Saturday, April 26, 2008

No Update this Week

I realize I've been missing in action the last week. There has been and will be no update this week. I've been hammered since last Sunday by one of the worst chest colds I've ever seen, which has put a bit of a damper on my ability to think straight enough to write. Luckily, Chapter 8 is done. It just needs a bit of editing before it's ready for prime time. I should be able to add Chapter 8 either this Wednesday or Thursday depending on how busy life becomes. Thanks for following the story, and keep checking back for the latest chapter.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Chapter 7

August 30, 2028
3:34 a.m.

The loss of a Netlimb was a queer sensation, a kind of panicked tickling as the brain strained to maintain its binary illusion that there actually was a limb where a limb no longer existed. The reptile brain wanted the body to feel the pain, to feel the warning that pain symbolized, yet the logical brain refused to allow the NetBody to lose its cohesion. Bridge knew he was in for a real bruise on the arm when he left the crèche, as his physical limb thrashed around wildly to reassure itself of its reality. For now, his immediate thoughts were on reforming the arm into a shield and setting himself into a defensive posture.

The attack had come swiftly, and Bridge’s practically antiquated software package had given him too little warning. He quickly sized up his opponent while dodging the second strike, a vicious spear stabbing inches from his side as his body flowed around the thrust.

The attacker was much faster than Bridge could hope to be with this setup. His silvery body held a barely humanoid shape with animal-like feet. Hooves, as a matter of fact, the guy had hooves. His entire lower half reminded Bridge of a shaven billy goat, as if the body was modeled after a satyr. The right arm was an elongated axe, the left a spear. At the top of his smooth head was a gigantic pair of horns, dripping with a virus-injector’s poisonous code. Bridge was in serious trouble. His opponent was built for all-out attack, and Bridge’s defenses were slow and outdated. He dodged another slice of the axe and tried to circle around towards the exit but found his path blocked by the spear.

Bridge aimed a quick sword thrust at the attacker’s midsection, but found it easily parried by the axe. Only a quick twist of the shield protected his chest from another spear thrust. Bridge retreated a moment. The attacker had the advantage of reach, and despite being on Bridge’s turf, the room afforded no particular advantage to either combatant. Any attempt to make it to the door would likely end with Bridge skewered and gored. Once caught, those horns would likely deliver a virus that would flatline his real heartbeat.

"Who are you?" Bridge asked, breaking arena protocol. No one talked in arena battles, at least not until they had won. The smack talk would begin in earnest afterwards, of course, provided both parties survived. But it was bad form to speak during combat.

The voice that replied was heavily synthesized, a devil-reverb effect applied for maximum intimidation. "I am your DOOM!" Bridge really did not like this guy now.

"What a douchebag," he said. The insult drew the attacker in like a lightning bolt, the spear diving straight for Bridge’s center. Bridge launched one of his better trick programs, the meat trap. His body opened at the point of attack, the deadly spear passing harmlessly through the hoop that Bridge’s chest had become. Bridge then closed the loop, chopping the spear arm off at the wrist. A follow up sword swipe was parried easily by the intruder’s axe, but Bridge had made some needed breathing room.

He quickly packaged the recording into a peer-to-peer rocket, breaking the bits up into unrelated junk data and encapsulating them in a sort of cluster bomb. Firing the rocket off sent the packets hurtling through the exit, where the rocket would "explode," scattering the junk data all over the GlobalNet. The data would latch itself onto bigger data packets like barnacles and ride those packets forever until Bridge sent out the recall order. The packets would then return and condense into something usable, provided Bridge survived the fight. Now Bridge had to hope he had time to enact the other part of his desperation gambit.

Bridge began dancing about the room, twisting and turning like a snake, flying from corner to corner dodging attacks, buying time for himself and the rocket. The walls shook with the axe swings that just barely missed contact with Bridge, the room beginning to lose cohesion as bits were chipped off. The rocket seemed to be moving in slow motion. Just as it reached the exit, the door opened to allow another player’s entrance. The new entrant dodged the rocket with ease despite being surprised.

Bridge initiated his jack out sequence as the dancing continued. Had he any other choice, he’d have taken it, but the attacker had him in a corner. Bridge would jack out the hard way, without returning his consciousness along the path he’d taken to get there. It would be akin to pulling the plug on his crèche, a jarring return to physical consciousness that was painful in the extreme. Rather than the gradual return to his body of a normal shutdown procedure, this would be a shocking snap, and he would suffer for it. Headaches, nosebleeds and the choking claustrophobia of the coffin were the most common side effects.

The sudden jack out still took nanoseconds, and he was defenseless the whole time. He could see the killing axe blow swinging toward his head. He flinched from the blow that never came. The axe arm was dissolved with the swing of a scythe blade, the droplets of NetBody floating weightlessly away. Bridge’s last visible image was of Angela’s liche-like avatar swinging her impossibly large scythe through the attacker’s neck with ruthless efficiency.

And then he was alive, the crèche’s inky black interior suffocating him. He flailed inside the pill-shaped coffin, the saline solution splashing, his muscles twitching in uncontrollable spasms of solidity. His mind was a bubbling cauldron of fear, thoughts sizzling inside his skull, burning his light-starved eyes. He couldn’t move, couldn’t run though his every nerve was on fire, his cells raging with the desire for motion, for the surety of existence in activity. Finally, decades later, the crèche’s latch opened and he threw back the lid, flopping out onto the floor like a fish out of water. His muscles still weren’t working right. The arm he’d lost in the GlobalNet was there, but he could see bruising up and down the forearm area, and he couldn’t force it to move no matter how hard he concentrated. His entire body refused mental commands, the jack out seizure in full control.

He wasn’t sure how long he lay like that, twitching and flopping uncontrollably until the tremors finally slowed, crashing then ebbing like the waves at high tide. He was still twitching slightly when Angela’s holographic form appeared above him.

"You gonna die on me?" she asked with a tinge of real concern.

He swallowed hard and tried to reply, but nothing would come out but a raspy exhalation.

"Take it slow. You haven’t done this for a while, remember." He nodded.

His voice returned weakly. "How did you find me?"

"It’s my crèche. I can track it anywhere. Plus your trail wasn’t exactly hidden well enough. That’s some old shit you were running."

"I haven’t kept up."

"No, you haven’t. I figured you’d get in some shit, so I followed you. Just in time, too." She held something in her ghostly hand, which he finally realized was a head. "Do you know Ub3rM3^^?" He shook his head. "He knew you, apparently. Looks like whatever you got yourself into was worth hiring a hitter."

"He’s a hitter?"

"According to his creds he was. Not a very good one, obviously. He didn’t even bother credcrashing you. Sloppy dip shit. He probably did tag your accounts, though, so I wouldn’t use your creds if I was you."

"I haven’t used cred since I quit hacking. It’s why I only take 5-year." His strength had returned enough to sit up, though his left arm was going to be sore for days. "Crashers don’t fuck with the cash vendors. Those boys will fuck back."

"So what did you find that’s important enough to put a hit out on you?"

Bridge relayed the sorted story of Kira’s big find. Angela seemed genuinely angry that the Mayor of the city was a closet pedophile and even more so that his proclivities had gotten her hacker killed. By the time he’d finished, her jaw was clenched so tight he could imagine her cheek muscles twitching with the exertion. Her eyes were flaming red coals.

"What are you going to do to nail this son-of-a-bitch?"

Bridge hadn’t gotten that far. Nailing Sunderland, while certainly a tempting prospect, wasn’t his first thought. "I’m less concerned about nailing him than I am about keeping his bastards from bumping me off."

"You’re going to let him get away with this?"

"Get away with what? The guy playing his little girlfriend is a 26-year old grad student in Colorado. He hasn’t broken any laws, and even if he had, he’s the goddamn mayor. He has Chronosoft on his side. You don’t think they could cover this shit up?"

"So what, he just walks? He killed my hacker."

"And that’s fucked me up just as much as you. I got clients ready to beat me blue again if I don’t get them somebody. So I either gotta find another guy or pay money I don’t have to keep them from breaking my legs or worse." Bridge’s mind was in overdrive now that his body was more or less normalized. He was examining angles and profit margins, analyzing risks and thinking on his feet. "But there is a way I can get rid of this thing and recoup my losses on the deal."

