Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Human Black Box: Devil's Advocate Part 6

It's a been a while since I posted a new Human Black Box. I've been busy at work, so I haven't had a chance to get ahead like I'd want to, but I'm still far enough ahead that the only reason they haven't been posted is because I've forgotten to. While I'm burning the midnight oil tonight, I figured I might as well set up Part 6. Hopefully, I'll get Part 7 up tomorrow.

Last time around, things picked up when Chloe and Zira found themselves confronted with two unusual things - the ego that M&M brought back from Earth (a Christbot), and a wily and skillful Cameron, who managed to get the drop on them by complete surprise (sleeving in a flat? And then pretending to be bioconservative and an idiot to get them to drop their guard?). Today's HBB picks up with Chloe and Zira, following Chloe's resleeving.

So let's roll the footage!

                Consciousness was slow in returning. The sense of self was even slower – it felt like being a coma, or a deep sleep, with no memories of what happened immediately before it. All Chloe could remember was the ringing in her ears. She flexed her fingers gently, looking down at the familiar naked body of her Ghost.
                At least there wouldn’t be any weird, reintegration issues.
                She still felt sick to her stomach, though.
                Azure: [I’m here, Chloe.]
                Chloe: [What the fuck happened?]
                Azure: [I don’t know.]
                Chloe sat up, perhaps a bit too fast, and felt really sick. She almost threw up, but her ghost hadn’t eaten anything. It was just dry heaving.
                She felt two hands on her shoulders, gently pushing her back, and Zira’s familiar face stared at her. Not the uplifted chimpanzee face, but the face of the transsexual XP porn star.
                She hobbled over beside Chloe, sitting down beside her.
                “Take it easy,” Zira said, easing into the seat.
                “What happened?” Chloe asked.
                “Boom, headshot,” Zira said, using her forefinger and thumb to mimic the action of gun.
                “Headshot. Right,” Chloe said, feeling ill. Resleeving was always accompanied by vertigo. Regardless what it was in. “What about you?”
                “Shot me a couple of times,” Zira said.
                “What got hurt?”
                “Chest, mostly. Scars heal. I’m still just as pretty as ever. A shot to the lower abdomen; didn’t fuck me up too bad. Nothing some time in a healing pod couldn’t fix.”
                Chloe smiled.
                “I feel sick.”
                “I bet you do. I’m going to drop a lot of info on you, and maybe Azure can do something with it. I know you won’t be able to.”
                “Okay,” Chloe said, closing her eyes as the room spun around her.
                “The Calix identity is actually owned by several individuals; none of them related. The first one that I found was a Starware employee. Now, Starware is a hypercorp out of Korolev Shipyard on Luna. You probably remember them; you bought that cute little creeper robot from them.”
                Chloe nodded, but not too much, to avoid getting sick.
                “Well, Starware has it out for Omnicore. It doesn’t take a lot of digging to figure that out. The primary use of the Calix identity – now, anyway – is a corporate saboteur.”
                “So wait,” Chloe said. “He took the identity of a corporate saboteur to sneak into the manufacturing part of Zygote so he could steal a Christ-bot from an illegal group of interdiction runners who were hiding out there?”
                “In a nut-shut,” Zira said.
                “Damn,” Chloe said. “That’s… terrifying that he could pull that off.”
                “Not really. It takes a lot. He masked his kinesics profile well enough to hide his identity from us, and he didn’t need to hide it from Omnicore because he was a nobody, and he could just fly under the radar.”
                “How long was Calix working at Omnicore?”
                “Two weeks. He was an indentured. At least, the Calix that Cameron was playing as. I’m sure that someone who owns the Calix identity actually is an indentured, and that’s why the information got scrambled. Or why Cameron was able to borrow it and use it to go through Starware as a corporate saboteur and get into Omnicore, working for Starware under the pretenses of trying to undermine Omnicore. I’m predicting right now that the Calix identity will promptly be retired. It’s only got two of the largest hypercorps looking for it now, and the next sap who picks it up will be shot dead and their ego never heard from again.”
                “I don’t understand how that works. Doesn’t the identity come with its own kinesics profile? Wouldn’t a hypercorp run a whole bunch of searches to make sure? If you could find that the Calix identity was used by multiple individuals, why couldn’t they?”
                Zira shrugged. “Possibly because they were a low-end corporate saboteur, rather than an actual high-gun, high-profile one? I mean, if they were hiring a high end corporate saboteur, then I’m sure they’d run all sorts of background checks, identity scans, kinesics profiles and other searches that we can barely being to understand. But because he was just a small fry, they might not have felt the need to do go through the whole battery of tests. That’s just my theory anyway.”
                “So he was basically like a fire-and-forget missile.”
                “It took some effort to figure out the guy worked for Starware, so I suppose that’s what he was designed for, anyway.”
                Chloe tried to put it together, but all she got was a vertigo-induced blank.
                “My head hurts,” she muttered. “Azure, you are taking notes, right?”
