The Show Must Go Off

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    Herr D

    There were no shootings at my trial. No escape attempts. The defense presented no surprise witnesses. Gred, my lawyer, had assured me that the judge wouldn’t believe my rehab plea if we looked like we weren’t playing fair, and surprise witnesses wouldn’t look fair. No one better understands a pernt like that than a con artist like me. The problem was twofold: Gred wasn’t a con artist, so he wouldn’t have realized that the prosecution had snowed him good with that intel. And I wasn’t a lawyer, so I didn’t realize that lawyers fight dirtier than I ever did. The surprise the prosecution brought to the table was one of my OWN CHARACTER WITNESSES. Betrayal, as it happens, didn’t faze the judge at all. His Honor made history that day, sending the first ever white collar criminal to the Belt Mines. My name is Oscaw. I’m a weak, small, not-so-tough guy with no weapon implants, and I am responsible for the END OF THE GLADIATOR GAMES. I was running the show, telling seventeen thousand of the worst, most dangerous convicts what to do less than two months after I arrived. My memchips are full of lies I put there myself–this is my MinimumConscienceLog (in OFFLINE form–I feel like such a Ludd.) If you’re reading and want hush money, see me. I’ve got plenty.



    Wow, this seems interesting.


    Herr D

    Thx, Myro. I am concerned I was too vague at a couple of points–was any part of it unclear?
    I thought I should try to get over my hate/love relationship with finishing art, and serializing some sci-fi seemed simpler than picking out a pic place, paying payments to publish pix and posting my preposterous applications of peculiar adaptations of partially depicted paraphenalia.

    *edit.-heh-heh. I guess I couldn’t resist making my own gallery. Funny that I would think I would stick to ONE medium.



    Errr…off topic but…Herr D, I can’t see all of your signature and it’s really bugging me…can you post it or something please?


    Herr D

    mmm–sure. . . here:
    My 1rst gr. teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I hadn’t really been listening, so I said, “a giant.” The class laughed at me then, and again after: “I meant your career as an adult?” / “Ohhhh.” Then the teacher showed how well she knew me, “Why would you want to be a giant?” / “So I could have my head in the clouds with both feet planted firmly in the mud.” I don’t remember her compliment, just the evil looks I got from the class. Twelve years later, I added that I could ‘travel both roads at once’ to a lit. prof., in discussing “The Road Not Taken.” I don’t remember her compliment either, just the glazed eyes of my classmates. Fifteen years passed, and I explained it again to a stranger–“Did you get there?” / “I’m afraid so.” / “Why?” / “People run when they should listen.” . . .some of my talks run a bit long. . .and require multiple takes. [sigh]

    *edit.-My next signature ran approximately: The mutant Storm sent the mutant Beast a postcard. It read: The weather is here. Wish you were beautiful.
    The one after says: Someone asked me had I lost my mind, and I replied that it was still at the other end of my eyestalks. They grumbled about signing the non-disclosure forms. Such a useless behavior, even for a h- um, a person with a lot to do.


    Herr D

    The Show Must Go Off–part two

    For anyone to truly understand my motives, they’d have to know the truth about The Great Extortion. Back in ’38, when Yoshi got famous? The popblogs and ‘casts all claimed he’d charmed top scientists into DOING the study that accidentally revealed the link from corn syrup overconsumption in parents to their kids’ autism. Sham. Yoshi didn’t have the idea. He didn’t prompt the labcoated losers to do the study, and he didn’t prompt the bureaucrats to give grants. He didn’t even get all those former programmers jobs.
    I was doing data mining, hero-worshipping Yoshi along with everyone when I DID have an idea of my own. When does a study convince people? I was still young in ’40 when there was a resurgence in the Flat Earthers [snort] so it was on my mind. And what more trackable than purchases? I did a term’s software project on market research data mining and then hacked in to get purchase profiles of three scientists on the study, three programmers and TRIED for Yoshi’s. Then a simple subroutine to look up which sweeteners in guesstimates of ‘doses’ and a longer program to compare those six to a population of 100 random citizens. I expected the programmers to slow eating corn syrup in ’37, you know, when the study contracts were made? As part of their endorsing the project. I expected the scientists to start later, [bah humbug, no REAL evidence till WE say so. . .] and was I wrong. The programmers slowed when I thought. The scientists had slowed back in [uh?!] ’21. It took me nearly a year to backtrace by location and eliminate other customers from where Yoshi shopped. He’d known since ’23. I extorted my hero. I was, after all, doing pretty much what he had done.
    Somehow he’d hacked the original study and extorted his way out of being sentenced for computer crimes. Then he got amnesty and had the bureaucrats and scientists involved buy their way out by duping the study nearly EIGHTEEN years later and going public. 9.3 MILLION autistic kids were born in those eighteen years, if you count the colonies, stations, and orbiting farms. All over one dirty secret. He teletutored me in programming, data-mining, hacking, anything I wanted before ‘awarding’ his fortune to his ‘brightest and favorite pupil’ in his will. He went to his grave still a hero, using his good name to praise turning the scramble for resources into a collective of prison workers. The Belt Mine Prison System was well underway in ’46 when he died. So you see it’s fitting that when I did get sent up, I got sent here. My hero’s meal tickets got the place started after all. “Ice, Iron, and Iodine” people were saying. Water, metal, and trace minerals from the asteroid belt to grow sugar cane, soy, fruit, blue agave, and the tweaks. Little did I know my part in making my future home. The history books can stay wrong. Why be a famous target when I could be a rich healthy happy nobody?


