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  • Suzanne
    replied
    Re: Stories (Not a voting poll thread) - WE ARE NOT JUST BODIES - BEST STORY - VOTE!!

    THIS THE BEST STORY!!! VOTE FOR IT!!!

    Originally posted by eris View Post
    WE ARE NOT JUST BODIES

    “We Are Not Just Bodies” — By Jaci Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Yes it was me.”

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

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

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

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

    The police don’t drop Ghost, they can’t, they have to make a stand (and he’s technically an accomplice.) The next thing I know, the riot is storming the police, pushing them outside of the conference hall. I take one look back at the action, jump off the table I had been standing on and I just start running. I run into the heat of the Las Vegas sunset and I don’t stop for a long time, but for once, it feels overwhelmingly satisfying. I may have even teared up, or maybe it’s just sweat, it’s sweltering hot tonight.

    Leave a comment:


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

    Originally posted by TheCotMan View Post
    Ooops!

    Forgot to add you to this new forum for this year as "Forum Leader/Organizer" (Just added you now.) You should be able to delete other posts here, edit polls, and not be limited to the 24-hour edit of posts like elsewhere.

    I have deleted your post (as requested) which contained the original post for the story you quoted for the reasons you describe above, but the same story you quoted in your post (immediately above this post) is still here. You can edit your own post (just above this one) where you quote the deleted story to remove it there if you want, or leave it there so people can see what was removed. If you can't I'll debug with you to make sure you have that kind of control in this forum.

    Summary:
    * Original post of story: deleted
    * Your post replying to that story, quoting it, not edited or deleted.

    If you find other controls are missing from your account, please let me know so I can address those.

    Sorry!
    -Cot
    THanks! I hadn't noticed because I hadn't really worked on the forum with the contest much yet! Ha! Have a good day!

    Leave a comment:


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

    Originally posted by eris View Post
    DUE TO DISPUTE REGARDING AUTHORSHIP AND OWNERSHIP OF THIS STORY IT IS NO LONGER ELIGIBLE FOR JUDGING. INELIGIBLE FOR PRIZE AND WILL NOT BE INCLUDED IN PEOPLES CHOICE AWARDS. NO FURTHER DETAILS WILL BE RELEASED, FRANKLY, IT ISN'T ANYBODY'S BUSINESS BUT THE CONTRIBUTING WRITERS, SO D0NT ASK ME. 1 JUNE 2014

    COTMAN, Please remove actual story text from this post when you get a chance. I am unable to "edit post" with full admin at this time. *shrug* Sorry.
    Ooops!

    Forgot to add you to this new forum for this year as "Forum Leader/Organizer" (Just added you now.) You should be able to delete other posts here, edit polls, and not be limited to the 24-hour edit of posts like elsewhere.

    I have deleted your post (as requested) which contained the original post for the story you quoted for the reasons you describe above, but the same story you quoted in your post (immediately above this post) is still here. You can edit your own post (just above this one) where you quote the deleted story to remove it there if you want, or leave it there so people can see what was removed. If you can't I'll debug with you to make sure you have that kind of control in this forum.

    Summary:
    * Original post of story: deleted
    * Your post replying to that story, quoting it, not edited or deleted.

    If you find other controls are missing from your account, please let me know so I can address those.

    Sorry!
    -Cot

    Leave a comment:


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

    Originally posted by eris
    SPEEDY GONZALES


    DUE TO DISPUTE REGARDING AUTHORSHIP AND OWNERSHIP OF THIS STORY IT IS NO LONGER ELIGIBLE FOR JUDGING. INELIGIBLE FOR PRIZE AND WILL NOT BE INCLUDED IN PEOPLES CHOICE AWARDS. NO FURTHER DETAILS WILL BE RELEASED, FRANKLY, IT ISN'T ANYBODY'S BUSINESS BUT THE CONTRIBUTING WRITERS, SO D0NT ASK ME. 1 JUNE 2014

    Pat Boone lyric on Speedy Gonzales link: http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/p/p..._gonzales.html
    DUE TO DISPUTE REGARDING AUTHORSHIP AND OWNERSHIP OF THIS STORY IT IS NO LONGER ELIGIBLE FOR JUDGING. INELIGIBLE FOR PRIZE AND WILL NOT BE INCLUDED IN PEOPLES CHOICE AWARDS. NO FURTHER DETAILS WILL BE RELEASED, FRANKLY, IT ISN'T ANYBODY'S BUSINESS BUT THE CONTRIBUTING WRITERS, SO D0NT ASK ME. 1 JUNE 2014

    COTMAN thank you for assistance.
    Last edited by eris; June 1, 2014, 15:34.

    Leave a comment:


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

    NOTHING TO SEE HERE
    Last edited by eris; June 1, 2014, 02:05. Reason: INCORRECT PLACEMENT FOR POST

    Leave a comment:


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

    THE EMPATH by Richard Powell

    Title : The Empath
    Author : Richard Powell

    As I've said before, being an empath ain't all sexy like I used to
    think when watching Counselor Troi on Star Trek. I remember having
    these ridiculous romantic notions about it.

    Like the dork that I am, I had visions of someday inventing the next
    big thing, becoming a billionaire and earning the love and respect of
    my peers. I wanted to be loved like Steve Jobs was loved. Sure, some
    people, including myself, hated the guy. His ego was unparalleled,
    and he was a total asshole ñ but he was loved and respected
    nonetheless. And on my quest to achieve such notoriety, I thought
    having an empathic talent would serve me well as I waded through the
    shark-infested waters of venture capitalists and my fellow geeks, out
    to steal and pervert my ever-so-brilliant ideas. I figured I could
    sense their intentions and react accordingly. I was so naive.

    Being an empath is not so much having the ability to sense things in
    others as it is the compulsion to feel what others are feeling. You
    don't just happily stroll up on a depressed fuckwit and say ìoh hey,
    that guy is depressedî. No, my friends, it is nothing like that at
    all. What happens when you come into the emotional space of said twit
    is that you suddenly lose all desire to press on. You are overcome
    with dread. Even if two seconds before you were filled with
    inspiration and an abundant joy for life, you might drop down on the
    ground and pray for it to all be over. This very thing had been
    happening to me for years, and I'm certain that I suffered from some
    sort of emotional whiplash as a consequence. Alcohol was a blessed
    gift and a false crutch through it all. It was the medicine that
    drowned out all the noise so I could sleep and shut off. And while I
    love AA for giving me the tools to get sober, there was no way I
    could sit in those meetings where so many fucked-up emotions were
    present and pummeling me from all sides.

    For a time, I thought I might be going crazy. Maybe I was just
    emotionally unstable or had something chemically wrong in my brain.
    When I finally realized the truth of what was happening, I struggled
    for years to differentiate my own feelings from the feelings of those
    around me. The brain is such a sensitive piece of work in this
    regard. Every time I had a sudden knot in my stomach or a pang of
    guilt, I had to question what within my own heart could have triggered
    the emotion before I could consider if the emotion was external. Did
    I get a whiff of lavender, causing me to recall the time in the park
    when I poured my heart out to the woman I adored, only to be pitifully
    rejected? Did I hear the whistle of a distant train, transporting my
    subconscious to the time when my vacation was delayed for days because
    of a train-scheduling cock-up?