                Azure: [Absolutely.]
                Chloe smiled faintly. “None of it is sticking, Zira, but keep going anyway.”
                “Well, I went backwards tracking the Calix identity. Cameron was really smart, because he used a pseudonym to get the rep to actually buy the Calix identity. Unfortunately, he wasn’t that smart. The identity he used? Oreskovich.”
                “Oreskovich. It’s an Eastern European name from Ruritania. He is a ‘nationalized Polish Englishman’ or something like that who, as one would expect claiming membership in an Old Earth state, has a bit of C-rep but not much else.”
                “So how’d he pull it off with just C-rep? Who’s the real owner?”
                “Not sure. The Calix identity was owned by a few people, but because you’re dealing with six or seven different pseudonyms between you and that person, the only thing I’m left to work with that we know who one of them is that’s used it, and so we focus on that person. He might have pulled rep from another identity to buy it, though. I’m not sure.”
                Chloe nodded. “I’m kind of cold. Is there a blanket or something?”
                Zira nodded, reaching down inside of a bag.
                “After they get done scanning and making sure everything is all set, they’ll let me take you home and you can crash for the rest of the day.”
                Zira draped a blanket over her, tucking it into her sides as she continued talking.
                “So, knowing that Cameron used the his Oreskovich identity to buy the Calix identity from whoever the handler of it at that time was, I started focusing more on his Oreskovich identity and digging up info on that.”
                “Wait,” Chloe said, something striking her. “Why wasn’t he smart to use the Oreskovich identity? I mean, even if it made it up, I would never associate Oreskovich with Cameron.”
                “Because Oreskovich was one of the identities that Cameron, the fiction character, used in the first book of the series. It’s almost a throw-away line – a blink and you’ll miss it sort of thing. But I spotted it anyway. Because we’ve got a whole group of people modeling themselves after characters in a book that most people have never even heard of, and Cameron, we’re pretty sure, belongs to that group, it was a fair assumption for me at the time to assume that Oreskovich was his identity. I went digging in simulspace and on the Mesh, and sure enough, all of the Mesh interviews with this Oreskovich character match Cameron’s kinesics profile. Cameron is Oreskovich. He’s covering his tracks really fucking well. Just not well enough.”
                “So we’re not dealing with some sort of biocon noob then, or some kind of clumsy, bone-headed conservative evangelical,” Chloe said. “This guy is a professional.”
                “If not a professional, then certainly a semi-professional. That’s why I strongly think he’s a Jovian agent.”
                “So he’s working through a whole bunch of fake names. Did you try to track him down through his Mesh interactions?”
                “He used a disposable ecto for most of his simulspace and Mesh interactions and transactions. Like I said; if he’s not a professional, he’s pretty damn good at pretending to be.”
                Chloe was beginning to think a little more clearly, but the haze hadn’t completely lifted yet. “So… if you can find him, what makes us think the Hypercorps haven’t already gotten ahold of him?”
                “They’re probably too busy tracking down all of the individuals with associated with the Calix identity. At the end of the day, it’ll probably be a while before they can catch up with Cameron. We already know who it was by virtue of us knowing the flat that he sleeved his fork into. Omnicore doesn’t know that yet, and because the flat using the “Cameron” identity was killed, they have no reason to assume it was him. At least, not until all those other trails turn up dead ends. Cameron killing his own fork inside of that flat was probably the best thing he could’ve done. That was an all-around win for him, unless they start investigating Cameron to figure out why he was there. In which case, they’ll work backwards to end up where we are now.”
                “Any clue why he wanted the Christ-bot?”
                “Not a clue one,” Zira said. “But I suspect that Christ-bot possibly knows something about Dr. M&M, and we know Cameron was looking into him, probably because he knew that Dr. M&M had brought him back.
                Chloe had enough motor coordination to reach up from under the covers and rub her temples. The vertigo would be with her the whole day, but the worst of it was already over.
                “So what are your thoughts?” Chloe asked, looking over at Zira.
                “Well, I want to track down that Christ-bot,” Zira said. “Maybe he knows something. If anything, we might be able to find something more out about Dr. M&M if we find it.”
                Zira sat back, crossing her leg as the sunlight filtered through the top story window. Outside, the bustle of Elysium City could be heard below.
                “Now that Cameron has it, where do you think he took it?”
                “I’m willing to bet anything he took it to New Hope Village. Which means we’re going to need some way to get into the village – which won’t be easy, because while they like to think they’re out of the way, and they probably are, they’re not very welcoming to transhumans – and they’d know immediately that we were transhumans.”
                Chloe rubbed her temples. There was an idea trying to form… but she couldn’t cut through the haze enough to see it fully.
                “Fuck…” she muttered. “Not working.”
                “Just set back and rest,” Zira said, looking outside. “We’ll think of something.”

#New Skins (chat) >> Lookin’ for some Flats on Mars#

Moonwalker_992 (@300) Faction: Earthling isn’t a faction, is it?
            Hey, I’m looking for some flats on Mars. Anyone got any idea where I can find them? I’m willing to pay out some major c-rep. I’d like them to be in good condition, all senses intact, and light on the genetic disorders front.
--- @-Rep [11], c-Rep [56], e-Rep [55], f-Rep [15], g-Rep [00], r-Rep [00]

WhoDaMan22 (@301) Faction: Nanotechnology baby, yeah!
            @ Moonwalker_992 I’d hope you’d pay in c-Rep. c-Rep is all you got.
--- @-Rep [56], c-Rep [12], e-Rep [64], f-Rep [33], g-Rep [62], r-Rep [32]
WhoDaMan thinks HeDaMan, not u

Floating_Above_Earth_230 (@301) Faction: Hypercorp Elitist “Snoob”
            @ WhoDaMan23 Moonwalker’s pulling kiddy rep. Didn’t you read her profile anyway? She’s a reinstantiate. She’s probably looking for a flat because it’s all she can get.
--- @-Rep [95], c-Rep [40], e-Rep [84], f-Rep [93], g-Rep [62], r-Rep [33]
I speak a different language from you. I speak the language of money. Nobody can fault you for not knowing it, you poor pauper you.

LoonieLunar_220 (@301) Faction: Mercurial
            @ WhodaMan32, @Floating_Above_Earth_230 we’re looking for two; I want one too. I’m willing to throw some more c-Rep in and possibly some @-Rep too, if necessary.
--- @-Rep [93], c-Rep [52], e-Rep [44], f-Rep [30], g-Rep [12], r-Rep [12]
When was the last time you had exact change for something like that? I can’t remember the last time it any made any cents anyway, so I wouldn’t worry about it.

