He was staring at the moon.
‘Hrm?’ He turned from the window, back to the panel of executives bathed in the neon glow of the board room lighting.
‘I asked about your experiences with the Weyland Consortium in London.’
‘Right.’ He sniffed, took the kerchief from his pocket. ‘You want to know how many people I killed, then?’
The executives looked between one another. The woman gave a nervous laugh. ‘No, Mister Larson. That’s not what I asked.’
‘’Course it is. Christ, you people have global control of the god-damned information network. You’re not stupid. Jackie-Boy upstairs at the Consortium paid you under the table for a cover-up or two in his time.’ He wiped the kerchief between his fingers. ‘So when you ask me about my “experiences” what you really want to know is how many people I killed.’
She began to shuffle her papers. ‘There’s clearly been some misunderstanding, Mister Larson. I think we’re done here.’ They stood.
‘Do you want me to solve your problem?’
The executives paused. ‘What problem is that?’
He laughed. ‘C’mon, give me a little credit. I’m not stupid, either. You’re the Spark Agency, the number one advertising division of the NBN globally. Right now, your problem is that you’re running out of space. Even if you don’t know it yet.’
She looked to her colleagues. They sat back down. ‘Tell us more.’
‘Right. So, what you have now is a world populated with screens. TV, Sensies, PAD’s. Everywhere people look, you’re throwing merch and money-grabs in their face.’ He took a cigarette from his breast pocket and slipped it between his lips.
‘You can’t smoke that in-’
‘You wanna hear this or not?’
They were silent.
‘Right.’ He lit the cigarette. ‘So. When an Agency that built it’s reputation on being innovative runs out of places to shove it’s advertising, that causes a big fucking problem.’ He took a drag, walked up to the table. ‘And to answer your earlier question, that’s what I did for Jack Weyland in London: I solved problems. Now, I'm determined to do the same for you. I want to succeed, and if I'm being honest, you need someone like me.’ He ashed the cigarette in her water glass.
She watched the black and grey tobacco simmer and drown. The glass was stained with her dark lipstick. ‘We may understand one another, Mister Larson. How would you solve our problem?’
He smiled, took another drag. ‘Like our forefathers, Ma’am.’ He walked back to the window, out at the moon. ‘We need to look to the sky.’
‘Take me through it.’ She said, six months later in his offices below R&D.
‘Right, so we take the Ocular Enhancement and calibrate it to respond to the subscribers only.’ He told her, sleeves rolled up, gesturing to the glowing projection of the blueprints over the table.
‘We’re commissioning the enhancements through Haas?’
‘Please.’ He scoffed. ‘Jinteki. I only work with the best.’
She made a note. ‘And how does the calibration respond to the subscribers?’
He flicked to the next projection; the moon, news headlines drifting across the surface. ‘Once payment has gone through, the enhancement will allow the subscriber to read the AstroScript.’
‘Working title.’ He lit another cigarette.
‘If Haas or any of the people up in Heinlein get a hold of this, they won’t be happy.’
‘Your lawyers have been over it a thousand times. They found no laws prohibiting the AstroScript. But I knew that already, as I told you.’
‘We like to be thorough.’
‘Sure.’ He ashed the cigarette on the table.
‘Regardless. We don’t want another corporate war like we had in the forties. If any of our servers are compromised we-’
‘They wont be.’ He flicked to another projection: Lines of thick, blue and green code. ‘I REZZED this last night.’
It reflected in her dark irises as she read it. ‘That’s not our ICE.’
‘No. I brought it over from Weyland.’
‘You installed Consortium ICE on our servers?’
‘Without our permission?’
He blinked. ‘Did I need it?’
Her eyes wide, pointing at the projection. ‘How much data did that beast chew up when you REZZED it, Larson?’
‘A fair bit, actually. I had to delete some shit you guys had kicking around. Some VR Project named Beale.’
She stared daggers at him. ‘Excuse me?’
‘You heard me.’ He dragged.
‘You deleted the Beale Project? What the- What the hell do you think you’re doing here?’
‘Ain’t nobody getting in our server. Not through that.’ He nodded toward it. ‘The Archer has blocked out the Consortium more than once. We know to make sacrifices. Where I come from, the protection is guaranteed.’
‘I can’t not report this, Larson.’
‘Do as you like.’
She took up her PAD and stormed toward the door.
‘Did you see the initial sweeps reports?’ He said.
She turned. 'What?’
