RetVersus

Line Recall #1 [Part 2]
Line/History

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I was still young and arrogant and the security breach took me by surprise. I was sat in one of Iron’s clubs at the time getting hazy when my alerts went off. Not only had this decker cracked my firewalls but he was already in my system. It was only one of my slightly paranoiac countermeasures which had alerted me at all.

Hot tip – if you work in matrix security don’t ever let them tell you you’re too paranoid.

Something woke up in me, something that had been dormant since before the crash – an ego. I remember the adrenaline rush at the notion of a real challenge. I didn’t care about Iron’s club – I cared about my own work again for the first time in a long time. And this fucker was not getting away.

I went at them hard, channeling my newly awoken fury. Every time they probed I responded. Every time they attacked I countered with my own custom ICE. They had probably thought this was going to be an easy job, some sleazy downtown club, but they picked the wrong fight at the wrong time.

In honesty there was a sense of gratitude at the challenge. Through the self-pitying drug fueled days I’d grown bored without realising it. I went at this like my life depended on it. After a short while I realised I wasn’t dealing with a rival decker at all.

This was a technomancer, and they were on site.

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I was comfortable in the matrix, happy with the play and counter play of its rhythm. But in the meat I was vulnerable and for all my bravado was going to need help to catch this one. Tracking them to an alley out back I summoned one of the club’s security to come with me and we went to grab them.

We exited through a security door that faced straight onto the alleyway and I spotted them almost instantly, crouched nearby. What neither I nor the bouncer spotted was that they weren’t alone and I heard him go down as a gun was thrust into the back of my head.

“So you’re the spider causing us a headache”

It was the first time I’d heard Devin’s voice but far from the last. For all intents and purposes the technomancer was done and I could see him struggling across the way with jacking out of my system. I only had one move so I played it, too fucked up on bliss to feel the fear of the moment.

“If you put a bullet in me your man over there dies next. Everything he touched was databombed, and those bombs don’t give a fuck even if he used sprites to get in – they’re linked to my vitals”.

It was half a bluff – I had no way to tell if I’d landed one on him. Besides technomancers were weird, scary people and I still didn’t know enough about them to know if they’d even feel an effect. Still as the seconds rolled on and no shot was fired I realised it might’ve worked.

The dwarf behind me spoke again;

“This was an easy job that you’ve made unnecessarily complicated son. Shock over there has spent the last five minutes perplexed at why there’s such a complex security system on a shithole like this. I’m inclined to offer you that question now”. When the dwarf spoke it was even, with total confidence and control. Despite the gun held against the back of my head I remember feeling comforted in its presence.

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I realised I didn’t have a good answer for the guy. Why had I spent so long on this system? I hadn’t been paid enough to justify the work I’d put in and I cared nothing for Iron’s business. But it was a reflection I’d never thought to ask myself, not stopping for three years to really examine myself in the face of what happened.

“Speak up now lad, we’re on a timer here”

“Pride” I said reflexively, “This is my house. The dwarf laughed even as I watched the technomancer frown.

“Your pride is significant” said Shock, “And it’s pissed me off”. I smiled up at him, happy to have gotten a reaction out of an otaku like that. In that moment parts of me were waking up I hadn’t used since the crash and I felt alive again. I played another hand.

“You technomancers might scare people in the meat but I’ve swum in the matrix long before your powers emerged. You’re lucky you’re still alive, coming against me like that”. Years of repressed frustration, the energy a young man holds within, seeping out of me with bravado that was barely justified.

I heard the dwarf laugh again and felt the weapon lower behind me. The technomancer’s anger boiled over and he took a swing at me.

Like I said I wasn’t great at fighting in the meat but fuck if I was about to let a scrawny nerd like that land a shot. I dodged and swung a right cross that connected with his temple, knocking him out cold. Expecting the gun to come up again I was surprised to hear the dwarf’s laughter intensify at the whole affair.

I spun around and realised why he wasn’t worried about it. Stood next to the significantly armed dwarf was an Ork, augmented to the eyeballs. Fear shot through me – this was the kind of guy who could mince you without breaking a sweat. As the dwarf’s laughter came to an end he coughed and the Ork lurched forward.

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I flinched and fully expected that I was done for. To my surprise the Ork smiled, a smile I’d come to know well over the next few years.

“You’ve impressed Devin with your balls” he spoke, a soft and kind tone. The expression was that of genuine warmth and innocence, completely at odds with the metal spurs that ran along the outside of his arms.

The dwarf stood up straight, readjusting his combat jacket as he composed himself again.

“Xiang’s right” said Devin, “I am impressed. This is not a high paying job and I did not expect entertainment to boot”. He looked down at the unconscious technomancer.

“Was that guy bad or are you just that good?” he asked, fixing his gaze on me. There was something in that look which cautioned against pushing my luck any further, as if he knew you were going to lie before you did. I chose honesty.

“He was decent, my security is very overkill for this place” I admitted, “But I’m still better sure”. That was the truth – it was only the events of three years ago which meant I was operating below my capabilities. It’s so rarely your actual level of ability determines your place in life, something I’ve learnt a lot more about since my youth.

