Jazz/Funk/CyberHip/ Fusion, yup, that is what it had to be. As the churning bass tones and clicking synths filled the room with what could only be described as “noise”, Ping decided it was time to find another café. It was a shame, as the staff at this place were stunning, in his eyes of course.
Even though he had carefully cased the place prior to going in, as he did every day, he was a little uneasy today. He put it down to his part in the “drop net” hack being so pivotal, and that by now there were probably a few dozen agents looking for him. Paranoia can be either a crippling handicap, or powerful ally, depending on what you allow it to do to you. Today was one of those days Ping was putting it down to the negative.
“You there Ping?” The voice in his ear broke his train of thought, thankfully.
“Sure.” His reply being barely audible and easily drowned by the Jazz/Cyber whatever the hell he had named the music . “Everything looking good my end, strong signal, network stable, minimal traffic.”
There was a pause for a few moments before the rest of the team clocked in and confirmed their status. It was going down now. Ping was excited and nervous, this was his first big intrusion, and he was on point.
“Start Grid-A drop. Ping stripping walls. Going dark.”
At that, Ping swiped the screen of his device, slipped it in his rucksack and casually slid out of his booth. As he walked to the door, he caught some movement from the corner of his eye across the room. It was probably someone going to the bathroom. Probably.
Swinging the door open, the fresh air was like a boost of energy slapping him in the face. The sun was out, the sky was hazy, things were looking pretty good. Wandering up the street, Ping noticed how quiet it was in this neighbourhood now. It seemed as though anyone who had the means was already in the New City, but the dregs from the 3rd Quadrant hadn’t quite migrated far enough North to ruin this part of town yet. It would happen, the Old City was doomed to a fate of either the encroaching sea, or displaced derelicts.
“Hey bud, you got a light?”
Ping looked over his shoulder to see who it was. Whoever it was they were quiet, he never noticed them coming. As he turned he felt a searing pain across his cheek and lost his balance. Another blow to his kidneys made him crumple, his vision hazed and a blackness closing in.
“Yo, Ping, wake up buddy, we gotta go!”
The sounds were muffled, echoes bouncing around in his head. He felt his arm being dragged up, then his body. He tried to get to his feet but stumbled, leaning on something, someone. As the light grew, he could make out behind them two slumped bodies against an alley wall. One was draped over the other, with what looked like a bloody smear across their back.
Ping looked up, it was Jay coaxing him to his feet. Blood on his hands. Ping’s head was spinning, one confused thought after another. What is Jay doing here. And where am I?
His attempt at focus was punched by a sharp pain in his neck as Jay guided him onto the street. They were only a few blocks from the café, but Ping didn’t remember going into an alley, and didn’t remember killing two men either; well he assumed they were dead. Either way, he was rapidly coming around as Jay half dragged, half lifted him into a van across the street. Ping saw the door slide shut, then drifted off again.
As Ping awoke, he saw Jay standing over him. He had a splitting headache, and wondered if his head was actually going to explode. He slowly got up, and watched Jay walk off to the kitchen. He was about to stand but became dizzy and quickly sat down again. Looking up, he saw Jay return with a glass of water.
“So, Ping, just what were you getting into today?”
“C’mon, Jay, not the concerned parent routine again.”
“Well, I’m not your parent, but I am concerned. Do you know who those bodies in the alley belonged to?”
Ping rubbed his neck and drank the water. It barely made a dent in his parched throat.
“No idea. Who?”
Ping raised an eyebrow.
“But, my young nephew, not any MDC staffer, these two were dark-agents. Like secret, scary, make your body dissolve in a tub of acid, secret.”
“Holy crap. How did you know?”
“They had no credentials. But, I have a scanner that picks up the microchips all MDC employees have inserted in the base of their skull. These guys meant business, the puncture wound you are rubbing on your neck was from a neurotoxin, another few minutes and you would have been screwed.”
“Sounds like I already am.”
“Not sure about that. I had their comm devices blocked the whole time they were on you, I doubt MDC have made you. So, level with me, what is it?”