He flicked to the next projection. ‘These are the projections for the first hour of sales once the AstroScript goes live.’
Her mouth fell open.
'With that kind of loot, you can start and complete a new Beale Project in a third of the time. So maybe don’t bother reporting anything other than that.’ He grinned.
She pursed her lips, livid. ‘If there is any compromise in our servers, it’s your head.'
'I told you, I'm determined for this to succeed. You'll see.'
She turned toward the door.
‘Off the record, Ma’am?’
She looked at him.
‘You’re pretty sexy when you get all flustered.’
‘Off the record, Larson, you can go fuck yourself.’
She left him alone, smoking and smiling by the glow of the projection.
He woke up at the rig when he heard the security beeping.
Larson rubbed his eyes and squinted at the projection of the AstroScript data on his monitor. The beeping persisted.
He flicked the window to view the ICE code. ‘Looky here.’ He muttered, seeing the little spots of red in the green-and-blue as some ass-wipe hacker tried to poke through Archer.
A moment later, the red vanished and the beeping stopped.
‘Fuck off, you little prick.’ Larson swallowed the last of the whiskey at his desk and went back to sleep.
The ballroom was full to the brim with executives, NBN presenters, Sensie stars and sycophants.
‘AstroBar, sir?’ The waitress asked him, extending a silver platter laden with the new chocolate treat NBN had developed to promote the upcoming AstroScript Program.
‘Thank you, love, but no.’
The waitress nodded and moved onto the next suit. Larson sipped his Champaign and nursed his headache. The flashes of cameras floating through the ballroom made him nauseous. The lights were too bright, the outfits too ostentatious, the laughter too pretentious.
He pushed through the throng and out onto the balcony. Two-hundred floors up, and somehow the streets were still loud and bright. At least the air was cool. Looking up, past the towering scrapers around them, he saw the moon through the clouds.
‘No photo ops for you, Larson?’
He turned around. She had followed him outside, wine in hand, her dress slightly less obnoxious than the rest. ‘Your people offended that I’m missing out on the chance to rub elbows with Jackson Howard?’
‘He’s had more work done. I think his entire face is a plastic mould, these days.’ She leaned against the balustrade next to him.
‘It’s not really my scene, Ma’am.’
‘No. You’re used to being behind the cameras.’
‘Behind. Below. Out of sight completely.’
She smiled. ‘Why did you move, Larson?’
‘You grew up in London, right? Why leave the Consortium and come all the way to SanSan to get a job as an Ad Man?’
He sipped his Champaign. ‘My grandfather.’
‘There is a story here. I might be too tipsy to hear it.’
‘The best stories are told while tipsy, Ma’am.’
‘Then tell me.’
He shrugged. ‘Not a lot to it, really. My Mum died pretty young, and my Pop, he left me with Granddad a lot because he’d go out drinking. Granddad used to put me to bed, telling me all the stories of when he was young, how he dreamed of going to the moon. How he’d lay down in the grass with his Old Man and talk about going all the way up there one day. Looking. Dreaming.
‘Then, when Weyland built the Beanstalk, turns out anyone could go. And everyone did. It just became another money grab. Anotherthing, as he used to say. And he said our world had too manythings.’
‘But then you went to work for Weyland?’ She said.
‘My Granddad was dead and buried before I turned eighteen. I wasn’t exactly looking to live up to anyone’s expectations. In London these days, you gotta take the work you can get. But part of me always lamented the fact that nobody ever looked up at the moon in wonderment anymore. It seemed such a strange concept. I mean, the Beanstalk had been around twenty years before I was born. Granddad was right. There was nothing special about it no more.’
‘So why aren’t you celebrating? Next week when the AstroScript goes live, the moon will be special again.’ She said.
He took the kerchief from his pocket and wiped his fingers. ‘Just hard to celebrate, I guess. Part of me thinks I should have started my career with this.’
‘Instead of the Consortium?’
‘It can’t have been that bad.’
He was silent for a moment, looking down at the crisp white kerchief. ‘It was.’
She sipped her wine, gazed over the edge of the balustrade at the SanSan streets hundreds of floors below.
His PAD started to beep. He took it from his breast pocket and read the message. ‘I’ve got to go.’
He forced a smile. ‘Enjoy the party, Ma’am.’
He left her alone, drinking in the cold.
Back in the limousine, Larson booted up his laptop rig. ‘Back to the Agency!’ He barked at the driver, who booted up the car and tore into the traffic.