"Your losses? What about my losses?"

"You’ll get your cut too. If I take the footage to Sunderland’s folks, they’ll probably just kill me to cover it up. Since he didn’t technically do anything illegal, I can’t go to the cops with it, and they don’t pay for shit anyway." He looked up at Angela’s avatar with a kind of puppy dog helplessness. "You know, you could sell it for me."

"Don’t even get me more involved in this than I already am."

"Come on, Angie, do me a solid. You’re the best broker I know."

She cut him off with a dismissive wave of her ghostly hand. "Save the sweet talking for your clients. I know you too well."

"No sweet talk. Seriously, you could sell this shit before I wake up in the morning."

"And we’d both be dead by the time we were done with breakfast. No deal, slick. I’m not ending up like Kira."

Bridge set his jaw with the grim realization of his predicament. "Well, there is one person who’d give his left nut for something like this, especially right now."


Bridge shook his head, shutting off his audible rambling. "If you ain’t selling it, better you don’t know. The less people involved, the less targets they have. You sure you don’t mind me crashing here for a few?"

"Just crashing. No business in the house."

"I just need a place nobody knows about for a few days, then I’ll be out of your hair and I can compensate you some for Kira. How’s twenty percent sound?"

She thought hard for a moment before replying, "Not as good as thirty."



Bridge wobbled to his feet. "Right then, I’m going to shower this shit off and crash on the couch. I better get moving early tomorrow. Don’t want to sit still too long." The shower did wonders to loosen the stiffness in his muscles from the emergency jack out seizure, but his head was splitting. Popping an Aceto™ tab, he flopped on the couch, trying to sleep through the dancing fireflies of pain behind his eyes. The plan raced through his head threatening sleeplessness, but his body gave up consciousness before he had a chance to toss.


Wednesday, April 9, 2008

GlobalPedia 2028 Entry: Cyberware

Cyberware is the colloquial term used to describe cybernetic prosthetic replacement organs, limbs and other physical cybernetic enhancements. Popularized in the cyberpunk speculative fiction of the late 20th century, cyberware is an all-inclusive term that describes many disciplines of human enhancement technology utilizing the man-machine interface.


The first public cybernetic replacements were crude inventions such as Dean Kamen’s “Luke Arm,” made to replace lost limbs with crude movements and bulky attachments. Though prosthetics had been used for decades before the “Luke Arm,” none displayed the capabilities of this invention. It took a decade of testing and refinement before the first units were commercially available as medical prosthetics in the United States. Available in metal or faux flesh models, these versions were modular and upgradeable, but required large battery packs that limited mobility.

A parallel development track was undertaken in secret sometime in 2012 by a partnership of the Pentagon and various multinational corporations, including Chronosoft, Sony and Phillips Erickson. This project, codenamed Silver Eagle, was aimed at augmenting human capabilities through cybernetic prosthetics. Though the project lagged behind the replacement technology, its results were much more impressive. Limbs were created that doubled, tripled and even quadrupled the strength of the limb they replaced. Replacement legs allowed some of the test subjects to run in short bursts of up to 18 mph, arms were able to lift 1000 lbs. with proper spinal bracing, and replacement eyes enhanced vision range and depth, and allowed sight into the infrared and ultraviolet spectrums.

The first real-world use of cybernetic augmentation was the use of so-called “cybersoldiers” in the Chavez War of 2018. Two Enhanced Marine Platoons from Eagle Company were used to assault the capital of Venezuela, and their augmented abilities proved decisive. Originally meant to be a covert strike force, international television cameras caught these enhanced humans on film. While the US Military initially denied the existence of cybernetically-enhanced soldiers, it eventually used the surviving members of the platoons as spokesmen for its recruitment drive, Be a CyberSoldier.

The corporate members of Project Silver Eagle lobbied the military for permission to begin sales of commercial versions of the cyberware, and were rebuffed. Seeing no recourse, the American divisions of the companies filed suit against the government. In a highly-publicized series of court cases that went to the Supreme Court, the companies were awarded the rights to produce cyberware for sale, provided each enhancement was installed by a medical professional and registered with a federal database. The first enhancement cyberware was the Chronosoft Blue Collar Series of arms and legs, marketed towards manual laborers at a low cost. The arms suffered from substandard construction and faulty materials, finally being recalled in early 2021. Sales suffered through the next two generations of product, but the 2023 release of the Chronosoft Atlas line saw a perfected design that met high standards in quality while maintaining a reasonable price point.

With the commercial success of the Atlas series, a thriving black market erupted. Whereas corporate label cyberware was safe, following stringent FDA guidelines, black market cyberware was a chancy endeavor, often installed by unlicensed technicians in less than sterile conditions. Corporate label cyberware had limitations placed on the amount of augmentation allowed, but black market cyberware faced none of those restrictions, leading to outlandish experimentation. Many of these experiments have resulted in death for both the user and innocent bystanders. Black market cyberware also bypasses the federal licensing restrictions, but the proliferation of illegal “ware” has become so widespread, not even the LGL-backed corporate police have been able to enforce licensing laws effectively.


Cyberware most often refers to cybernetic limb replacements, but “ware” is not limited to limbs. Entire organs have been replaced, including eyes, lungs, heart, stomach, pancreas and even sexual organs. The most common replacements are:

  • Arms (with strength augmentations of up to six times – such augmentations usually require some spinal replacement or bracing)
  • Legs (with speed augmentations that have passed the 20 mph mark)
  • Eyes (with reports of 300/20 vision enhancement, infrared and ultraviolet attachments, as well as HUD enhancements such as email/text/television displays)
  • Hearing (up to 10x increased hearing sensitivity)
  • Lungs (increased breathing capacity resulting in heightened endurance)
  • Hands (increased crushing power, gadget fingers such as tasers, claws, electronic keychain)

All visible cyberware can be covered in a faux flesh covering that often fools the naked eye. However, most of the pop culture that has embraced cybernetic enhancements as a fashion statement disdains the use of “skinning” the cyberware, preferring to proudly display their metal.


Thursday, April 3, 2008

Chapter 6

August 30, 2028
2:07 a.m.

"You look like shit, Artie. Is that blood?"

The crackling static of Angela’s disembodied voice was a painfully welcome reminder of past days. Bridge stood at her door, disheveled and battered, staring up at the camera above the door, which was no doubt displaying his sorry self on a window in Angela’s crèche. "You should see the other guys," Bridge quipped. "They look like a million bucks."

"You always were a cream puff. Door’s open." Bridge heard the latch on the door click and pushed through quickly, keeping an eye out until the door closed. The latches and bolts slammed back into place automatically as soon as the door was shut. Even so, Bridge flattened against the wall and edged up to the front window, overlooking the apartment complex’s deserted pool. A pricey place like this likely attracted a 9-5 corporate clientele that would rarely be up this late on a work night. Angela had done well since ditching him.

"Nice place you got here."

"Business is good." Angela’s voice came from all around Bridge. Her wispy body materialized out of thin air, the perfect holographic representation of one of her avatars. Her real body looked almost nothing like this. Seven feet tall, bleached-bone white skin and jet hair flowing to her knees, with fingernails just short of being claws, this was Santhariya, the queen of the night realm, Orphonus.

Bridge raised an eyebrow. "Very good, apparently. Those holo projectors aren’t cheap."

"Kim got me a got a good deal on them. This guy wanted me to steal some prototype designs, so he gave me the old models for like half price. I can’t resist a bargain."

"Especially when it involves a run, right?" Her avatar nodded quickly, that cute mischievous smile Bridge was so familiar with in the flesh transferred to this apparition perfectly.

"So where are you?"

"Back in the bedroom," she said, indicating a room past the open kitchen. The apartment itself was so sparsely furnished Bridge could barely tell it was occupied. An expensive, barely creased couch was a deserted island in the middle of a desolate living area, positioned directly in front of the wall screen. The kitchen was the only area that appeared used, and badly used at that. Dishes caked with crusted food piled in the sink, used cardboard food containers left torn on the filthy counters. He’d seen this type of thing in so many different hackers’ homes that it might have been its own interior design style for the cyberpunk set. Most of the dedicated hackers spent more time in the crèche than the flesh, and as a result, they needed little furniture and cared even less for homemaking.

"Can I at least talk to your face?"

A tiny frown creased her lips. "I’m hardly decent," she joked. "I’m deep in, Bridge, I don’t have time to swab off and be a hostess. There’s food in the fridge if you want, the couch is as good as a bed. Now what the fuck happened to my hacker?"

"I told you, something he found got him killed. You said he was hitting pedofarms. What did you do?" His accusatory tone sounded harsher than he intended.

She put her balled fists on her hips, the first signs of her obstinate attitude emerging. "I didn’t do anything. I sent a few guys on some fun runs, a little harmless griefing." Bridge’s frown caused Angela to point her finger accusingly. "You used to enjoy that."

"That’s the kind of shit got Margie killed."

"Margie got sloppy. You don’t shack up with the guys you’re griefing. Look, all we did was put some recorders on these ageplay sims. Find a few pervs paying for cybersex with underage avatars, record their escapades then send it to their wives. We didn’t even ask for blackmail money. We just wanted to fuck with them."

Bridge sighed and rubbed his forehead. "And if one of those guys happened to be connected, he’d damn sure not hesitate to pop a cap in Kira’s ass." Bridge’s mind raced despite his exhaustion. "Kira sent me an attachment, but I’m not looking at it without a clean room and a backup ID. Can I borrow a crèche?"

Angela frowned. "I have an old one, but it’s slow." To Angela, if it wasn’t built last week with firmware upgraded last night, it was a decrepit dinosaur slogging through a primordial swamp.

"How old?"

"May? April? I kind of lost track after I got this one." Bridge was impressed, and a little bit proud. Angela really was doing quite well, as none of the stuff she was purchasing was cheap. Holo projectors and a new crèche every season cost major cash. Of course, never leaving the apartment meant she didn’t need a car, and the crèche’s nutrient drips meant she probably ate one meal a day if she was lucky. A hacker’s life was a series of tradeoffs normal schlubs never made. "It should do for watching a run replay. Just don’t use an ID that could connect with me."

"Got it. Now, where is this thing?"

"Bedroom. Come on back." Bridge shuffled hesitantly down the apartment’s central hallway. Angela wouldn’t come out of the crèche to greet him, and he was certainly unsure he wanted to walk around in the room while she lay unmoving in the little pillbox. Even proximity to her avatar was enough to bring back painful memories.

The bedroom was as sparsely furnished as the rest of the place, and just as messy. A few takeout boxes lay on the floor. The bed was simply a mattress thrown haphazardly on the floor, sheets tousled and unkempt. The low hum of the crèche’s cooling unit filled the room. The shiny black surface of the coffin-like device was decorated with lines of neon green LED strips, a sign of heavy modification both on the exterior and the interior. "It’s that one over there," Angela said, pointing in the corner at a dusty plain crèche. Bridge wiped his finger through the thick layer of dust. "The maid is off this year," Angela joked.

"Has it got the basics? Security package, mail, etc.?"

"Do I ever work with the basics? Hell, no, that thing has custom warez. I think the defense package even has your codebase. I abandoned that tack when Freeman put out his Plat Series." Bridge was postponing the jack in, running his hands over the console at the base of the device. He powered the crèche on, looking at the lights for entirely too long in an effort to forestall the inevitable.

He didn’t want to jack in. He’d sworn off the whole life. Like a recovering alcoholic, he marked each day without a jack in as an accomplishment. It was an exciting life, cutting through databank security and pilfering whatever he could, battling live Net security agents in some liquid mercury duel with programs he built from the ground up. The full-on speed of a crèche run was so different from just jacking into the front of the crèche. If a regular jack run was a sprint, a crèche run was a drag race, an intense compression of time and speed and data folded into every erg of consciousness. That kind of intensity couldn’t be easily put down, and once Bridge had removed himself from those runs, he’d felt their absence every goddamn day.

"What are you waiting for? Get naked!"

Bridge scowled back at the avatar and began to strip off his clothes. "It might help a bit if I didn’t have the Virtual Voyeur watching me."

"It’s nothing I haven’t seen before." That didn’t help Bridge’s nervousness much.

"It’s cold in here," Bridge joked as he dropped his shorts, turning quickly to lift the lid.

"That’s what you always say." The bubbling, mischievous giggle brought a flush to Bridge’s cheek, and a pang of nostalgia to his heart. The crèche’s soft plastic interior was chilly, its flesh-like embrace surrounding him with a womblike familiarity. Fitting the urine catch caused more jokes at his genitals’ expense. The nutrient drip into his arm was a bit more difficult than usual. It had been a while since he’d tapped that vein, and he’d had the easy-access cap removed. He closed the lid firmly, cutting off the teasing and encasing him in the silence of a tomb. The breathing apparatus covered his face and eyes as the saline solution flooded the chamber, a brief cold snap before the internal warmers kicked in. Within seconds, the interior of the coffin was a dimly-lit liquid paradise, his body covered with a slick fluid as his senses were one by one deprived of input. The jack began to do its magic, booting up the interface sequence. The last physical sound he heard was the beep signifying the bootup sequence’s completion.

And then he flew headlong into a wall of white, a bright onrush of euphoric experience that seemed to permeate every cell in his body. That one instant of elation was what the real hacker lived for, that sensation of flying warp speed into the great overmind, the digitization of consciousness that signaled immersion in the waters of the collected knowledge of humankind. The feeling was as close to being God as Bridge had ever thought his frail human mind could experience. The process was instantaneous, but it stretched the mind so hard that time elongated, eternity compressed into a single intense moment.

His NetBody rezzed into the crèche’s foyer, and the sensation was gone like gossamer on the wind. It was replaced with the liquid motion of his NetBody, a shiny slick humanoid-shape with the properties of liquid mercury. The programs he chose to carry with him would reshape the NetBody in various ways, some offensive, others defensive. Accessing one of his backup ID’s had equipped the NetBody with his favored weapon, a dual-edged spear and his personal defense, a buckler-shaped shield. He tested the programs, swinging the weapons and running through a few Net-fu forms, a kind of martial arts based fighting style that hackers had adapted to Net combat. He hoped not to see any Net combat, but his paranoia about the situation caused him to prepare. Checking a few of his data gathering and analysis programs, he proceeded out of the foyer. The inky black space between data nodes was an infinite expanse of beauty, an empty void filled with the twinkling stars of billions of data nodes, web sites, chat rooms, virtual worlds.

His first steps were to hide the trail of his NetBody, sending the packets bouncing around the world in the blink of an eye, leaving traces of its passing in hundreds of random locations around the globe. Someone trying to backtrack to his physical location would need to unravel the mass of dead-end IP addresses and false trails before finding his vulnerable body, and their detection would alarm Bridge in enough time to allow him to jack out safely. Once assured his trail was sufficiently obscured, he rented a "clean room," an off-the-shelf data location on the GlobalNet that contained no previous data, no programs, and only one entrance. He could control data access to the room, making sure that whatever he brought in could not leave without his knowledge, as well as ensuring that someone attempting to find him would have only one avenue of attack.

He marveled at the speed with which he worked. Not for the first time did Bridge consider dropping his work in the meat world and going back to hacking. The rush of adrenaline was real, an ever present euphoric call.

Putting aside the desire to backslide into his previous life, he sent out a request, a backdoor call to his Bridge ID’s mailbox. The request grabbed the email from Kira and sent it flying around the Net, obscuring it’s destination as surely as he’d done for his NetBody. The message appeared in the clean room as a blinking envelope icon, vaguely three-dimensional floating in mid-air. Bridge sighed and opened the message.

The body of the message was brief. Kira had sent it with his last breath, and all it contained was the plaintive cry, "Watch me!" Bridge felt like kicking Kira square in the junk. The attachment was large. Bridge extracted it from the message, analyzing it with one of his data-sniffing programs. It was dense, likely a room recorder. Much like a hidden camera placed in a physical room, a room recorder captured all the data of a NetRoom, creating an exact duplicate of the room, its occupants and their actions that could be experienced again. Viewing the recorder’s contents in the proper program would give the viewer a voyeuristic experience from any angle but without the ability to alter the proceedings. The viewer could even take the place of one of the participants, hitching a passive ride in the participant’s mind, feeling every sensation the person felt during that time. Such recordings were popular on the Net, most being pornographic.

Bridge dropped himself into the recording as a spectator. The room was not surprising, given the nature of Kira’s targets. Bridge could only describe it as a stereotypical little girl’s room, posters of teenage heartthrobs on the wall, stuffed animals neatly placed in a parade around the walls. The single bed was festooned in pink and puffy lace, the walls even painted a girly pink. Fake sunlight flickered through a window, and one door led out of the room. The room’s occupant rezzed in, and Bridge’s gorge rose.

A little girl, no older than twelve years had appeared, sitting on the bed, chewing gum and blowing bubbles while twisting her finger through her pigtails. It was a painfully stereotypical scene. Bridge immediately accessed information on the avatar. According to the room, she was actually a twenty-six year old virtual escort who worked out of Colorado. Despite knowing that this underage avatar was a consenting adult, he still felt queasy about what he knew was coming next. The door to the bedroom opened slowly, an adult male sneaking into the room like a thief.

The accompanying rape fantasy was by the numbers, the adult forcing himself upon the child in a disgusting display of oedipal dominance. Even though it was an act that didn’t involve an actual child, it still made Bridge’s stomach turn. This kind of ageplay sold well on the porn market. It wasn’t illegal, though most courts frowned on virtual escort services as well as the disgusting implications of virtual child rape. It would be extremely damaging for anyone caught partaking, causing divorces and firings at the least. Bridge felt no remorse for closet pedophiles like this one whose life would be upended by the revelation of such predilections.

As he watched the scene, the doughy face of the man started to seem familiar. Had he not been so disgusted by the acts portrayed, Bridge would have recognized the man immediately. The avatar was almost the spitting image of Mayor Oliver Sunderland. That in itself was odd. Participants in these types of rooms typically chose attractive avatars, and Sunderland was hardly that. He was a pudgy man in his early 50’s, the kind of nondescript pudding of a man that would be no one’s ideal fantasy. Bridge began to get a sinking feeling and reluctantly accessed the identity of the man. All he could do was shake his head in disbelief. The person running the avatar was by all accounts exactly who he appeared to be. It was the Mayor of Los Angeles, Oliver Sunderland.

Bridge cursed a blue streak. This was exactly the kind of thing that could get a hacker killed. Powerful men with embarrassing secrets guarded those secrets with the violence of a cornered tiger. Their handlers would not hesitate to disappear someone as insignificant as Kira or Bridge to keep this kind of thing quiet.

Bridge’s first thought was to delete any trace of the file, but he hesitated. Paulie and his employers likely already knew about Bridge. They had tracked Kira to the Arsenal, going so far as to install Paulie in a job there to make sure the hacker was caught and killed. Deleting the file would remove what little leverage Bridge had. And after what Twiggs’ guys were likely doing to Paulie and his flunkies this very minute, Paulie’s employer wasn’t likely to balk at killing Bridge even if the file was gone. No, Bridge was stuck with it.

So he had to find a way to use it.

He could blackmail Sunderland. But like he’d told Sid earlier, a blackmail scam was the last thing he wanted to get involved with, especially if he was the blackmailer. Blackmail money was hard as hell to collect. But Sunderland’s place in the public eye left him vulnerable. He had enemies.

As Bridge pondered his next move, he failed to notice that the entrance to the clean room had opened. If he’d been in his physical body, the sensation that warned him of the coming attack would have been an itching at the base of his skull. Luckily, he had the room wired to alert him of any entrances, authorized or not. Bridge kept still, presenting as easy a target as he could without leaving himself completely vulnerable. A moment before the first blow struck, Bridge twisted his NetBody to place the shield arm between him and the attacker. Losing the arm was a screaming white light of pain in his brain, the limb dissolving from the forearm down in a mist of mercury droplets.


Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Life Intrudes

Normally, I make a GlobalPedia post on the off-chapter weeks. The last two weeks have been very hectic, however, and I've been unable to get any GlobalPedia entries written. I plan on working something up this weekend for posting next week. Since I'm missing one of those, I decided I'd just post a new chapter instead. Sometime on Thursday, April 3rd, I will be posting Chapter 6. Make sure to check back for the latest installment.



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