Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Chapter 5

August 30, 2028
12:02 a.m.

The dead weight of Kira’s falling body crushed the wind out of Bridge’s lungs. Kira was a skinny stick figure but the force of the shots had thrown his full weight into Bridge. He clattered to the ground gasping for air, flailing to grasp the reality of the situation. Warm blood quickly soaked his hands as he tried to push Kira’s body away. His back was soaked through to the skin underneath by the wet pavement. Flitting thoughts jetted through his mind. ‘Getting this suit clean is going to be a bitch,’ and ‘I have to find another hacker for Nicky’ and other equally unimportant truisms passed through his mind. As footsteps echoed towards him, panic set in. ‘I’m still alive and they’re coming to finish me off.’

The pressure on his chest was suddenly removed, replaced by the tramp of a boot heel. One quick stomp on the sternum, then the boot rested on his chest with enough force to push what little air remained in his lungs out again. “Oi, cuntface, where is it?” Bridge gasped wordlessly. “I’m talking to you, you tosser.” The bouncer Paulie stood on top of Bridge firing staccato questions into his face with that thick English accent. Two others dressed in black with cybershade implants were searching Kira’s body with all the finesse of rampaging bison. Kira coughed a wad of blood into one of the men’s faces and was rewarded with a vicious punch. Kira’s breathing became a loud wet gurgling, a sound Bridge had heard before. The hacker didn’t have long left.

A hard slap across the face brought Bridge back to the man towering over him. “Look here, Polly. I got no time to fuck about. That little turd over there gave you something, didn’t he? Where is it?”

Bridge struggled for breath, but managed a weak, “He didn’t give me nothing. I don’t even know him.”

“We know he was coming to meet you.” Kick to the ribs. “If I start breaking bits off you, you think you’d remember better?” Bridge didn’t respond and took another kick to the ribs. “I ain’t got all night. Convince me I shouldn’t put a fucking bullet in your head and go have a pint, or I swear I will fucking murder you, Polly.”

Bridge coughed hard, raising a hand to forestall the beating. “Hey, hey, I’m a talker, not a fighter. Let me just catch my breath and we can figure this out. You need something and he has… had it. I know a guy can find things for you. I won’t even charge a fee.”

Paulie grabbed Bridge’s left arm and began to twist, digging his foot into Bridge’s chest to maximize the painful leverage. He glanced over to his companions and said, “You lot find anything?” They shook their heads. “Right, well that does you then, don’t it? We’ll go toss his place after we take care of this cunt.” He reached into his coat, retrieving a gigantic pistol from its holster.

A trashcan slammed into his forehead loudly, sending the gun and its owner flying. Bridge rolled over and sucked in precious, stinking air, his face caked with alley mud. At first, the sounds of scuffle barely penetrated the veil of pain, but his head finally cleared enough to comprehend the scene. The two gunmen were being beaten down by a combination of Aristotle’s pummeling fists and Stonewall’s flying feet. Surprise had given them the edge, and they were taking full advantage of it. Stonewall quickly finished off his opponent with a knee to the bridge of the nose, the metal of Stonewall’s cybernetic leg making a sickening crunching sound. Aristotle chose a more direct elbow and fist combination that was equally effective. Bridge spotted Paulie crawling towards his gun, a gash in the forehead pouring blood. Bridge kicked out, catching the cockney enforcer in the ribs. He struggled to his feet, landing another staggered kick into Paulie’s midsection. “How you like that, huh!? You like that, bitch? Who are you working for?” Bridge stammered as he continued to dropkick the groaning figure.

“Fuck off,” was the only answer given, so Bridge planted another kick to the ribs. Stonewall, having finished his man, walked over and stomped Paulie’s gun hand. The resulting shrieks of pain gave Bridge no small amount of satisfaction. Stonewall used the gun to clock Paulie across the back of the skull, rendering him unconscious.

Aristotle put a hand on Bridge’s shoulder. “How bad are you hurt?” he asked.

“I’m ok,” Bridge replied, though he wasn’t. He felt like hell. His ribs were on fire though thankfully not broken, his lungs were bursting with each breath, and he could still feel the impression of a boot on his chest. Paulie knew how to hurt a man. His mouth filled with the coppery saltiness of a bloody lip, and he spat to clear it. “What the hell are you doing wading in there like that? I’m not paying for that.”

“It’s hard to extract payment from a coffin,” was Aristotle’s bemused reply. His grin was ear to ear, the sort of smile that could cheer up any situation. “Consider it an advance.”

“Well, my cash flow just got perforated.” Bridge indicated Kira’s prone body. “You kill those guys?”

Stonewall shook his head. “Not yet, amigo, though I’m betting that one don’t have long,” he said, pointing at the one he’d kneed in the face. The unconscious tough guy’s breathing was a raspy burble. Stonewall’s tone indicated that theirs would be a temporary reprieve. “This cabrón is getting it last. He gets to watch what I’m gonna do to these two. I told Twiggs, I told him there was something not right about that guy. What’d they want?”

“Don’t know. Kira was scared shitless, kept talking about me having to take something from him. Then they shot him.”

“Maybe he has whatever it is on him,” Aristotle said.

The three men looked at each other uneasily. None relished the idea of searching a dead body. “Don’t look at me, I don’t want whatever it is anyway!” Bridge exclaimed.

“You don’t pay me enough,” Aristotle replied flatly.

