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  • eris
    replied
    Re: Stories (Not a voting poll thread)

    FOGGED
    Fogged
    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

    Leave a comment:


  • eris
    replied
    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?"

    "Sure."

    "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.*

    "Wow!"

    "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."

    Leave a comment:


  • eris
    replied
    Re: Stories (Not a voting poll thread)

    DISTORTING HUMANS FOR FUN AND PROFIT


    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.”

    “Seemed?"

    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.”

    “It...it’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...

    Leave a comment:


  • eris
    replied
    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.


    "Daughter,


    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.


    Love,


    Dad
    Former Dark Tangent"

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  • eris
    replied
    Re: Stories (Not a voting poll thread)

    EPHEMERA

    Ephemera
    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.

    ###

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  • eris
    replied
    Re: Stories (Not a voting poll thread)

    BRIGHT WINTER

    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 ...in 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

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  • eris
    replied
    Re: Stories (Not a voting poll thread)

    DUMPED


    --- ---

    Dumped

    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
    process.

    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
    vision.

    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?
    Left.
    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.

    Leave a comment:


  • eris
    replied
    Re: Stories (Not a voting poll thread)

    FINAL NOTICE


    FINAL NOTICE
    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
    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

    Leave a comment:


  • eris
    started a topic Stories (Not a voting poll thread)

    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""





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    # 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 #
    # #
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