Larson checked the message on his PAD again, and flicked the Laptop monitor to view the AstroScript code. He breathed a sigh of relief. He flicked again to view the ICE and panicked.
The Archer code was dotted with red, and it was spreading. ‘Fuck.’
He dialed on his PAD and plugged the voice outlet into the socket at the back of his neck and began typing away at his laptop, sliding in his seat as the limo turned a corner.
‘Security.’ The dial answered. ‘This is Lane.’
‘Lane. This is Larson from R&D.’
‘Larson, what’s up?’
‘Some fucker is running on the AstroScript.’
‘So what? Archer is up, right?’
Larson grit his teeth. ‘Open your fucking monitor you fat prick.’
A pause. ‘Oh shit.’
‘Oh shit is right. I need you to boot them.’
‘Gimme a sec.’
Larson waited four seconds, watching the Archer code being torn apart.
‘They’re using some Stealth Program. It’s ripping out the Subroutines on Archer.’
‘I’m not six fucking years old, I can see that. Do your job and get rid of it!’
‘Christ, settle down.’
‘Settle down? Lemme tell you; when the execs wake up tomorrow to find the Astro Code all over the fucking internet, they’re going to rip my head of, and I’ll make it my solemn duty to make sure they come for you next!’
‘Alright, alright. I’ll have to run a trace to their rig, and then fry out the program from there.’
‘Just to their rig?’
‘Yep. Shall I execute?’
Larson thought for a moment, watching the code slowly spread with more red. ‘Execute.’
It was silent but for the sound of the traffic while Lane ran his trace and fired off his counter-measures.
‘Done.’ Lane said.
Larson watched the monitor. A second later, the red vanished, replaced with the regular blue and green. Larson sighed and leant back in his seat.
‘See?’ Lane said, chewing. ‘No big deal.’
Larson breathed slowly, eyes lazily on the code. 'That’ll be all, Keegan. Thanks for-’
Larson stopped. The red had returned to the code and was eating away at three times the pace as before.
‘Whoa.’ Lane said.
‘What the fuck is happening?’
‘They must be executing some self-modifying code to continue through.’
‘Well fucking blast it!’
‘I don’t have time!’
Larson watched helpless as his screen turned red, and Archer vanished.
‘They’re in.’ Lane said.
Larson trembled. He flicked back to the AstroScript code and watched it vanish from the screen, leaving a black space.
‘They- Did they just-’ Larson muttered.
‘It’s gone.’ Lane said, dumbfounded. ‘They took it, Larson. They took it all.’
Later, he was drinking in R&D, looking at the projection of the blank space where the AstroScript had been.
He’d tossed his jacket on the table and rolled his sleeves up. His suspenders were chaffing him. His PAD was blinking with a message from her, but he hadn’t checked it yet. He was thinking.
This was a problem. A big problem.No different to problems he'd dealt with in the past. But he had rules for himself now. He had goals and perimeters.
He had left aspects of himself in London, and he didn't want to be forced to dredge them up.
He dialed Lane.
‘Oh. Hey there, man. Um. You tell them yet?’
‘Lane. I need the trace data from earlier.’
‘The trace data? Why?’
‘Just send it through to me, would you?’
‘Okay, gimme a sec.’ The PAD pinged. ‘Done.’
‘Don’t tell anyone.’ Larson disconnected.
He reached over and refilled his whiskey before checking his PAD. Lane had sent the trace data. He saved it, then checked the message from her:
Larson, u ok? U need to relax. This launch will mean big things for u :)
He rubbed his eyes and sipped his whiskey. He dialed another number.
They answered instantly.
‘It’s Larson.’ He paused. ‘I need a favour.’
The Limo pulled up outside the HabStack apartment building at 3am.
‘Sixty-third floor. Apartment seven.’ Mills told him over the dial.
‘You’re sure?’ Larson asked.
‘Have you ever had to ask me that?’
‘Everything okay, Larson? You sound stressed. You were never stressed when you where with us.’
‘I know, Liz. I’ll be fine.’
‘You know we’ll have you back, if you ever change your mind.’ She said.
Larson paused. ‘We’ll see. Thanks again for this.’
He left the limo and went into the building. The scrubber on his PAD made short work of the shitty security lock, and moments later he was in the elevator, gliding up to the sixty-third floor.
The building was old, downtown SanSan, dated back to the twenties. The plascrete walls were chipped, the hallway was bathed in an off yellow from the ancient glow globes.