Vincent de Medici (@302) Faction: Me, myself, and my forks
            @ Floating_Above_Earth_230 typical hypercorp snob. Do you think she’d be stupid enough to put actual information about who she is on this board?
--- @-Rep [30], c-Rep [90], e-Rep [54], f-Rep [93], g-Rep [30], r-Rep [30]

Moonwalker_992 (@302) Faction: Earthling isn’t a faction, is it?
            @Vincent de Medici hey…
--- @-Rep [11], c-Rep [56], e-Rep [55], f-Rep [15], g-Rep [00], r-Rep [00]

Married Forever In My Mind (@303) Faction: Posthuman
            @Moonwalker_992 eww… flats? Srsly? Why on Mars would you want flats? We can’t figure it out. Go with basic, off-the-rack splicers and modify them to look like flats. Wanting to be ugly is one thing – wanting to be ugly, stupid, slow and unhealthy is something totally different.
--- @-Rep [51], c-Rep [56], e-Rep [56], f-Rep [10], g-Rep [20], r-Rep [20]
My wife can’t afford a body. So she shares mine, and my mind. What you call “dangerous” and “exhuman” is really just another way for us to show our ultimate love for one another.

Vincent de Medici (@302) Faction: Me, myself, and my forks
            @ Moonwalker_992, LoonieLunar_220 okay, I might have what you’re looking for. Just a couple of off-the-shelf flats, right? Nothing special, hopefully disease-free, with some senses intact? Like, the ability to hear and see and shit? Cuz you ain’t getting much else with flats.
--- @-Rep [30], c-Rep [90], e-Rep [54], f-Rep [93], g-Rep [30], r-Rep [30]

Sol och Måne Kvinna (@303) Faction: Mercurial; I live in the Sun (and speak Swedish)
            @Vincent de Medici i didn’t know you had contacts on Mars.
            @Moonwalker_992, LoonieLunar_220 i probably can’t help you, but i know a newt who probably can. he works in aten, one of the trans-solar trojans. not that easy to get ahold of thought.
--- @-Rep [90], c-Rep [00], e-Rep [64], f-Rep [03], g-Rep [30], r-Rep [96]
I’m a whale – in the sun!

TheCircleEnigma32 (@303) Faction: Titanian at soul, Barsoomian at heart
            @Moonwalker_992, LoonieLunar_200 I’ve got one better. Let’s take this chat private; I’ve got contacts on Mars. They’ll get you some flats, and it won’t cost you nearly as much as Medici up there will. I’ll just need you to pull a favor for me; so stay on the line.
--- @-Rep [90], c-Rep [30], e-Rep [83], f-Rep [20], g-Rep [54], r-Rep [40]
Friends help friends move. Real friends help friends move bodies.