“Seriously, Jay, we were just mucking around. We had a Drop Net hack set up for some bullshit Government agency. Word on the waves was that it was a shield for their back-door into the energy grid. We wanted to know if they really were controlling the power and intentionally causing the brown-outs to push their social agenda.”
Jay smiled, and stood up ready to leave the room. “You know what kid, you’re not half bad. But, pay better attention in the future, these guys weren’t pissing around.”
“And for the love of Buddha, please, learn how to shoot a damn gun. You can take anything from the cache, just make sure you don’t shoot your leg off, or worse.”
“You know I hate guns, screens are my weapon.”
“Uh huh, and next time some goons try to ruin your day are you going to type them to death? If you must screw around with the man, make sure you’re ready for when they screw back.”
Jay banged the panel next to the hall, opening the biometric scanners. Ping walked over and placed both hands on the pads. There was a familiar short hum as the device check his prints, DNA, and retina’s. Even after a century of security development, these were still some of the safest security checks around. Ping looked at his hands before tapping the floor with his foot. The floor parted creating an opening to the basement. The stairs lit automatically as he descended.
The room below was expansive; at least forty metres back and ten metres wide. Ping reminded himself to ask Jay how the hell he managed to make such a big hole. But, looking at the weapons on the wall, he figured he probably just kept shooting until everything was vaporized.
As he moved over to the range, a table raised out of the floor, it had a pistol and rifle in a rig, but they looked odd, like they were only half built. For all of the times Ping had been down here, he had never actually fired a weapon in the range. It was never his thing, but he used to keep Jay company as he serviced and admired his collection.
He picked up the glasses that were in the middle of the table, and everything immediately dimmed, with what looked like holographic targets appearing in the distance. A mechanical version of Jay’s voice came from somewhere in the room.
“Good afternoon, Ping. Please request your weapon.”
“Request your weapon, please.”
Ping paused, before realizing that it must have been a training programme. He had heard Jay talking about it, but never realized he had it in the middle of the basement.
“Ummm, Impulse pistol.”
“Acknowledged. Standard issue military spec impulse pistol in progress.”
Ping looked down and saw a series of mechanical arms and levers raise out of the table, removing and adding components to the pistol. Within ten seconds it looked nothing like the ‘blank’ pistol he had seen before. Although it didn’t look exactly like an impulse pistol, when he picked it up it was solid, and well balanced. As he raised it, an HUD appeared in front of his goggles. The targets were morphing between round shapes, human shapes, and other abstracts.
“Training programme, please.”
Ping paused for a moment, wondering what it was asking this time.
“Options are static concentric rings, static humanoid, moving humanoid, full tactical arena.”
Ping decided against the last option, it sounded dangerous.
In an instant all objects disappeared except for three traditional looking targets at what looked like two hundred metres away. Ping lifted his glasses, and saw the brink wall twenty metres away with nothing on it.
Lowering his goggles and holding the pistol with both hands, he aimed and squeezed the trigger. The was a muted fizzing sound, and a fair bit of recoil. A light splash fanned out about a metre to the side of the target. Ping squeezed off another dozen rounds, all of them missing.
The mechanical voice had a faint echo as the targets moved to half the previous distance. This time Ping hit the target, but his shots were all over the place.
“Suggested instruction. Hold weapon firmly with leading hand, supporting hand overlapping. Shoulders remain relaxed, with smooth and slow squeeze of trigger.”
Ping thought about a sarcastic remark, but realized it was useless arguing with a computer, so did as it suggested. His shots were now forming into groups. After fifteen minutes or so, his arms were getting tired, so he placed the weapon on the table. His eye cast over to the rifle.
“Rifle configuration options, please.”
“Commercial impulse rifle, Mil spec sniper impulse rifle, ballistic 7.62mm rifle, Ballistic M40A7 sniper rifle.”