    Herr D

    The Show Must Go Off–part three
    I’d love to say people were impressed with me or afraid of me when I got here. Or that I commanded respect right away. What I did was make some people think. I was carrying my first week’s rations, still woozy from the drugs they used back then in comatransit, when I met my first troublemaker. He was big, too. No intro, he just knocked my ration boxes out of my hands.
    “You new, huh? When’s your first fight?”
    “I haven’t seen signups yet.”
    “Why wait for signups? We’re in good walls now.” I didn’t even know he meant we couldn’t decompress the cavern we were in. I thought it meant we were ‘welcome’ to fight there. I needed to think of something quick. I thought what he was pointing at me was a weapon.
    “Right after you shoot out those cameras.” I was going with ‘AEIOU.’ Ambush if possible; nope. Evaluate–his reaction would tell me how to deal. IOU–return with interest all harm. It’s a decent philosophy for brawling.
    “Why would I do that?” He didn’t even look at them. Mmm–has focus. He questions. “Don’t you know the penalties?”
    “Yep.” Of course I did. I’d heard very little else my last two days of awake time. He didn’t tell ME to shoot them out–small amount of sympathy for ignorance. “But you want to fight NOW.”
    He squinted at me, “why don’t you want credit? You know what it’s worth, right?” Ah–thinking. If I get him doubting himself–The reason there is no ‘Y’ is questions can slow down a fighter’s reaction time.
    “Yahyahyah–wins are more rations, losses are time off with hospice. I just don’t want to fight ON CAMERA. I’ll admit to whatever happened after we fight.”
    “But you could die.” Oooh–he doesn’t WANT to kill me. I can see that–
    “Then you’ll have my body as proof.” What IS that thing he’s pointing at me?
    “Are you a Luddite?” I tapped the jack implant through my suit. “No? Then why you wanna fight off camera?”
    Haha. “I gave up living on Earth. I gave up my career. Most of my WEALTH is impounded. I’m NOT GIVING THEM CHEAP THRILLS TOO!” That flinch when I shouted–not a recoil, like I scared him–more like he cares about my feelings. I used my StayNeur implant to run an app for tech recognition on the nozzle he was pointing at me and almost laughed in his face. It wasn’t a weapon at all. It was a THERMAL PATTERN SENSOR. Really old tech for finding microleaks jerried up to try to judge my emotional state. I guess it hadn’t dawned on him that a poker face can be enhanced by biotech as well. Faster processing and full control over autonomic variants gives a con artist a great edge. I had the heat patterns of a completely amoral sociopath practicing Zen meditation. THAT was why he was hesitating. I continued on as if I hadn’t had more than enough time to segue my thoughts around the whole neighborhood, “Here–I don’t want to get penalized either. Take this M-R-E, add one of your own, and rent us a room with no cams. I’ll examine it. Then we’ll fight in private. Sync I-D?” I held out my tag. He blinked.
    “Nah. I’m not gonna pay for it. I’ll look for you at signups.” He watched me pick up my stuff. “Good point, bro. They get enough from us, don’t they?”
    “Yep,” I left, remembering not to smile. I had no idea that he would actually agree so completely or that I had just started a political movement.