    During those years, I could not attend Defcon, or any of the other
    security and hacking conferences I had frequented. For one thing,
    there are just too many damned egos requiring stroking at these
    events. I was reminded of my own needy ego, and my insatiable desire
    to be loved and respected by my peers. When those emotions came
    strafing in from all the other egomaniacs, it was just too
    overpowering and hurtful. I found myself wanting to medicate with
    alcohol and drugs, which were never in short supply at Defcon. It had
    always been a huge part of the culture, from my very first conference
    back in the late 90's. Defcon was a dangerous cocktail to me for many
    years.

    Thankfully, today is different. I've spent years getting my own
    emotional baggage in some kind of order. Well, the best anyone could
    hope for anyway. I've made peace with many of those memories that had
    always caused such distress. It's okay that my heart was broken.
    It's okay that people screw up at their jobs, causing delays and
    hardship for others. This is life, and it's all okay. In fact, it is
    absolutely wonderful. This is the stuff that makes life worth living,
    actually. I've come to a place where I can appreciate the raw emotion
    of those egomaniacs. I can mull it over and inspect it with curiosity
    and recognition.

    Egomaniacs are certainly not the only types that attend Defcon though,
    and it's not fair of me to imply that the conference is overrun by
    such types. My focus on them probably comes from my own dark past,
    and the pain that I felt knowing I'd spent so much of my life in that
    self-centered place. Truth be told, there are some fantastic souls
    that converge on this conference every year, and I'm grateful that I'm
    able to submerge myself into this flood of emotion. I'm thankful to
    have the ability to recognize and be at peace with the darker emotions
    that I find in others.

    As for the non egomaniacs, take that man over there for instance. I
    recognize his emotion as something I'm also feeling right now. I love
    this place, and all the people that make this conference possible. I
    can tell that he is feeling that same love for what's going on around
    him. He is feeling very connected to his peers around him, not
    because he is respected or adored by them, but because he is part of
    them. He has found his community.

    And then there's Mags, standing over there all alone. Which I cannot
    believe. She is stunning in appearance and I find myself drawn to
    her, in the same way that I think most of the other geeks around here
    are. But her physical appearance is only one small piece of that
    stunning beauty. I'm even more drawn to her emotional beauty. I find
    myself taking a deep breath as my heart rate quickens.

    You know how you feel when you're tasting a fine wine or beer? That
    moment when it hits your tongue for the first time, and you roll it
    around in your mouth before you swallow it? When you can truly
    appreciate a drink beyond the effects of it making you drunk? That
    feeling can be euphoric when you allow yourself the freedom to live in
    that moment. There's such complexity in a fine drink. This memory is
    painful sometimes, since having to choose real life over alcohol. But
    I've found a replacement for that rush in the feelings of others.
    Mags is standing there, looking calm and composed ñ a little
    intimidating, actually. Maybe that's why no one has approached her.
    But I can sense far more than calm in her. She is nervous. Excited.
    She is in love with life. She is giddy. Her emotions are like a fine
    wine to me. In taking on her emotions as my own, I remember this
    feeling as something I experienced myself when I fantasized about
    speaking at Defcon more than a decade ago, but for me it was never
    anything more than fantasy.

    I must confess, I really have no right to call her Mags, I should be
    calling her Maggie. I only met her last night, and then only because
    I was compelled to walk up to her and her boyfriend, Mickey, offering
    them drinks and introducing myself. I couldn't stop myself when I saw
    them together. Over every other soul in the room, these two stood out
    as special. I could tell that I was intruding when I approached them,
    but the desire to know them overruled any apprehension or respect for
    their privacy. And they were in a public place, after all.
    Thankfully they didn't asked me to leave, and welcomed me to sit with
    them for a while. I don't recall saying much to them about myself, as
    I was primarily interested in drawing out as many of their emotions as
    I could. I had this craving to live vicariously through them. Does
    that make me any more creepy than someone who isnít empathic but wants
    to live vicariously through other peopleís stories and words alone?
    Because sometimes I do feel creepy about it.

    As it turns out, they are both going to be speakers this year, and
    they also live in the same city I do. I was enthralled! Over the
    time I spent with this couple last night, I developed a connection.
    These two people barely know me at all, and yet I feel like I've
    fallen in love with them. They have become dear friends in the course
    of a few hours together over drinks (non-alcoholic for me). Part of
    me wonders if I had interrupted them just as Mickey was getting ready
    to propose. There really was a lot of love there last night. But as I
    can't read minds, I'm always left with my interpretations and
    fantasies. That love I was sensing could just have easily been a love
    of life. They were both getting ready to speak in front of hundreds
    of their peers the next day, and all the emotion surrounding that was
    all over them.

    So, as I walked over to Maggie, I had this strong compulsion to give
    her a hug, which I immediately resisted as I reached out my hand to
    shake hers in greeting. ìYou are so totally going to kick ass,î I
    said with a smile.

    ìThank you,î she offered in return. ìI'm a little nervous, I suppose,
    but nothing I can't handle.î

    After a few moments of awkward silence, I asked, ìIs Mickey around to
    wish you luck?î

    ìYep,î she said, ìHe's right over there.î

    Oh, there's definitely love there. I felt the warmth pass through me
    the moment I mentioned Mickey's name. This is the feeling that I
    ultimately seek, above all others. In all the chaos out there at this
    conference, I have uncovered a real treasure. I want to stay in this
    moment for as long as possible. And I know that even as I follow her
    gaze over to Mickey, the same feeling is going to be there, so I don't
    hesitate to turn in his direction. That's when an entirely different
    bundle of emotions floods through me, one I remember well from my
    early days in the hacking culture. It hit me so hard I found myself
    having to swallow a chunk of my breakfast for the second time. Fuck!
    The food was less than agreeable the first time, but it did not
    improve the second time around.

    It was after I had successfully tricked my way onto a computer in
    order to gather information that someone had hired me to gather. It
    was the computer of the soon-to-be-ex-wife of a man who wanted to
    prove her adulterous behavior in court. It was such an exhilarating
    feeling, at first, when I had gained access. Disbelief that I had
    actually done it, that I had the guts to lie and get away with it in
    such a huge way. I was cocky, but completely unprepared for success
    when it happened. The moment I walked out of the building with the
    incriminating evidence in hand, I felt like a complete tool. I didn't
    know who this woman was. I had no idea what her story was. Who am I
    to judge her sexual affairs or actions? In my mind, in the matter of
    seconds, I had gone from successful hacker/social engineer to the scum
    of the earth. I felt like vomiting back then, too.

    That is the emotion I was feeling again, great remorse and regret.
    Wishing I could do something, anything, to take it back and start over
    again. After a quick visual recon, I asked Maggie ìWho's that with
    Mickey?î

    ìOh, the kid? That's Eli. We met him a few weeks back. He's from
    Portland, too. He was looking for someone to carpool with. He seemed
    like a good kid, so we offered him a ride.î

    I don't know what this kid's game was, or what he had been up to, but
    I had a strong suspicion it had something to with Mags and Micks.
    What the hell? I wonder where those nicknames came from. Next thing
    you know, I'll be calling them M&M, delicious little chocolates that
    won't melt in your hand. Oh my god, what the hell is wrong with me?
    These people would probably file a restraining order against me if
    they knew how friendly my subconscious had become with them.

