Spark the Runner
A Wirehead's Adventure
~ An homage to Geek Pride Day (May 25th) ~ as celebrated on premiummediagroup.ru.
Oh, and there is the standard copyright stuff:
© 2018 eidetic. All rights reserved. The author asserts a moral right to be identified as the author of this story. This story or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a review.
Spark was a wirehead. Straight into the hypothalamus. With ancillary connections to the cerebral cortex, the medulla, the tegmentum and the pineal gland. That kind of biotek was expensive, but to Spark it was worth it.
He was one of the top five Runners in the world. The Megacorps paid good money for his services. So did the Government -- several, in fact. And the Yakuza, which was sort of redundant with Megacorp. Anything that had to do with the datanet, from individual machine controls to the global dataplex, if it dealt with the flow of data, he could hack it.
You want a bank account adjusted? No problem. You want stock prices influenced? Easy. You want to know your competitors' latest trade secrets? That'll cost you more. You want military research? That'll cost you a lot more.
You want access to an off-grid dark lab? Sorry. Spark preferred to stay above room temperature.
So he wasn't surprised when the hot brunette in the big bust approached him in Clancy's. The hole-in-the-wall dive was one of his offices and no one found him there if they hadn't been referred. Clancy, the bruiser of a bartender, made sure of that.
And he knew why she was there. She'd been vetted. Thoroughly. Or she wouldn't be meeting with him. The one variable they couldn't control for was what else she -- or her employer -- wanted. Hence the face-to-face.
"Mr. Spark?" she asked as she reached the table.
"It's just Spark, Ms. Levin," he told her as he gestured to the chair opposite him.
"Then it's Tonya, Spark," she answered as she sat.
"Alright, Tonya," he nodded. "How may I help you?"
"Allegedly, you have been briefed on what we want," she told him. "How about you tell me what you have been told and I will adjust it as needed?"
"Okay," he looked at her impassively. "You've got an exotic piece of tek. You want to know where it came from. You want detailed design and construction plans. You think it might be military. You're not sure whose military. And you want to know all this without anyone knowing you know. How am I doing?"
"That was a pretty good summary," she told him. "There are a few complications."
"Of course," he nodded. "Like?..."
"The item is complex, may be self-aware and may have intrinsic self-defense systems, as well as links back to its former owners," she explained. "Are you interested in making the Run?"
"So far, tweedles," he nodded again. "Comp?"
"Fifty Kilocredits to do the Run, 100Kcr if you determine origin, 100Kcr if you can retrieve the blueprints."
"Sweetheart, I don't come that cheap," he shrugged. "But let me pick up a toddy for you, for your troubles."
"How much, then?" she asked bluntly.
"Double that and we're talking." He watched to see if she flinched at all. Not a twitch, he thought. This is one cool customer.
"For that kind of compensation, there are additional data we will want, mostly regarding the function of the item." She knew she could go a lot higher, but that wasn't how the game was played.
He thought it over. A data retrieval run, probably military, maybe just megacorps, some risk in unknown defenses and all in stealth mode.
Sure, why not? I'm bored this week anyway.
"Okay, Tonya," he told her, sizing her up. "One hundred K for the Run, paid in advance and non-refundable. The rest on completion. When and where?"
He'd learned it was a bad idea to blend business and pleasure, but he was seriously wondering what she was like under the custom-tailored pantsuit. Her skin was flawless, she had a wasp waist and a nice ass, and pretty hefty Personal Floatation Devices. If they weren't hers, they were top of the line for purchased PFD's.
So she was what? Maybe 1.7m tall, around 60 kilos of athletic, and a top-heavy hourglass. Probably 85-60-85 and a D- or DD-cup. Maybe even an F. Hard to tell in the blazer. Sexy. And probably reserved. Reserved, as in, on some Veep's payroll.
"When is whenever you are ready," she told him. "Where will be determined by your choice of when. We have a couple of facilities suitable for jacking in, undisturbed."
"Fair enough," he decided. "How about tonight, say twenty-hundred?"
"I will send a car for you," she informed him, then extended her hand. He rose and took it, amazed at how smooth and sensual it felt. Then he impulsively brought her hand to his lips as he bent forward and kissed it. He noted the slight smile, on her mouth and in her eyes.
