3D’s Backstory Tale (Featuring Lumi Dragonsage, Happy, Mathew Ian Stanford, Benjamin Mobley)
If you had to choose a single word to describe Lumi Dragonsage, a good one might be ‘spectacle.’ She wore an outlandish garment covered in an eclectic assortment of mystical imagery from around the world. Every statement came with some grandiose gesture; combined with her thick Scandinavian accent, it was nearly comical. Nearly. Her penetrating gaze and the palpable aura of power surrounding her sapped the humor right out of the presentation.
3D looked at the money on the table, then back to her. “The money’s fine, but I don’t need any help.” Lumi had just doubled her offered payment, contingent on the troll taking on a partner for the job. “I can handle a routine hack.”
“I am sure you can,” Lumi responded in her lilting accent. “But I am a cautious woman. Consider it a personal request.”
“Fine. Have you already worked it out with the dwarf?” He preferred a little more tact in his negotiations but knew Lumi would find that patronizing. She had a reputation for being a straight shooter, in exchange she preferred her associates to be forthright.
She smiled. “Happy will be yours to negotiate with. The additional sum should easily cover his normal fees.”
“I can accept that.” He wasn’t thrilled but it didn’t really matter. He could lowball the offer and keep the rest for himself. Since the dwarf would just be sitting on his thumbs anyway, 3D didn’t even have to feel bad about it.
“Frag you, mini-me, I got this,” 3D chortled after Happy offered to assist with the hack. “It’s a different kind of ‘hack.’”
As things turned out, 3D found he liked the walking, talking knife rack everyone called Happy. He was a first-rate hitter with a solid rep. It also helped that he was a funny, affable sort of guy.
“Just looks like your struggling, maybe not gettin’ enough air up there?” Happy chuckled at his own joke before turning back to a collection of blades laid out on the coffee table.
“Sure, sure. Look, if I need something violently disassembled at the knees, I’ll check in. Until then, let the Duke,” 3D popped his imaginary collar, “do his dirty deeds.”
Happy shrugged. “Your loss big guy.”
The troll turned his attention to the AR overlay in front of him. He swiped several icons to the right, loading programs into a satchel only he could see. Happy ignored him, sliding the edge of a long blade across a whetstone.
The scraping made 3D cringe. After a few minutes, he turned to the dwarf again. “I’m just going to jack in. If I wake up with any form of drawing on my person or property, I’m going to plaster your ugly mug onto every most wanted list on the planet and then tag your location for the bounty boards. Feel me?”
He was only half-joking.
“You’ve got me confused with Horny. He’s the one that’s always doodlin’ on the droolers!”
The hacker’s brow furrowed. “You do know that’s not one of the seven dwarves, right?” He regretted the question nearly as soon as he asked it.
“First off,” Happy said, seriously, straightening his shoulders, “there are a lot more than seven dwarves these days. Two, we’re just watching different versions of Snow White. My version, she ain’t earned that name from her ‘purity’, if you get my drift,” Happy chuckled.
3D grimaced, rubbing his face to clear the mental imagery before laying back on the couch and plugging the cable into his datajack. As the real world faded to black, he could hear the dwarf, talking to himself now.
“Heh, ‘drift’. That was a snow pun….”
In an instant, 3D was home. His personal domain reflected a blending of historical eras, sculpted into a steampunk theme. Here, he was the Dashing Duke of Dataheim. He’d constructed the small node at the center of his own personal grid. Working pistons, spinning gears, and crackling Tesla coils represented the various code running in the background.
Not many hackers had the chops to carve out a personal space in the virtual ether, and 3D always felt a small burst of pride when he arrived. Of course, he really couldn’t access much from inside Dataheim—he’d need to jump to the major grids for that—but he could configure his deck with any of the programs and tools he stored there. It was a safe place to log on and prepare a specific load-out for whatever task he needed to complete.
If anyone thought he’d stop at sculpting the node itself, they didn’t know 3D at all. Loading a simple attack program looked like grabbing a clockwork blunderbuss from a rack of similarly fashioned weapons. He thought back to the nuanced recodes he’d committed to the program. The executable included an animation of rotating barrels and malicious code rocketed from the business end in the form of six spinning gears. He even managed to reduce the latency and the weapon fired faster than it had off the rack.