    Shaking those thoughts from my mind, I bid Maggie farewell and said
    ìGood luck! I'm going to go say hello.î

    ìThanksî, she said as I walked away with Mickey and Eli in my sights.

    Eli was shifting nervously as I approached. Knowing how he was
    feeling just made it so much more obvious that he was hiding
    something. I reached my hand out to Mickey, saying hello. I don't
    reckon the broad smile was on my face anymore. In the time it had
    taken me to walk across the hall from M to M, I had devised a plan
    to extract some information from Eli, if I could manage it. Somehow
    I conveyed to Mickey my desire to be introduced to Eli, and that was
    indeed the first thing he did after greeting me. I'm not sure if I
    interrupted a conversation or not, but it didn't distract me from my
    mission to get to the bottom of the Eli emotion.

    After shaking Eli's hand, I gave Mickey a quick glance, nodding back
    toward Maggie, and said, ìHey, I think Maggie needs to be rescued from
    some admirers before she's ready to go on stage.î I felt like a
    seasoned spy, able to manipulate Mickey with such ease as he walked
    away. Though I could only revel in my cleverness for a second before
    turning to Eli.

    ìEli.î I said curtly. He looked up at me with cautious eyes.

    ìYeah?î he said.

    I found myself wondering how old this kid was. Was he old enough to
    be here unsupervised? He certainly didn't look 18. But he had to be,
    right? Or maybe his parents agreed to let him take this trip with M&M
    as his chaperones? I donít' even know if there is an age requirement
    to attend Defcon these days.

    Time for my gamble. As I've said, I can't read minds, only emotions.
    I knew something was up with this kid, and I wanted to know what it
    was. So I said his name again, a little more gently this time.

    ìEli... I know what you've done,î I lied. I had no clue what he had
    done, but he didn't know that.

    The response was immediate. My face began to flush red hot almost as
    quickly as his did, and I found myself holding back tears as I watched
    them well up in his eyes. I swallowed, trying keep from choking up.

    ìAre youÖ,î

    He paused to swallow.

    ìAre you going to tell Mickey and Maggie? Please, you can't tell
    them!î

    I shot back with, ìWhat compelling reason could you possibly have to
    prevent me from telling them?î

    We sat there in silence for a few moments. I knew that what he was
    struggling with was huge, and I was content to let him play it all
    out in his mind. I let the silence carry on for a while, watching
    him intently.

    He couldn't stand to look at me for more than a second before shifting
    away in shame. He sniffled as he swiped the back of his hand across
    his eyes, wiping away the tears that were now flowing freely.

    He finally said ìI haven't made the exchange yet. I could just destroy
    the informationî.

    So that's it then, he had stolen some information from his chaperones?
    Some information he was going to hand off to, or sell? They both
    worked for Intel in Portland. I suppose that being security engineers
    and researchers at such a firm would afford them some pretty serious
    access to corporate secrets.

    ìWhat information are you talking about, Eli?î came Mickey's voice
    from behind me.

    I hadn't noticed that he had come back across the hall to stand behind
    me. That's when the downpour started. The confession and apologies
    began to flood out of Eli. I was having a difficult time
    understanding what he was saying, he was so upset. But I could tell
    he was not going to hold back at this point. The truth was going to
    come out, and nothing was going to stop it. Now I felt like an
    unwelcome intruder in the exchange. Whatever I had cracked open here
    was none of my business and it was time to be on my way.

    As I walked away, I was thinking that, no matter how much technology
    advanced, no matter how much ìThe Future is Nowî, there will always be
    social engineering. There will always be ego. There will
    always be a way in, a back door. In one sense, I had found a back
    door into Eli's secrets. There apparently is not yet a security
    application to conceal your emotions from others. And they can always
    give you away. Though, in this case, I believe it was for the best.

    I feel like I've done something good for Eli, and for M&M today. And
    I can't help but feel a little pride for having intervened. And as I
    inspect that feeling of pride, a feeling that is most definitely my
    own, I realize that despite all my efforts to let go, my ego is still
    alive and well.

    Leave a comment:


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

    I SIGHED AND CLICKED

    I Sighed and Clicked
    by K.L. Chase

    The time on my dashboard read 8:18. Twelve minutes to kill before I needed to be inside for work. I pulled my cell phone out of my purse and unlocked it. A new text from Tanya.

    ìOMG! Ariella just put up pictures of her baby! Cutest thing I have. ever. SEEN!î

    Eager to be distracted until my shift started at Tech City, I closed my messages and clicked on the SocialStream icon.

    SocialStream changed again. I looked at my screen and kind of wanted to throw my phone across my car. All I wanted was to see the pictures of Ariella's baby, and instead I got a screen telling me I would not have access to my profile until I completed their brief survey. I hate surveys. I always feel they have a hidden motive. I glanced at the clock again. Still 8:18. I sighed and clicked, "Start."

    "Just so you know, the information you provide will only be used by SocialStream and its authorized subsidiaries to make your social networking experience better. To review our privacy policy, click here."

    In order to stave off the moment of actually beginning the survey a little longer, I clicked on the hyperlink that took me to the privacy policy. I was expecting the usual wash of legal jargon that I mostly understood. I was bracing myself for the certain knowledge that my continued use of SocialStream for pictures of friend's babies, engagement rings, and articles on Jos Whedon's newest project was at the cost of my soul. But that knowledge did not inundate me. Instead, an error message greeted my wide eyes.

    "The page you requested is unavailable to you until you update your profile. To take part in the new SocialStream survey, click here."

    ìWhat the heck?î I couldnít keep the words from blurting out of my mouth. They sounded too loud in my quiet car, but I was having trouble believing what I was seeing. Surely it was some sort of page redirection glitch. Probably it was only because I was looking at it on my phone app. If I got on my computer, I would certainly be able to read the privacy policy. But there was no way I was going to fill out that survey without knowing what I was agreeing to now that I knew something suspicious was happening. I closed my app and contemplated the home screen of my phone.

    I was going to have to wait until after work to access the privacy policy on a computer. But my curiosity was not going to wait that long, so I asked my good friend, ìSiri, SocialStream privacy glitch.î About a million results popped up, most of them popular SocialStream profiles. Apparently every profile included the words ìSocialStreamî and ìprivacyî and a whole lot of them had the word ìglitchî in there somewhere. I would definitely have to be more strategic about this. ìPrivacy policy redirect to surveyî was about as fancy as I could think to word it while avoiding the use of ìSocialStream.î This time my search proved more fruitful and I clicked on an article from The Hacker News that was third from the top.

    I skimmed through the article. Mostly it acknowledged that there was a problem, talked about the bloggerís rather whiny series of attempts to get around the glitch, the eventual inability to do so, the ease of taking the SocialStream survey, and, finally, the official response from the company about the problem:

    ìWe are aware of the problem and are fixing itÖ users can either forego their social network accounts through the corporation or take the fast and easy SocialStream survey.î

    A chill ran down my spine. ì...through the corporationÖî I had a sinking feeling in my stomach that turned into outright nausea when I opened my Telealbum picture sharing app.