Stonewall deferred as well. “Hey, I gotta take care of these assholes.” Bridge resigned himself to the task and bent down to examine the corpse gingerly with a scowl. He touched Kira’s shirt with his fingertips, as if the body was on fire. A bloody, wet cough caused Bridge to throw himself back on his hands. Kira moved, rolling over on his side and opening his mouth to release a gigantic gob of blood.

“FUCK! He’s still alive.” Bridge crawled quickly over to Kira. “Call an ambulance or the cops or something.”

“Twiggs wouldn’t appreciate the cops on his doorstep.”

“We can’t just let him die here!”

“Look at him, Bridge. He ain’t making it.”

Bridge cursed loudly. “Kira, Kira, it’s Bridge. Can you hear me?” The hacker nodded his head weakly. “Kira, what were they after?” The punk’s lips were moving, weakly attempting to mouth words that were drowned by the blood. Bridge knelt closer until he could finally make it out.

“You… you’ll find… out, bro. I… sent it… man, I can’t… I can’t feel… my legs. I’m… dying, ain’t I? Don’t… don’t let me…” With that, Kira breathed one final wet gurgle and fell silent.

“What? What the fuck does that…” Bridge began, his jaw snapping shut as he realized what the dead hacker meant. Moving his hands to the base of Kira’s skull, he searched for the thing he feared he’d find. Pulling back Kira’s hair, he saw the kid’s interface jack, the silvery metal flush with the skin of the neck. Poking out of the jack was a wireless adapter.

Bridge was familiar with the hardware, though he had rarely used it. Jacking into a crèche or a street term took a wired connection. The wireless adapter allowed the hacker to access the GlobalNet without a jack from anywhere a hot spot existed, which was just about everywhere in the country outside of rural areas. Kira had been connected the whole time, and that meant he could have sent Bridge any kind of digital file in existence. Whatever Kira had been trying to pawn off, he’d probably succeeded. “Fuck. He sent me something.”


“Don’t know and I really don’t want to find out. Goddamnit! I do not want to be in whatever this is. That is not my goddamn business. My business is bullshit. You want your shit, you go to the guy I tell you to. That’s it. Simple. Don’t involve me, just pay me your fucking money, you festering pack of idiots, and leave me the fuck alone. And what does this little bastard do? He gets this all over me!” Bridge indicated the blood on his hands before wiping them off as best he could on Kira’s pants. Bridge ceased ranting and stood, buried in thought.

“Stoney, can you deal with this body for me?” Stonewall nodded. “And take these bastards, find out what they were looking for, who they told, who they’re working for. Anything you can.” The ex-footballer nodded again. “If I’m going to be in this, damnit, I’m not doing it without knowing all the particulars. Do what you gotta do. You won’t hear me crying, got it?”

“What do you want me to do, boss?” Aristotle asked with earnest concern.

“Go home. Your bill is already past due.” Aristotle started to protest. “If I need you, I know where to find you. But these guys aren’t going to be scared off by a big black man, which means you stick around, you’ll have to do a lot more of this.” The bodyguard looked hurt but agreed. “Help Stoney move these guys out of sight, then get home and stay there.”

“What are you going to do?”

“What I do best. Cover my ass.” His confident smile was anything but.

Bridge caught a passing cab a few blocks over, took it three blocks in one direction, hopped out and caught another cab going the opposite direction for eight blocks. He got out of the cab at a corner terminal. Called street terms, these kiosks were found every few blocks in LA, offering cheap GlobalNet access, banking, news sheets, driving directions, tourist information and food delivery services. Bridge used an old backup hacker ID to access the GlobalNet and called Angela. He crouched low beside the term, the cord to his interface jack stretched perilously. Memories of teenage street hacking came flooding back, years of nickel and dime hacks riding the Net while keeping meat vision lookouts for the cops. He constantly searched for pursuit. His paranoia was likely misplaced, since the ID he’d signed in with wasn’t tied to the Bridge name at all, but he hadn’t survived this long by being careless. And if the Bridge ID was already hot as he suspected, this one would be burned once he was done.

Angela returned the request with a physical presence, projecting her avatar onto his vision. She appeared as a wispy ghost, beautiful blonde angel with demon horns and gossamer wings floating in mid-air on the street in front of him. “What’s wrong?”

“Why do you think something’s wrong?” Bridge put on his best fake smile.

“Because you haven’t used B#rTman in ages, which means you don’t want somebody following your trail. Now what’s wrong?”

“Kira’s dead.” The ghost chewed on that for a moment. “He was trying to give me something, said somebody was after him for it. Bunch of guys shot him and tried to shake me down for something Kira had. We took care of the guys…”

“Who’s we?”

“Never mind that. I’m alive, he’s dead and I need to know what he was working.”

“Nothing major.” Bridge frowned doubtfully. “No really, nothing big. We were messing with some pedofarms, but nothing that would get him killed. These guys, they look like organized muscle?”

“They weren’t cheap. Good clothes, cybershades, laser-sights, big guns and the like.”

“As far as I know, nobody he was working on was connected like that. Where’s the body?”

“It’s being taken care of.”

“So I shouldn’t tell his mom, then?”

“Not unless you want it tied to you.” She shook her head ruefully. “I think he sent me some kind of package before he died, probably whatever he was trying to get rid of. I can’t go to my place, in case those assholes reported back to their bosses.”