Ping knew this was his uncles favourite weapon. Although weapons technology had progressed well beyond ballistic weapons, Jay always argued that an M40 would never run out of batteries, need scoping glasses, or be affected my EMP bursts. Once the table had assembled the weapon, Ping could see why Jay liked it. Obviously he had put a lot of time into programming this training model, as it looked exactly like the sniper rifle on the wall, a piece of art.
Ping picked it up, but put it back down again almost immediately. It was too heavy for his fatigued arms, and he figured he would probably end up hurting himself, even if the rounds weren’t real. He placed it back in the rig, and took off the glasses. As he placed them on the table, the equipment lowered back into the floor. Before leaving the room, he looked at the array of weapons on the wall; if he didn’t know Jay better he would have assumed the End of Days was near.
Walking up the stairs, he could smell what was likely going to be the best bacon and eggs money could buy. Jay kept a low profile with most things, but buying fresh food wasn’t one of them. He knew all the best places to get a meal that wasn’t synthetic, and regardless of the sales pitch, there was a huge difference in the taste.
It was something Jay said he never got a lot of when he was growing up, unlike the guns. Ping didn’t ask too much about Jay’s life growing up, he knew he had done it hard, which was obviously why he spent so much time working with Ping to make sure he stayed on-track. Of course, on-track is a subjective term; they both lived to fight the system, it was who they were.
“Smells good Jay, smells REAL good.”
“Well make the most of it kid, we have a lot of work to do.”
Jay placed two plates on the table, sitting down and pretending to pray. Ping wasn’t sure why he did that; Jay didn’t give a crap about God, or pretty much anything aside from his family. And the guns, damn he loves those weapons.
Jay began eating, “Well, my trouble-making young nephew, it seems as though you and your friends struck quite the nerve with your little stunt. The waves have been going ballistic with activity while you were downstairs..”
“Cool. Why?”, Ping replied between scoffing his mouth with food.
“The Drop worked, and a pile of data was stripped and sent to your ghost site. Apparently you were on the money with the power-management stuff.”
Jay spun around a screen with half a dozen displays. He tapped it, expanding the tiles into large holo’s, all repeating the same message; the Government have been screwing the public for years.
“You are quite the celebrity now Ping. Of course no-one knows who you are. And they never will. We are going to go through every signal path and scrub it for connections today. And there is something else.”
Ping looked at Jay, with a half-chewed mouth of food.
“We’re going to get you some better hardware. I know you like your MDC kit, but it’s time to go full-custom. I have a guy that makes custom logic chips. Full QB stuff, not the hybrids.”
Pings eyes lit up. He could barely contain his excitement. He tried to sound indifferent, but it wasn’t working.
“Really, uhhh, cool. So, what, you mean like mil-spec stuff?”
“Please! Those Neanderthals couldn’t keep up with this kit if they had a rocket under it. Trust me kid, you’ve proven yourself, it’s time to roll with the big boys.”
“multi-head quantum streaming?”
“Six channels, and a flow-rate that will make your sphincter tighten just watching it start up.”
“Sounds like a dream, Jay, but you know I can’t afford anything like that.”
Jay sat back in his seat and looked at Ping for a minute. He could swear every time he heard the kid talk, it was him twenty years ago.
“It’s on me, kid. I’ve been holding you back for too long. You need to get out there and show the world what the truth really looks like. Go and make a mess of those pretty-boys in the suits.”
He winked at Ping before looking down to his plate and finishing his food. He felt pretty good about things at the moment. Like anyone in this age, it wasn’t like that all the time, but Ping was a good kid, and had a phenomenal ability to manage signals and data. But, he probably needed a girlfriend. Nothing Jay could do about that one.
As much as Ping tried to get used to the New City, it just wasn’t his kind of place. It was too clean, too friendly, too colourful, and definitely too positive. It wasn’t that he was negative, he just liked balance. These people were living in a shroud of denial so heavy they have no idea that the world around them was just itching to dissolve their illusion. Ping always felt this way when coming in, as though it was some kind of driving-force behind his action; to free the people from the false-hood their rulers had bred them into.
