Part three: "Dancing through the datanet"

16 Nov 92 21:22:54 GMT

Article: 1053 of alt.cyberpunk.chatsubo Newsgroups: alt.cyberpunk.chatsubo Subject: Silk and Steel, part 3 Date: 16 Nov 92 21:22:54 GMT Lines: 357   Silk and Steel, Part three: "Dancing through the datanet" Copyright November 1992 by Jay B. Brandt, all rights reserved   -------------------------------------------------------------- Argus jacked into his Cyberdeck in the apartment he had rented for this operation, and entered the coordinates for the Matrix construct at Virtually There. Before he hit the stud to launch his consciousness into the Matrix, he paused and added a slight offset to the coordinates. As a member, with an encrypted biochip pass-key from Virtually There surgically implanted in his brain, he had direct access privileges to their construct. But he felt like making a brief detour first. He and Shadowcat had several hours yet before they were to play their part at the conference of Yakusa bigwigs that their client Aki was calling. Plenty of time for editing their vidchip presentation, if Shadowcat was anywhere near as good as she claimed to be at editing vidchips and simstim. Even if she wasn't, they could present the vidchips as-is if they had to. No need to rush. Thus when he entered cyberspace he found his virtual self near, but not within, that large and incredibly impressive 'structure' in the Matrix. He paused a moment to admire the view, and to make sure nothing unusual was happening in this area of cyberspace. Last week some clueless would-be hacker had tried to break into the wet-dreams simstim archives at VT, and the commotion outside scared off an arriving client that Argus had been trying to set up a meet with for the last month. The other Decker that Argus was to meet with arrived just as the hacker released some sort of home-brew icebreaker. If his client had stayed around for the end of the fireworks, he would have seen the hacker turn tail and dive back down to where he belonged in the Matrix, after VT's ICE destroyed his software intrusion program. It hadn't been a very effective attack, but for a few moments it was quite a show for anyone watching in open cyberspace. Since several of the people Aki was inviting to this meeting were anti-technical types, he wanted to make sure nothing would happen that might scare them off. Also, there was always a chance of a more serious attempt to sabotage this meeting or one of the hundreds of other conferences and activities sure to be taking place in the Virtually There construct. VT offered great security, but the first rule Argus always followed when doing Biz was to do his own security checks.   Argus looked around himself in all directions. The grid of the Matrix in this region was humming with thousands of neon-bright paths of light, glowing against the dark non-space that was cyberspace. Each glowing line represented one of the many communication paths that went through this sector. Well below him, on the "surface" at the lowest layer of cyberspace, was a countless assortment of small, colorful but simple Matrix icons that represented everything from kids home computers, to small businesses, to elaborate home systems and professional Cyberdecks like his own, and larger icons for simple security systems that shielded smaller, private or company owned computer networks. If a computer of any kind was connected to the Matrix, and was not encased within the protective walls of a Matrix construct, it had a Matrix icon there in the lowest level of cyberspace. Security at the lowest level was usually no more than simple password protection schemes and callback devices. They provided a sense of privacy and isolation for the people who used those systems, but weren't much of a barrier to a Decker who wanted access. Above that level was the grid of the Matrix itself, with the public-access vidphone and data networks, commercial Matrix access ports, and nodes for the cellular modems that most portable Cyberdecks linked through for Matrix access. A constantly shifting pattern of lights flared between these arrays and the surface below, as connections to data communications links were forged and broken. The gestalt of that firestorm always reminded Argus of the cold fire of the northern lights, but accelerated to an incredible pace. The higher you got in the Matrix, the more organized and restricted the data pathways became, and the larger, more important, and more well protected the systems and constructs were. If you just placed a call on a vidphone, or used a public-access Matrix port, your signal usually only made it to the first level before diving into established corporate datapipes to be routed for you. With a Cyberdeck and the right passwords and authorizations, you could go higher without actually entering the datapipes. Without them, the higher levels of open cyberspace were as inaccessible as the stars. Above the first two layers, the Matrix was studded with the large and small constructs that shielded the private networks, belonging to larger businesses and corporations. These would all be protected by walls of ICE, the Intrusion Countermeasures Electronics that would prevent unauthorized penetration by all but the most skillful Cyberdeck jockeys. Most constructs appeared to be simple cubes, spheres, pyramids or other regular solids in various colors. A few, like the one for Disney Enterprises Interplanetary, a huge archaic castle with towering spires, were quite complicated, even whimsical in their appearance. It all depended on how much computing power you were willing to waste on appearances.   