“Here it comes.”

“Look, I just need a place to crash for a few days, ‘til I can get this sorted.”

“Don’t you have any friends?”

“When did I ever have friends I could impose on like you?”
She sighed angrily. “Few days tops. And I better not get any heat over this, or it’s your ass.”

“The first sign of heat, I’m gone. I promise.”

Her scowl was an accusation. “Save it. I know what your promise is worth. You owe me. AGAIN.”

He cut off the connection, muttering under his breath, “More than you know.” With creeping dread, he switched Net ID’s, accessing the Bridge mailbox. Buried among the assorted spam offers and regular mail was a message from Kira, bloated with an attachment. Kira must have been good to float an attachment past Bridge’s filtering system. He sighed and jacked out without reading the message. He’d wait to get to Angela’s, where he could open it from the detached safety of a clean room. He called another cab, beginning an hour merry-go-round of cab switching, route retracing and obfuscation. By the time he reached Angela’s place exhausted and bruised, it was almost two a.m.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

GlobalPedia 2028 Entry: The GlobalNet

The GlobalNet is the interconnected worldwide network of public and private computer networks administered by an international consortium of government and corporate administrators. The GlobalNet transmits data by packet switching using the Advanced Internet Protocol (AIP). Built as an upgrade to the original Internet infrastructure, the GlobalNet is the main delivery mechanism for 95% of the information disseminated on the planet. All media from television to radio, is delivered via the GlobalNet, as well as private media such as electronic mail, chat, telephone, World Wide Web pages, financial transactions, avatar interaction and most forms of communication in the civilized world. Only three countries in the world do not connect legally to the GlobalNet because of a refusal to adhere to the standards set forth by the GlobalNet Consortium: The Congo, the Thai Separatist State of Isan, and Palestine.


The Internet was initially constructed as ARPANET, a means for individual departments of the United States government to communicate in case a catastrophic nuclear war left most traditional communication channels unusable. Its widespread commercial use during the 1990’s caused the Internet to expand at an exponential rate, until it had reached a saturation point in late 2012. Rampant lawlessness like media piracy, pornography, identity theft and sedition caused many of the UN member nations to seek international regulation of the network. Multinational media corporations welcomed the regulation, and the GlobalNet Consortium of both public and private interests was formed in 2013 to build the new, regulated network.

The Consortium’s charter outlined a series of laws to which nations must adhere in order to gain access to the new network, dubbed the GlobalNet. Nations were free to enforce penalties for the GlobalNet laws on their citizens in accordance with their local laws as sovereign nations. Some nations, such as China, made headlines by instituting the death penalty for all GlobalNet infringements, while most just proscribed serious prison time. Repeated offenses by citizens of a nation without proper punishment could result in that nation’s access to the GlobalNet being completely rescinded, rendering the nation financially isolated from the rest of the world. The GlobalNet embargo of Venezuela in 2018 was a precursor to the Chavez War between Venezuela and the United States, and the Venezuelan’s lack of modern communication devices was the reason the war lasted less than two weeks.

The upgrade of the world’s Internet backbones to the higher speed GlobalNet connections was completed in 2017, with Laos being the final country to be brought up to the GlobalNet standard. The Consortium committed to continual infrastructure upgrades every two years, and has so far kept to that schedule. The 2027 United States budget crisis caused the only upgrade interruption.

GlobalNet Law

The GlobalNet charter lists twelve infractions as major GlobalNet crimes. An individual committing any of these crimes may be prosecuted by his own nation’s police force, or by the GlobalNet Police Force (GPF) regardless of whether the infringement was confined locally or crossed international boundaries. The GPF (known colloquially by hackers as ‘The Global PigFuckers’), is recruited from the cybercrimes division of police forces around the world. It exists as a cadre of computer operatives on constant online patrol, as well as physical units with jurisdiction in any of the signatory nations. It is not unusual for hackers caught violating GlobalNet laws to be pursued on their home soil by both GPF and local authorities. While the GPF are supposed to adhere to local standards of evidentiary procedures, including search and seizure laws and human rights, it is not uncommon for GPF operatives to be accused of excessive force and violating local statutes. Accountability for those violations is spotty at best, as many nations would rather accept the violations than risk losing GlobalNet access.

The most prosecuted GlobalNet crimes (known as The Big Twelve) are:

  • Data theft (from an individual)
  • Child pornography (trading, collecting or possessing)
  • Industrial espionage (data theft or destruction involving corporate assets)
  • Cyberterrorism (data theft or destruction involving government assets)
  • Murder (victims are only individuals who use interface jacks – there have so far been no reported prosecutions)
  • Cyberviolence (more common than murder but still confined to those using interface jacks)
  • Destruction of physical property by virtual means (for example: causing stoplights to malfunction leading to automobile accidents)
  • Sale, possession or transfer of stolen data
  • Intellectual piracy (mass distribution of stolen data)
  • Embezzlement
  • Sedition

The GlobalNet was initially built on top of the Internet backbone, but has since upgraded far beyond the original capacity. The 1 TB/s data transfer rate was surpassed in 2022, and end users in the most advanced countries now enjoy speeds 100 times greater than that for the same relative cost. In developed nations such as the United States, and most of Europe, GlobalNet hardware is built into most dwellings as an appliance, though this existing hardware is upgradeable.