As they neared the centre of the town, the road gave way to paths, the houses gave way to trees, and everything became even more sterile. It wasn’t that he didn’t like nature either, it was that this wasn’t nature; it was a carefully prescribed positioning of real and fake plants to stimulate a passive behaviour in the population. Ping loved a good conspiracy, but the irony was, these days conspiracy was the truth, and their lives were a deception.
“You look pretty deep in thought there Ping, what’s up?”
“SSDD, Jay. Just thinking about these poor mopes and the sugar-coated fantasy they live in.”
“You have to admit, it’s very well done.”
“I guess so. I just can’t believe they have no idea what is really going on.”
“They don’t want to. They are given enough to make them feel as though they have a purpose, and a fulfilling life. They don’t care if they are really giving far more than they are receiving; expectations of freedom are a concept of a previous existence.”
“Not for me.”
“Or me, Ping. Just remember that although these people live a lie, they like it that way. Stand on the soap-box preaching the fallacy of their lives, and someone will take your head off.”
“I know. We live in the shadows. Still pisses me off though.”
“Good. Use that to wake them up to the reality of life. Just know that no-one will ever know it was you that made it happen.”
“Yeah, I know. I actually like the anonymity.”
“Not as many girls though.”
“You’d be surprised, Jay. Plenty of hacker groupies around the traps.”
“Well, just don’t tell them your real name.”
He looked at Ping and they both broke out laughing.
“So where are we going?”
“Right, about, here.”
Jay pulled into a driveway and got out, with Ping close behind. They walked to the doorway of a modest home, on a modest street, in a modest suburb. Looking around, Ping would have been lucky to remember a single detail, everything was so mundane it was making his skin crawl.
The door opened and a solid-built man, Ping picking in his fifties, saw Jay and started laughing out loud before ushering them inside. He closed the door and turned to look at his guests. They certainly weren’t the usual door knockers from the neighbourhood social groups.
He shook Jay’s hand, clasping his other hand over the top , “Jay bloody Stokes. What brings you to this side of the country?”
“Good to see you, Frank. I thought I’d bring my nephew over to get him set up with some proper hardware.”
Frank turned to Ping, looking him up and down. “Penny?”
Ping cringed at hearing his birth name. He missed his parents every day, not that he really knew them, but his name was one thing he could slap them for.
“It’s Ping now, Frank. He’s following in the family trade, you know, needs a handle and all.”
“Well, Ping, the last time I saw you, you were still in nappies and pulling on my beard.”
“Sorry, Sir. I don’t remember.”
Frank leaned in and gave him a big hug patting him on the back. “It’s just Frank buddy, no need for the formalities. Jeez, I wish your parents could see you now.”
Ping gave half a smile and turned to Jay, waiting for an explanation.
“Frank worked with your father and I back in the day. We generally keep our distance, best form of security.” He stopped and turned back to Frank. “But I’ve missed you man, it’s good to see you again.”
“Sure is, Jay. Now, let’s go and see what we can conjure up for the apprentice, huh?”
As they started walking down the hall, Jay put his arm around Frank’s shoulder. “He’s no apprentice now, Frank. The kid has skills. I swear they’re getting smarter and smarter.”
“He came from good stock.”
Jay looked back at Ping. “I guess he did.”
Ping was enjoying this. He didn’t know much about his parents, or his childhood. Their files were locked up so tight it was practically impossible to search anything on them, and when he did, trackers started wailing within seconds. This was nice; it was another piece in the puzzle of his life.
They entered the living room and sat on a few chairs in a circle. As they sat, Frank began tapping, before a table raised from the floor. A spherical holo expanded to the size of a beach ball, and started spinning slowly, scrambling in various forms of code, most of which Ping understood.
“So, Ping, what are you after?”
“That depends. What do you have access to?”
Frank looked at Jay and smiled. “Kid’s a bit green, huh?”
“I guess so. Fill him in.”
“Well, Ping, one of my first projects was the neuro-net base programme.”
“You were part of the team?”
“Kid, I WAS the team.”
“Daaaamn. Um, ok, Christ, I have, like, a million questions for you.”