It stunk of urine.
Larson walked slowly toward apartment seven.
He stopped outside the door, staring at the flickering hologram displaying the number at eye level. He took the leather gloves from his pocket and pulled them on before using his scrubber to scramble the lock on the door.
The apartment stunk worse than the hallway. No lights, just what little filtered in through the windows on the balcony, the flickering nodes on the massive rig in the corner of the lounge.
Pizza boxes and take-away containers were piled on the bench top before the array of monitors scanning code.
On the beaten up sofa, he found his prize.
The Runner was splayed out in his boxers. Cables ran from outlets in his spinal column to the rig in the wall. He was sleeping, his fingertips coated with flavouring from the packet of crisps scrunched up on the carpet.
Larson drew the pistol from his belt and walked to the sofa. He curled his gloved fingers around the cords in the Runner’s neck. He yanked them out.
The Runner gasped, spasming, slapping his face as his nerve-endings dealt with the abrupt disconnection. ‘Wha-what-what-what!’
‘Fucking Stim-Tripper.’ Larson said, dropping the cables at his feet, looming above the Runner.
He was only young. A kid. Orange Mohawk and track marks up his legs. Cybernetics scars on his neck and chest, the kind you get from backyard genetics parlours.
He screamed again when he saw Larson.
‘Shut the fuck up.’ Larson said, pistol aimed squarely at the kid.
‘Whatever you think I did, I didn’t.’
‘You grow up here?’ Larson said.
‘Fucking tweaker. I asked if you grew up here.’
‘Huh? Look man, I didn’t-’
Larson whipped him across the face with his pistol. The kid wailed, spitting blood and half a tooth onto the exposed stuffing of the couch.
‘You grew up here, didn’t you?’ Larson said. ‘Here in SanSan. Downtown. Place stinks. Like shit. You know its stinks like shit here, right? I grew up in a place like this. East End London. Ever been? The fuck, ‘course you haven’t.’
‘Wha-what the fuck you want man?’ The kid had his jittering hands up near his face, legs curled up in the fetal position.
Larson looked around. ‘I had to grow up hard. My Mum was dead. Dad got capped from a gambling debt. Just me and my Granddad most of the time. He raised me hard, kid. Not like you. You’re soft, sitting here, like a coward behind your monitor thinking you can just do what you want. Hack in, run on servers that don’t belong to you just so you can steal someone else’s hard work.’
‘Look man, I promise you, I didn’t have anything to do wi-’
Larson pressed the pistol to the kid’s head. ‘Speak again without being asked and I’ll spatter that stim-riddled brain of yours across the sofa.’
The kid was shivering, bony spine shifting beneath a thin layer of pale skin. He nodded frantically.
‘Point is, kid, people like me are out there trying to make an honest wage. Trying to change the world. Trying to give people a better fucking tomorrow. Put an end to life styles like this so little kids like you and me didn’t have to grow up hard and fuck up like you and me both did. That’s my point.’ Larson sighed, lowered the pistol. ‘We’re both products of the same environment. You’re a natural reaction. For every market a sub-market grows. Lemme ask you; you think we can change? Like, honestly change?’
'I-I-I dunno man. I dunno. Whatever you want. You can change I guess? I dunno-I dunno!'
'I wanted to change. Really did, you know. I reckon I came pretty close. Going straight and all that.'
The kid was weeping silently, eyes wide, glistening, shivering.
Larson knocked the empty soft drink cans from the coffee table and sat down opposite the kid. ‘I swore when I came to SanSan that I’d put this shit behind me. I’d made the contacts. I had an idea, I had the skills. NBN had the money to make it happen. But then a fucking stain like you turns eighteen months of good, honest work into shit.’
‘I’ve got it- I’ve still got it- You can have it back!’
Larson raised the pistol again. ‘Did I not make myself fucking clear before? Shut. The fuck. Up.’
He nodded frantically. Hands twitching. Blood was leaking from the outlets in his neck.
‘So, here I am. Here. Doing this shit again. I swore I wouldn’t. People were starting to recognize me for my real qualities. Not just my affinity for violence. So you, kid, have made a dishonest man out of me. What’s the adequate punishment for that?’
The kid was silent.
Larson slammed the butt of the pistol into his kneecap and the kid screamed.
‘I asked you a fucking question!’
‘Right-right-right! I dunno! I dunno! Please don’t kill me. Please. Please don’t kill me. Please-please-please-please!’
Larson sniffed, shaking his head at the sniveling mess before him. ‘What did you do with the code you stole?’
‘I'm still decrypting it! I swear! It’s still in my rig, it’s untouched and hasn’t been distributed! I swear!’
Larson glanced at the monitors behind him, then to the huge console in the corner. ‘You swear it?’
‘I swear! Honest man, honest-honest-honest!’
‘You know it’s easy for me to find out if you’re lying?’
‘I know! I know! That’s why I’m telling the truth.’
Larson nodded. He stood and plugged his PAD into the console. He waited a few moment for it to calibrate, and then downloaded the AstroScript Code and reloaded it into the server at R&D. ‘Okay. Okay then. C’mon.’ He gave the kid a pat on the shoulder. ‘Wanna know what you stole?’
‘What you stole. Wanna know what is it?’ Larson took his PAD from his pocket.
‘Urhm. Sure? I guess.’
‘You have Ocular Enhancements?’
The kid nodded.
‘Get up.’ He grabbed the kid by the back of the neck as he scrambled to his feet. Larson walked him around the couch and through the a screen door onto the balcony.
It was cold, so far up. The kid shivered more, his skinny frame turning blue.
‘Set your oculars to this frequency. The subscription.’ Larson showed him on the PAD.
The kid nodded, and did so.
‘Look up.’ Larson pointed to the sky, through the clouds. He thumbed something on his PAD. ‘I’ve just launched it. It’s global now. You’re the first person to see it. Can you see it? Can you see it up there?’
The kid was shivering, Larson could feel his terror through the back of his neck as he pushed him closer, forcing him to face up at the sky as they both pressed against the ledge of the balcony.
The oculars in the kid’s pupils switched on.
They were staring at the moon.
‘Can you see it?’ He asked.
The AstroScript Pilot Program launched at 3:11am. But this was news to the executives of NBN.
She’d been woken at five in the morning by a dozen different dials and unread messages, each of them imploring her to explain as to why the Program launched a full week prior to the date.
But the numbers were there. Countless credits from AstroScript subscribers.
Even still, the execs didn’t take kindly to multi-billion credit projects launching early without consent. And so, she found herself storming into Larson’s office beneath Spark Agency R&D, fire in her belly and gravel in her guts, two junior partners in her wake, heeled feet clacking on the linoleum floor.
‘Larson?’ She called out. ‘Larson where are you?’
The room was empty. Above the table was projected a message. The execs all read it in silence.
‘He resigned?’ One of them said. ‘I know we were about to give him a scalding, but resigning now means he’s forfeiting his cut.’
She frowned. ‘It’s fine. I’ll take it from here. Back upstairs, both of you.’
The execs left her, closing the doors behind them.
She sat down at the rig, moving Larson's suit jacket and leather gloves that had been piled on the chair. She looked over the monitors, eyeing the projection and reading it over once more. ‘Hell, Larson.’
She leaned back in the chair and lazily navigated to the projection of credits currently flooding in from AstroScript subscribers. She sat silently for a while, considering why he might have left so suddenly, especially as his big project had launched to such success.
Smiling to herself, she booted up the monitor and changed the projection above the table to that of the moon, huge, detailed, rotating slowly. She paired it down, removing Heinlein, removing the beanstalk, removing the mines, removing the satellites. Then it was just a moon: Big, wonderous, unreachable. Floating in the sky. Alone.
She thought he might have liked that.
Something on his jacket caught her eye. White and red.
She moved the gloves and pulled out the suspenders and reached into the coat pocket.
Inside was Larson's kerchief.
It was stained with blood.
3 Nov 2015 chaosjuggler
3 Nov 2015 Nevofix
3 Nov 2015 aeternii
3 Nov 2015 Alsciende
3 Nov 2015 Alsciende
3 Nov 2015 ZiNOS
3 Nov 2015 lolpaca
3 Nov 2015 lowflyingbando
3 Nov 2015 coyotemoon722
3 Nov 2015 Leviathan
4 Nov 2015 benticurus
4 Nov 2015 crushedguava
4 Nov 2015 BigBadWolf
6 Nov 2015 vesper
6 Nov 2015 Synisill
6 Nov 2015 ergh99
9 Nov 2015 GordonsBeard
9 Nov 2015 Evernothing
9 Nov 2015 BigBadWolf
11 Nov 2015 magikot
12 Nov 2015 Crauseon
28 Dec 2015 iceqs