The GlobalNet transfers data using the Advanced Internet Protocol (AIP), a technology standard created in 2017. The standard has been continuously updated to version 7.7 as of this writing.

The most common GlobalNet interfaces are traditional keyboard and remote pointer combination or the more expensive voice-activated interfaces. In 2015, Japanese researcher Kensuke Takamura created an interface device called the SukeMura Plug™, more commonly known as the interface jack. His decades of research focusing on the man-machine interface had led him to attempt direct control of computer devices via mental commands. The interface jack started life as an unwieldy helmet of electrodes that allowed crude input on a computer, but Takamura pushed the device further. He found a method to stimulate sensory input and output as well. The plug not only allowed the user to control a computer, it allowed them to project their consciousness into the binary data stream itself. At first, the user could only project into a local computer, but by 2017, Takamura had managed to project a “NetBody” into the GlobalNet, freeing the operator’s consciousness to travel anywhere a computer was connected.

Fearful of corporate stranglehold on what he considered a fantastic information-gathering device, Takamura released the source code and schematics for the jack onto the GlobalNet rather than let his employers control the device’s distribution. The Takamura espionage trial in 2018 grabbed massive headlines. He was tried and convicted of 3,000 counts of industrial espionage, intellectual piracy and transfer of stolen data and sentenced to life imprisonment. His subsequent suicide in 2019 has always been considered suspicious by conspiracy theorists, and the phrase “getting Takamuraed” has become slang for being oppressed by big corporations with trumped up charges.

The impact of the release of the interface jack was widespread. Hackers everywhere began adopting the device as their preferred means of interface. Some built their own homebrew SukeMara Plug, while most bought the thousands of commercial versions that became available before Takamura’s trial was even complete.

From the Plug to the Crèche

The GlobalNet crèche was released commercially in 2022. The crèche is typically a pill-shaped sensory deprivation chamber, containing a very fast, easily moddable computer that connects the user to the GlobalNet through their SukaMara Plug. While anyone with a SukaMara Plug can connect to the GlobalNet through any computer, the crèche is a specialist means of interface used by those who desire speed and processing power.

Though both jack and crèche connections transfer a person’s consciousness through the plug, the use of an interface jack causes the brain to have to process both physical sensory input as well as the input coming from the jack. Most users who have experienced both types of connections report the interface jack or “remote connection” is slow. Their NetBody’s reaction times are sluggish, and they can utilize fewer programs on remote nodes.

The crèche, however, completely encapsulates the user in an environment designed to deprive the senses of any physical input whatsoever. The user is encased in the darkened chamber, his body immersed in a saline solution, with a waste catch attached to the genitals, oxygen supplied through a breathing mask and ears plugged. Many crèches are now equipped with intravenous nutrition dispensers, allowing hackers to stay in their crèches for days on end. These models also contain electrodes that stimulate the user’s muscles with tiny electric shocks to combat muscle atrophy. With the brain freed from physical sensations, the NetBody is imbued with fantastic agility, as well as a greater capacity to store and transfer programs and data. Though the health risks of prolonged sensory deprivation have not been explored, crèche hackers are typically known for their bad hygiene, pale yellowed skin, sunken eyes and malnourished appearance.

The NetBody

The virtual manifestation of the “jacked in” is called an avatar or NetBody. In its purest form, without any ornamental textures attached, NetBody’s are described as being silver in color. Though most are vaguely humanoid, the NetBody can be consciously shaped into whatever form the user can program, flowing like liquid mercury. The NetBody can have textures attached to it, making it appear photorealistic, or any form of artistic style imaginable. Doing so will slow the NetBody’s reaction times. As such, most hardcore hackers eschew this ornamentation for performance.

The NetBody does provide the user sensory input such as touch, sight, hearing and smell, all dependent on the amount of sensory information coded into the NetBody’s present location. The more sensory information a net location provides, the more costly that location due to the demands for processing power and bandwidth. Called NetNodes, these locations are more often than not rented servers rather than individually owned local machines or crèches. Only larger corporations own and maintain their own NetNodes, and these nodes are often the targets of hacker attacks.

Arena Battles

Rumors persist of an undocumented set of NetNodes called the Arena Circuit. These illegal and unconfirmed nodes are the sites of fantastic battles between hacker avatars. This virtual bloodsport is illegal according to the GlobalNet charter because fights between NetBody’s can have serious effects on the user. Injuries to a NetBody are often felt in the user’s physical body. The loss of a Net limb can manifest itself as a bruise or worse physical injury. Abrupt destruction of a NetBody has caused nosebleeds, migraines, internal bleeding and in rare cases, aneurysms causing comas and death. No solid data exists on the numbers of hacker deaths related to their NetBody’s destruction. Several GlobalNet committees have been appointed to study the problem, but none have so far acknowledged that death is anything more than extremely rare, random events unrelated to GlobalNet use.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Chapter 4

August 29, 2028
6:33 p.m.

The Arsenal was one of the first new clubs built after the riots. A neon-saturated marvel of ultra modern design, it contained a separate dance club, concert hall, sports bar and the requisite VIP lounge upstairs. Awash in soccer brands and memorabilia, the club was lit by huge video screens showing live and archived game footage from around the world. Run by former L.A. Galaxy footballer Crispin Twiggs, the Arsenal acted as a front for prostitution, chip drugs and loan-sharking. Twiggs had been expelled from the game of soccer for gambling, but his public image had been somewhat rehabilitated by the outward success of the Arsenal. The vague whisperings of the club’s illegal side businesses did not slow its trade in the slightest. It was the place to be.