“Maybe some other time. We don’t want to be hanging around here all day, the neighbours are probably already talking to each other about that POS your uncle parked in the driveway.”
“OK. What I want is a Phoenix Node, with Tier 1 Neural interface and a beta amplifier.”
Frank paused for a moment. “That’s some serious hardware kid. You sure you’re up for it?”
“Jay used to read me dissertations on neural-logic interfaces and diagnostics for bedtime stories. Apparently your dissertations. Don’t worry, I’m all over it.”
“Well knock me down with a feather. OK kid, you got it. Swing by in a few days and I’ll have it ready.”
Ping couldn’t hold back his smile as Frank stood up and shook his hand. He led them to the front door and gave Jay a pat on the back.
“Don’t be a stranger, Jay.”
“I’ll try, Frank; no promises.”
They left the house and got back in Jay’s car, heading back to Sydney. Ping was gobbing off non-stop about what a legend Frank was, and asking why Jay hadn’t introduced them before. Jay wasn’t talking too much, explaining to Ping that there had been some rough patches over the years between them all, and it was only recently that he was seeing them for the petty arguments they were, in the greater scheme of things.
Ping was ready to test out his new kit, but Jay reminded him to keep a lid on things for a while. He may now have one of the most advance signal hacking pieces of kit on the planet, but it had only been a few weeks since the Drop Net, and there was still a lot of buzz on the waves about who the instigators were. Ping hadn’t been in touch with the others since, as per their agreement, but today was the day they were going to meet up again.
Ping got his kit ready, and headed for the door, passing Jay who was at the table stripping his M40. He gave Jay a nod as he passed.
“How long are you gone for, kid?”
“Not sure Jay. We were talking about taking a road trip up the coast, catch up with a few of the others from the group for a few days.”
“Make sure you keep safe. You got the impulse?”
Ping tapped his ruck-sack and smiled.
“Don’t worry Jay, I can look after myself.”
“I know. But I am still allowed to worry.”
Ping walked over and kissed Jay on the top of his head, before heading for the door. It was an exciting day, he was going to be able to take his kit for a test run, finally. He had been mucking around with it for the last few weeks, offline, waiting for the heat to die down. He figured if they were on the move, there was bugger all chance of anyone getting a good lead on him.
The weather outside was looking stranger than usual; the distorted clouds and weaving ionization streams weren’t flowing as they usually do. It was getting harder and harder to anticipate the behaviour and compensate for the fluctuations. Still, it was what made the crew so good.
“Yo, Ping. Sup?”
Ping looked across the path and saw Truth leaning against a near-new Urban Rover.
“Where did you get that crang-ass family-van?”
“Funniest thing. You know the AU Motors plant? Well, it seems as though they accidentally misdirected a consignment, registered the vehicles, and left them in a park for anyone to take. The whole lot are legit too, don’t even exist on their production manifest, but registered in the MVDB anyway.”
Wow, that is amazing”, Ping was trying to use his sarcastic voice, but never got the hang of it. “So, hacked any MVDB’s lately?”
“NO idea what you’re talking about. C’mon Ally and Itch are waiting for us.” Truth winked at Ping and headed around to the driver’s side.
They both jumped in, Ping instantly smelling the new vehicle finish. It had been a long time since he had been in anything other than a train or Jay’s car. This was different, he could almost feel himself becoming comfortable and passive. He quickly pulled out his knife and carved his initials in the dash.
“Hey man, what are you doing?”
“You’re car looked a bit suburban. Needs some customising.”
“Fair enough. I’m sure you can hack the surface algorithm and make her look a little more ‘us’?”
Ping pulled out the Phoenix Node and placed it on the dash. Truth swerved to the side of the road and slammed on the brake.
“Whoa, Ping, what the hell, man?”
He looked over at Ping who had his ‘kid in a candy shop’ smile again.
“Oh, you noticed. You like?”
“Daaaaaamn, man. That is some death hardware. Where the hell did you get it.”
“Custom made. Check this.”
He pulled out the other components and slipped the Neural Interface clip behind his ear.