To one side of his current position he could see the bright green sphere of VidComm Pacific, the largest vidphone and datalink carrier corp on the Pacific rim. It's surface swirled with some really heavy and obvious commercial-grade ICE. Argus knew from personal experience that if you ever did get past that layer, there was some rather nasty Black ICE inside, the highly illegal kind that could actually fry the brains of the chummer stupid enough to go up against it and lose. A long time ago, when Argus was still in training, he lost a partner in a run on that ICE, and damned near didn't get out again himself. VidComm later let him know in no uncertain terms that they only let him live after that because they knew he'd spread the word on the streets that it wasn't worth the risk to make a run on their construct. They wouldn't do much to a chummer who kinked an occasional free ride on their datapipes, but you better stay the hell clear of their records and control computers. A thick green datapipe went directly from VidComm Pacific's construct to the cobalt-blue sphere that remained fixed in front of the 'front door' of Virtually There, providing a path for non-members to approach the construct. It was no accident that the two megacorps constructs were in such close proximity. They made one hell of a lot of nuYen by offering VidComm's telecommunications web as access to Virtually There's teleconferencing and other services. It also provided a secure path for communications that certain parties among either corp's clients would rather not have traced.   The construct for Virtually There looked like a softly glowing, cobalt-blue regular dodecahedron, floating motionless in cyberspace. It was a big one, almost as large as VidComm Pacific's construct. On all but one of it's twelve triangular faces, a long, thin spire of translucent blue light reached out to touch a point on the datagrid of the Matrix. More than half touched the bright green lines of the public datanet, or the bright blue of the smaller private Corporate nets, mostly below him. Most of these spires led directly or indirectly to the chain of Virtually There clubs around the world, and the one in orbit at the Freeside colony. At the clubs, the average chummer or corp type out on their own could access the services and rent equipment. There were other links to every color of light in the area, including one spire that soared straight up, reaching way above them to the military and government systems that most people never dared approach. The remaining triangular face of the dodecahedron had an ornate hexagonal portal clearly marked in neon blue. This was known to Deckers as "the front door", the only known safe entry point to the construct from open cyberspace for Deckers without the encrypted and surgically implanted bio-keys that marked them as VT members. Enter there, and you could request services and pay for them by direct credit transfer, receiving any service your site was equipped to handle, no questions asked. A comparatively small blue sphere hovered a short distance in front of the portal, connected to the public datanet. That was 'the Lobby' for Virtually There. You went there to get clearance to enter the construct if you were not a member, and to select your destination within the construct. If permission was granted, a transparent pathway would link the sphere to the portal on the construct, allowing the visitor access to their destination and a spectacular view of cyberspace as they crossed over. For many visitors, it was the only time they ever saw cyberspace outside of a corporate construct.   Swarming around and through the surfaces of the Virtually There construct and it's spires of data were countless small spheres of light, in all colors and hues. They darted and danced in a way designed to catch the eye and entice the viewer, their passage reflected in the surfaces nearby. The dance seemed to have no pattern, yet the distribution of the spheres was invariably even unless disturbed. Most Deckers saw the spheres as glitzy flash to impress the chummers that came to Virtually There for the cheap thrills, especially to impress the ones using VT's strap-on Cyberlinks to see cyberspace for the first time. But Argus, and every other Decker that ever tried to gain unauthorized access to Virtually There, knew that the spheres were also the first layer of VT's ICE. Any attempt to crack the ICE met with an increasingly dense cloud of those damned little spheres, which changed so fast an icebreaker program would have to be military class to stand a chance of getting through without clearance. It was rumored on the streets that VT had at least five supercomputers that did nothing but maintain the ICE around their construct. What was certain was that no one had -ever- cracked that ICE and lived to tell about it. Virtually There was -very- serious about the security of their clients.   