Getting into the club regularly was difficult for those not already affiliated with professional soccer. The beautiful people were allowed in, of course, especially the celebrities and their hangers on. It was especially popular with the nouveau riche Latino celebrities that had come to be the face of the rebuilt Los Angeles. GlobalNet actors like Richie Delgado and tella novella divas like Anise Vargas were the face of the LGL’s success. Bridge had worked for almost a month to get through the bouncers, until he finally found one who needed a connection with a black market cyberware doc. Bridge had hooked up Benny and Benny had returned the favor by giving him access to Twiggs. The Arsenal’s initial success was illusory, and by its second month in business, Twiggs was up to his eyeballs in debt. Bridge had given Twiggs the in with a new set of investors, the kind that wanted their investments kept quiet. Once Bridge had made that connection, he became a regular fixture, schmoozing his way into the VIP.

The night promised to be a busy one. The Arsenal always had its fair share of prospective clients, and Bridge was practically an unofficial employee. He knew the bartender’s routines, their schedules, their likes and their guilty secrets. A night of fitful sleep had left him slightly off-kilter, the whole cab ride a dozy daze. Aristotle tried to engage him in conversation but took the hint when Bridge showed little interest in discussing the difference between determinism and existentialism, lapsing into an indifferent silence. Bridge hoped Angie’s leaker showed up early. The thought of another beatdown from Nicky’s boys was going to drive him to distraction until he’d taken care of the problem. He’d managed to cover up most of the bruises on his face with Skin in a Tube™, but the fat lip was a problem. Of course, knowing the Arsenal, the leaker wouldn’t be allowed in. Hackers rarely showed great personal hygiene, and even less style, both of which were essential to mingle with the Arsenal’s beautiful people. Bridge managed it with charm and wit and impeccable attire, despite his average looks.

The club was already packed, even at this early hour. Though not the only club on the street, it was certainly the most popular, with a line of supplicants running down the block waiting eagerly to be judged worthy by the bouncers. There were actually two entrances. One bouncer waved the regulars in through the front where the paparazzi could photo their grand entrances, while the uninitiated waited in a line running down the street. Most would wait in vain. Bridge made for the front entrance, flashing a smile at the bouncer. The bouncer stopped him cold with a meaty hand in Bridge’s chest. “And just where do you think you’re going, luv?” The bouncer’s voice was thick with an urban British accent.

Bridge appraised the man. He was big. Not Aristotle big, much more of a lanky big, like a soccer player. The hand placed on Bridge’s chest was strong. He didn’t look like a bouncer, most of whom were gigantic slabs of beef. The face was rugged, with a crooked nose that indicated it had been broken at least once. “I was just going inside,” Bridge replied with an amiable smile. “I’ve got business to discuss.”

“Right now, your business is with me. Who are you, then?”

“Artemis Bridge, pleasure to meet you. And you?” Bridge offered up a handshake and his best innocent smile. The bouncer’s ape-like features wrinkled as he eyed the club’s entry list on his cybernetic HUD.

“Don’t see your name on the list, luv.” His arms crossed over his chest in a defiant manner. Bridge spotted a familiar face over the bouncer’s shoulder.

The bouncer working the newbie line was Stonewall Ricardo, someone Bridge had helped out a number of times. Ricardo had played soccer in Mexico before coming to the states to much fanfare in the early ‘20’s. Known as a feared center half, he earned the nickname Stonewall for his physicality, his ability to stop an attack dead in his tracks. Stonewall’s career had been ended early by a horrible knee injury requiring a cybernetic knee replacement. The league still banned the use of cybernetic replacements, and barred from the pitch, he had disappeared in disgust.

Twiggs had given Stonewall a job, but Bridge had always felt there was more between the two than just footballer camaraderie. Anytime Bridge asked about it, Stonewall became as silent as his namesake. Bouncing was Stonewall’s front job, but most of the time he was in charge of leg-breaking for Twiggs’s other businesses. The footballer was the nicest guy you’d ever talk to, unless you were his target. Then all the anger and frustration of a man denied his passion would flow out onto the target with a homicidal fury. Luckily for Bridge, Stonewall had needed something he could never reveal to anyone but Bridge. Stonewall had needed therapy, from a shrink that wouldn’t rat out his illegal activities to the cops or his criminal friends. Bridge knew a guy, the therapist to the shitheels, whose client list was as infamous as it was long. Ever since, Stonewall had Bridge’s back.

Stonewall caught Bridge’s predicament with a stray glance. Bridge waved to the bouncer, who was busily engaged with an average-looking blonde with horrific combat boots trying to beg her way in. With those boots, Bridge figured she had more chance of fitting through the eye of a needle than getting past the bouncers. Stonewall raised a finger to the girl and walked over to Bridge and the big side of beef blocking his entrance. “¿Qué onda? Is there a problem, Paulie?” he said to the bouncer, slipping between English and barrio Spanish with ease.

“Not a prob, guv. Just doing me job.”

“This here’s Bridge. Bridge, Paulie. Bridge here’s a good friend of the club.” Paulie raised a meaty eyebrow with an almost disgusted air.

“He ain’t on me list,” Paulie protested meekly. “If we’s just gonna let anybody what ain’t on the list in, what’s the point of me?”

“Bridge’s a special case. I’ll take the heat if he causes trouble. Cool?” Paulie seemed about to make some other argument before waving Bridge on through without further comment. Bridge tipped his nonexistent hat at the bouncer as he walked past with Stonewall in tow.

“Gotta forgive him, Bridge,” Stonewall explained. “He’s new and a bit of a pendejo, know what I mean? He supposedly knows Twiggs from somewhere, came begging for a job today. He ain’t exactly making friends. Thinks ‘cos he played in the Premiership, us MLS guys should just kiss his white English ass.” He snorted disgustedly as he opened the glass door for Bridge. “You need anything tonight?”

“As a matter of fact, there’s a guy may come looking for me. A hacker, so he’s probably not going to be on the list, so to speak. If you can’t let him in, just have him wait outside and send me a message, k? Think his name’s Kira or eK1ra or some such idiotic combination of numbers and letters.”

“Will do, Bridge.” With that, he was in. Bridge noticed a flier for the band playing later in the evening, The Ardents. The walls along the entry hallway were decorated with football jerseys from around the world. Bridge noted authographed jerseys for Liverpool, Arsenal, Valencia, Boca Juniors, and of course, the L.A. Galaxy. The club opened up into subtly-partitioned enclosures, wide-open spaces broken by short walls and standing lamps. The interior design was stuffed with modern gadgetry. Each sub-space had its own white noise walls, separating and encapsulating the sounds of each area within its own space. The sports bar, with the live Galaxy match playing on gigantic screens was no louder than a quiet buzz, completely cut off aurally from the dance club which drowned in the sound of a booming prograsmic beat. The concert hall was on a similar auditory island, and each table in all areas had its own white-noise mask, hiding conversations in an invisible cloak from eavesdroppers while allowing in the area’s particular attraction, whether it be the band, the dance beat or the game. Bridge knew that the VIP lounge upstairs was similarly equipped, with the ability to pipe first-floor audio to each table individually. The Arsenal was a stark contrast to a shithole club like the Glitter. It had the most expensive and exclusive technology designed to make the club the utmost in both privacy and public display.

The crowd was a mish mash of beautiful people and football fanatics. Everyone was dressed in their most fashionable couture, brand names flashing like Christmas decorations. Gaudy logos were the latest fashion trend. Every fashion designer seemed intent on signing his work in the most audacious possible manner. Dark fabrics clashed with insane combinations of low-tech glitter and thin-film video panels. Many were walking advertisements for their favorite fashion line, fetish or movie, their video panels a constant stream of GlobalNet messages that paid them a dividend for impressions, repetitions and click-thrus. Bridge worked his way through the crowd into the concert hall. The stage was set dead center in the room, a round dais surrounded by a small dance floor and tiers of tables placed in perfect staggered fashion so that no seat was visually or aurally obstructed from the action. The room reminded him of a miniature Vegas showroom. A video holograph was playing on the stage as Bridge walked in, a GlobalNet-transmitted performance from one of the virtual worlds playing in eerily-transparent pantomime. Bridge’s table was as far from the door as he could manage. Aristotle took up position behind Bridge on the walkway surrounding the top tier of seats. Bridge hated that his bodyguard had to stand most of the night, but his clients wouldn’t expect “the help” to mingle with the boss.

Bridge ordered a cheaper single-malt scotch to sip on, asking the waitress to tell the band he was in the building. His first client was Bobby Ardent, the male half of the Ardents duo. They were a brother and sister team, he the guitarist and songwriter, Candace playing the rest of the instruments. Their recordings were veritable walls of sound, ten and twenty instruments laid on top of each other. Candace would play the piano parts live while using her interface jack to control recordings of the other instruments. Bridge didn’t like much popular music, relying on his GlobalNet agents to find him obscure bands from Japan and Chechnya. But the Ardents were interesting, and not just because they were clients.

Bobby appeared in minutes, his demeanor the nervous anticipation of Bridge’s typical client. Bobby’s request was a simple one. He wanted to spy on his sister. Bobby wanted a full tap on his sister’s life, from cameras to GlobalNet to chat transcripts, especially her avatar’s actions in the GlobalNet. Of course, he would never admit why he wanted such a thing, and Bridge wouldn’t force him. Bridge didn’t care that Bobby was in love with his sister. That wasn’t germane to the business at hand. Bobby wanted something and Bridge knew a guy. Bobby’s excuse was that he wanted to make sure she didn’t get involved with the wrong guy. Maybe he even believed that. “Bobby! My favorite rock star!” Bridge greeted the musician with an ear-to-ear grin.

“Hey Bridge, you got it?” Bobby’s wrinkled face was coated in a thin film of sweat, his black goatee glistening. Bridge was somewhat distracted by the band’s video playing on the shoulder of Bobby’s jacket. “Is everything set up?”

“My guy is ready. He just needs the word from you to turn on the tap.” Bridge handed over a muted email bizchip. Bobby only had to fingerprint himself on the card and an email would be sent to the contact, a hacker who specialized in surveillance for private dicks, lawyers and tonight, pervy brothers.

“And these are undetectable? She won’t know it’s there?”

“@Rg0n0t is good. He’s the one who caught Shelley Tilton’s hubby fucking around on her. Motherfucker never knew what hit him.”

Bobby reached an unsteady hand towards the card. “There’s just the little matter of my fee,” Bridge interrupted.

Bobby pulled out a PDA, a clunky old tech relic. Bobby was a half-Naturalist, rebelling against technology by refusing to get an interface jack, but he wasn’t committed enough to the cause to join the Naturalist communes that were springing up in the remote areas of Montana, Idaho and the Dakotas. The most commitment to anything he’d mustered were a few PSA’s decrying the despoiling of the environment by multinational corporations like the one that owned his record label. “You’re taken care of. Ten grand in five-year.”

Bridge smiled and passed over the bizchip. Bobby grabbed it greedily in both hands, planting his thumbprint forcefully on the scanner. “Message sent,” replied the card. Bobby dropped it to the table like it had suddenly burst into flames.

“It’s done then,” he said as much to himself as to Bridge. Bridge just nodded. “You swear you won’t breathe a word of this to anybody?”

“Your priest will spill the beans before I will.”

“My priest was a son-of-a-bitch.”

“Ain’t they all?” Bridge quipped with a laugh. The humor escaped Bobby.

“I gotta go get ready. We’re on in ten.”

“Awesome. For real. Break a leg or something.” As Bobby walked away, Aristotle came over, pointing towards the door. Bridge’s next client had entered the hall. Bridge put @Rg0n0t’s card in the table’s ashtray and activated its self-destruct code, a program that not only caused the card’s physical material to break down, but sent a virus through the GlobalNet that erased the message trail from the card. The only evidence of the transaction was now in Bridge’s head and Bobby’s conscience.

His next client made Bridge frown. It was Sid Tobin, a wannabe DJ with pretensions of pop greatness. Bridge knew this meeting’s script by heart, as they had gone through its motions again and again. Sid wanted a GlobalNet publishing deal and he had no scruples about how it was acquired. Sid’s problem was that he was a walking stereotype, the kind that turned off A&R guys. The talent acquisition suits didn’t want someone already packaged, they wanted something genuine and authentic that they could then sterilize, commoditize and package as the next big thing. Sid was always trying to cash in on the last big thing a week after it had been abandoned.

By the look of his outfit, Sid was on a Japanese anime hip-hop kick, his features accentuated by makeup to make his eyes look bigger with pointy brows, baggy neon glitter pants and a green glowing jacket festooned with brand labels, gold chains and Nipponese thug slogans. Sid walked with an exaggerated swagger, tossing gang signs as greetings. Before the poseur could even sit, Bridge had already cut him off. “Sid, before you get started, no A&R is going to touch you looking like that. What are those, Hammer Pants?”

“No, no, tomo, I got it all worked out, yo! You know a bunch of A&R guys, right?”

“I know a guy,” Bridge repeated almost unconsciously.

“Yo, check it, we throw this blackmail scheme on his ass, right? We get some dirt and throw it in the guy’s face and then he’s gotta give me a pub deal, yo!” Sid’s face was a beaming icon of stupidity, the bullheaded desire overriding any sort of common sense. Bridge just shook his head.

“Do you even know how a blackmail scam is run, you mental midget? First, you actually need to have some dirt on your target. I can assume that since you are coming to me, you don’t have any such dirt?” Sid shook his head. “So you’d need to hire someone to find some dirt, a hacker or a PI or something. Then, you’d need a go-between, which I suppose you think is going to be me.”

Bridge cut off Sid’s excited head nodding. “No, it sure as fuck would not be. That violates my most important rule, I don’t touch nothing illegal. Not one fucking thing. And finally, you’d need an A&R guy with such a shitty crop of skeletons in his closet that he’d rather risk his job to sign a complete retard like you than let his dirt get out in the open. You ever met an A&R guy? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Well, let me enlighten you. They spend their entire professional careers searching for guys they can sign to the shittiest deals possible, stuffing them full of drugs, hookers and booze until the acts don’t know their own fucking names. Once that act is all used up and no good to him anymore, Mr. A&R moves on to the next fucking target. He’s a predator with less morals than me. Do you really think he’s going to give one shit about his dirty laundry getting aired? They are expected to be shitheels, it’s in their job description. He’s more likely to kill you than sign you. Use your fucking head, you moron. Did you get a manager like I told you to last time?”

“Shit, Bridge, I don’t need no fucking manager. All he’s gon’ do is take fit’een percent to book me here, and I already got booked here.”

“That’s because your mom is Twiggs’ cousin. Get a manager and let him deal with your fucking ideas. Do you really think I’m going to piss off one of the few A&R guys I know in some half-assed blackmail scam? You can’t afford the fee on that sort of shit.” Sid whined for a few more minutes before being ushered off. It took the physical presence of Aristotle to get Sid moving on.

Once Sid was gone, Bridge exclaimed, “Aristotle, I swear that kid is going to get himself killed one of these days. He’s a dumbass at the genetic level.”

“The Buddhists say that all suffering is born of desire,” Aristotle began. “By that measure, that little muppet has got lifetimes of suffering to burn off.” Bridge grinned at the bodyguard.

“I think he’d literally give up a body part to get signed. You ever hear him?” Aristotle nodded, a pained expression marring his features. “I’d rather listen to two rhinos fucking. Check with Stonewall about Kira when I’m not occupied. I really wanna get that shit taken care of.” Aristotle nodded and strode off to find the bouncer.