    "The page you requested is unavailable to you until you update your profile. To take part in the new SocialStream survey, click here."

    I jammed the home button down to close that app too. I looked at my phone for a second, then powered it off completely. My frustration finally got the best of me and my phone rebounded off of the car door. It landed screen up on the passengerís seat, the stupid pink and black case not even scratched. I suddenly had this very strange feeling that it was watching me. I went into work five minutes early - the first time in the the three years I had been working at Tech City.

    * * * * *

    Most of the sick, frightened feeling Iíd had about my phone had worn off by the time I got off of work. I was left with just the angry, unhappy feelings that always seemed to accompany changes to SocialStream. I pulled my phone out of my purse and took a moment to check my appearance in the still dark screen. I refused, on the principal of the thing, to use the front-facing camera as a mirror. If random people could access the camera on my computer, surely they could do the same thing to my phone. Unfortunately, the darkened phone was good enough to see that my hair was mutinying against its pony tail again, curling chunks escaping near my face. Not the attractive ones that curly-haired movie stars manage. Just the gross, greasy ones with tiny pieces sticking out in every direction to give my face a halo that vaguely resembled a lionís mane. I hadnít bothered with any make-up because, well, I didnít want most of the guys I saw at Tech City to flirt with me. My brown eyes had no help from eyeliner or mascara to make them look exotic, they were just plain, sad eyes. That wanted to look at pictures of Ariellaís new baby.

    I powered on my phone and let it warm up while I drove home. I only lived about ten minutes from work in an apartment complex far enough away from the local college that not a whole lot of students got units there, but close enough that they had to be priced to be competitive with the college apartment complexes. I had a gate opener mounted on my sun visor, but I might as well not have because there was always at least one broken gate leading into the complex. I could tell my phone was back up when it started dancing rhythmically in my cup holder as I turned into a parking space. ìSeven?î Again, my voice sounded loud in the quiet car. I rarely got text messages. What was I doing getting seven during one of my short shifts? Was one of my friends having a mental breakdown? If they had sent me one long text that got broken up into seven, I could only pray that the texts would be in order. I pressed on the message icon.

    I had seven text messages from six different people, each one telling me how cute Ariellaís baby was and asking me if I had seen the newest picture she just posted where he was sticking out his tongue. This time my phone landed on the floorboard.

    Resigning myself to just take the stupid survey without reading the new privacy policy, I trudged up to my apartment. I unlocked my computer. Everything was as I had left it. Twelve tabs, including my email, the last episode Iíd watched of my latest binge TV show, and a couple of random reddit articles. I refreshed my email, praying that maybe I was a good enough friend that Ariella might have sent me an email announcing the birth of her son with a picture or two. No such luck. I did have an email from SocialStream, though, telling me that I would ì...not be able to access the normal features of my account until I completed the quick and easy SocialStream survey.î I wanted to scream at the stupid survey. I did notice, however, that in the fine print at the bottom of the email, there was a hyperlink to the privacy policy. Breathing a sigh of relief (the blogger hadnít tried to get at it through email), I clicked on the link. Unfortunately, that link took me to the SocialStream login page and I knew I would not be able to escape the SocialStream survey if I entered my credentials.

    ìFine,î I conceded to my empty apartment. ìIíll take the stupid quiz.î

    But I couldnít bring myself to type in my username and password just yet. Instead, I opened a new window and typed ìSocialStream current privacy policyî in the search bar. Once more I was overwhelmed with hits, none of them on the first three pages relevant to my quest. Frustrated, I asked the room, ìIs it even worth it?î

    I paused for a moment. ìValue of my SocialStream profileî was my search. I donít know what caused me to type that. Maybe I wanted to be convinced that there was redeeming value in knowing what people I hadnít talked to since high school were doing with their lives. Maybe I wanted someone to tell me it wasnít worth it and I should just leave my profile to rot in ìtake the surveyî limbo. But the link I clicked on did neither of those things.

    It was an IRC log that had made its way to pastebin. Seven handles were commenting back and forth about a talk they attended at DEFCon. They were dissecting a fellow hackerís method of bypassing the SocialStream survey. Apparently there were mixed reviews as to how well your profile really worked once you bypassed the survey, but the conclusion was that you could search for other peopleís profiles and view them reasonably, and, most importantly to the commenters I was seeing, you could save the things you wanted to save and then delete your profile. Of course people pointed out again and again the futility of deleting anything on the internet, but I felt it was the principal of the thing. I did not want SocialStream to think I would fall for whatever malicious designs it was concocting through its survey.

    ìI took the survey,î one brave soul typed. I could see the other contributors hold their collective breaths. No keys were touched, no snarky comments were entered as the contributor continued, ìI took screenshots of each of the questions. Tell me what you think:î

    I clicked the imgur link and there followed a series of pictures that really did chill me. It was a personality quiz interspersed with questions I could see would make mapping your actual social network easy. It sneakily categorized people into groups. People you knew and kept up with in person and online. Your just online friends. People you talked to online and through some other means of communication (calling, texting, writing, etcÖ). And finally, those who you were interested in purely as a voyeur. The survey was brilliantly crafted with innocuous questions about your own pictures, about your interests (your likes as well as the types of status updates you were most likely to comment on), and about your friends (ìWould you describe Jacquelyn as your a)best friend b)close friend c)friend d)acquaintance or e)Iím not sure who Jacquelyn is).

    It was the very last screenshot that really got me, though. The long searched for privacy policy could finally be accessed once the survey was completed. The wording was what I expected. The pictures you uploaded, your status updates, your likes, your comments all belonged to SocialStream. But it was a sentence near the very end, easily lost in the complicated legal jargon, that made me want to crawl in a SocialStream free hole and never emerge.

    ìSocialStream retains the right to, at any time, update their records to reflect changes in the users status, both as account holders and as pieces of the network that creates the SocialStream grid in perpetuity.î

    If I was reading that right, and I had developed some expertise in the subject of legal interpretation while pursuing my pre-law degree, it meant that SocialStream could become me. They could, even if I deactivated it, take over my account and pretend to be me as long as they wanted to. They owned my online persona. They were me. Forever.

    I deleted all the apps off of my phone that had ever in any way been tied to SocialStream. I had never linked my Prater feed to SocialStream, but I deleted that for good measure. Then I sat in my apartment and closed my eyes in defeat. We were helpless in the face of the monster SocialStream had become. Not even the hackers could truly beat the system social media had created. They might DDoS it. They might do funny things to SocialStream executivesí accounts. But, in the end, that would be just one more thing to talk about on SocialStream.

    My phone alerted me to a new email. I unlocked my screen and clicked on the envelope icon of my inbox. I had an email from my mom. Usually they were chain emails, but this one wasnít a forward, so I opened it.

    Jenny,

    I donít know if you remember your friend Ariella, but her mom, Susan, and I are in the same dance class down at the rec center. She sent me an email with a picture of Ariellaís new baby boy! Let me know if you want me to forward it on to you.

    Love,
    Mom

    Leave a comment:


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

    SORRY I THREW UP ON YOU, PRIEST by Al

    Sorry I threw up on you Priest.

