DANCING ON THE CRITICAL PATH fade in. .somewhere in the electric nightmares, between the T

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DANCING ON THE CRITICAL PATH fade in... ...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 orbital. Then. A ruby flash. There and gone. A subliminal afterimage, of a bloody crimson shark... ...fade out. Tsunagari Cybernetics. 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 simply watching. On one shoulder, is the dull sable octagon logo of Kyohei Heavy Equipment. And down the arm, simple black letters. Ceres. 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 scattered minefield. 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 Securites. 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. Coastals. Just beyond the reach of the Poliblocs. Most of the time. PIONEER ELECTRONICS CORPORATION LCY-9300S LIQUID CRYSTAL CYBERDECK. WE INVENTED THE TECHNOLOGY. Slow pan. 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. Military Police. 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 civillian production. "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 corporate neverlands. "And now...Online Live. swapping you to darktown Elaye, where Post Brother posers bloodblaze..." Cut in. Downtown Elaye. NANOSECOND STRESS CUTTING AT YOUR HEART? SLOW DOWN, PUNCH OUT. ESCAPE THE NEON NIGHTMARE IN OLD WORLD STYLE. NOVA AEROFLOT AIRSHIP PRINCESS EKATERINA. 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 into fiberoptics. 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. Security. 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. Elsewhere. 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. There. 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. CATS. Elsewhere. Oldtown Sprawl. 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 pass. Whitecards. 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. Whitecards. 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 SHORE FREEZONE. ...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 this green. They don't even show on infra, the jungles so hot and alive. Hell. 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 dying Congo. The newcomps say that there were four blazing this anti-matter. Protect the Westbloc from Redbloc infiltration. Damn. 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 poisoned water... ...nothin to worry about. Toltec Research built 'em that'a'way... ...money back garaunteed... The spinner turned, the General Engineering turbofans roaring against the night. ...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. ...hechler-koch-and-stoll 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... SOFTFORMS BIOSCULPTURE 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 hells. 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

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