Devin scrutinised me with his wisened eyes in that alleyway, weighing me up. The ork Xiang stood quietly next to him, distracted somewhat by a nearby alley cat climbing a fire escape.

Thinking back on your past you start to notice pivotal moments, decisions or events which changed the course of your life more drastically than most days. My parent’s death, that first job, my decker group in HK, the crash. So far these points were the major beats of my life, always decided by chance or other people.

“I want to offer you a job” Devin said finally, “to replace the man you just laid out”.

This was the first time the choice was entirely mine. On that day Devin offered me a chance to escape the pit I’d dug for myself, reaching a hand down into the blackness my life had become to pull me up a level. To escape the world of paranoia and drugs, to build towards something as part of a community again.

To be connected to the world once more.

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The rest will have to wait, remembering all that has dragged things up I’ve not thought on in a while. The details are fine, dates and times and locations, recalling those is easy.

But remembering my parent’s lives, my girlfriend, the friends I lost, that isn’t easy and I feel exposed right now. I feel like running and closing off again, smoking a spliff and watching a simflick to take my mind off things.

Except the whole point of this is to face all this so it doesn’t fuck up what I’m doing here in London again. I need to face these memories, to scour the demons of my past and resolve it as part of who I am. I think this is going to get more raw and painful before then and I hope I am strong enough to do what needs to be done.

That shrine I started for my parents expanded over time as I added significant life events and memories to it. I’ve not looked at it for over two years; it’s buried on a datastick hidden in the cyberdeck built into my chest.

I think it might be time to go down there, to add all this to it tonight. To build my story further, to honestly display and examine who I am again. The idea scares me but there’s truth in that fear, a truth I know I need to resolve.

I’m going down there now to build more detail; I don’t know how long I’ll be. If I can view my whole life as a single event leading up to now, if I scrutinise the details then maybe I can avoid another mistake like the one at the Renraku facility.

I don’t want to be blinded by my anger from the past, I want to be focused on a resolution for the future. I owe it to them, to all of them, to bring purpose to the rest of my life, to address the people that took it all from me – Renraku.

For now, this is Line signing out.

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Line Recall #1 [Part 1]
Line/History

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That last run stirred something in me that I can no longer ignore. For two years I’ve drifted down here, deep within London’s underbelly, avoiding anything that looked like responsibility. For two years I’ve hidden from what happened out of fear or guilt or something.

It’s time to find out what that something is.

I don’t know if I’m going to write this out of tribute to them or for my own catharsis – frankly I don’t care. I just want it out so I can correct the course of my life again, close the loop and get back to a life worth living.

This climb is going to be long and arduous, the thought of it fills me with a sickness and dread. I buried these memories for a reason, hid in the smoke and shadows to avoid having to feel these things. These days’ chemicals swim in my blood to numb it all, remnants of last night’s score.

To clean up I will need to go back, to sort through these memories and face them, drag myself through them with as much clarity as possible. I’m going to be constructing a matrix sim record of all this. If I’m going through the pain I want a hard record to refer to.

I guess there’s no better place than the very start.

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I was born in Kowloon Bay, Hong Kong in December 2040. My father was a businessman his whole life and not half bad, mostly honest and willful enough when it mattered never to lose big. My mother was from France, had moved to HK as a student. She lived and worked as a philosopher and tutor speaking five languages – fuck knows how my parents ever met.

They died when I was four years old due to the nationalist war. It was as random as it comes, a Taiwanese bomb went off downtown where they were having lunch. I grew up an orphan but in decent care, I can’t complain there. I was too young to really miss my parents, that came later.

The foster care in Hong Kong could leave a lot to be desired but it was never vicious. Besides, even though I wasn’t the strongest kid I was quick and diplomatic, never afraid to bloody a nose or talk my way out of a situation. I never stirred up enough trouble to get myself kicked out and avoided the worst of that world through the luck I made for myself.

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In my mid teen years, I started to rebuild a picture of my parents. It’s weird when you’re young, you spend so much of your energy just building an identity for yourself. Without solid parental figures you become a mosaic of influence and I was aware of that drift, wanted at least something concrete.

The birth of the matrix way back means if you’re talented enough and willing to dig you can piece together a lot of a person’s life, as long as they were born in the 21st century. I learnt of my father’s grind from young man to established business person, swelling with pride at the crazy HK hours he put in – 80 hour work weeks.

I had to dig a little deeper for my mother’s records – she had been something of a hippy in her formative years and lived in communes as a traveler. Eventually I found her research from a university in Paris and pieced together her work. It was her fascination with Chinese mysticism and how it linked to the awakening that brought her to HK, where she eventually met my father.

Those were extremely focused days as I pieced together my parent’s lives. I would wake up in the foster home, jack in on a public terminal and spend most of the day collating verbal records, camera footage, business accounts and so on together until I had rebuilt my parent’s personas as much as possible.

I created a matrix space of their memories, my little shrine, and I carry it with me always. I was too young to have many memories of them as living people but through the matrix I felt a closeness to them I would never have been otherwise able to. I guess that’s where it began.

One day one of the foster care staff mentioned to me that I did little else but sit at that desk tapping away, asked if I had an interest in computers. It wasn’t hardware that interested me – it was the matrix. The idea of a realm of information that could connect people across time and space, free from normative boundaries, that was the prize.

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They hooked me up with a software company operating in the city and I went to work at 17 years old, the start of my climb out of the dip my young life had taken. It was mostly code busting, building software for companies sub contracted by the big ten, but it was decent money and kept me focused.

With my first pay slip I bought a cyberdeck of my own, a piece of shit based on early Wuxing models. The screen was a little scratched, deck itself huge and cumbersome. But for all its imperfections it was mine, something of my own for once after the communal living of the foster home. I threw myself into it.

The next year or two I simmered between the day time of coding and the night time where I’d stay up late getting high, learning what they didn’t teach you in the light. I fell in with a decker group operating out of HK and together we caused some mischief, silly security testing shit for fun with a bit of trolling for good measure.

Hey, I was young.

Eventually I got good enough to essentially automate my day job and spent the time on my own work. Maybe it was the drugs or the boredom, maybe just the fact I was young and reckless but I fell away from the honest grind and deeper into the night with increasing frequency.

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When I was 22 the decker group I was part of decided to infiltrate a Wuxing server farm and pull some paydata. I realised that I could earn income a lot more effortlessly than grinding each day and decided to give it a shot, full of the cocksure confidence of youth.

The job was a success and we never got found out. Looking back on it now I can see how much we were flying by the seat of our pants, fast and loose in the matrix. But we were young and had reaction speed on our side – in the matrix that can mean it all.

After that we continued living as we pleased and decking harder than before. I spent most of my days building custom software and selling it privately – that was the primary source of my income. I moved in with my girlfriend at the time, also a decker, and ran the occasional job with the group for extra cash.

Life was good and for the first time in my life I felt in control, like I was on the right path. I was young, I was in love and I was doing what I wanted. I’ve since found out how difficult real liberty is and that was a golden era really, about as good as it ever got.

That was all to change.

I’m a decker so of course I’d heard about the A.I’s. Sure they were spoken about in whispers, rumours on forums and speculations from the more tinfoil-hatted of the community. But still if you spend enough time in the matrix you realise that the speed of thought decks can muster exceeds metahumans drastically, and if it ever became self-aware…

There was a lot of press at the time about the potential danger of A.I’s but do you think that was going to stop the Corps? I guess it was back then that I really started hating Renraku.

Their ambition outweighed their sense and in their arrogance, their endless lust for power they unleashed Deus on the world. And Deus’ naked aggression, itself a result of Renraku’s attempt to control it, resulted in the conflict which caused the Matrix Crash 2.0.

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Most of my friends were killed in that crash, including my girlfriend. All of a sudden that golden space I had carved for myself had been threatened on a deep, un-nerving level. It’s impossible to describe to people who hadn’t spent enough of their life in the matrix at that point just how thorough the sense of violation was.

This was the space I lived in, understood, had found my parent’s history, my friends, my skills and poured my energy freely. This sacred space had become an essential part of who I was, and had been torn asunder because of a single A.I’s power emanating to make toys of our minds.

For the second time in my life my world was taken away from me by forces outside of my control. Too big to see, cultural events that stretched national borders. First the Nationalist War, now the Crash. I’m not going to lie I went dark for a while, despairing at the loss.

I’d always used drugs, what decker hadn’t? but I threw myself into them whole heartedly. It didn’t matter that I’d avoided the worst of the fallout from losing my parents, this was something else. That world was stolen from me before it had a chance to properly matter.

But this, this was what I had made for myself. From my shitty cyberdeck and day job to a community of friends and loved ones, a partner and a place to be, a safe haven in an increasingly complex world. To have that torn from me was too much and I was emotionally unequipped to hold against it.

I hit the bottom hard and lost a lot of time. I got by doing matrix security for the wrong people in the HK underworld just to score, keep the habit rolling. Fell in with the wrong crowd, untrustworthy types. Those were dark days if you were a decker, the utopic notions of the matrix forever tainted by loss, and my life reflected it.

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A few years rolled by and I think it was about 2067 by the time I stabilised at all. By that point I had made a name for myself again albeit with the wrong people, and a troll named Ironbark hired me to run the security for the clubs and brothels he ran.

I couldn’t tell you why I put so much effort into that system, possibly after three years of hedonism and self-destruction it was just time, but I poured a lot of energy into that one. I actually sobered up a bit, got some of my early sharpness back, double and triple checked things I’d have otherwise looked over.

After a few months’ work his underground network had security that was near corporate – all thanks to me. I was drastically underpaid for that, but not yet clean and didn’t value my skills well, my self-esteem still shattered. Ironbark profited strongly from the fact he was untouchable and I was kept well as a result.

Here’s where the story really begins.

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