“Yo man, you know what you’re doing with that stuff?”
“Maybe. Check out your new car.”
Truth got out and looked at the side panels, which were now shimmering like the sky, but in green instead of red. He looked back in at Ping and shook his head.
“Too much? Check this out.”
Truth looked back at the panels, that were now black-chrome, with faint red dragon scales over the surface. He jumped back in and started off. This was going to be one hell of a road-trip.
“So you gonna tell me where this came from?”
“I could, but I’d have to kill you.” Ping slid the impulse pistol half out of his sack.
Truth nearly swerved off the road again. Ping started laughing and slid the pistol back into the sack, before tucking it under his feet.
“Damn Truth, you twitchy!”
“Well, I didn’t know I was trucking around Secret Agent Ping, did I?”
“Nothing like that, man. Just Jay being all over-protective.”
“Well, don’t go killing any of us with that thing by mistake. You know how I feel about weapons.”
“Me too. But, times are changing, Truth. We’re in the big-time now.”
They picked up the others and got out of town with no problems. Ping was messing with the authorities all the way up the coast, whenever there was a sign they may be stopped or questioned, he made false reports over the police signals to clear the way. They were in Brisbane before they knew it.
“Where are we going, anyway?”
“Well, Ping, I have this contact that is keen to join the group. Has good creds, and has done a few cool hacks. Thought we could meet up and see if we’re like-minds.”
Ping looked over the back at Ally. “Where did you meet this person, Ally? You know we are a closed group unless everyone agrees otherwise.”
“Hey, relax Ping. I told Ally we could meet this one in a wide open public place. It’s no biggie man, he doesn’t know much about us.”
Ping looked over at Itch, then turned to Truth. “You knew about this too?”
“Nah, man. But I’m cool with it. Hey we’re trying to expand the network, aren’t we?”
“Yeah, I just don’t like being on the outside. What is the handle?”
“Dude’s name is Loach.”
Ping got immediately on to scanning for information. He didn’t find a hell of a lot other than a few decent hacks, one on the UTF database, which wasn’t bad. It was actually a little un-nerving that he couldn’t find more. This guy was good at covering whatever the hell he was into.
They arrived at the park, which was all-but deserted. They set up on a bench in the middle of the park, each having a clear view past the other for a full 360 view. Almost immediately, they saw a young man walking over from the street. He was around 6’ tall, scruffy hair, studs and tattoos on his face, and a leather ruck-sack. His image screamed hacker.
“Yo, Ally, behind you. I think your man is here.”
Ally stood up and turned around to greet the man. “Loach?”
“Hey Ally. Good to see you.”
“Yeah. Come over here and meet the others.”
Loach moved over and sat at the table, each of them introducing themselves. Loach saw Ping’s kit and smiled. He slid his own kit out, which was also a Node, but a few generations older than Pings.
“So, you like the neural stuff, Ping?”
“Once I got the hang of it. The damn things like to try and mess with your head if you don’t focus though.”
“Yeah, but synchronous q-bit decryption is damn fun.”
“Like a drug, huh?”
“The best kind.”
“I haven’t seen a unit like that before. Custom?”
“Yeah. Specifically configured for my neural processing pathways. DNA locked too, so a brick to anyone else.”
Ping realized he was going into far too much detail with someone he didn’t know. He let the excitement of meeting another neuro-user get the better of him, and gave himself a kick for it.
“Hey man, don’t worry about me. I’m just trying to make a difference and create a little anarchy.”
The group spent the afternoon at the table scanning the waves and creating a little signal mischief. It was more about finding their way around the place, and seeing who else was out there that had the skills and motivation to join their movement. It turned out that there wasn’t a lot going on, which left them all a little deflated.
“Hey, Ping. I have another job on the side, you may be interested in.”
Ping looked at the others, all of them shrugging their shoulders.
“What is it?”
“Commercial job. A group I know have a device they call a Biotronics decoder. Ever heard of it?”
“Neither. Apparently it’s a high-level Government project that makes Neural interfaces look like kids toys.”
