DANCING ON THE CRITICAL PATH fade in. .somewhere in the electric nightmares, between the T
DANCING ON THE CRITICAL PATH
...somewhere in the electric nightmares, between the Tokyo Stock Exchange
and the Kwajalein Uplink. Two million common market creds flash like a
school of crystal fish across the Net, bound for the highriding palaces, going
A ruby flash.
There and gone. A subliminal afterimage, of a bloody crimson shark...
When being the fastest just isn't good enough.
AS OF 00:00:00 1 JANUARY 2033 KHG MULTINATIONAL HELD TITLE TO ONE EIGHTH OF
THE SURFACE OF THE EARTH. BY 00:04:35, THEY OWNED MORE.
There was only the barest perceptable motion, as the transfer vehicle climbed
out of the Small Well. Aristarchus Base soon vanished beyond the lunar
horizon, and the long fall had just barely begun. Its destination, the
clippers and workshacks nestled at Lagrange One, the shuttle sailing silently
through the midnight sea.
And inside, save for the perennial background noise of the airhandlers and
other machinerys, it was just as silent. But not from foul play or lack
of passengers, no. For the tall mohawk hooked against the far bulkhead.
Lean and spare, he seems all too comfortable, as the shuttle drives earthward.
His jumpsuit in all dull blues, highlighted with bright chrome flash. A
workhelmet floats clipped to his belt, newtech, sleek and electric. Coiled
about its surface is a flamboyant painted totem, a wolf, all grey and
white. The rest of the cabin is reflected in the mirrorshade visor.
Highriders, the orbital personell, quiet and still. The groundsiders corpzecs
On one shoulder, is the dull sable octagon logo of Kyohei Heavy Equipment.
And down the arm, simple black letters.
A farwalker, working iron and steel out amidst the asteroids. Seven years
out, five years there, and seven years back. Farwalkers, collecting
ore and gems and minerals so far out the sun is but a small bright star, the
ore shot back to Mother Earth by the Ceres masscannon. Few work that
And even fewer return.
SATLSERVE COMMUNICATIONS. IF WE DON'T CONNECT, YOU DON'T NEED TO.
Stars on the Net.
Like a million small suns, glowing hot and golden, the credcounters lie
scattered across the electronic realities. Neon tracers streak across the
midnight skys and the lonely horizons, pulsing with each transaction, each
interaction with the financial entities. The larger are lost within a million
electric threads, bright fires hidden beneath layers and layers of cooly
glowing ice. Chase-Kyoto. Daitokoji Finance. Talantal Securities.
Monoliths around which orbit the myriad smaller associations.
But beyond, some no more than a black glitter against an equally black
sky, are the coastals.
St. Christopher Coastal. Nevis Anguilla Coastal. Taongi. Kapingamarangi
And so many others.
A workstation, a storage drive, a cyberdeck and a handful of datalines.
A few thousand creds invested, to manage millions, shuffling accounts
across the datanets, from one coastal to another to another, until well lost
within the cybernetic labyrinth.
Just beyond the reach of the Poliblocs.
Most of the time.
PIONEER ELECTRONICS CORPORATION LCY-9300S LIQUID CRYSTAL CYBERDECK. WE
INVENTED THE TECHNOLOGY.
Right to left, across a small complex of buildings, set behind a concrete
wall. Steel and plastics, with long glass clerestorys, they seem empty and
lost. The only motion being the blurred lights of a heavy spinner, dark
green against the dull grey sky.
Near the gate sit a pair of usarmy prime movers, emblazoned with a white
stripe and two simple words.
Edit in, digitized and sharp, overlayed against the industrial background.
"...Jamisson Alexander Studio Five Online.
"...For the second time Savage Arms has closed its doors. The center of
flashfire speculation these last twenty four, it still came as a surprise
to the corporate spheres that the revived arms manuufacturer went offline not
less than five minutes ago.
"The company's action came immediatly after the Department of Defence
announced that they were rescinding every single government contract
connected with Savage, matched with an equally immediate severing of all
data and accounting lines.