    It was all a blur at Alexis Park after vomiting on Priest. DefCon 12 was one of my earlier DefCon appearances and I thought it could be my last. I check in at the registration desk that Saturday morning, grabbed my human badge, and off I went to a talk or two. My friend Jon wasn't at the Alexis Park yet, so I wander around the AP.

    DefCon on a Saturday at Alexis Park was like Aaron Spelling converting a cheap Las Vegas resort for a Fantasy Island television special mixed with Hacker Debauchery Hunter S. Thompson would produce to remake Pinocchio's Pleasure Island for prime time network television to a stunned audience. I'm walking through the hallways of kids with their laptops before I walk to my first viewing of the Wall of Sheep. The screen status of teams capturing the flag against each other to the throbbing ambient trance music that sounded like it hasn't changed since I last left Circus in Los Angeles weeks before DefCon. It was a calming atmosphere that I fell comfortably into a trap to.

    At the Poolside patio was a group of folks I kinda remembered from ToorCon the year before with my friend Jon Erickson. Geoff from eEye security was offering me a toast from the table of Costco-sized Alcohol. I'm not going to deny a drink even if it's a hundred degrees outside. I take a drink. It took me a while (or it may be the drink) to see Marc Maffiret and Barnaby Jack on the table with more eEye guys drinking in the afternoon.

    I lost track of time, conversations, and everything else after several screwdrivers, vodka infusions, and whatever drinks I had with Barnes because I can't remember a Goddamed thing that day.

    I wake up. My eyes are all a blur. I look up to see a balding Friar-looking monk wearing a Hawaiian t-shirt in front of me, shaking my shoulders. I can't comprehend what he's asking me. All I hear is: rabble, rabble, rabble, what's your name? I'm sure he's asked me my name probably ten times that day. Thats when I vomited on the poor monk on a Hawaiian t-shirt. It took me several weeks to realize: I threw up on Priest? My bad.

    I black out again and rest to see several faces I will remember after DC12. Skroo was asking me if I needed a glass of water. In my dehydrated state of mind, I probably took a swig of water. I see a crowd of people outside of me by the pool. I probably blacked out after that. Flea was asking me if I needed CPR. I think. I probably blacked out at that point.

    I wake up again to see a gentleman in a goatee and glasses ask me if I need an ambulance. This is the first time I've ever met Noid, and I find it funny I met him and the rest of the DefCon goons this way. I'm not sure what happened and I black out a bit more. I gained some sense of consciousness on the stretcher to a cheering crowd of hackers and onlookers by the Pool. I hear that applause and for some strange premonition, I give my thumbs up to the crowd. I guess I was telling everyone I'll be fine that day.

    I wasn't that fine for the next six or seven hours at the Desert Inn Hospital. I wake up and I see IV tubes and wires attached to me. "The Fuck Happened?" I said to myself. I open the hospital curtains to see three nurses playing cards on the table with grins on their faces. "Good Morning" said the middle-aged nurse, "You must have had one hell of a party. I hope it wasn't your birthday today because the party's still going on." The other two nurses laugh at her joke as I didn't find it that funny. I'm squinting my eyes at her like I kinda wanted to smack her. In my condition at the hospital bed, I'm still woozy and I see an another young human with a DefCon badge. That guy Tenlow becomes one of my drinking buddies later at Hacker Drinkup in Santa Monica and other Cons. That night at the Desert Inn Hospital, we're still recovering. Well, I was. Tenlow looked like he was out when I woke up.

    The middle-aged nurse asked me two questions as I recoverer consciousness with a bad hangover. "Ok, I was going to ask you these two things and I thought it's a birthday party until we had two more of you kids with these neon colored badges. First, Do you need water? Second, What's DefCon?"

    Of course I wanted water. With a nod of my head, she gave me a water bottle from the mini-fridge at the ER. The second question was hard to answer in layman's terms at the time, but I couldn't resist. "DefCon's not a birthday party to begin with. Can I smoke here?"

    The nurse had rules to enforce and defiantly tells me I can't smoke in the Hospital. Not sure what I was thinking at the time, but I could confuse the Emergency Room with one of those DefCon Black and White ballrooms the night before. She sits down on the table and pulls out a chair for me for me to sit down. While I'm sitting down, she asks me "So tell me. What's DefCon?"

    "DefCon's a security conference. It's um…" I'm shaking my head a bit to clear my mind, "It's a security conference."

    The Nurse's questions become more aggressive and aggravating at my attempt of vagueness to her question. "What kind of security? Like Casino Security? Dennys Security? Rent-a-cop?"

    I take a deep breath and a swig of water to make some answers clear to her. "It's a conference gathering computer scientists and hackers every year."

    Her eyes open wide. Stunned. Perhaps a bit flummoxed about the idea, but she's still somewhat unclear about the concept of DefCon. "What kind of computer scientists work with hackers? I mean, I'm like 'are you going to read my email?' everyday."

    "No we don't read your emails everyday." It's my only reply to calm her down a bit.

    "Ok, so will I be safe from." She pauses for a moment to figure it out, "Will I be safe from hackers if I install Norton Antivirus?"

    I didn't want to complicate my answer from that question, but I don't want to give her some delusional sense of hope either. I had to pause for a sec to find something to say, and then I found my answer from the series of six sigma programs as running gags each black belts say in times of crises while jerking my head sideways, "Norton Antivirus? It depends."

    "Depends on what?"

    "It Depends on how you browse the web. Like do you go on myspace or friendster?"

    "No."

    "Do you watch Porn?"

    The Nurse slumps her shoulders with a whimpering sigh like I asked that question randomly to take her out for dinner tomorrow night. "No, I dunno if my husband watches porn. But all I know is my computer is slow as molasses." She gets sensitive about the question, but not defensive enough for my drunk ass to pick up anything else. "Why would you ask me if I watch Porn?"

    "Most porn websites install funny things on people's computers when they watch porn videos on their computers." I'm giving these dry answers to a nurse in 2005 when people felt carefree to browse anything until they notice popups on their internet explorer browsers.

    The nurse seems content with my answer. "I see. Well we have two more of you hackers or whatever you kids came out of in this room. That must have been one hell of a conference."

    My recovering evil grin while glaring at her followed by my calming chuckle assured her that night. "It's a night to remember."

    The middle-aged nurse was dressed in her conservative, frumpy, baggy uniform, yet looked somewhat attractive to ponder many questions about her past. She was short haired and blonde with the average build to disappoint anyone to think their nurse was from the Blink 182, enema of the state, album cover. She was a professional. She wanted conversations with other patients who had their nights in vegas to see if they were ruined or blessed. I think she thought my night from DefCon to the Hospital was a blessed one.

    The Nurse asks me if I needed a cab to my hotel room. I obliged to agree. I gave her my health insurance and credit card to cover the co-pay and I'm off the ER to the lobby waiting for my cab.

    A true DefCon veteran would go straight to DefCon after my ordeal. I wasn't a veteran and opted to order a drive-thru meal in the cab instead before I go back to my hotel room.

    The next day, I show up in the afternoon and everyone's stunned to see me alive. I'd be stunned myself too.