The time it took to get the feel of it just right had cost him two potential paydays. He simply wasn’t willing to venture out with subpar tools, whether in efficiency or style. It would reflect poorly on the Duke.
As he finished the load, he dropped a ‘monocle’ over his eye, feeding traffic data on the various grids he could access. He knew he’d check them all eventually, a thorough search checked every corner, but would start where he had legitimate access. He pulled a keyring from his belt and unlocked the single wooden door that left his clockwork chalet. As he stepped into the busy grid, it closed behind him, fading completely from sight.
Now, in earnest, he began the hunt for Benjamin Mobley and Matthew Ian Stanford.
It was time to make some nuyen.
3D darted to the side as a silver tiger leapt from the file. He’d coasted easily through the school network and turned up several hits on both Mobley and Stanford. A child could have found the same with a consumer search tool, so he hadn’t expected any threats. The ice had caught him by surprise and he turned to face it, quickly assessing the danger.
The tiger landed and immediately spun around, lashing out with a claw. The hacker plucked a button from his lapel and flicked it. It expanded into a web-like shield, barely deflecting the attack Slower by nanoseconds and the damaging code would have torn through his system.
Firing the blunderbuss wasn’t an option, even in that virtual setting the report would attract attention. The price for style, 3D supposed. Instead he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, white rabbit.
“Sorry little buddy.”
He tossed it behind the tiger. The rabbit landed and quickly bolted away. The sudden movement dragged the tiger’s attention from the hacker and it gave chase. With the distraction program in place, 3D turned back to the file.
He ran a quick scan, looking for any other surprises, but found nothing. Confident that it was clear, he opened the file.
THAT’S JUST THE START. STOP LOOKING NOW.
A simple, scrolling message that repeated every second. Nothing else. Apparently, there was more to Mobley and Stanford than he initially thought. Not that it mattered. He wasn’t some script kid that was going to be chased off by some rookie coding.
“If the gloves are off, let’s take them off.”
“Why do I take jobs like this?”
Now that he knew who Mobley and Stanford were, he just wanted to go home. It was usually the easiest part of any job; all he had to do was jack out of the virtual, slip into his bag of meat, and deliver the very important cluster of files he’d copied.
Except this time, a trio of sleek black panthers circled him in perfect synch—the last obstacle between him and a fine payday.
It was a clever design, he had to admit. Most hackers would see the panthers and think it was some kind of offensive program. 3D had already made his rookie mistake, so he’d scanned them to make sure. These were nothing so base as an attack program. Instead, the panthers were part of a trap and track sequence, designed to bait him into giving it the trail it needed to find him quickly.
He knew it would pinpoint his real-world location eventually but attacking any of the panthers would firmly illuminate his data trail. By the same logic, he shut down any programs he wouldn’t need, shrinking his footprint. He tucked his blunderbuss onto his back, shut down his clockwork armor, and hesitantly pocketed the monocle. He was blind to anything else that might pop up, but now he could delay the trace for the necessary moments.
Pulling a virtual envelope from his vest pocket, 3D began the simple task of sending a message. He wanted to hand deliver it, but doubted he’d make it without some seriously corrupted files stored on a smoking disaster of a deck. The files uploaded, a fancy fountain pen scribbling impossibly fast onto a scrolling sheet of high-quality vellum. As they did, 3D turned his attention back to the panthers.
They moved in perfect unison, eerily quiet and unsettling. They invited attack, but 3D knew that—even if he could derezz one of them in a single shot—they would quite nearly lock onto his position. Attacking once would be enough in most situations, hitting them again would be like driving the nail into your own coffin.
When the three panthers suddenly stopped, he knew his time was up. Their black tails straightened, pointing skyward like furry antenna. 3D closed the envelope with a flick of his finger and then whipped it into the air. It spun in a wide arc before seemingly catching a powerful, narrow current. As it rocketed into the electronic ethereal, lightning erupted from the poised tails, surrounding 3D in a cage of crackling energy. He was electronically trapped, unable to disconnect and leave in a traditional fashion. He took a seat at the center of the cage and waited, patiently, for the next step.