Within the Matrix, when not in a simstim sensorium construct like the one they would be using for their meeting, the mental presence of a Decker was represented by a Matrix icon, whose appearance and capabilities were determined by their skill as a programmer (or the skill of the one who built the icon for them) and the complexity of the computer equipment they used to create and run it. A child's computer could create simple, three-dimensional but static cartoon images, like a rigid doll. They could move through the Matrix as far as their passwords and clearances would take them, but they were unable to move their representation's 'body' to affect the environment. All they could do was passively watch. A Decker using a good Cyberdeck with a strap-on interface could usually generate a passably detailed animated icon, and could move freely, if not gracefully. With this came the ability to interact with the data and other software in the Matrix. With a surgically implanted Cyberlink, the interface was much cleaner, and response time faster by an order of magnitude. If you tied into a larger system and used its processing power, you gained detail, response speed, and capability. A supercomputer generated Icon could be nearly photorealistic in appearance, and would be supernatural in terms of speed and grace of movement. Argus could see a wide range of shapes and forms moving along the datapipes, but they all appeared to be doing routine activities. There was nothing close to the Virtually There construct that seemed to be any sort of threat. Satisfied with his inspection tour, Argus re-entered the coordinates, and his perspective shifted to soar up, into one of the spires, sliding smoothly down its length into the construct, and into the conference room he had arranged for at Virtually There. -------------------------------------------------------------- Darkness. Cold. A gawdawful stink. Those were the first sensations Spinner registered as the tranq from Shadowcat's shuriken wore off. He was jolted completely awake when a cold nose probed at his balls. "What the fucks crawlin around my ass?" He tried to swat at the unwelcome intruder and was rewarded with a stabbing pain in the back of his thigh. The scrawny black and white cat that had been sniffing at him ran off. His head was throbbing like a hangover from a cheap high. "What in hell did I take last night? Somebody slip me some bad shit?" He tried to look around, tried to remember how the fuck he ended up like this. Lance was doubled over next to him, in a pool of his own blood, piss and shit. Skrag was heaped over him. Both were out cold, and like him, buck naked. They'd been heaped behind a dumpster in some alley. Then it hit him. "Shit! That fuckin bitch Ronin! Damned bitch must have rolled -us- and took everything. Where the fuck did she get off wit that 'little miss innocent' act?" He rolled his chummers over. Skrag seemed uninjured, but was out like a light. Drugged? Maybe, judging from his own hangover. Lance was also out, and had a nasty gash that ran from the front of his right hip towards his groin. He laughed. "Man, she sliced you good. Another inch and you'd be in the market for a new dick!" Someone had slapped a few butterfly bandages across the wound, and sprayed it with some greenish gunk. There was a similar greenish smear on the back of his own left thigh. Some sorta antiseptic and spray-on bandage? Lance had lost a lot of blood, but it looked like he might pull through if they could get him to the doc that usually patched up their gang. Someone had patched them up a bit, but left them bareassed and out cold where the ghouls coulda taken them easy. Why? An who did it? That Ronin bitch? It didn't make sense. He shivered at the thought of being taken by the ghouls. Spinner'd heard of too many cases where a drunk or some other chummer unable to defend himself got hauled off by those renegade medics, to be chopped up for transplant parts. There was a pretty big demand for fresh organs and limbs, and they were lucky they woke up at all. If they were gonna stay alive, he hadda find a weapon, and they hadda make it back to their go-gang's HQ. He tried to wake up his chummers, but couldn't get more than a groan out of either of them. At least they were alive. Then he spotted something in the trash at the back of the alley. "Awright!" He had found one half of