                There were places on Mars that were out of the way; off the beaten path and overlooked by the hypercorp council that dominated most of the surface and the inner system. Some of these were Barsoomian oriented, aligning themselves with the Tharsis league. A few others were brinker religious colonies; New Hope Village colony was one of those colonies.
                It was by no means a large colony. It was, like most other Martian colonies not connected to one of the larger cities, built under the regolith and consisting of a narrow collection of tunnels that more appropriately resembled a military bunker – at least, until one got under the large, reinforced dome that jutted from the side of the Martian bluff. There it was more open and greener. It didn’t seem to have the money bankrolling it that other colonies had, but that didn’t stop it from being effective for its size.
                Before going in, Chloe had done some research on the colony. It was in the Phaethontis quadrangle of Mars, specifically, a few miles north of the crater Copernicus, in between Copernicus and the Gorgonium Chaos, and was built into ridge that lined split the flat between the two craters along a northwest-southeast boarder. It was an old colony; not quite as old as Zygote, but still fairly old compared to some of the other colonies and cities on Mars.
                Getting in didn’t prove to be a problem. Not with the plan that they had. It was keeping one’s self sane while being in there that was the problem. She didn’t know what kind of sensors they had, so to avoid tipping any of them off, she split herself from the outside mesh, completely isolating herself inside of her own head, with just Azure for company.
                The feeling of being isolated was far worse than just about any other feeling that she’d experienced before. She did, however, consider making the purchase of smart clothes far and away one of the best purchases that she ever made. Being without a mesh connection made her feel naked in its own way, but at least the Martian Alpiner that she was in didn’t have to.
                She crouched along the wall, trying to keep her movement to a slow pace. She and Zira had pulled strings, gotten to know people, and, through a network of connections, managed to get ahold of a “Tsion bin Yehuda”, an odd name for an evangelical Christian but one that, as she confirmed, was also from the Left Behind novels, albeit in the form of “Tsion bin Judah.”
                Bin Yehuda was a bit suspicious at first of two applicants – Zelda and Zoe – for their colony. Of course, Zira was a good actor, and Chloe was good at pretending, so they managed to convince Bin Yehuda. The last step was the most complicated of the steps.
                Chloe watched as the two flats, both of them women, walked down the corridor. The first one had blond hair, the second brown. Both were slight, both were pretty – as far as flats went, which wasn’t saying much – and neither was particularly intelligent.
                Beta forks weren’t supposed to be.
                Chloe had been resistant in the original plan that Zira had developed. Even though they were Betas, Chloe didn’t think it was justified sleeving them inside of flats. She felt it was needlessly cruel,  but Zira reminded her that Beta forks weren’t exact duplicates, often knew they were forks (these ones did, anyway), and would be merging back with them, so Chloe was swayed. Her fork – named Zelda – had the blond hair. Zira’s fork, Zoe, had the brown hair. Chloe and Zira both knew their forks wouldn’t be judged on personality or capability so much as they would be judged on appearance and looks, so when Zira purchased the two flats, she got the best looking ones that she could find. Because selection was limited, and because flats in general weren’t very pretty, Chloe couldn’t see anything special in them.
                At least Beta forks in flats were close to the mental level of regular flats. Zira and Chloe could never sneak in sleeved in splicers, and neither would sleeve in a flat. Beta forks were the next best thing.
                She crouched behind them, listening to the two forks talking. It was frustrating to an extent; because flats spoke so slow, and because she had no mesh communication with them, she couldn’t keep in touch with them. She kept her head low, her ears peaked up, and her mind focused on a couple of different tasks to avoid trying to listen to them. The first task was trying to keep the two flats within eyeshot. The last thing she wanted was for them to slip away; even though they were painted in her AR, she’d learned that they could give her the slip without warning and she’d have to work to catch back up with them. The second task was keeping her eyes on the cameras that were lined up throughout the facility; because the mesh network was not very secure, she was able to infiltrate all of the cameras as she went past, breaking into each in kind and editing any information of herself out in real time. There were only a handful of IR cameras – security was extremely primitive, but for a group of people trapped in the 20th century, she supposed it could be considered fairly advanced by their standards. The last task that she was focusing on was the three mesh games that she had going, all three of which she was losing.
                This multitasking stuff was hard, but she needed something to keep her mind occupied.
                They’d met at the airport. There, Chloe had gotten her first look at their pilot – the man named Rayford Steele, after the character in the novel. The way he was not at all shy about coming onto her fork, Zelda, and glaring at her, made Chloe a little uncomfortable; a charming man he was not. A repressed control freak was a better description.
                There were a couple of assistants on the plane, none of whom really stood out and, if she didn’t know any better, they might have been handicapped AGIs. The one that she was certain was a handicapped AGI was the flighty, almost brain-dead flight attendant named “Hattie.” It was almost like her programmer wanted the crew and anyone meeting her to feel disregard for her and be dismissive of her; in Chloe’s opinion, they’d succeeded, but insomuch as Chloe could disregard feeling sorry for the AGI instead. Being sleeved in a blind and deaf flat was probably better than being sleeved in one that had been intentionally mentally handicapped with the intent of making you look like a fool.
                The manner in which they’d gone out of their way to mimic the series of books was really throwing up red flags for her, but she wasn’t sure what the red flags were supposed to mean. All she knew was that it made her feel unsettled and very unwelcome; they weren’t a series of books she’d ever read before.
                 The flight was an hour, but only because the Martian atmosphere wasn’t conducive to the kind of jet engine that the craft used and they had several scares where the engines had actually stalled out. Chloe, who was sleeved in an Alpiner, had made a promise to herself that she’d walk home long before she flew in that jet again. During the flight, she learned a few things about the pilot – his wife had been taken, and one of the few forcibly uploaded during the Fall. From what she learned about Irene, however, it wasn’t like transhumanity had lost anything great.
                Rayford did a good job of making her sound like a very unlikable woman, whether it was intentional or not.
                He’d also lost a younger son, who’d been forcibly uploaded as well. He started to say something about a few grandkids but caught himself, and instead went on to talk about an older daughter named, surprisingly, Chloe.
                When she heard the name, she almost answered, but stopped herself.
                He couldn’t see to decide if she was married or not, though.
                The plane landed, and she disembarked before they did, waiting outside of the colony for a while before entering after them. Zoe and Zelda were already out of her view by that time; she had to rush to try and find them, and when she did, she vowed to never let them out of her sight again.
                They knew they were forks. And they knew they were supposed to join the colony. They didn’t know who they were forks of, though, or why they were joining the colony. Both women went along with it, though. They also didn’t know that they were being followed – these were basic security measures, even though Chloe felt bad for her beta fork.
                Ahead, two doors slide open, and Chloe watched a small man with narrow-framed glasses stepped forward. Rayford had abandoned the two forks to their own devices, but they had been directed – in excruciating detail, like they were idiots – where they were supposed to go. While forks weren’t that intelligent, Chloe knew they weren’t that stupid, either.
                The slight man with the glasses, wearing a business suit, stood there with his hands behind his back. There was slight disdain towards them; it made Chloe worry about whether or not he knew if they were forks,
                 “Hello,” he announced. “My name ist Zion bin-Hueda.”
                She couldn’t pin down the accent. It didn’t sound like any accent she recognized.
                “Welcome to the Salvation of Humanity.”

