preloder

Book 1 / defrag

Chapter 7

Glitch considered her position. Neither the drones nor the elevator would hold indefinitely. The elevator shaft was still accessible, and depending on how the drones were designed, a well-placed EMP grenade could make short work of her robotic watchdogs. Glitch flipped through the other security cameras on surrounding floors. There was a second team of CorpSec on standby that hadn’t realized their counterparts were down for the count yet. She checked the comm-logs. Eyes in the Sky wasn’t scared yet – no one had placed a call to the outside for backup. Glitch severed outgoing lines, re-directing any calls to other extensions within the building. Thus fortified, she went to look for Nine.

She found the Runner holed up in the stairway of the 192nd floor. He was at a standoff with meat-side security – one guard was already down with a gunshot wound to the thigh, and the others were stacked up behind a door. Nine had his wakizashi drawn in his left hand, and a handgun in his off-hand. Glitch called up a collection of drones from their charging pods on 190 and sent them whizzing up the stairwell. Nine dropped into a low crouch as they approached, then turned his head in surprise as they hurtled past. The guards didn’t realize they were in trouble until it was too late – they crumpled like cheap paper cups from a drive-thru.

She sent the drones flying back to Nine. Glitch flipped through control options until she found the drones’ speaker systems.

“I can shut down the anti-air from here,” she told him, executing the necessary commands as she spoke. “Call your guy in the chopper and tell him to come land.”

Nine straightened warily. “Hacker?” he asked.

“It’s Glitch.”

Inside the Matrix, her cat tail twitched restlessly while she waited out the time delay.

“Syntechie better be alive,” Nine replied. He didn’t sheath his sword.

“Alive, but unconscious,” Glitch confirmed. “She’s bleeding, but if I leave the system to help her, it’s just a matter of time until we’re overrun by drones again. Hurry, please.”

Nine took off at a sprint, pulling his phone out as he ran.

Glitch checked on Syntechie again. No sign of Nine yet. Why was biospace so slow? An alert triggered. The rent-a-chopper was inbound towards the roof’s landing pad.

Glitch checked Nine’s progress in the stairwell. He wasn’t there. She checked the elevators. He wasn’t there either. She checked the roof, just to be sure, and then started combing through every floor of camera feeds from the roof downward. At last, she found Nine on the hundred and ninety-fifth floor.

In stark contrast to the cubical labyrinth of the hundred and eighty-ninth floor, this floor resembled a cross between a high-end hotel and a museum. Luxurious, thick carpets marked quieter walkways across polished marble floors. Pedestals displaying antiquities – gleaming pottery, primitive weaponry, small statuettes – lined the walls. A set of readouts told her that more than a dozen of them were merely high-end holograms. The overhead lights were off – the glow of the displays lit the room. Faux Egyptian columns stretched from floor to ceiling. A large desk was the only piece of furniture. It sat imperiously a short distance from the full-length windows, contemptuously considering the neon glow of the city below. Waterwalls filled the air with the soothing sound of trickling water. Also, someone was screaming.

Nine was not the source of the screams, but he was up to his elbows in the efficient cause. Blood dripped from his sleeves and dyed the jaws of the oni mask on his t-shirt a deep red. A security guard lay disemboweled at his feet in a rapidly widening pool of blood and bile. Her hand, still clutching a gun, lay a few feet away, neatly severed at the wrist.

A middle-aged man who looked like he was grateful to be born in an era that prized elevators sat behind the desk. His thick, short fingers pressed flat against the top of the desk in the arrested gesture of a man about to stand. His eyebrows, which didn’t quite match the color of his hair, stretched high and wide across his forehead. His teeth were all uniformly white – the cameras were even able to get a clear view of the back molars. He was the source of the screaming.

“…after I missed our last two appointments,” Nine was saying. Whatever the first half the sentence was, she hadn’t been able to hear over the wage slave’s yelling. “And now look at me. I’m getting paid to have someone else sneak me in here and lock down security so you and I can chat in private.”

Glitch looked around the digital version of the room, trying to find devices she could use. There was an oversized, wall-mounted monitor concealed behind a set of panels. She started its boot up sequence and then checked every floor’s camera feed again while it took its time powering on. The second biospace security team was making slow progress. Nine heard the panels slide open and looked warily behind him at the monitor.

“the fuck are you doing?” Glitch typed out across the screen in big, black letters, “get down here”

“In a minute,” Nine replied. He flicked the wakizashi casually at the wage-slave, sending droplets of blood arcing through air. “I have work to do. If Syn can’t hold out for a few more minutes, she’s dead anyway.”

Glitch dug through the system for other options. She found a dead spot in the blueprints with a power cable stretching to it: panic room or a secret server room. She checked the air ducts. There wasn’t any climate control headed into that space. Panic room then. Its entrance would have to be concealed behind a false wall on the left side of the office. The cameras picked out a seam between two faux marble panels.

Glitch pulled a copy of the blueprints, the power grid and, as an added bonus, the invoice for the security cameras’ purchase into her deck for later reference. There had to be someone out there who would be interested enough in that little snippet to pay for it.