    Herr D

    The Show Must Go Off–part four
    I had just gotten to an info kiosk and poked around a bit, just looking at code security, when I realized my first real problem. My quarters were right by Fight Registration And Arbitration, between Arena Row and The Shaky Camera–the biggest, roughest sports bar in the main halls. Worse, it was as far as possible, trafficwise, from Emergency Medical Services. Great. The cheapest room I couldn’t survive to walk to and from. I’d need a lookout by my front door. I started looking through the netposts, and happened on something under ‘Spotter Trading.’ I got a contact point, hacked his schedule, and realized that if I hurried I could beat him home.
    “Jenko?” This guy wasn’t as short as he looked, on account of his spine was bent like one of those old-fashioned Christmas candy canes. He WAS as shriveled and brown as a Christmas pine tossed away in August, though. Maybe as prickly too.
    “Who’s askin’?” He didn’t spin or dodge, just paused like, ‘oh, well. Mugger again today?’
    I introduced myself and found out a spotter is actually a piece of mining equipment I didn’t know. They quit using Standard Portable Oscillating Trenchers in ’56. But this was ’51. He actually liked my idea of a lookout service. I negotiated to be a grunt for him, slow apprenticeship plus lookout. Sweetening the pot, I arranged to hang a hammock for myself over his couch and stay at his place for cutting him in for a fourth of whatever I could make on my place. His place was right by Equipment Bay Two and Enforcer Station Five. Muggings were rare there. Then I hacked the hallcams and streamed all the old footage in the servers.
    I ran it, looking for empty halls and found out that doesn’t happen. A few quick apps to collect data . . .
    It must have taken me an hour to figure out that the least violence happens in the crowds that form when arenas empty twenty-four to eleven minutes before main shift changes. Hammock hung, I ate an MRE, programmed Jenko’s door to let me in, borrowed and double-clipped a wrench and a mallet to my worn-out comasuit and set off to turn my place into a moneymaker.


    Herr D

    The Show Must Go Off–part five
    I earned some lowchits on the way to my place carrying trash away. I wasn’t proud. I rooted right through it for anything handy. I collected a dented water bottle, a broken toolclip, twenty-some half-worn-out standard fasteners, twelve nearly empty cans of air freshener, some cleaning chemicals, a tenth of a sewing kit, and a third of an old foam mattress. I dumped the rest at the Waste Station, making a small profit from my clients by throwing away less mass. Then I carried my bundle to my place and went into the hard work.
    After the wall console was clean, my bunk unbolted from the floor in nine pieces. It took all four legs and all four braces to build a temporary sawhorse to prop up the spring frame high enough that I could bolt it to the ceiling over the wallscreen. Then the sawhorse came apart, and three braces were needed to brace it in place. The result was a homemade shield for my wallscreen. I mounted the toolclip from my comasuit in the door alcove and replaced it with the broken one. Then I cleaned the rest of the place, secreted the leftover bunk pieces and fasteners and chemicals in the bathroom cabinet, and started sewing while scanning local net activity. When my wrists stopped throbbing, I mounted the remote in the door alcove near the toolclip and dozed off sewing.
    When I woke up, I had a breakfast of warm tap water and finished sewing. A professional tailor would have a massive coronary, but I had torn up the third of a mattress and made a foam pad to go around the edges of my homemade wallscreen shield with a removable, washable cover. I programmed a passcoded toggle for public access to my wallscreen complete with variable message forwarding. Then I pushed my bare mattress across the room from the wallscreen, moved the chair under the shield and checked the time. I had most of what I needed to get a leg up. And hacking the local net chatter had given me a good start on the rest. I braided a cord out of mattress scraps, hid remnants and cleaned, and tied the mallet to my broken toolclip. Then I walked out to meet the only bartender on Asteroid V-gamma-7 who’d ever been in the Gladiator Games with not a single complaint on file from anyone.