his chucks. He kept searching. A few minutes later he found the other half shoved into the filth of the dumpster. The cord had been sliced through by that Ronin's sword, but there was a scrap of twine in the dumpster he could use to fix it. He whipped the nunchaku in a fast figure eight. "Yeah man! Now for some action. Gotta score some chump for clothes and some scratch. Can't just walk through the Sprawl bareassed." His head and leg still hurt, but he felt better now that he was armed. He limped towards the mouth of the alley and peeked out. Nothing. "Well, we wait. Sumpin's gotta come by soon enough." He shivered naked in the early morning's fog, and waited for a victim. -------------------------------------------------------------- Shadowcat was waiting for Argus when he arrived in the construct. She was looking over the studio editing board that he had arranged for. "Argus? This is wonderful! Where did you manage to find a Sony-VidTech 2700? This is just like the vidchip editor I was trained on when I worked for Sony-VidTech." Argus chuckled, She was like a kid in a toy shop with their parent's credstick. "Well, the real one's in the Portland Sprawl, at the vidchip studios of the Virtually There club down there. This is just a virtual representation of that one. But it will make the real one do anything you do here, and we will see the results on that monitor wall in front of the console. The six vidchips you'll be editing, as well as two blank ones, are in my rigger deck at my place. As far as you are concerned though, the six chips on the console there and the two blank ones next to them are the real thing. Think you can handle it?" She smiled happily. "No prob, partner. Just watch and see. She sat at the console, inserted the six vidchips and two blank ones into the editing deck, and jacked into it. She paused, and turned to face Argus. "Say, how is it that I can jack in here? My real Cyberlink is jacked into the deck in my room. Why isn't my jack busy here?" Argus shrugged. "Beats me. I guess the Cyberlink on your real self has all the necessary channels, and the jack here simply directs the connection through the construct to the editing deck in Portland. All I know is that it works. I'll leave the hows and whys to the interface techs." As she worked, Argus examined the conference room. One wall was dominated by the monitor wall, which was currently displaying a freeze-frame of Shadowcat in natural light. She was doing something to the image that was changing her hair color from its natural brown to a fiery redhead. The image started moving again, and the agent software in the deck replicated the change on the remaining frames, compensating for changes in lighting levels and for the infrared illuminated shots. He kept looking around. The other walls were decorated in a very traditional Japanese manner, with rice-paper shoji screen walls, tatami mats on the floor, and a formal flower arrangement on the low table in the center of the room. Near the sliding screens that formed the door, there was a Katana Kake, a black lacquered wooden stand decorated with flying cranes. It held an ornate daisho, the matched pair of Japanese swords, Katana and Wakizashi. These were more than just decoration, however. The blades on these swords were actually white ICE, capable of severing a participant's connection with the conference and sending their consciousness slamming back to their real location. He slid a panel to one side, revealing a mirror and appearance controls. These would allow a client to change the image of themselves presented in the construct. If no changes were requested, your actual image was scanned in three dimensions when you entered one of Virtually There's clubs, and was kept on file for future visits. If you had never been scanned, the clubs could offer you a library of standard images to chose from, suitable to any occasion. Argus adjusted his own appearance, trading his black leathers for a traditional silk kimono. Then he made some adjustments to his facial features, making himself appear to be Japanese. He knew the Yakusa would deal with ganjin like himself, but he also knew they would place more trust in someone of their own heritage. Finally he placed the two swords in his sash, and finished by checking the vestibule where the clients would enter. Everything seemed ready. He re-entered the conference room. Shadowcat was playing back a nearly final draft of the presentation, making slight adjustments to perfect the images. The girl fighting the go-gang now appeared to be Irish, with high cheekbones, flaming red hair and freckles. Shadowcat was just adding a tattooed band of Celtic knotwork around the image's throat as he entered the room. He whistled appreciatively. "Shadowcat, you're a marvel. Your own mother wouldn't recognize you now." Shadowcat froze for an instant, and then said with a chill in her voice. "She wouldn't recognize me if I stepped in front of her. By now she's