“I wouldn’t expect you to understand,” Nine went on, swinging his blade nonchalantly from side to side. He turned back from the  screen and approached the desk. “But there are some things in this world more important than money and survival.”

“GET READY TO RUN” Glitch typed in all bold across the screen behind Nine’s head.

The man at the desk’s eyes went wide as he read the words. Nine saw the expression and turned. Glitch killed the lights in the room. There was an almighty scramble of noise across the camera mics and then the night vision kicked in. She saw the man throw himself low behind the desk, and then race towards the panic room. Nine swung at where the man had been an instant ago and hit the chair instead. He cursed loudly in Japanese. He backed up, swinging his blade in a wide arc, assuming the wage slave was making a break for the door.

The exec palmed a hidden scanner on the wall. The light in the panic room came on as the door opened. Nine roared and flung himself across the distance. He was too late. The panic room door slammed shut. A litany of curses in four different languages erupted from Nine’s lips. The sigil on his hand flared to life, and with it, the length of his wakizashi. Nine swung wildly at the marble face. Sparks flew up, lighting the darkened office with each strike.

A new set of camera feeds sprang to life. Glitch glanced over at them. Nine’s would-be victim slumped against the wall of the panic room, breathing heavily. Thick, shaky fingers clawed the tie loose from around his neck. He looked up at the cameras. Glitch pulled up his HR file curiously. Gordon Abasi had worked for Eyes in the Sky for the past 33 years, 2 months, 19 days. He had pretty good health insurance, no spouse or dependents, and was due for a bonus at the end of this quarter.

Outside, Nine’s futile assault on the door ended. He turned, shaking with rage, to look up at the nearest camera.

“Open the door, Glitch,” he snarled.

“couldn’t if i wanted to,” Glitch typed across the screen. “it’s an independent system”

She let him think about that for a moment and then added, “get your ass down here and help Syntechie”

A message pinged in the corner of her field of vision. The wage slave in the panic room had a simple data slate that connected to the rest of the building’s network.

<:SF_RM195:> Hello? Who is this?

Glitch ignored the message. She poked around, seeing if there was anything else she could access through the data slate. It was a dead end. He may as well have been shouting at her through the door, for all that she could get to him.

<:SF_RM195:> Why did you help me, Runner?

<:Bastet:> it’s not about you, wage slave

She glanced back at Nine. He stood outside the panic room, feet spread at shoulder-width, hands shaking with rage.

<:SF_RM195:> Nevertheless, I owe you. You want a job? Name your price.

Even in the serenity of cyberspace, the implication rankled her.

<:Bastet:> i’m not for sale

She checked on Nine again. Reluctantly, like a feral animal being driven from its kill, Nine backed off towards the stairwell. His eyes glinted in the darkness, and he turned the wakizashi restlessly in his hands.

<:SF_RM195:> Come now, we both know that’s not true. Runners work for the highest bidder. Is the hazard pay really worth it?

<:Bastet:> it’s not about the cred

     i run to make the corps bleed

     it’s that simple

<:SF_RM195:> Ah, a righteous vendetta. Very good. Whatever helps you sleep at night. I prefer a glass of wine and a massage myself.

The speed of the Matrix notwithstanding, Glitch decided she didn’t have time for this. Someone was trying to regain administrative permissions. She went off to go deal with it.

<:SF_RM195:> I am curious though… if you intend to make this company bleed, why stop your co-worker from killing me?

<:Bastet:> i might be idealistic

    but you’re naive

     you think you matter enough to the corps

     that your death would make a difference?

     please

     they would have you replaced in 24 hours or less

     i bet you even know by who

     people get paid to organize those kinds of promotions

     i’m not doing their work for free

<:SF_RM195:> Do you know who you’re working with? Why your co-worker tried to kill me?

<:Bastet:> don’t know

      don’t much care either

<:SF_RM195:> He’s a fanatic. He and his drinking buddies fondly imagine they’re fighting for the preservation of humanity when they’re actually just standing in its way. They all go by numbers.

<:Bastet:> that’s nice

<:SF_RM195:> You won’t believe me, but here’s my advice to you. Watch your back. Their policy is to burn through anyone or anything that gets in their way. You just made yourself an obstacle to them. Sure you still don’t want to talk about that job offer?

Glitch felt brief, bitter amusement, and then the emotion passed and was lost to the binary void.

<:Bastet:> if my crew mate wants me dead

     he can get in line

     he wouldn’t be the first person with a score to settle

She started hammering out a series of commands into the drones.

<:Bastet:> if i’m going to lose my life in a cubicle

     i’d rather it not take the next 40 years

She tabbed away to see what Nine was up to. He was on the stairway, headed down. Time to go.

Glitch powered down the non-essential systems. All around her, the lights of the pyramid started going out, one by one. She set the rest of the system to shut down in five hundred and forty seconds, and then, reluctantly, ceded her divinity and jacked out.

Glitch opened her eyes.

She was back in meatspace, and here, she was only human.

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