    Herr D

    The Show Must Go Off–part six
    Chugger was only a bartender, but he was so big he probably couldn’t put a thumb through the handle of a stein. From a distance he might’ve looked short and stocky if no one was near him. He worked bar alone because no one would fit behind the bar with him, but, if he bent straight out from the waist, he could pick up a tip a customer dropped on the floor. He had a file that interested me. Convicted of a permanent mauling back in ’48, he’d plead ‘no contest’ to skip most of the trial and be held for the next ship up here. Rumor was he hadn’t been driving at all, but had hitched a ride with a methhead and been unlucky in his getaway. Rumor also had it he’d been so desperate for a ride because he’d committed a mass murder. He’d logged a single fight in the G-Games. He’d deliberately swapped partners until he got the scariest opponent available, one Joe ‘Iron’ No Last Name. Chugger had slowly walked up to him, begun a straight right punch before the buzzer, got hit four times in the chest for four cracked ribs in a half second before his left jab to ‘Iron’s’ throat killed ‘Iron’ almost instantly. A broken neck with one punch is rare, even for someone who walks into it dodging the other hand and leaning forward for their own offense. It’s even more rare for a neck to break while it’s in a collar designed to withstand a high-caliber shell. Chugger broke one knuckle with that punch, but no one is EVER going to fight him again. He’s fast enough he buses the whole bar between rounds. And soft-hearted.
    “Help you?” he said. I’d timed it perfectly, shown up as the bar emptied for a major arena fight.
    “How much are crackers?” I used the GameFace app I’d written to pale my face a little more as I drooped my lids.
    “One lowchit’ll get you two packs.” He had them out on the word ‘one.’
    I paused for effect. I pulled out three lowchits. “I’m afraid I don’t have a tip, sir. Six packs please.”
    He frowned. “Down on your luck?”
    “Yes sir.” I bought the six cracker packs, opened one and nearly swallowed them whole without dropping a crumb.
    “You look terrible.”
    “I’ve only had water today so far.” I started the second pack.
    He glanced at the empty bar. “I can give you another glass if you like.”
    I apped up some misty eyes. “Please. And thank you.”
    He had a full glass beside my third pack and the first empty wrapper gone before I finished ‘you.’ “You get a bad jumper?”
    Not a bad guess. Short-hop ships were expensive to replace. “No. Business isn’t working out. Linen is too expensive.”
    He frowned deeper. “LINEN? Hotels are doing fine here.”
    “I only have the one room. But it’s here.”
    He blinked. “Here?”
    “Two doors down. You can hear crowds outside it. No one can hear in, but, who could sleep there? Room’s mine free and clear, and I can’t even sell it for a year because I’m newly convicted.”
    He glanced down at my comasuit with it’s broken toolclip. “You don’t say.”
    “I’ve been thinking I might have to offer it to local hookers who bed Enforcers, but I don’t want to.”
    That riled him. “Have you?”
    He pushed a button under the bar that locked up. “Bus the tables. I’ll give you a highchit. Then I want to see the place.”
    I managed to look weakly surprised. “What about a lowchit and breakfast?”
    He grinned, took one pack back and said, “Done.”
    Chugger worked doubles a lot at The Big Screen–small bar with good food and the biggest screen outside the arena rooms. His online grievances were that he could never walk home fast enough to see a woman and hotels were expensive. He booked my room for three hours between lunch-end and his happy hour. For a MONTH. I’d thought I’d get a week. Chugger turned out to be quite a ladies’ man. His deposit bought me six sets of linen, food for a week, and a mining worksuit. A good day.


