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.
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.
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.
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.
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.