Bridge’s night was business as usual. He met with three other clients in two hours, all routine jobs with minimal payouts. They’d keep the lights on and not much else. With each meeting completed without an appearance from Kira, Bridge’s nervousness grew. As small-time as he was, Nicky would be all too happy to follow through on his threats. The quicker he could set Nicky up with the hacker, the quicker he could relax. Finally, around midnight, Aristotle came to his table.

“Kira’s outside,” he said.

“Well tell him to get his ass in here.”

“He won’t come in.”

“What do you mean he won’t come in?”

“Exactly that. He refuses to go around the front. He’s waiting in the alley across the street. He was exceptionally squirrelly.”

“Goddamnit, Angie, can you not give me one clean hacker? Shit, I bet he’s hopped up on Trip, all paranoid and shit.”

“He didn’t look to be speeding so much as genuinely nervous.”

Bridge sighed. “Fuck it, I’m done here.” He slugged back the last vestiges of his drink. “Let’s go meet him. You sure this ain’t a setup or something?” Aristotle nodded. “Last thing I need is another beatdown.” Bridge stalked out with his bodyguard in tow. He waved to Stonewall as he exited, the Mexican waving back jovially. The asshole bouncer was nowhere to be seen. Maybe Twiggs had fired him for being a cunt to the patrons.

Bridge crossed the street quickly, leaving Aristotle at the alley entrance to cover his back. The alley was deserted, nothing but dumpsters, grime and filth to greet him. “I thought you said he was in here?” Aristotle shrugged. Bridge began walking down the alley, avoiding the puddles of dumpster juice and piles of garbage. The alley smelled of fried rice from the Chinese restaurant.

“PSST. Here.” Bridge’s head snapped up at the strained whisper. It came from the restaurant’s kitchen entrance. “Over here!” Bridge walked slowly to the doorway, his body tensing into some semblance of a fighting stance. His one karate class years earlier had not yielded much beyond embarrassment, but he tried to recall something of the defensive techniques he’d been taught. A head peeked out of the doorway, darting quick glances up and down the alley. “Did anybody follow you?”

“Just Aristotle,” Bridge replied, indicating the bodyguard at the other end. “You wanna tell me why I’m standing ankle deep in shit instead of having a civilized conversation surrounded by hotties in the club?”

“I got people after me,” Kira said. Bridge finally got a good look at the kid, and kid he was. He might have been eighteen, but he sure didn’t look it. Bridge guessed he had not been shaving too long, and not well at that. His upper lip was covered by a thin wisp of a mustache. Kira’s dark hair was tousled, in typical hacker fashion. Even his sideburns were messy. Sweat covered the kid’s face, a nervous sweat that seemed to soak his shabby clothes.

‘Surely Angie didn’t send me one of these homeless squatter hackers,’ Bridge thought. The clothes Kira wore weren’t cheap, just badly maintained. Brand names were all over his slept in attire. Every movement, every nuance of the kid’s body language was nervous paranoia, but an examination of his green eyes told Bridge the kid wasn’t tripping. “What are they after you for? Who is they?”

“I found something, something I shouldn’t have.”

“Ok, well that’s nothing to me, kid,” Bridge replied, raising his hands to fend off whatever bad mojo the kid had acquired. “I just need you to do a couple of jobs for some clients of mine and…”

“No, Bridge man, you gotta see this, it’s… you gotta see who it is!”

“Whoa, I don’t see nothing. I don’t touch nothing. Whatever you got going on, you keep it to your damn self. All I do is hook you up with someone that wants to buy or sell. I’m the Bridge, not the warehouse, dig?”

Kira’s agitation spilled over, his hands grabbing Bridge’s coat in a death grip. “You have to see it! Please, I gotta get rid of this! I don’t want nothing to do with it! You gotta take it off my hands!”

Bridge pushed the hacker away forcefully. Aristotle strode two steps into the alley. “No, I don’t. Sell it to Angie, she can find you a buyer.” A red light blinded Bridge for a second. Raising his hand to cover his eyes, he saw three pinpricks of red at the end of the alley. His mind processed the image in slow-motion. Silhouettes, armed. Three armed men coming down the alleyway towards him from the darkness.

“They’ll kill me, Bridge, you gotta take this off my hands,” were the last words Bridge heard before the shots rang out. He was thrown to the ground by the force of the body hitting him, his vision blurring with pain.


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Campaign 2028: Arturo Soto Campaign Video

Arturo Soto was born into a poor Mexican immigrant family in Los Angeles in 1989, the fifth of seven children. Both his parents were barely educated, struggling to make ends meet in menial, low-paying jobs. His life was changed forever when his older brother was slain in gang violence, forever steering Arturo down the straight and narrow path. Working his way through college by busing tables and working odd jobs, Arturo vowed to make something of himself. He became the first child in his family to graduate college from the University of Southern California in 2012 with a degree in Business Administration. Within five years, he was running his own successful business as a real estate developer. During the riots of 2027, he rose to regional prominence as leader of his neighborhood watch, successfully defending his block from rioters and a corrupt detachment of corporate police attempting to loot the affluent area. Videos of his standoff with the so-called "Corporate Police Brigade" exploded onto the GlobalNet soon after power was restored to Los Angeles. Running as a staunch defender of the working man from corporate exploitation, Arturo Soto has mounted a formidable challenge to corporate-appointed incumbent Oliver Sunderland. The latest polls have the race a dead heat going into the final week of campaigning. Watch the campaign video after the jump.



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