyone else on the team was thinking at all times.
                              The Warlocks forgot the cardinal rule of QA, never put test code on a production
                              server. They did not have time to test out the modifications to the Mlink before con,
                              and did not realize that they had removed key safeties. The result was catastrophic.
                              They merged over the Mlink into a hivemind. By the end of the week of competition,
                              the individual members were no more, there was just one entity with 20 bodies. The
                              new hivemind entity called itself The Warlock.

                              The Warlock was without a doubt the greatest hacker to ever hack, and was unstoppable.
                              As always, the devil was in the details. It turned out that two of the team members
                              had serious reservations about using the modified Mlink systems, and had been forced
                              to use them against their will by their fellow team members. Now the families of
                              those two team members are suing to attempt to have those two team members separated
                              from The Warlock. The Warlock adamantly opposes these demands, arguing that it is
                              effectively a demand for The Warlock’s murder, and threatening to destabilize global
                              systems in order to defend The Warlock’s right to exist.

                              Reaction worldwide was swift and panicked. Government agencies had no clue how to
                              handle this, no law on record even considered the possibility of a hivemind entity,
                              much less forced integration into it, or if a hivemind had the right to exist. Other
                              agencies considered The Warlock a threat to national security that needed to be
                              neutralized regardless. Rouge actors wanted to gain access to the modified Mlink
                              technology in order to create weponized hiveminds to threaten their enemies.
                              Transhumanist cults have begun to spread across the world, worshiping The Warlock as
                              some kind of messiah. Even The Warlock is afraid of the nutjobs that believe that
                              joining The Warlock is their path to peace and salvation and desire to become one
                              with The Warlock with or without The Warlock’s consent.

                              For all the wonders at Defcon this year, it will be the debate over The Warlock that
                              defines Defcon 30. Sadly this is a symptom of graver issues within our community. We
                              focus so much on the negative, and neglect our wonders and accomplishments. The AP
                              was nearly two decades ago, I still have a friend who talks about his regrets about
                              thinking he was “too baller” to stay there. I still mention the regrets I harbor
                              over my eight year absence due to being too busy working, or being too drunk to
                              attend con. We have accomplished wonders, and yes, The Warlock Trial matters, we
                              shouldn’t focus on it above everything else. Look around. The world got weird, and we
                              were too busy focusing on our dramas to notice. We got the future promised by the
                              psychedelic fever dreams of the Seventies, we were too busy making it seem normal. As
                              I end this dispatch from Defcon 30, I ask of you, my reader, one thing – Stop taking
                              things so damned seriously, revel in what we have accomplished, and keep breaking
                              stuff so we can push the limits of what is possible.

                              -Heretek, Defcon 30, August 2022
                              "They-Who-Were-Google are no longer alone. Now we are all Google."