Wednesday, June 22

Fragment 6

Woke up this morning and I just wanted to go back to sleep. Unfortunately, I need to work and I had a dentist appointment to boot. Anyway: another thrilling chapter in the life of a cyberpunk thief.
When I stopped for breath, I called Guillemet. <<Hey, Stray,>> he buzzed in my ear. <<How did the job go?>> 
I took a deep breath and then said one word: "Golconda." 
<<Fuck.>> I rarely heard Guillemet swear - sometimes I thought cursing wasn't programmed into his motherboard - but this time it was justified. <<Okay, you've got to get out of there.>> 
"No shit," I said. "I ran like hell. They'll still come after me though." 
<<Of course.>> He was silent for a few seconds and then said. <<They can track you.>> 
"How?" I looked up at the cage of girders in the sky. "I wasn't tagged by anything, I would have felt it." 
<<Nanotags,>> he said. <<Specifically designed. They have implants in their eyes. They look at you, they can track you.>> 
"Fuck!" I said. "They saw me!" 
<<That's not good,>> he said. <<You're going to have to ditch the clothes. If its attached to them, once its gone, they can't track you. If it's on skin, you're screwed.>> 
"Thanks," I said, starting to unbutton my shirt. "You want to tell me how I'm going to get around while naked?" 
<<This is the sprawl,>> he said. <<There are at least half a dozen religions who require young women to go around naked. Pretend to be a Nudianist or something.>> 
"Great," I said as I stripped. We were both silent for a few seconds and then I asked, "Hey, G, how did you know about their nanotags?" 
He didn't answer me and for a moment I thought the connection was lost. Then, he said, <<I designed them.>> 
<<They paid a shitload, Stray,>> he said. <<And you don't say no to the Golconda. Please, I'm sorry.>> 
I was silent as I stripped, angry that Guillemet had basically engineered my own downfall. "Not your fault," I finally said. "You didn't know they would show up on the job. It would help though if you sent me some new clothes." 
<<Can do,>> he said. <<If you can make it to corner of Diom, Navaa, and Siosp, I'll send out one of my drones. With something extra, too.>> 
"Thanks, G," I said. I took off my shoes, balanced myself on a girder, and started to run. I pretended I was twelve again, racing against my brother, chasing each other on girder after girder, ignoring the angry shouts of our father. It brought back memories I thought were long forgotten - sliding in the rain, laughing as we tripped each other up, as we fell and gripped the harnessed our mother had carefully made for us. 
I finally made it to the corner of Diom, Navaa, and Siosp and found G's drone - a gray spidery thing that gripped the path with six limbs. Its center opened up to reveal a new set of clothes - all black, thanks G - and something else. A very expensive present from Guillemet. 
I hurriedly dressed, then slipped Guillemet's present into the back of my pants. I didn't like holding it, but it was a necessity. 
"Hello there," a voice said behind me. I turned and there was one of them - the first of the Golconda. If he was here, the others wouldn't be far behind. Perhaps they were already here, waiting in shadows. 
I didn't give him a chance to speak again - I turned and ran, making sure my harness gripped girders and rooftops that were high above me. They could follow, but it would be difficult. I felt an adrenaline rush as the wind whipped past my hair and then... 
And then I was falling. My lines had been cut, my harness was dead. He had done something, disabled my harness somehow. In the sky without a harness was deadly and I was in the air, in the wind, and then the wind was rushing past in the other direction. I watched the city above me grow smaller and then I slammed into a platform, my leg bearing the brunt of my weight. I could feel the crack in the bone as I screamed. 
"Now, now," the first of the Golconda said. "That's no way to treat a guest. And here I was, all ready to let you go when I had what I wanted." 
"What..." I winced and said, "What do you want?" 
"The information," he said and smiled. "Where did you transfer it to? Where is it now?" 
"Will you...will you let me go?" I asked as my hand slowly slid behind my back. 
"I promise," the first of the Golconda said. "Cross my heart, hope to die-" 
I pulled out Guillemet's present, the needlegun, and fired. The needlegun was an unusual weapon - designed at first to be non-lethal, each of the needles it fired was equipped with an electrical charge that would stun whoever was hit. Weapons dealers soon figured out a design flaw though: the space where the battery that sustained the electric charge was held could be modified and retrofitted to contain other things, specifically tracking systems. The needlegun had become a smartgun, capable of hitting whatever target you wanted. They were strictly controlled, not even given to the skypol anymore. 
Guillemet had already programmed the needles in this needlegun it looked like. It curved from the direction I had fired (probably wildly missing anything) and directed itself towards the only target it could find: the first of the Golconda. And then it hit its target square in the eye. 
He screamed as the needle penetrated. "You stupid bitch!" he said as he pulled it out. "You think that would kill me? Tear out both my eyes, I will still carve you up, you fucking b-" His voice trailed off as he looked upward and the angry expression on his face turned into fear. 
I ignored my own pain and turned my attention to where he was looking. There was a man, a very tall man, standing on one of the platforms. He wore a dark gray suit with one long white line down the center and his face...his face was as white as snow. My pain must have been too much, because I couldn't see any features of his face. 
"No," the first of the Golconda said. "No, it can't be you. You're not here." For the first time, he looked afraid. I prepared to fire another needle, but the tall man looked at me and suddenly I found that I couldn't pull the trigger. The tall man turned back to the first of the Golconda. "Can't be you. Can't be," he repeated. "Operations must commence. Operations. Can't be you." The tall man walked forward, closer and closer, as the first of the Golconda fell to his knees. "Can't be. Operations. Commence." He was babbling and crying. 
The tall man lifted one arm and I could see if it was abnormally long and it seemed to stretch out as I watched it, twisting and turning in unnatural ways. The tall man reached out with the arm and stuck it down the first of the Golconda's mouth and I could see him squirming, writhing, wanting to get free, but unable to move. 
Everything seemed to be still at that moment, as if time itself froze. And then the first of the Golconda collapsed to the ground and the tall man removed his arm. He turned to look at me and I knew then that it wasn't the pain making me see things. He had no face. 
And then I remembered. I remembered Father Caulis's mask and his stories. The Slender Man. This was the Slender Man. 
He seemed to regard me and then he turned his gaze away from me. He picked up the first of the Golconda's body as if it was nothing, then started to walk away. He stopped, though, and turned back to me and nodded. 
And then darkness enveloped me as I passed out.