    Herr D

    The Show Must Go Off–part seven

    That first week, that ended in my first murder, was a blur of haggling and hacking, honest work and outright thievery. Jenko taught me to use his extra ‘spotter’ for half my ore recovery, calling it a ‘jackhammer’ sometimes. We watched each other for security on supply runs and I pretended to be an expert pilot. His jumper had enough memory that the two days I didn’t get to touch it I ran apps, building a hidden software library until I had a basic Anticollision Program, a Light Touch Override, and a Grace Simulator, not to mention I hacked his SpeedCheck and shaved a few more kmph out of it. Jenko was impressed enough with the flying I didn’t do that I had to make my first Minimum Conscience Log entry (encrypted.) He was becoming a father figure. We bunked together, we mined together, we complained together, I paid him his take, and he showed me what wasn’t on the maps online. He had no idea I was working on other things at the same time.
    I made bids and counterbids on my publicly known supplies, built up an online presence of four separate identities, got them trading and bidding, hacked into Enforcer System databases and Robot Arm Controllers, and started falsifying Enforcer data and using Reclamation Robot Arms to start stealing and delivering. All while I kept my hands needlessly on Jenko’s jumper’s control console, pretending to steer. In my off time I used bot shafts, illegally streamed Enforcer cams, and timing to get around, avoiding people all I could. I had to get linens and clothes cleaned, learn some escape routes, wire stolen junk together and test it, hide it–you know–errands. It was laundry that got me in trouble. Three hes and a she were waiting outside Billy’s Service Post, and they almost jumped me before I ducked inside.
    I started my laundry and was walking out by the time they’d decided to come in. Billy himself met us at the door.
    “No fighting in here!” he belted out.
    I GameFaced up an eager expression, “No worries, Billy! I’m just going to follow these people out. I didn’t want any more blood on my new clothes.” I gestured down at my comasuit with its fifteen holes and broken toolclip. “But now they’re in the machine–” And I waved at the cleaner, “Billy? I trust you. Would you hold my stub? This suit has no more pockets.” I handed him my cleaner receipt stub, nodded blandly but respectfully at his surprised face, and walked straight at the four people hesitating. No one wants to risk a looting charge. Merchants just won’t help you after that, and few can live well without. The woman had been listening, too, and was telling one of the guys what I’d said. Bingo. I streamed some data. In a nanosecond, I had begun a major fraud. They watched each others’ backs out into the main hall and gave me some space. I came out blandly, wearing an ‘oh-boy-oh-boy!’ expression. “So, more fighting today? Who’s first?”


    Herr D

    The Show Must Go Off–part eight

    So there I was, facing down four possible combatants outside Billy’s, armed only with a bluff they couldn’t even see and a stupid smile. Why hadn’t I bought a gun? It’s really easy to reason your way out of doing something and distract yourself with regrets in the middle of a crisis. I hadn’t bought a gun because I’m a lousy shot and they don’t sell affordable automated targeting computers. That would become dangerous for the Enforcers, because four precise hits on the same spot on their armor should pierce. My smile WAS making one him and the her nervous . . . she broke first. But sounded casual enough.
    “You put bloody linen in the machine without a pre-rinse?”
    “Not linen, miss; my mining suit. Was that bad?”
    She smiled, “Always ask a woman about getting blood out of your laundry before you make a mistake.”
    Ee-eew. But practical. She’s the brains–lie best to her–“It was just traces. He died quick.” I fairly beamed at her, like I was remembering getting my favorite Christmas present instead of worrying about who would attack first.
    “How long ago?” Yikes. I smiled extra wide as a stall tactic while I found a suitable record.
    “He attacked between spotter shift and jumper commute. I would guess that was about RS1030.” Using rotation standard time would give me time to lie about which asteroid rotation I was talking about, and therefore it would give me time to pick my location. But nobody asked that. Why is all my best work unappreciated?
    “Pirate?” The biggest guy asked. “Why didn’t he just fry you from orbit?”
    I turned on him like it was the first time I’d noticed him, cocked my head and gave him a ‘you-alright?’ look. “Magnesium ore?”
    The little guy laughed. “Yeah, Gibb! How could he steal it if he’d already blown it up?” He turned to me, “You poke his suit?”
    “Nah. He came for ore. I gave him a piece of it.” I paused for effect and was rewarded by four confused frowns. “A BIG piece of it? . . . Through his faceplate and up his nose?” In the virtual world, one of my false identities had, after willing his belongings to a second, had turned pirate, which explained how much ore he’d been trying to trade. Then he’d gone mysteriously missing during my shift. As always, faking the timestamps was the hardest part. An entire life had begun and ended virtually. Trying to sound casual, I continued with, “It didn’t fit up his nose very well.” And smiled big again, this time for real, but about how badly they were falling for this. The little guy made a quick mental calculation and pushed it to the next level.
    “You’re not registered for any fights. Do you know you have to register?”
    “Yes,” how could anyone NOT know? “But right now, I’m only fighting for arbitration.”
    “The rules of arbitration state that I can fight to settle a dispute if both parties agree. That counts as a fight once it’s over.”
    Now everyone looked at ME funny. Shorty said, “why would you do that?”
    I GameFaced a lofty-passionate-idealistic-and-slightly-deranged expression. “Because ending a life is an intimate act. My victims deserve privacy, and I have no intention of giving the citizens of Earth cheap thrills. They took my livelihood away and I will never see my friends again. I only fight off camera.”
    The woman looked at me with admiration, which really DID scare me. Gibb said, “How?”
    I pointed at an info kiosk. The four of them crowded around it. I talked them through looking up the specific rules while I monitored the kiosk in real time over an apped speedlink I’d hid in a bot shaft three meters away. She was good. She pretended to follow my instructions while she navigated almost directly to the rules in question and set up for a background check. At the right time, she asked me for my handle.
    “It looks like an old style ‘off’ symbol. You know, back when they had ‘off-and-on switches’ on electronics?” She’d already checked to see my status, since I was the only one registered that way on the whole BMPS system, but she was playing the part well.
    “It says you registered your pirate’s death remotely.”
    “Yeah. They probably won’t even take a statement. They don’t have a mess to clean up.”
    She smiled again. “He wants to fight you.” She pointed at Shorty. “Do we make up a dispute?”
    I looked him up and down. “No need; just type in that he thinks he can win a fight against me and I disagree. That’s a dispute.”
    Gibb spoke up again, “How much?” His group laughed at him while I looked at him sympathetically.
    “No fees for this–Gibb, is it?” He nodded, liking me better than his group just a little. Hmmm. . .
    She frowned then, “who pays fines for property damage?”
    “Pro cleaner fee from challenger. I pay damages if we fight in my arena. Box in blue under my name.”
    “You OWN an ARENA?” Shorty blurted out, “That’s not legal!”
    “I own a room and use it as I please. That’s legal.” They held a quick, quiet argument.
    “You can’t fire weapons in a room. The shielding will kill us both.”
    “That’s why we’ll be fighting with no weapons.” I give them my biggest GameFace psychotic look-how-gracefully-I-can-hold-a-bomb-too-long look.
    “No weapons?” Shorty looked genuinely surprised.
    “And no armor. I’m already dressed, and my arena is free right now. Sync I.D.?”
    Shorty went slightly pale. “Umm?” He looked at their group’s brain.
    She smiled. “After I check the room and okay it.” They led the way, making me safer than I’d ever been in these hallways. She watched me shove the mattress into the shower and lock the door, looking with interest at my bedframe mounted over my wallscreen. Then I pointed out the toolclip in the door alcove.
    “Check all weapons here.” Nods all around. She looked in the head, ran her hands around the walls a little, checking for burrs or protruding needles, I guess. Then she told Shorty she approved. I made a show of patting myself down and walked in, booted up my wallscreen with the remote. “Registration.” Shorty almost balked.
    “No witnesses?”
    “I don’t know you guys, so I’d have to say no to the possibility of extra opponents.” She gave Shorty a significant look and walked to a kiosk. Shorty came inside and registered and put his pro cleaner fee in a ‘bearer’ account with a voucher printable from my wallscreen only. Something was up! I powered down the wallscreen as my hidden hardware began reporting. He had a standard AdrenalBoost implant in his skull. His prosthetic fingers were hard but only counted as blunts. His top rib was a fake, looked like a repository for drug smuggling. He had a steel sheath over the netjack below his left ear. He had a metal cable mesh in his left elbow. Heavy hitter. But the big thing was he was cheating. Shorty had a knife hidden in his suit at his left hip. My StayNeur implant was practically roaring at me. The woman was doing a fair amateur job of hacking into my profile to fake my declaration that knives were okay for this one fight. I realized I stood no chance against Shorty. He would knife me and that would be IT. The only way I could get their brain caught for hacking was to show my secrets, and I’d still die before the Enforcers could get here. The fix was in, and I was doomed. I saw the only way out. I timed it close and gambled my life. I sent out a command to the far server as Shorty stepped blandly under my bedframe. I simultaneously powered down everything I could, trying for a poker face as I shut the door and locked it. He had time to see my scared face, draw his knife, smile in triumph, and frown with the realization that I looked scared BEFORE he drew his knife. Then the command I’d sent out traveled around the multiple servers, routers, and extra kms of cable and returned, connecting up the battery I’d hidden behind the wallscreen control panel with my steel bedframe.
    I had planned to use the electromagnet for disarming cheaters. What I hadn’t planned on was killing them with it. It ripped his implants straight up out of his head and body, spraying half the room with blood. I was alive. And terrible danger waited for me right outside the door. If I survived the danger in my own head . . .


    Herr D

    The Show Must Go Off–part nine

    As far as I know, I’m the only one who could possibly have the problem I have. My secret data-retrieval packets almost never return, and, when they do, they have never found a single reference to StayNeur maintenance, upgrades, or replacements. I knew I was taking a chance when I stole one of the prototypes and subbed it in for a standard netjack. The surgeon bot had been easy enough to hack into and feed it the schematics and surgery protocols. It had been even easier to delete the memory after my recovery. It had been RIDICULOUSLY easy to swap identity files with my mark. What was dangerous? Revamping the software of an untested implant without full knowledge of the specs. Some of it wasn’t online or even written down. Anywhere. The inventor had died before he applied for a patent or finished his basic documentation.
    I had drooled over the specs I had. ‘Emotional Valence Software’ was supposed to give an edge in counseling, negotiations with over-emotional people, etc. — I saw a con man’s slide rule. ‘Data Evaluation Booster’ could have a person cross-checking with up to two thousand pages at speeds fast enough for an instant reply. The problem was a thousand of those pages were the Bible. A well-meaning tech designer had designed the first implant for seminarians, clergy, and it had never been accepted. Just stolen by me.
    Wouldn’t you know it, the inventor had thought of EVERYTHING! Clergy shouldn’t have to go to confession or beg forgiveness of their congregation, or anything traditional like that! They should just automatically make log entries concerning all acts outside their normal character and any serious ones outside the hard-wiring.
    Yeah. Hard-wiring. Can’t hack past that. All I could do was develop work-arounds and hope they were enough. I dumped several books of the Bible, including all of the ‘begats’ and compressed all the ones I thought of as repeats. I couldn’t dump the Ten Commandments.
    The lying and stealing was easy. I never had lived without that. Sex was easier to do without most of the time–kept me out of trouble. None of the other sins seemed to be a problem. But I’d never killed anyone.
    Powering down the StayNeur as if for an EMP burst reduced it. But I had maybe ten seconds when it came back up to declare my intentions in detail so they’d log in the device and not start causing me problems. It could send messages confessing everything I’d ever done if I didn’t satisfy it. Ever try to soul-search yourself and justify it to a MACHINE with a hard-wired ethics set in a denomination you don’t understand in ten seconds? While you’re distracted by the blood covering you and you DON’T have it’s help to not throw up? That ten seconds will stay with me forever. I felt artificial guilt, excessive nausea, panic, everything you could imagine. I still have nightmares about that. And it was all in self-defense. I WOULDN’T BE ALIVE–AND PASSIVE SUICIDE IS A WORSE SIN. Or so I really do believe. I’m not clergy.



    Herr D

    The Show Must Go Off–part ten
    Preparation hadn’t been enough. Reading the Bible passages and researching what clergy did for cops had helped, but that wasn’t enough either. Quick thinking and cagey promises got me through that ten seconds without my implant confessing for me all over the local net or putting me to sleep and paging the Enforcers. The Old Testament had plenty of examples of people killing each other righteously, but I always wondered how they were sure. Those crazies that kill abortion specialists, divorcees, infidels, what have you–they all think they’re doing it righteously too. And there wouldn’t be any people LEFT. “For all have fallen short,” right? It wasn’t but two hundred years ago that that cult started building the doomsday weapon on Earth’s moon and had to be put down. They were only going to kill the sinners, too!
    Cops, soldiers, Enforcers, all of them get special blessings, forgiveness, grace, or whatever their own religion does when they have to kill, maim, do what they do. The problem there was, no one was paying me to do something that incidentally might have included killing. Or were they? The woman of their group had hacked in to Arbitration and declared that I had okayed knives for this one fight. It was a lie, but did she get a cut of the winnings? She obviously WAS in an arrangement with Shorty–and he had paid me for use of the room via a pro cleaner fee . . . That only worked if I appointed myself the cleaner and asked for no help. And verified she had an arrangement with Shorty . . . And forgave her that lie. Oh! And told Chugger the room wouldn’t be ready. I resolved not to avenge the lie. To make up the difference of forgiveness as I could. I pinged Chugger. I quick-referenced her sign-on and got their identities. Circumstantial evidence existed in chat form. My StayNeur equalized.
    The knife and implants had fallen on the body. I ran twenty-seven scenarios as I walked the six small steps to it. I picked up the knife, gave myself three small nicks on my left forearm, impersonating defensive wounds, and started arranging the implants. I unlocked the bathroom, got out some spray cleaner with strong ammonia, sprayed the room. I knifed his wounds a bit more, making them less precise. I cleaned the knife. I GameFaced ethereal psychotic calm, laid the clean knife on the floor, and opened the door–ready, I hoped, for anything. Three minutes the door had been shut max.



    Herr D

    The Show Must Go Off–part eleven
    I had not, as I’d hoped, been ready for anything. The plan had been so simple. Deal with the group’s feelings. Claim I’d just checked on the fight status to update and report his death and tell them I’d keep quiet about their cheating if they went away and left me alone. My victim, the man who’d just tried to kill me had been named Yew. It hadn’t dawned on me that bad humor would actually help my situation, but I HAD thought to put a filter on what I might say. I wasn’t supposed to know their names yet. The group’s brain’s handle was Upclose. The big guy, Gibb, had actually taken his last name as his handle. Not the creative type. The other guy was the wild card. He went by ‘Win.’ He had a long list of wins, mostly lethal. He used guns, though. Win’s eyes widened as he saw me, covered with blood, open the door. He turned to Gibb.
    “Double or nothing you can down him in two hits.” Now that was a cagey bet.
    Gibb looked up and saw me. “No bet.”
    Upclose looked absolutely stunned, frozen. I smiled at her and said, “I need to talk to you about what we’ll say.”
    It was at that critical moment that an Enforcer emerged from a ‘bundling booth’ with a laughing hooker. He saw me, his helmet snapped shut, his arm-mount energized, and he jumped the thirty feet to land beside me as the hooker gave a girly yelp and scurried into The Big Screen. Enforcer flashed the lights on his helmet just once. “Freeze! All of you! Hands on heads with I.D.s facing out toward me.” He dropped his voice a bit. “Enforcer 4967KF2. Confirm backup. Minimum required. No resistance or evasion as yet.”
    I met this unfortunate event with one of my best-timed actions ever. I actually managed to GameFace my facial muscles into a timed drip! “Is there a-” blood dripped from my face “-problem, officer?” I blinked twice, maintaining my psychotic calm look.
    The Enforcer blinked too. He scanned my I.D. first. “What’s happening here?”
    “I was just about to ask them if they wished to mourn him before I cleaned up.”
    The Enforcer blinked again. He looked me up and down and said, “Back against the wall, please. Permission to enter room?”
    “I haven’t cleaned up yet.” He gave me an incredulous look. “Well–you can probably see everything from the door, can’t you Officer . . . “
    “KF2. As in ‘Kill first two who lie to me.'”
    “KF2, you have my permission, but I request that you disturb it as little as possible.”
    He gave me a slow nod. He motioned me to push the door open. I did. He turned back to me. “Who was he?”
    “I have my wallscreen off.” Arrgh. “But you will see his knife next to his implants. Perhaps–“
    “Shush. You–” He scanned Gibb and paused for upload. “–Gibb? Other side of the door. You know everyone here?”
    “Yes.” Gibb looked miserable.
    “Introduce me.”
    “I’m Gibb,” I saw the Enforcer roll his eyes, this is Sheila or Upclose, that’s ‘Win,’ the one covered with blood goes by ‘Q,’ and the dead guy is Yew.”
    KF2’s arm-mount sights found Gibb faster than KF2’s face did. “What?!”
    Gibb pointed into my room. “Yew. The short dead guy. It looks like he must have cheated.” Inwardly I cringed. I kicked my StayNeur into high gear. I erased Upclose’s efforts, belatedly realizing she’d messed up the timestamps. If the Enforcers had bona fide detectives, they would have caught her and I’d have been cleared. She might kill Gibb later for speaking out of turn, but I had to go with his capacity to be recognized for honest-sounding stupidity.
    “You?” I said.
    Gibb actually scrunched up his face. “No. YOU killed Yew.”
    I GameFaced having a sudden epiphany. “OH–” I pointed around at each in turn. “I, Q–Yew–Win–Upclose–Gibb?!”
    He kept his eyes on the floor. “No thanks, I’ve got it. Just stay where KF2 tells you.”
    Win and Upclose doubled over laughing. Gibb looked up, annoyed. “I’ve GOT it, okay?”
    Of course they laughed harder. I shared a sympathetic look with Gibb as KF2 shook his head in disgust, called off backup, and ordered a hall cleaning bot. He left before they stopped laughing, report verified. One more person that would’ve been executed for cheating in a fight dead anyway. **Pic of KF2 leaving posted by CantDraw in post #48.


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