“Why did they talk to you?”
“I’m the best around when it comes to nuero, they found me and made me an offer. It’s a damn good one. I could cut you in, you know, many hands make light work.”
“Dunno. I don’t even know you. Who are these people?”
“Not entirely sure, but they are tech. They have some pretty good encryption gear. I got around some of it and saw they dabble in a bit of Autohacking.”
“Maybe. Probably more. Runners are usually pretty low-tech.”
“Where are they?”
“Dunno, haven’t had a face to face yet. To be honest, I wouldn’t mind a bit of back-up.”
The others laughed hard. Ping scowled at them, but them saw the humour and laughed too.
“You know I weight, like, 40 kilo’s soaking wet, right?”
“Not what I meant. With your Phoenix, we can drop a cage over their base so heavy nothing will go in or out without us saying so. That is better insurance than any gun or knife.”
“I guess so.”
Ping looked at the others. They all nodded.
“Go on, Ping, this is what you have been looking for.” Itch gave him a wink and blew him a kiss.
“When do we go?”
“Now, if you want.”
“OK, let’s see what these guys have for us. A Biotronics Decoder sounds kind of trip.”
Ping had agreed to contact the others in the morning. He left with Loach, who was talking non-stop about the Biotronics Decoder and everything he expected it would do. Of course, he didn’t really know yet as he hadn’t actually managed to crack it, but anything that used DNA as part of its source code had to be pretty serious kit.
“You ever heard of anything like that, Ping?”
“Yeah, I have actually. There was a dark-agency with the Government working on something like it years ago. I found some info on it in an abandoned storage core in the UoS before everything got locked down.”
“Damn, never heard of that.”
“You wouldn’t have, it was buried pretty deep. Anyway, they were trying to make circuits out of organic material, using manipulated DNA to control the logic gates.”
“And they did it?”
“Nah, looked like they gave up after a decade of trying. I guess it was just easier to use DNA manipulation in living plants and animals to get their results.”
“What results were they looking for?”
“No idea, but it’s a pretty interesting idea. I mean a circuit that doesn’t rely on electricity, and can be tuned for any output or environmental adaptation you want. Think of the possibilities.”
“Oh, I have been. In fact, the client has too.”
“Well I didn’t want to scare you back there, but yeah, they are involved with Autohacking. But, apparently that is small game, they want to change the country, not just play around with it.”
“So they for real? I don’t do shit for corporate money-grabbers.”
“They definitely ain’t corporate. They lend themselves more to the anarchist side of the ledger. You know much about Autohacking?”
“Well street crews run jobs in competition for wealthy clients. Mostly low-rent stuff the clients do for fun at parties, but every now and then a big job comes along. Half of the corrupt politicians that get busted have information gained from them by Runners.”
“Yeah, but who tips the Runners in the first place?”
“Does it matter? I mean, as long as scum bags are exposed.”
“It matters if the tippers are bigger scum bags.”
There was a silence for a moment as they both sat in contemplation.
“Still, the Biotronics stuff does intrigue me. And I bet we could cause some serious havoc with custom design systems. Let’s see where this goes, Loach.”
“It goes right here.”
Loach raised his head as he pulled into a carpark. It was an empty lot in an industrial area on the edge of town. The building looked shabby from the outside; mainly rusty steel cladding and broken windows, but they had serious security. Ping had his node active, and it was almost screaming to keep up with all of the signal jammers and relays being thrown around.
“They have swarm phasing on their signal blockers, strong as hell too.”
“Told you they were serious.”
“Not serious enough, I’m in. You didn’t tell me these guys were the bloody Wing’ Tan.”
“Does it matter?”
“If the stories are true, then yeah. These guys are ruthless.”
“Well, be thankful you are on their side of the ledger as-of now. And welcome to the big-time.”
Ping all of a sudden felt like Jay’s house was plenty exciting enough. He had heard a lot of stories about Wing’ Tan, and none of them good. In saying that, he had skills they needed, and there was no doubt they had resources. He would just have to keep his guard up and be ready to break at any time.