"The collapse of Savage Arms also puts to an end the controvertial
LAR-05A Assualt Rifle project. In joint venture with Dawnview Security, the
LAR longarm would have been the first energy weapon for corporate and
"While the closing of the Savage facility eliminated over fifteen hundred
workslots, it does not seem that the employee roster will become a target
for associated corporate headhunting. Invoking the 2014 Unemployed
Conscription Act, the combined armed forces are currently aquisitioning
a majority of the Savage Arms staff. Emphasis seems to be on the research and
technical crew, leaving production and management to the survive the
"And now...Online Live. swapping you to darktown Elaye, where Post
Brother posers bloodblaze..."
NANOSECOND STRESS CUTTING AT YOUR HEART? SLOW DOWN, PUNCH OUT. ESCAPE THE
NEON NIGHTMARE IN OLD WORLD STYLE. NOVA AEROFLOT AIRSHIP PRINCESS
The abandoned loft was empty and bare. Where once the huge skylights let
in the soft northern light, now they only looked into the foundations of
a corporate heaven. Straddling the older building, the heaven's structure
drove down to streetside, like a demented spiders legs, strong steel and
carbon fiber plastics. Above, the heaven rises to touch the clouds, where
the corpzecs and their consorts taste the highflash life, in carefully
sculpted glass and ceramic palaces.
Oldtown skylights looking up at structural steel and thick cabling.
Power, water, waste, and data.
Through an open pane two cables snake from the backside of the corporate
apartments. One is grafted to a thick electric line, the other slicing
Leading to a collection of pipes and scaffolding, hung like a rockerboy's
light rig, but not with spots or fresnels. Instead, rack upon rack of
ziptech hardware, minis and micros, mass storage units and ld decks. The
only light comes from a scattered bank of softly glowing monitors. All
running, and running fast. Diagnostics flash, overwatch machines constantly
searching for bad ice. And in the center, a nightrunner, a cowboy on the
cybernetic range, riding a slick Hokusai horse.
Jacked in, soul locked, running the three state reality.
Skatin' the Nets.
A custom interface, a suave burglar amidst a world to be plundered. Jigen
subroutines for offense, goemons for defense.
In one link and out the other.
And as he travels, the interface changes, reinterprets, each new enviornment
subtly different. A yellow car racing the streets and curves of Monte
Carlo, the Euro Economic Continuum's ErdeNet. A strangely archaic autogyro
dancing across a neon skyline, the Nihon Co-Prosperity Sphere's CDNsystem.
For the names and locations of the cyber-net are Legion.
The big corporate networks usually follow the borders of the poliblocs.
Academics and research riding piggyback or parallel. Most major nets
tie in to each other, allowing a sharp runner to skip from the Westbloc across
the EEC, into zaibatsu-land, and go Orbital. And within each, too many
little nets, baby worlds, in which to play.
Like a lost child on the streets of the Sprawl.
A delicate balance tears across the electronic overlay. Security against
information. The real data is hard. Isolation, security by brute
force. CATS. Scan and Trace, then Cut-At-The-Source. Expect to find
military data on the linked Nets? Never. No lines in, no lines out. Sovbloc
dark and mysterious. Isolated.
You have to Get In, to Get In.
Hardwired direct, uplinking to the heavens, a lost fiber cable snaking into
the base of the building, hoping to all the gods that this loft has been
far long forgotten. Two samurai for hire, watching the door.
Just in case.
In the electronic faere land, a tall castle rises tall, almost german, on an
island on a dark lake. Proud and fancy, tall and sharp.
Requiring more subtlety than an enviornmental interface normally provides.
A single command.
A frame in the sky, a window running cee-three. Getting down, oldtime
hacking, bypassing the interface and driving custom programming against
defense software direct.
Tearing the castle walls down, bit by bit.
Finding a swift sewer to swim through.
RIDE THE CREST OF THE HIGHTECH WAVE IN A HATAMOTO TWO PLACE SPINNER FROM
BIMOTA AIRFRAMES. A DIVISION OF KHG MULTINATIONAL.
Armoured plates glistening slick with crimson, the blood a twisted rorshach
pattern, entrails telling of a torn fate. He turns, almost oblivious, optics
a cold empty well where once something human had been. Through the concert
he mucked, a blur of mirrorchrome and steel, leaving a wake of torn carcasses
still kicking in last convultions.
The worst are those only bent and battered, disfigurements not bleeding enough
to kill, just more pain as shattered bone rips skin, and so boosted that
the white hot roar goes on and on and on and on.