disowned me, publicly forgotten that I existed, with no more thought than she gave to disowning my sister. Besides, she thinks I'm dead, remember? She and dad were probably relieved at the news that I died in that wreck we staged. No more nasty rumors about their little girl who was disloyal to their beloved Sony-VidTech. They and their co-workers were nothing but a pathetic bunch of sheep. The damned corp found my sister's career change to be 'an embarrassment', and my parents couldn't move fast enough to distance us from her." She stabbed a few buttons on the console. "There, it's done. As soon as the agent software finishes adding that tattoo, it'll rewind and record the finished presentation to vidchip. I suppose you want me to change too?" Argus looked at her image, taken from the simstim where her sister, Cherri Howe, had played the detective in 'The Lonely Streets'. The power business suit and skirt with the trenchcoat over it looked way out of place here. "Um, at least put on a kimono. It would be best if you would also look Japanese, but I won't force the issue. A lot of Japanese men like blondes." Shadowcat said nothing, and pressed another control on the console. The images stopped displaying on the screen, to be replaced with an image of another shoji screened wall until the presentation was to begin. She went over to the appearance controls and came back a few minutes later wearing one of the stock images of a geisha girl. He recognized it as 'perfect hostess', a popular one with Japanese businessmen on vacation. "So sorry Argus-Sama." she said in fluent Japanese. "My anger was at dishonorable parents, not your most honorable self. Soon this will be done, and we can take our own pleasures, neh?"   There was a tapping on the shoji screen at the vestibule entrance, and a blandly uniform Japanese gentleman walked in, the kind that looked so 'average' he could get lost in a crowd of five people. He was in a formal kimono, with no visible weapons. He sat near the middle of one side of the table, in a neutral position, and looked them over. "You would be Argus and Shadowcat, neh? You must be, as I told the others to arrive ten minutes from now. I am Aki. I trust all is in readiness?" Argus walked up to him. "Hai Aki-Sama, all is as you requested. Will the guests be seated in any planned order?" "No, we are to try to seek agreement, not argue with each other. Let each person sit where he or she wishes. Most, like myself, will not show their true faces here. They will not know who each of the other guests is, just that they have an interest in the decision. We will not force a division of the factions." Aki looked at Argus with a critical eye. "You style yourself as Samurai for our meeting? I approve. You wear the swords well, but your Japanese marks you as a ganjin, an occidental. Speak little. They will assume you to be part of the arranged for atmosphere. Shadowcat, speak to me. In Japanese. You have the script for the presentation? Read the first few lines to me." Aki listened as she complied, her Japanese was fluent and flawless, with just a hint of an accent from Tokyo or maybe Chiba City. "Enough. You will give the presentation. You were raised speaking both Japanese and English, in Chiba, neh? Again, you shall be useful."   Shadowcat risked a shocked look at Argus. She was standing behind Aki at the edit-deck controls. She opened the comm-link between herself and Argus. They could use their head-phones to talk with each other without being overheard by Aki, as long as he wasn't monitoring radio communications in their area of the Sprawl. <<How much does he know about me? Did you tell him that?>> Argus looked as surprised as she did. He replied by comm. <<NO! The only information about you that I told him was that you were a trained practitioner of Ninjutsu, that you were new to the area, that you had no cyberware combat enhancements, and that you would do wetwork if the targets were rapists or the like, due to an old score that you wanted to settle. That's it! I swear it.>> She thought about that a while. <<Maybe he just assumed that from my accent? Still, I don't like it. I want to know just what he really knows about me.>> Aki just sat calmly, apparently meditating on the flower arrangement. They all took their places, and waited for the others to arrive. -------------------------------------------------------------- Text, all characters (especially Aki, Argus and Shadowcat), and the 'Virtually There' chain of simstim/VR clubs, all Copyright November 1992 by Jay B. Brandt, all rights reserved. Please use them only with my permission.   Comments, criticisms, and suggestions are requested. Please send them to me via e-mail at <> --------------------------------------------------------------   Well folks, there's part 3. Part 4 should be out in another three to four weeks, maybe sooner. What do you think? Lets hear some comments.   Shadowcat

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