As his thoughts began to build into anxiety, the door to the factory opened. A tall slim woman in a red evening dress stepped out. She looked stunning, both Ping and Loach found themselves staring. As she neared the car Ping thumped Loach on the arm, snapping him out of it. They opened the doors and got out.
The woman walked over to them. “Good evening boys, I am Trina. It is an absolute pleasure to meet you.”
“Uh, yeah”, Loach muttered “Nice to meet you too.”
“Don’t be shy boys, I can assure you, we are not the big bad monsters the punters on the streets paint us as, we just like to let that image hang.”
Ping knew she was full of it. They were every bit as dangerous as the slit in the side of her dress, but he figured antagonising the silver-tongued devil was not the right way to start the meeting.
“Come with me boys, we will go and meet the others. Trust me, you are going to love working with us, we have all the best toys. And, anything we don’t have, we will get, no questions asked.”
Loach nudged Ping in the shoulder as they followed Trina to the door, never taking his eyes off the back of her dress. The scenery wasn’t lost on Ping, he was already enchanted by her, even though he knew that was the very reason she was there.
They entered the building, the door closing behind. As Ping looked around, there wasn’t a lot going on, a scattering of industrial machines with people working at them, making objects he didn’t recognise or care about. He knew this was just the front, and only hoped they weren’t about to get drugged and put in a box, or worse.
As they entered another doorway across the building and walked down a narrow stairwell, he realized he couldn’t have been further from the truth. The room opened out into a plush lounge, surrounded with mirrored walls, leather lounge suites, and crystal chandeliers.
“You look surprised, Ping.”
He looked at Trina. “Just never figured a place like this for Runner’ digs.”
“That is because we are not your average runners.”
The deep and smooth male voice startled Ping as he spun on his heels. Standing in front of him was a tall, dark-skinned man. He was beaming a wide smile and held his hand out, shaking with Ping first, then Loach.
“My name is Seek, and it is an absolute pleasure to meet you.”
“Uh, yeah. Sure. I’m Ping.”
“Yes, Loach has told me plenty about you. I must say, if your skills are as impressive as Loach says, we are going to do wonderful things together.”
Ping was suddenly feeling like this hadn’t been a chance meeting with Loach. In fact, he had no doubt this had all been set up; the meeting with Ally, the old-tech Node he was carrying to get Ping’s interest, the lot. Not that it made a lot of difference right now, he was in whether he liked it or not. As the thoughts kept rushing through his head, he decided to make the most of the situation and see what all the fuss was about with the Biotronics stuff.
“So, Loach tells me you have something interesting for us to work on.”
“Indeed. However, I must advise you, everything you see is not to leave this building, physically or by code. Do you understand?”
Seek’s voice hardened a little at the end of his sentence, which wasn’t necessary as Ping already had the picture.
“Yeah, of course. I’m here for the Tech man, whatever else Wing’ Tan is into is your business.”
“Good. Glad we understand.”
Seek turned and put his arm around Ping’s shoulder, leading him towards a back room. Loach followed behind, smiling as Ping looked back over his shoulder at him. Whatever Ping had though he was getting into, was only the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately, he was the only one in the room who didn’t know this.
Most people never have a true turning point in their lives. There are distractions, persuasions, and diversions, but your path is your path. That is what Ping thought throughout his life. Although he was young, his ideology was as firm and focused as any worldly mind. He had an entrenched distrust of the authorities and politicians, and knew it was his fate to open the eyes of the world to the deception they were faced with. He found it almost inconceivable that even though they had torn the sky with failed attempts at Geo-engineering, destroyed most of the remaining global food crops through corporate corruption, and even created near fascist governments, that the people still had faith in the system. Given a gift of advanced tech from his Uncle, Ping goes on a road trip with his crew, but there is no way he could have expected the trip to end up in a place that would question his own morals and how far he was willing to go. This short story is part of a series of background stories from the key characters in the Red Shift Novel series. Take a glimpse into Sydney next century, and see what we all know is coming.