1 comment:

  1. *digs out proofreader hat*

    there wouldn’t be any weird, reintegration issues.

    Unnecessary comma.

    mimic the action of gun.

    A gun.

    Resleeving was always accompanied by vertigo. Regardless what it was in.

    I think this should be "Resleeving was always accompanied by vertigo, regardless of what body you* were in." If I've interpreted the sentence fragment right, that is. It's a little confusing.

    *Or "one", whichever.

    “In a nut-shut,” Zira said.

    Nutshell? Or does this make sense in a way I'm not getting?

    we can barely being to understand.


    felt the need to do go through the whole battery

    "Do" or "go through", not both.

    Cameron used the his Oreskovich identity

    "The" or "his".

    he knew that Dr. M&M had brought him back.

    Close quotation mark.

    LoonieLunar_200 I’ve got one better. Let’s take this chat private

    200 instead of 220 doesn't seem like a deliberate sort of typo.
    (I happened to notice that one. I didn't check if the rep counts were consistent, however.)

    A few others were brinker religious colonies; New Hope Village colony was one of those colonies.

    The latter two "colonies" are extraneous.

    and was built into ridge

    A ridge.

    that lined split the flat


    the two flats, both of them women [...] The first one had blond hair

    "Blond" is masculine. A woman is blonde.
    (That's what I was told, anyway. Wiktionary isn't so sure. May as well put on an "e" while you're at it, to be on the safe side.)

    her ears peaked up



    What do the "(@303)" and such mean? They're not post numbers, because some posts share a number. (Unless they weren't supposed to.)

    My wife can’t afford a body. So she shares mine, and my mind. What you call “dangerous” and “exhuman” is really just another way for us to show our ultimate love for one another.

    If I understand it right, wouldn't a ghostrider module be better (if the situation is really as he says)? Being able to control the body doesn't seem worth your brain bursting out the seams. (Probably doesn't actually matter, but it struck me as odd.)