Lumi Dragonsage had been right, as usual.
That was the sensation.
Maybe his eyes were open, but it didn’t matter. All that existed was a white flare, covering the world in static.
Behind the pain he knew what was happening. He’d felt this all before, and would again one day, hopefully not soon. But knowing didn’t speed him through the process. If anything, it made it all a little worse. How long was it? He could track time, or maybe that wasn’t right? It was filled with nothing but pain, the infinitesimal spaces between each ripple could not be perceived. There was no respite.
This is how it always was when someone had to pull the plug.
The spaces came first, and with that came time. Something to count, something to measure. Then came the noise, fluttering in and out, each sound unrecognizable except to bring to mind the infinite possibilities of what that sound could become. Schrodinger’s voice.
The possibilities coalesced into reality.
Scraping. Banging. Muttering.
“…time for this you big doof. Get moving!”
“Tinmen,” 3D managed to grunt out, pain escalating with each syllable. “No time.”
He still couldn’t see, but he recognized the sensation of pain shifting from his head into his body. Rather, the pain in his head subsided enough that he could feel the residual effects of an entire body cramp.
“Save the mysteries for when you can talk. Do we need to bolt?” 3D could hear the sounds of the dwarf packing up.
He coughed slightly, testing his nervous system, then raggedly spoke again, “Yes. Those guys are cops. Undercover. We need to get out fast.”
As if to punctuate his statement, the door crashed open.
A surge of adrenaline cleared his vision. From his place on the couch, he could see Happy blur into action. Several blades rotated from their place on the coffee table into the space between dwarf and door. They flew too fast for 3D to follow, but when his gaze finally caught up, they’d found new homes in the faceplate and armor plating of the first figure coming through the door.
A second figure stepped over his falling comrade, a shotgun at his hip, ready to fire. Nobody expected the dwarf to follow the blades as quickly as they’d flown. He squeezed the trigger and the shotgun boomed as Happy shoved the barrel up and back. The dwarf didn’t stop there and moved out of the apartment, leaving the fellow all the time he’d need to find his face.
In all that time, 3D managed to roll off the couch and stay low. He considered reconnecting to his AR view but didn’t want to expose himself to whatever electronic backup these guys had. He pulled a pistol from the holster at the small of his back, the tiny barrel looking ridiculous in his massive hands.
Several more shots echoed from the hallway outside, followed by a pair of short screams. 3D popped up from behind the couch, aiming the pistol at the doorway. Two bodies lay there, unmoving. More shots, further away. Something smashing, a thud, more crashes.
Sudden movement at the door and 3D squeezed the trigger. Happy was next to him, then, his own finger in the trigger guard, stopping the shot.
“You ready to go?”
3D relaxed slightly. “You mind being a walking crutch,” he said with a chuckle.
“Just keep your big mitt off my head.” Happy grabbed a few knives from the table, then hoisted the troll like a child to his feet, despite the massive difference in size.
Keeping his legs under him was harder than 3D expected and he immediately leaned over onto Happy’s shoulder.
“I tossed the data to my private node. Mobley and Stanford are undercovers.”
“Law dogs? I think your brain got a little fried.”
“They’re cops. Frag, they tracked me fast enough to get these guys here before we left.”
3D pulled up his AR and started the car, hoping they were clear.
Happy shrugged. “Well, lucky for them we’ll be out of here in no time.”
“Lucky for them?”
“Yeah. Data’d be useless if they showed up here. Don’t think Lumi wants info on a pair of corpses.”
They exited into the alley, where 3D had parked his sedan. 3D crawled into the back and laid down as Happy jumped into the passenger side.
The car connected to the traffic grid and lurched forward.
3D chuckled. “Lucky for us, too, then. I’m sure she’d be hesitant to pay us if the targets were dead.”
“Meh. No one refuses to pay me.”
3D snorted at that before conceding. “I could see how you would be convincing.”
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