Nothing stops the grime streaked juggernaut, the concert a ruin, not even
Skylark Miyamoto holding his folk. Scattering to all the deadly winds, lost
and paniced against an overcybered tsunamai.
Two men stand.
Fast, as the crowd clears around them. Braced, tough heavy caliber customs
leveled, each shot picked off one right after another. The cyberpsychot
is almost stopped with each shot, tearing off armour, grinding through cables
and servos beneath, spraying as much industrial fluid as blood. What is
left of the killer's head is but a muddy fountain of gore, driven now
only by inhuman cybernetics, never knowing what it is to fall and die.
Rippers snap out, razordeath, slicing the first officer, sending one half
across the low stage, the other bouncing through the broken audience.
A double shot.
And the metal beast collapses.
Deep in dark Elaye. Online and hot. Two cowboys running the herd, silent and
quiet and deadly. The wraiths of the interface, dark magics peering
through a monitor darkly.
On any interface, a pair of albino wolves, with long sharp teeth.
Their prey, a hotshot cyberpilot, a softly pulsing blue crystal racing down
a neon express. So fast, so quick, so sharp, melting corporate ice like a
demented superuser, snagging data and passwords and moneys. Running
dynamic, both graphic and code, slick and sharp, crossing from one net to
another, electronically skipping Polibloc boundaries. Dancing parellel, not
along the commercial nets, oh no.
Strictly military spoken here.
The corporate ops couldn't snag the mysterious blue jewel.
And the Poli's can't indict across the blocs.
Sliding through layers of crystal and death. Lockheed Northrop Joint Venture.
Digging in, sliding through cutter specs, design templates. Loading down.
One of the wolves leans back, opening a third frame, secure. A few words
spoken, confirmed strike.
The blue gem fragments into a hundred million stars.
Too many murders, all dark and quiet. Hightech, lost tech, tech that isn't
supposed to exist. Ice so cold that it kills on association.
The last one, a grim shootout. Westbloc military, a Mega-Tokyo rockerboy
flying on a Sovbloc ticket.
From the doors of the old club, where the hotrockers still play, the officer
lowers his long automatic. The redhot laser snaps off, the weapon hums
so quiet, still online. Walking over to the corpse, he pushes it over with
his boot. Blood stains the black leather, dulling the perfect shine.
Looking down at the still body, his words are quiet and simple.
"You have the right to remain silent..."
Turning, he leaves. Walking through the shattered storefront, he approaches
the police line, and flashes a rectangle of ivory plastic. The plastic
swirls colour for the briefest moment, and then the line breaks, letting him
If it can't be stopped. If the deaths keep rolling. If the corporate sysops
can't hold him. If there are no rules, if the dark borders are crossed.
Hightech, tomorrows cutting edge. The Technical Crimes Police.
WESTBLOC. EURO ECONOMIC CONTINUUM. SOVBLOC. NIHON CO-PROSPERITY SPHERE.
OCEANIC FREEZONE. SOUTH AMERICAN AGRICULTURAL CARTEL. JAKARTA COMBLOC.
WEST INDIES FREEZONE. SAHARA DEAD ZONE. CONFEDERATION ARABIAN. EAST
...I hate jungles...
...Too much green, to wet, too damp, and spiders and sicknesses even the
chipped in corpsman can't pronounce. You can hide too many enemies behind
They don't even show on infra, the jungles so hot and alive.
Yucatan, Guatamala. I don't know which anymore. The borders here are
a few trees that look just like every other. It don't matter. Wherever
you are its all the same.
Its a Hotwar.
And you die.
They just started numbering them one year. This ones Five, and its been going
for awhile. Here, and the Big A Basin, New West Latvia, deep in the
Cartel, or perhaps a midnight airlift into the Ukraine, perhaps lost in the
The newcomps say that there were four blazing this anti-matter.
Protect the Westbloc from Redbloc infiltration.
Even the noncoms know its being done for Weyerhauser.
...I hate it when the Corps and the Polis work together...