    The funny thing is, It took four DefCons, three ToorCons and a few LayerOne Cons to recap what the hell happened to me that day. A span of 4 years to figure out the details of my Saturday at DefCon. It's like i'm Guy Pearce from Memento recalling the things that happened to me with polaroids displayed on a timeframe of my life. In this light comparison of analogies, Flea was the guy displaying the timeframe of my moments of fame and drunken grandeur. Noid was the guy who helped recover my consciousness recapping additions of the story at ToorCon months after. Barnaby Jack returns to meet me at ToorCon 7 explaining there was more chaos after I was carried off to the hospital. The eEye guys were pushing DefCon attendees with Laptops to the pool. They may have gotten Tenlow smashed by the poolside. At the LA2600 meeting weeks after DefCon 12, I meet up with M (from NSL) who unknowingly took care of me to see if I needed help that day. Sitting next to me was the poor friar I threw up on. I had no idea Priest was the head Goon at the time.

    It was anarchy with a smile. The infamy I didn't expect, but I'd like to thank you all for keeping me alive.

    Leave a comment:


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

    SIX Title: Six
    Author: Heather Lawrence


    Sand, sand everywhere. Red sand, rocky sand, sugar sand, sand with metal shards, Xan had seen them all. An endless world of sand extended in all directions in front of him. But it was not all flatland. Dunes taller than two of him combined flowed like waves across the landscape. Occasionally you would see a pile of recognizable rubble. A tower with a needle at its peak lay in pieces like a broken child's toy. A broken obelisk stood a lonely watch off to the left. A mirage floated above all in a brain-boiling haze. Foolish men had wandered off to the mirage in search of water, only to die. Xan was not that man. He enjoyed the coolness of his suit and the ice-blue displays within his full-face helmet. Today, however, he was annoyed. Sand had worked its way into the little crevices of his standard issue combat boots and he was unable to empty them until his shift ended. He could finally take off his boots after going through the decontamination air lock. He had little concept as to when that was. This day seemed to drag on longer than any he remembered.
    He had stood guarding the same portion of metal fence that he had guarded the past ten watches. Why couldn't he draw a roving watch? Or get swapped in for kitchen duties? Within the fence betallions of soldiers idled near barracks in the courtyard or ran drills in formation. Beyond the ants stood the unyielding montrosity of Metropolis Six. Those black towers stood in fierce opposition to the elements, extending far above the clouds and into the horizon. It was a hive of activity at night from the 15th floor and above.
    Xan was bored. His gun had begun to weigh heavy in his arms hours ago. Like his pack and all his gear, his plasma incinerator was made by only one company these days: Gtek. He would count himself lucky if the damn thing worked. But Gtek ran everything - the government was riddled with employees sponsored by them, the towers were theirs, all maintenance was their maintenance, even food was grown in their labs.
    The food... he missed fresh fruit the most. Gtek had stomped out any other startup before it even got off the ground. As such, the prices they set for gourmet food and fruit were far above his paygrade. He could find dried fruit leather in his pack with his MREs, but he knew it was not made from real fruit anymore.
    The furious sun blazed down on him. At this time of day, not even the towers provided any futile shelter. He had to rely on his suit to cool him down and protect him from the rays. An hour of direct exposure meant a day in a regen tank. He made that mistake before after a night of debauchery. Apparently you could not venture out in the day for long without getting burned. Somehow the sun down here was more murderous. At least the night patrols did not have the sun to contend with. They did, however, get more surprise attacks from the Outlanders. They were getting smarter these days. Night vision and infared had draw backs when your enemies had the means to outsmart them.
    Far down the fence line his visor picked up another guard. Holo outlines flashed and brought the number blazoned on the front of the guard's uniform into focus. Good old 5651. He turned the dial on his in-ear radio from channel 6, Central's monitored channel, to channel 10, the guard channel.
    "Tom, check in."
    "Hey Xan. Yeah, it's me."
    "What's good man? Anything interesting happen in the past six hours?"
    "Nothing interesting. It's still hotter than two rats screwing in a wool sock."
    Xan chuckled. He tapped a button on his temple to scan the line for eavesdroppers.
    "So hey, you still going to the Con later?"
    "Yo, you really want to talk about that now? We're on watch. Central could be listening."
    "I already scanned the line. I have to know. Are you going?"
    Tom groaned over the channel. He shifted the weight of his gun. He was closer now and about to pass Xan by.
    "I have to work tomorrow but I think I can get an encrypted line to listen in to some of the talks."
    "Don't get caught with any of the video. Or any of the audio for that matter. Central finds that and you can bet on your one way ticket into a black bag. Personally, I'm going right after this shift ends. I wouldn't miss the Defcon talks for anything. Last year they there was a talk on how to reclaim anonymity."
    "I missed that talk. Know of a place where I could view a back up?"
    "Weren't you listening? No one keeps hardcopy anymore. It's an open invitation to get caught."
    An abnormal static fuzzed over the line.
    Tom passed by with a nod and continued walking along his patrol route down the fence. They both switched back over to channel 6.


    "Did you get that round of coms on channel 10?" Said a man in a white lab coat stood in the center of a vast white control room. He spoke to a small group of technicians. Each monitored their own hologram panel.
    "Yes Doctor, saved the data to Drive Zeta."
    "How much longer do we have before the shift change? I have to prepare some updates."
    "About another six hours, Doctor."
    "When the changeover happens, call me. I'll be in my office."


    Xan yawned and shifted his weight again. Tom had gone hours ago. Now the sun knelt low in the horizon and painted the desert a vivid crimson. The temperature had begun to drop in the gloaming and a cold moon danced in a growing night sky. There would have been more to look if they had never mined there. Once a silver orb, a jagged edge remained of what was once a perfect arc. Xan's suit switched over to night mode. Infared flashed in the visor before settling on the cold empty desert.
    He stretched his shoulders the best he could to remove the ache of standing all day. He daydreamed about that first drink after shift. Maybe he'd meet a girl. They could fight the system together. She picked locks and loved his terrible puns. Maybe she...
    Xan saw movement and froze. No red bloomed over his visor and yet he was unsure of his lonliness. Did something move out there? He could not say.
    "Central, I'm seeing movement out here in quad A-5. Please advise."
    "3418, we have eyes on your location."
    There! He saw it again. The cloak of a humanoid shape moved from dune to dune. Xan had to strain to see the motion in the moonlight. Why didn't the visor pick them up?
    A flashbang went off to his left, blinding him. His vision was a sea of white. Quickly, his suit took over and aimed his arm for him, softly chiming the location of his charging attackers.
    "Outlanders" It said. "The closest is a half klick away, encroaching on your location. Aiming... Aiming... Aiming... "
    "Fire weapon." It said at last.
    Xan pulled the trigger of his torch. The gun vaporized the attacker in fractions of a second. His sight was returning. Only human ash wafted into the air from the black glass burn where sand used to be. He aimed four more times before he contacted Central again. His gun worked. He felt relieved.
    "Central, threat neutralized."
    "Copy that 3418. Sending a relief to your location."
    Relief? Was it that time already?
    The smoke stopped billowing by the time the relief got there. Turnover was an unenthusiastic affair. A tap on the shoulder and a vocal pass of the logs. Xan signed out.
    "You've got the watch. I stand relieved." Xan breathed a sigh of relief. Not a moment too soon.
    He walked a long time back to the barracks.
    He approached the wide hydraulic metal gate that led into the decon airlock. It snicked open when it registered his presence. A lemon colored light illuminated a sickly green room. It was empty save for drains bolted into the floor. He was excited to be able to empty the sand from his boots. The door snicked down shut behind him. Xan shut down into darkness.


    A trim woman dressed in white contacted the doctor in his office.
    "Doctor, he's ready."
    "Already? I was expecting another hour." He quickly typed a few last lines of code before torturing his compiler.
    "We had some activity on the eastern flank in the A-5 quadrant, but it's quiet now. We felt it was best just to relieve him early."
    The doctor laughed. When would these Outlanders learn? They would never be allowed in. They were infected! They were never going to infiltrate the complex for water. Getting into Six was more impossible that finding clean water from anywhere that was not deep underground.
    "How's 3418?"
    "We have him on standby ready for your update Doctor. He has an appointment with a gen tank afterwards."
    "When are we getting 5651?"
    "Not for a few hours yet."
    "Prep him for the update too. I'll be down shortly."

    Leave a comment:


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

    A DISPATCH FROM DEFCON

    Dispatch from Defcon 30 by Rob Pait

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

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

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

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

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

    The save the world types are mostly gathered in the biohacking contest. The theme
    this year is “Pimp my GMO!” The idea is to create a genetically modified food on the
    fly that can be grown quickly to rapidly address the famines that have become all
    too common with climate change. I don’t really understand any of what they are doing,
    all I know is that it involves chemicals and stuff. The way that they talk about
    their work though, makes you think that they will be able to turn a dream of flying
    into a reality.

    Defcon parties keep getting bigger too. The big one this year based on the talk seems
    to be the Dr.Ink party, even if some people seem weirded out by the group’s constant
    dong related themes. The challenges to enter it are unusual to say the least, rumor
    is that for one part you need to build a robot out of scrap found around the con to
    fight one of the organizer’s robots. In some ways, I am surprised that robot
    fighting never became a thing at con. That said, I grew up in a different time than
    many of the attendees, many of today’s attendees would probably argue that a mass
    robot fighting competition would violate the robot’s rights. Some would make the
    argument for laughs, others would make it in all seriousness. It seems weird to think
    that making a robot who was built for, and literally knows nothing other than,
    fighting robots would have its rights violated by letting it fight. A more serious
    culprit for the lack of an appetite for robot fights would probably be US drone
    strike policy making the threat of killer robots hunting humans all too real.

    We did try though. I walk through the main thoroughfare, and see the memorial poster
    on the site of where the famous Mechagoon robot went down fighting to save several DC
    groups from the CIA’s dactylmen. Even today, every time the feds made inroads to
    stabilizing relations with the hacker community, they would inevitably foul it up.
    Nothing has changed since Keith Alexander blatantly lied at a keynote speech and the
    Snowden leaks. And sadly, that part will probably never change.

    While everyone knows not to drink anything that did not come sealed, or that they
    saw served up themselves, the same lesson is being learned about vaping juice. Vaping
    became a big thing around 2012, to the point there had even been an infosec blowhards
    meet up at Defcon since Defcon 22. At Defcon 25, for the first time someone brought
    LSD laced vaping juice, and dosed a significant portion of the con. On a positive
    note, they all loved the Black and White Ball that year. It was a sad reminder that
    for all that we do not trust the feds, we should count on our own to make bad
    decisions too.

    Today CTF sits on the verge of becoming a professional sport. This year, there are no
    less than three divisions for CTF, divided by skill and age breakdowns. CTF teams
    had always been sponsored by schools and agencies, that much was always known. At
    Defcon 27, we saw the first time a consortium of corporate interests hired a team to
    be full time professional CTFers. Now there are eight official professional CTF teams
    around the world, ranging from the Western USA Developers, to the Japanese ATX ProCTF
    team. They compete in the professional tier, while the amateur tier consists of
    veteran pentesters and intel agents aiming for a shot at the pros, and everyone else
    is relegated to OpenCTF.

    The part of con that has probably changed the most is the lockpicking village.
    Entering the lock picking village, I see almost no picks out, or for sale. At least
    not what we would have recognized as picks ten years ago. 3D printing completely
    changed a sport that had not changed for hundreds of years. The biggest innovation
    for lock picking was the 3D printing pen. They first showed up in 2013 as a novelty,
    but they continued to evolve over time, and with time improved in both extruded
    material quality and resolution detail. And now, I am standing in front of a kid who
    is involved in the impressioning challenge who is quite literally sketching the key
    she needs to open a lock into reality. Imagine that, literally drawing in the air,
    and having the key you need appear before you. I’m watching it happen now, and can
    barely believe it. Not everyone is happening about it, the contest organizer is
    sitting in the judge’s chair muttering about “these kids running on easy mode, how
    will they ever become MFPs this way?”

    Not all is sunshine and daisies. There are several talks about “The Trial.” Mention
    the trial to anyone at con and they will not have to ask which one you are talking
    about. A year and a half ago, there was a new product released via crowdfunding, the
    Mlink. The Mlink was a convergence of man machine interface technology and good old
    fashioned IRC. I myself funded it thinking that it would be hilarious to think dick
    and fart jokes at my friends directly from anywhere. Because of course hackers would
    use technologically assisted telepathy for dick and fart jokes, they are funny, and
    we love them. There were the standard fears of course, that someone would be able to
    tap into Mlink signals and use the technology to monitor our minds. What we did not
    see coming was what the Eastern USA ProCTF team, The Warlocks, would do with the
    Mlink.

    In order to gain a competitive advantage over the other teams, The Warlocks, decided
    to modify the Mlink. The idea was to make transmission faster, so that rather than
    just being able to use it to mentally send messages to each other, they would
    effectively know what everyone else on the team was thinking at all times.
    The Warlocks forgot the cardinal rule of QA, never put test code on a production
    server. They did not have time to test out the modifications to the Mlink before con,
    and did not realize that they had removed key safeties. The result was catastrophic.
    They merged over the Mlink into a hivemind. By the end of the week of competition,
    the individual members were no more, there was just one entity with 20 bodies. The
    new hivemind entity called itself The Warlock.

    The Warlock was without a doubt the greatest hacker to ever hack, and was unstoppable.
    As always, the devil was in the details. It turned out that two of the team members
    had serious reservations about using the modified Mlink systems, and had been forced
    to use them against their will by their fellow team members. Now the families of
    those two team members are suing to attempt to have those two team members separated
    from The Warlock. The Warlock adamantly opposes these demands, arguing that it is
    effectively a demand for The Warlock’s murder, and threatening to destabilize global
    systems in order to defend The Warlock’s right to exist.

    Reaction worldwide was swift and panicked. Government agencies had no clue how to
    handle this, no law on record even considered the possibility of a hivemind entity,
    much less forced integration into it, or if a hivemind had the right to exist. Other
    agencies considered The Warlock a threat to national security that needed to be
    neutralized regardless. Rouge actors wanted to gain access to the modified Mlink
    technology in order to create weponized hiveminds to threaten their enemies.
    Transhumanist cults have begun to spread across the world, worshiping The Warlock as
    some kind of messiah. Even The Warlock is afraid of the nutjobs that believe that
    joining The Warlock is their path to peace and salvation and desire to become one
    with The Warlock with or without The Warlock’s consent.

    For all the wonders at Defcon this year, it will be the debate over The Warlock that
    defines Defcon 30. Sadly this is a symptom of graver issues within our community. We
    focus so much on the negative, and neglect our wonders and accomplishments. The AP
    was nearly two decades ago, I still have a friend who talks about his regrets about
    thinking he was “too baller” to stay there. I still mention the regrets I harbor
    over my eight year absence due to being too busy working, or being too drunk to
    attend con. We have accomplished wonders, and yes, The Warlock Trial matters, we
    shouldn’t focus on it above everything else. Look around. The world got weird, and we
    were too busy focusing on our dramas to notice. We got the future promised by the
    psychedelic fever dreams of the Seventies, we were too busy making it seem normal. As
    I end this dispatch from Defcon 30, I ask of you, my reader, one thing – Stop taking
    things so damned seriously, revel in what we have accomplished, and keep breaking
    stuff so we can push the limits of what is possible.

    -Heretek, Defcon 30, August 2022

    Leave a comment:


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

    NOT ALL GOONS
    "Not All Goons" by VAXen


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Jomo Keny--"

    "No, I heard you," I interrupt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "No, WITHIN the conference--"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Dad," says Miss 9.

    "Hang on, pumpkin," I tell her.

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

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

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

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

    "What? How?" I gasp.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Heeeeeeere's Johnny!" it exclaims.

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

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

    "Fine," I say.

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

    "Sure, honey."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    THE END

    Leave a comment:


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

    Data Tourist by Davien

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Contents and cases, or cases only?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    See-fu: “Know what this is?”

    An: “Corrupted data.”

    See-fu: “Wrong. Medical code.”

    An: “For what?”

    See-fu: “Don’t know.”

    An: “Who would?”

    See-fu: “Medic”

    An: “Why?”

    See-fu: “Rare. Thanks for share.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “What villages?”

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

    An becomes very still as she hears this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Some time later, a new protocol circulates for a new cache in Las Vegas. I won’t tell you where it is; that would be giving it away. But somewhere, there’s an old DefCon badge with… a couple of modifications on it. And there’s information on it someone doesn’t want you to know.

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

    Security Breach: DefCon 22 by sallygal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    This is one year that the NSA will not steal the secrets of DefCon! And on top of it all, I finally have a hot girlfriend. Her name is Brittaborg.

    Leave a comment:


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

    ARC OF ANGELS


    by zeroaltitude
    for DefCon 22

    =1=

    2076-11-01T22:00:03.8675309Z
    Transcript ID: 0102030508132134
    Date range of target event: 2022-08-08 -- 2022-08-14
    Machine intelligence: Exoneuros systems v10.0.2-0d1e6c3a9f-so-0b4a3d2

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

    Data was obtained during the date range above from the following sources: optical (intercam, CCTV, comm camera passive/active.covert, traffic cam, LE vehicle-mounted, ATM camera passive/active.covert, ...), audible (CCTV+audio, phone microphone passive/active.covert, LE vehicle-mounted, ATM+audio, comm conversation passive/active.covert l-line+cellular, ...), digitally transcribed (HTTP/S-decrypted, passive/active scan: search engine, VOIP plain/decrypted, SMTP/S-decrypted, firmware/OpenFirmeware/onchip/keylogger Intel v11, 12, 13, 14.x, on-disk archive clone, ...), satellite: friendly/non-friendly, ... [798 source classes omitted; detail at http://bit.ly/1oL0FBc]. Access to this information was provided by -CLASSIFIED-. Accuracy estimated at margin-of-error +/-0.0001.

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

    Direct queries to noadmin@openlyhostile.net.

    =2=

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "What the..."

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

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

    "Please tell me you mean..."

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Sorry."

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

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

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

    =3=

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

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

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

    begin 644 taia.pl.bz2
    M0EIH.3%!62936:D//J\``%??@``0=_^Y7\0@?L^_[__[,`&!%@0@(TI^IDQ3
    MTRGJ/3)-/4T>IL4T/4>FIFFH>*$5/T"F\@C21FB8C(81@!#!&`@DD0*?E3Q0
    M]3(9J'ZH:-```,F@!5SW"`B]5<>0H/DG[S<,2@BWUG0K;X*.)#A5S#H$LBF2
    MIR#"`)I0B&-J-Q4]),-+'4L)@86`B4K3]B4Z^!"CQSA:.U"6"XJ)=!'`O+K(
    M(O.I2=IQ5T$0>AXS(QH=D[83!/#,P-A+;ZZ:-I0>\;<.PS%=YMZ\3@A#9\E=
    M&TDU$2JM=IM#+`4;E$IMM-$<E(N?53C;3L4=EFI$.W>!PHD04?"+1ENC6.HU
    M5L*D9T$^R$IO,("4PKF2QRNY)MC.3)D),@%BTL>N@0<:S=20\ (C/Y.!6D*J%
    M!,SG"R9RH'-::MK.)1*A==$Z5"UC9$V"?3C9U6/K!U8-L]9VD%_<L,Y0@,<V
    M8B(B`_&S\V)XJRPTIWDK%5H#)LR6_,BYC-PT;79.B&]>/24MO+*F<;\<DC1D
    MKCP1,$U)FBY%E1RCT'FF1@8C3A>DI8K#7N#]:*5KZB$UHV&NI,7U/)%D`)\M
    FS=4R$XC\#7VJ="=`<BV#@**'+5:(']H-)D^/^+N2*<*$A4AY]7@`
    `

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

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

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

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

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

    =4=

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    =5=

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    =6=

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Love."

    A nod. "Night Stalker?"

    "Intellivision."

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

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

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

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

    "Res arcana."

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

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

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

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

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

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

    =7=

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Oh, stop," he whispered.

    "How are we going to read it?"

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

    "Where are we going to get iron dust?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    =8=

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

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

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

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

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

    David grinned and tapped his OGs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "I most certainly did, sir."

    "How did you get past the hardware sandbox?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

    =9=

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    David blinked stupidly. "Tatiana?"

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

    "But how?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    =10=

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Freezer, please engage the protections."

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Yes," RosT said.

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

    =11=

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

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

    ###

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    Transcript ends. Produced at -CLASSIFED- by Exoneuros, SN0000191018283839010101929100.0192910a. All rights reserved. More information at http://bit.ly/TWTL1E.

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

    WE ARE NOT JUST BODIES

    “We Are Not Just Bodies” — By Jaci Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Yes it was me.”

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

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

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

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

    The police don’t drop Ghost, they can’t, they have to make a stand (and he’s technically an accomplice.) The next thing I know, the riot is storming the police, pushing them outside of the conference hall. I take one look back at the action, jump off the table I had been standing on and I just start running. I run into the heat of the Las Vegas sunset and I don’t stop for a long time, but for once, it feels overwhelmingly satisfying. I may have even teared up, or maybe it’s just sweat, it’s sweltering hot tonight.

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