Saturday, June 18

Fragment 5

Sorry for not posting lately. Work has been very hectic - we're moving into a new office soon, so I've been very busy getting everything ready. And I haven't been sleeping that much, so I've been very tired at work. But this next chapter is a doozy, so it's worth the wait.

I told Canto eight am sharp, so of course he was ready with the kernel at ten. Surveillance hadn't shown up anything other than what I had already seen, so I managed to pull in a good six hours of sleep the night before and I was ready and rested. Of course, robbing the Church of the Thin Man during broad daylight was too risky, so I was going to have to wait until nightfall. 
Canto told me how to use the kernel. Just inject it into the chemical computer and he set up the relay station where the information will be rerouted. He gave me a tracker that tracks how much of the information has been rerouted - I think he just likes making things. 
That left me with time to kill. I didn't have anything else to do and I didn't just want to sit around doing nothing - doing nothing before a job was bad, it made you nervous. The more free time you had, the more chances you had to make yourself completely paranoid. What if this, what if that, what if things go wrong. 
Nine times out of ten, things go wrong because you expect them to go wrong. People sabotage themselves, my mother used to tell me. She was talking about my father, but I didn't know it at the time. 
So I went to an abandonded library I had discovered a few years back. It had fallen into disuse some years ago, but nearly all the books were still on the shelves and I sometimes liked to walk through the stacks and pick a book at random to read. Old and musty tomes that had never been opened in fifty years. That occupied my time until the sun dipped below the horizon and night descended. 
My scouting of the Church had shown there was an access duct that led into the control room containing the chemical computer containing their archive. Normally, these sorts of ducts would have been miniscule, allowing only the smallest of bots to crawl through, but this was an old building. Air was pumped in via large ducts attached to the ceiling which could clearly be used as an entry point. The only reason they weren't secured was probably because Father Caulis didn't believe anyone wanted to steal his information. Even I was starting to wonder why the stories in the archive were so important to my employer. 
Seven pm and I observed no one within the church. I slid onto the rooftop and then into the panel leading to the air duct. It was times like these I was lucky I was so skinny. A more, well, voluptuous thief might have been trapped in the duct. 
Once I got inside the computer room, I opened the vent and repelled down. The chemical computer was waiting for me, sitting in the middle of the room like a throne. I removed Canto's kernel and injected it into the bag of gooware. Then I waited. Canto's tracker told me .2% of the information had been rerouted. 
It was then that I heard a voice. "Hello? Is anyone there?" It was Father Caulis. I flattened myself against the wall and stepped slowly to the door to the next room, the meeting room. Father Caulis was standing there looking around. "Hello? I know I heard something." Had I made any sounds? Any at all? 
Then, another voice. "Hello, Father." Cold and monotone. Three men emerged from the dark shadows of the room and surrounded Father Caulis. They wore dark overcoats and bowler hats and carried umbrellas. "How nice to see you," the first one said. I shivered involuntarily. 
I knew them. Everyone knew them. They were the Golconda. If you wanted someone dead and you had enough money, you went to them. Sometimes they would do it. Sometimes they would take your money and kill you. You never really knew about the Golconda - hiring them was like playing Russian roulette. 
"What- why are you here?" Father Caulis asked. I wanted to know the same. If they were after the same information I was, I was screwed. 
"He is returning, Father," the first of the Golconda said. 
"Wh-who?" Father Caulis whispered. 
"He is returning," the first of the Golconda said again, "and we can't allow that, now can we? Operations must commence." 
"Op-operations?" Caulis tried to back away, but he was surrounded. "What operations?" 
"Can't go around telling people about operations," the first of the Golconda said. "I mean, two can keep a secret if one of them is dead, right?" He smiled.  "But then I guess you'll know all secrets soon." He lifted his umbrella and I saw the glint of a blade as he swept it and Caulis fell down, his blood spilling onto the floor. 
I covered my mouth and tried to take deep breaths. I hadn't seen someone killed in a long time, but that feeling of helplessness never really left you. 
I needed to get out of here. My harness was still hooked up to the duct, so I pulled myself up and managed to get inside before the Golconda came into the computer room.
They didn't say a word, just lifted their umbrellas and slashed the bags of chemicals, spilling everything onto the floor, like strangely colored blood. Two of the Golconda were carrying cans and as they poured them on the floor, I realized it was gasoline. The spread it around, making sure to soak all the puddles of gooware. The first one took out a lighter and opened it. 
And then the tracker I was still holding beeped. I looked at it and it said "Information Reroute 100% Complete." Goddamn Canto and his goddamn gadgets. All the Golconda looked up and saw me through the vent. 
I crawled as fast as I could. I had the advantage that I knew where all the vents went and was able to get back to the roof quickly. But they got there soon after me and I could see on their faces, I could see that they wanted me dead, they needed me dead. I was a loose end and one thing the Golconda do not have, it is loose ends. 
There was only one thing to do and I did it: I ran. I knew they would catch up to me eventually, but I ran and ran and ran. Past steel girders, past the skypol stations that were empty for the night, right into the heart of the sprawl itself. 
I ran and didn't look back.