He straightened up and let go of her hand.
"Tonight," he told her.
"Tonight," she echoed, then turned on her heel and walked out.
Well, this should be interesting, he thought as he sat back down to his coffee.
* * * * *
The Grav-limo settled down in front of Clancy's right at 2000 hours. Spark leaned against the doorway, waiting to see who, or what, got out of the car. It was one of those sleek new Evoltran jobs, bulletproof at a guess, fast enough to get out of trouble in a hurry. Blackout windows all around, even the windscreen. Slowly, the rear door on his side slid open and a long, shapely leg emerged. A leg he remembered.
Tonya Levin oozed out of the car, no longer in her business suit, but in a long red gown, embroidered with gold and split up the side to the hip, with a plunge that went damn near to her pubes. He couldn't tell if it was backless or not. Yet. He could definitely tell that those tits were standing up all by themselves. She stood beside the open door and bowed towards him. Not just a nod, but a full bob of the head and shoulders, held for a long count.
Oh, fucking wonderful, he thought as he watched. Odds on, there's a Yakuza boss in that limo. Just what I fucking needed. Well, there's nothing for it...
He pushed his wraparounds against his nose, tugged his slouch hat down and put his hands in the pockets of his leather trench coat, where he wrapped his hand around the body pistol he carried. He'd never had to shoot anyone with it, but he felt better carrying it just the same. He detached himself from the wall and slowly walked over to meet the woman.
"Good evening, Spark," she greeted him in a friendly tone. "I will need to take your pocket pistol and the knife on your leg before you enter the vehicle, please."
How the hell she knew what he was carrying, he hadn't a clue. Could've been fancy scanning equipment in the limo. But he wasn't about to argue with her. He took out the pocket pistol, dropped the magazine and emptied the cartridges, first into his hand, then his pocket, reinserting the empty mag. Then, he pulled the slide, hard, ejecting the round that had been in the chamber and locking the slide back. He caught the round before it hit the ground, adding it to the ones in his pocket.
He handed the pistol to Tonya, butt first, slide open. Next, he lifted his pants leg and pulled on the Velcro straps holding the sheath in place, pulling it away and handing it with its knife to Tonya as well. She said nothing, but took his weapons and stepped out of the way so he could enter. Realizing that, just like every other time, it didn't make sense to kill the hired gun before he accomplished the mission, he decided to relax and enter the limo. He was surprised to see an ancient wreck of a man sitting facing him, his back to the driver.
Spark did a quick assessment of the man as Tonya climbed into the limo, next to him, and closed the door. The guy was ancient, as noted. Nineties, maybe more, from the skin tone, wrinkles, cataracts and so forth. He still had some class, though. He sported a trimmed white goatee. And he still had a decent head of hair. His withered hands were folded on a silver dragon's head cane with a black shaft. His clothes said money, but not ostentatious. He didn't have to open his mouth for Spark to decide "educated," maybe a Doctor or Judge or career Poli.
He figured the old man was the boss of the outfit hiring him. But once the limo started moving, it was Tonya who spoke, not him.
"I want you to meet a member of the team, Spark," she told him. Her cleavage was definitely distracting.
"Lovely, isn't she?" the old man asked. He waited a moment for Spark to finish his ogling and turn his attention to him.
"My name is Lenox, Mr. Spark," he introduced himself. "Anatoli Lenox."
It suddenly clicked in Spark's brain who this man was. And who he was, was a legend. Theoretically, a dead legend.
"I know who you are, Professor," Spark told him with a slight bow. "You're the reason I've got all this hardware in my head. You virtually created psychodata integration. Not to mention standing the scientific community on its collective ear with your pioneering work in the relationship between Artificial Intelligence and Actual Intelligence. It was my understanding that you ran afoul of the Odessa clans and were killed."
"Apparently not," the old man smiled thinly. "The killing part anyway. 'Virtually created'... I like that. Especially since it is almost all virtual in construct."
"Professor Lenox is involved in this project," Tonya interjected, "because our interests have converged and it was decided that pooling our knowledge and experience would yield the best results. The Professor will be available during your run as a Linked Auxiliary. He has extensive knowledge in the areas of our concern."
"That will be great," Spark acknowledged. "Even though I usually work alone, I will consider it an honor. By the way, where is this little beasty you want to know everything about?"
"At our insertion lab, Spark," she answered carefully. "About an hour away. You do not need to know anything further at this time."
Seeing as how they were flying a nonlinear course, looping back on themselves, altering altitude and vectors randomly -- and the windows were all blacked out -- it was a pretty good bet they didn't want him to know precisely where they were going.
"I need to know something, my dear," the Professor smiled. To Tonya's look of curiosity, he asked, "would either of you care to join me in a spot of Russian Tea?"
"I'm sorry, sir," Spark told him. "I don't know what that is."
"Ridiculously sweetened cut black tea with oranges, lemons, cinnamon, cloves and a spot of Russian vodka," he explained. "I live on it."
"That sounds strange," Spark observed. "But sure... I'll try one."
"It is better hot," the professor apologized as he withdrew a flask from his jacket pocket. "But cold is good, too."
"We can do hot, Professor," Tonya informed him, pressing a button and revealing a small microwave oven inset into a side panel. She touched another button and shelves with various glassware were revealed. "Please feel free to serve."
The old man smiled and selected three glasses which he set on the ledge of his seat, pouring out about a jigger into each and handing them to Tonya, who placed them in the microwave and started it running. Moments later, she withdrew them and handed one each to the Professor and Spark. The Professor held his up in a toast gesture and waited for the others.
"Na zdorov'ye!" he toasted. "To your health!" Tonya echoed him. Spark just nodded, waiting until the others had thrown back their drinks to drink his. It was smooth, but it certainly lit a fire in his guts. Like a little tac-nuke. He carefully pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his glass free of fingerprints before handing it back to Tonya. She smiled as he did.
"Appropriately paranoid," she observed. "Perfect."
He didn't bother to tell her that the show was for their benefit. His hands were covered in grafted microfiber that did not leave fingerprints and he had nasal filters inserted which would protect him against most poisonous or tranquilizing gas attacks. All part of the first day on the job, until he figured out his trust level with his new employers.
"How are you at resisting seduction, Spark?" Tonya asked, shifting to give him an excellent view of her assets.
"Not good at all, unless I'm working," he told her. "Then I might as well be a eunuch."
"Interesting," she virtually purred. "How does that work?"
"Discipline," he shrugged. "Mostly mental. When you're jacked in, there isn't much sexual stimulation running around, unless you park at one of the porno portals and actually pay attention. I usually insist that I be isolated from physical contact while I'm Running. I don't like any kind of distraction in the dataplex.
And by the way, unless you like burning money driving me around, you could tell your driver that he needn't bother with the evasive and confusing driving any more. I have no idea where I am and would really like to get started."
Again, she smiled before pressing the intercom button to the driver.
"Home, James," is all she said, but that's all it took. The grav-limo straightened out onto a steady course and Tonya told him to sit back and relax. It would be about five minutes.
* * * * *
"Impressive." Spark was looking at his insertion station.
They'd landed somewhere that had an underground garage for the limo. They'd debarked into a concrete and steel bunker-like room, with steel doors that led to concrete passages with more steel doors. They'd finally entered a plushly decorated room, much like one of the ritzier apartments the elite would have. It stood in stark contrast to their path on the way to it.
"We do not know how many days you may be required to be with us," Tonya had told him as she had gestured around. "These apartments are our living quarters for the duration. It has the usual kitchen, dinette and parlor, with three bedrooms, each with a bath en suite. It also has the control room for the insertion station and the insertion station itself. Please look around, familiarize yourself with the amenities and let us know what is lacking. Any special dietary requirements should be able to be met."
"So which bedroom is yours?" Spark had asked, just a hint of the licentious in his voice.
"Whichever one you and the Professor do not pick," she had answered. "In that order."
Spark took several minutes to walk around and check out the new digs. Everything was 10-star hotel, from his point of view. He spent his money on hardware, not sleepwear. But he did stop in professional awe of the insertion station. It literally had all the latest tek. Hence his comment of "impressive" as he now stood in front of the lab.
"Who's running the monitoring?" he asked.
"I'll be in the control room and linked in," the Professor told him. "Trust me, I can do both."
"You know what 'trust me' translates to, right, Professor?" Spark asked, turning to look at him.
"Yes. Khuy tebe," the Professor nodded. "Fuck you. But in this case, I am serious. I hold the base patents on 90% of this equipment, or my trust does, since I'm supposed to be dead. Not that it does any good these days. Please believe me when I say I can be linked and monitoring at the same time."
Spark decided to trust him. The man had invented most of the interface he was about to use.
"So when do we get started?" he asked.
"When you are evacuated, hydrated and feel rested," Tonya told him. "Although Spartan at the moment, couches and chairs can be arranged however you see fit for your comfort, particularly if it is going to be a long run."
"The first two or three will be probes," Spark told her. "Short runs to see what the landscape looks like and formulate a plan. I'll need to explore the inherent characteristics of the device, first, before we even think about hitting the dataplex for origin info. So how about we all take a Human Needs Break, get comfortable, and we can do the first run?"
"I am fine with that," Tonya nodded, suddenly very, very serious.
"Ditto," the Professor echoed.
"Then I'll take the bedroom on the left and meet you in the kitchen," Spark decided.
"I'll take the one on the right," the Professor chose.
"Then I will take the middle," Tonya confirmed. "I will see you in the kitchen."
Spark dropped his trench coat and boots in his bedroom, then hit the head off of it. Dressed in khaki pants and a loose, comfortable buttoned shirt, he swung through the kitchen to see what kind of bottled fluids there were. He wasn't surprised when he discovered the reefer had a wide selection of high-end energy drinks, plus fortified water and other elitist beverages. Whoever was running this gig had deep pockets. He also noticed other rare commodities, like non-synthetic meats, eggs and cheeses. If they were going to be stuck here for awhile, at least it would be in obscene levels of comfort. And they were paying for it, not him. All the better.
He'd finished half a bottle of water when the Professor arrived, selecting one of the energy drinks. They didn't get much of a chance to talk before Tonya showed up, still in the diaphanous red dress.
"Whenever you are ready, Spark," she told him. He noted that she didn't avail herself of any drink.
"Now's as good a time as any," he decided and walked on back to the insertion lab, with the Professor and Tonya following him. The Professor peeled off into the control room, but surprisingly, Tonya joined him in the lab, going over to one of the wall cabinets and taking out a jacking cable. She brought it over to stand by Spark.
"All monitors up and running," the Professor's metallic voice came into the lab from the control room. "Need calibrations."
"Would you please hold this?" Tonya asked Spark and handed him the cable.
"So where is this device I'm supposed to Run?" he asked as he took it.
She didn't answer him at first. She stood square to him, about a meter away, reached up behind her neck and unfastened something, because shortly thereafter, the entire crimson gown fell away, to the floor, revealing Tonya in all her naked beauty. Spark was seriously impressed. And a fair number of his hormones were wishing she wasn't a job.
"Me." Tonya held his gaze as she spread her arms slightly to the side, then let it go as she slowly turned in place, showing him every millimeter of her perfection. She took the cable from his stunned hands and while he stood rooted to the spot in fascination and fear, she reached behind her and plugged one end of the cable into a port hidden under the hair on the back of her head.
Oh, my God, she's a construct! he thought wildly, and I am so screwed! She is too perfect! Somebody paid a hell of a lot of money to make her and they're going to want her back. Fuck!...
Tonya closed the distance between them while he was immobilized and tore his shirt open effortlessly. She reached beneath his left armpit and found the jack he'd carefully had installed in an unusual spot, took the other end of the cable dangling from her and plugged it in.
* * * * *
The thing about running a standalone construct was how disorienting it was, the first time. Spark felt the inky blackness undulating around him, and a part of him was bemused.
Ain't it always a contradiction, he thought. That something you can't see can be moving.
He was going to have to wait for his neural net to synch up with the device... with Tonya... before he would "see" anything. He knew he had a few seconds while the interface got calibrated, and he spent it musing on his current predicament.
Spark the Runner