VISION SAY YES *
LITTLE SISTER DARK NIGHT IN THE HEAVENS 7
COLD HALF LIFE MIDNIGHT IN BABYLON 6
PRISS AND THE REPLICANTS VICTORY 20
DARK MOON RISING SHATTERED CRYSTAL *
ORANGE CRUSH NDJAMENA 4
FLASHMAN ORBITAL BLUES 3
KURAI YOJIMBO BOOKEN SURU 3
CLOCKWORK NIGHTMARE STEEL AND BLOOD *
CRYSTAL SHURIKEN LOST 1
* FIRST WEEK ON INTERNET ENTERTANMENT CHARTS
Lowing against the badlands night, the small herd rustles in the shelter
of the broken landscape. Half a klick off and half up, the lone
spinner watched, its spotlight slicing down at the animals, fifty head
amidst scrub and rock.
Some of the big steers shy away from the white hot light.
...corpzec dinner, thats'a what yah are...
...fine and processed an' safe. Eat tha scrub an not die, drink the
...nothin to worry about. Toltec Research built 'em that'a'way...
...money back garaunteed...
The spinner turned, the General Engineering turbofans roaring against the
...an' one o' these days, Ah'm gonna get me one o' thier artificial cowboys...
...tah watch mah artificial herd...
LORGNAN BIOLOGICALS: WETWARE SYSTEMS AND GENETIC CONTRACTING
A DIVISION OF KHG MULTINATIONAL.
sailing cross poli lines
for cold steel threats
a colt will do jus' fine
o'er the dark counter
mainline death persues
that's when yah get
them guncutter's blues
Mos' folks jus' don't know
think factory made is grand
mass market toys
'special for a corpzec hand
but different is excitin'
death fit just for you
that's what they call
them guncutter's blues
carve a block of steel
sculpt sharp an' clean
a custom beast forged
heavy caliber mean
the perfect machine
a killer's joy too
that's why its called
them guncutter's blues
the dark siren cries
tearing at your heart
samurai and whitecards
they all play their part
till' one lost night
finally turned against you
an' that's how yah end
them guncutter's blues...
WHAT DREAMS ARE MADE OF...
Golden glass reaching through the clouds, carbon fiber plastics meshed with
polished stone and carven details. Old world opulence raised on high, matched
by highflash architecture, standing tall above the neon hells.
The dying sun blasts orange and red against the towers of glass, long shadows
falling like jagged knives across the upper town cityscape. The running
lights of too fast spinners blur in the growing dark, and the million lights
of the corporate heavens begin to shine like precious stones.
Kenichi Karinin is slowly developing a taste for a Yawk Sprawl sunset.
Lost, a small figure on a small glass balcony, almost forgotten against the
driving mass, as the KHG heaven rises behind him. Tall, the corporate
facility strives towards the stars, its very presence, its very form
dominating the skyscape.
A purposful allegory of its economic power.
Beyond, dark rivals pierce the night sky. IBM Multinational, a black monolith
haunting the city, a sable nightmare. Down, towards the choked sea, the
Chase-Kyoto Towers march, tall marbles and sparkling glass. And clustered
about, like urchins around a mideaval lord, the other banking houses.
Diatokoji Finance stands aloof, a foreign prince dressed in modern plastics
and hightech alloys.
And there, like stars falling upon a midnight ocean, New York Offshore.
At the edge of vision, the huge structure is but a shadow of light and
metal. And within those modern shadows both Internet Entertainment and
Satlserv Communications tie into the sky, and the Pan Am clippers once again
travel to the most exotic ports.
New York Offshore. Uplink.
A glittering paradise, above the tortured city, the heavens ruling above the
As it should be.
Karinin smiles at that thought.
QUICK-PAN: SOFT EURO BEAUTY, LONG BLONDE HAIR, SPLASHED WITH A BLAZE OF
SHARP BLUE METALLIC. HER HAIR FALLS LIKE A SOFT BREEZE, CASCADING OVER
HER SHOULDERS, ACCENTING THE CURVE OF PERFECT BREASTS, JUST A HINT, TO
TEASE SO WELL...
AMBER EYES FLASH, LIKE POOLS OF DIAMOND-BRONZE DUST, HALF LIDDED, SULTRY
INVITING. THE WINDOWS OF HER DARK SOUL, DESIROUS, WANTING, NEEDING...
VOICE OVER, TEMPTING: LOOK INTO THE HEAT, WITH ZEISS-LIECA OPTICS
"Nightshift Security. Always on Duty.
"Yes Sir. Three operatives will rendevous at your location. Estimated
time of arrival: four minutes thirty five.
"And thank you for choosing Nightshift Security."
DANCING ON THE CRITICAL PATH
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank