The Show Must Go Off

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    Herr D

    I had walked half of Arena Row when my ESO subroutine went nuts. Several dozen Enforcers were turning off cameras. Um.
    I checked the map in my head. The hallway parallel to my walk. I sent out orders for droids and bots to find grates to stare out, funneling footage straight to me. Pre-filtered to only include movement and light changes. It took several minutes for me to realize the net traffic in the area was at a minimum. I did a quick footage search and found nothing. Then I got an old-fashioned e-mail in my head.

    Y.W.N.–We are doing as you request. We have nothing to hide. We are NOT guilty, and if you can find someone responsible and find proof, we would be perfectly happy to arrest them. Please use a minimum of violence and allow us to conduct a trial of the suspect or suspects you indicate and access to whatever proof you uncover. Remember, two of our own died in that tunnel. We did not hide the footage–we simply sent it to an independent investigator on a nearby Solarium. Please let US announce the identity of the guilty party or parties. Everyone already knows you are doing the detective work. Many more lives are at stake. We are willing to declare amnesty in exchange for our own satisfaction that this matter was handled correctly.
    –Enforcer Head, v-gamma-seven.

    Who requested what? I couldn’t very well just walk over and find out . . . I stopped at the nearest kiosk and ‘received’ a fake message.

    The Surgeon: Protocol #7. Arena Row parallel. Now.

    I GameFaced a look of surprise and confusion and ran. While I was trotting to each and every arena, opening it, and finding them empty, I was searching the Enforcer buffer for a few keywords. Besides the rumor and hopeful tips for sale, I found three copies of the same message:

    Enforcer Recipient, I found this waiting for me to send: This is The Surgeon. I want to find those responsible for the recent quake and loss of life. Please therefore deactivate all cameras inside and outside Arenas in inner hallways immediately and leave them off for twenty standard hours. I will be giving away free viewings of footage that I have stolen from the Gladiator Games of two cycles ago as incentive to attend. Myself and my colleagues hope to finish investigating before the twentieth hour. Send e-mail to Y.W.N. when halfway through.

    Upclose’ tells were on them. Only a hacker like me would likely figure them out, but still–
    Word was traveling fast, and only by word of mouth. People were on there way here, and I wasn’t sure why.



    Herr D

    The Show Must Go Off–part twenty-one

    I checked all the arenas on one side of the hallway and went to the nearest kiosk. “A random sample check shows all clear, sir,” I typed without a box. I paused. Then I typed. “May I ask what is happening?”
    Then it happened. I was receiving a report about the missing cleaning bot, ESO was sending more reports, and I wasn’t even able to read them. Beatitudes. Psalms. Proverbs. An immense amount of Bible was passing through my head. I was stunned.
    I sat there like an idiot. Bible would only pass through my head for one reason. Someone was trying to hack my head! I’d be safe, but crippled electronically until whoever was doing it had their hosting server crash. Since that was probably Upclose, that would be several minutes. That would mean whatever reports were being sent to me were toast. Intact data can be traced, after all. I stood up, frowning with just my own face. I needed to get back on camera! I needed to know whether somebody knew about ME. I needed to know whether a radio modem was suspected. My signal might not be traced, but in theory it could be triangulated or jammed. The whole set of bluffs I’d been running might just come crashing down. I took a chance. I set the BibleCrash to automultiply toward every server around and shut down the modem.


    Herr D

    Miners began to arrive. Slowly at first, only in fighter teams armed to the teeth. Then small groups and then random-sized groups. The arenas filled. I chose the largest arena with an announcer podium and waited. When the arena screens began to go through startup routine, I rebooted my internal modem, wary of some trick. Any stray signal would be disguised by massive carrier waves and Upclose’s self-protective measures. She wasn’t an idiot. No one would be able to completely disguise a continuous transmission in real time to this many ‘leaky’ signal receivers. I guessed right. She hadn’t actuallly stolen the footage. She’d just planted a function to broadcast it straight from it’s source on that particular server with fake signal traces from out in the asteroid field. The opening stuttered and restarted as the server crashed. She wasn’t trying to hack my head anymore. I peeked and realized she was three hallways away at a kiosk–or had been. It was now fried. I checked footage to discover she was headed for Arena Row. Someone else was headed for me. I didn’t recognize him at first. It was the first guy to meet me here. He walked up to me, offering a handshake. “Your protectors must be happy with you.”
    I shook his hand. “Yes.”
    “What do they want us to do? They’re not planning a riot. Not their style.”
    “They want you to enjoy the show.”
    He blinked. “Um. Ok? Call me Thrash. Is there anything I can get you?” Ah.
    “I could use some water. But more importantly I need to know if anyone was near Doors 22 or 24 within three hours of the quake. We’re not asking for rats. We’re asking for people to admit they were near to eliminate people with clear consciences.”
    Thrash nodded. “Five minutes,” he said, and he squeezed into the crowd.
    A lot can be accomplished in five minutes . . .


    Herr D

    In four minutes eleven seconds I saw Thrash and three other guys headed for me. Upclose had started drifting in and out of arenas on the other side of the hall, the ones with bigger fighting floors. Footage suggested she was just drumming up business. I didn’t think so. By that time, I had attempted to recreate what ESO had been sending, what my bot search had turned up, any dregs of unerased footage from the quake hallways, buffer data-mining losses, etc. The short summary is I hadn’t gotten very much accomplished.
    Of course I’d DONE a lot. It just amounted to nothing. ESO had been reporting on Enforcers waving magnetic wands at cameras, starting a maintenance routine that just happened to last twenty-two hours. The cleaning bot was still not found, but I had figured out that it was buried in the quake and out of range of any standard transmitters. Quake footage really had been completely purged from the system during a seventh copy-outward command. Data mining hadn’t gone very well either except that I discovered the Enforcers were goofy enough they’d left power to some of the rooms buried in the quake. The four guys drew near. I prepped GameFace for rapid changes and looked at them like a Pharaoh watching slaves arrive. Each one carried two bottles.
    “Q?” said Thrash, “We have water, beer, lemonade, and FayKafay. Which would you like?” Yikes.
    “Is the lemonade real?” That would make it more expensive than beer.
    “Sorry, no,” said the one holding it.
    I nodded and looked at the water. Filtered, ozoned. “Water is fine. Thank you.” The guys looked surprised, but handed me one. I opened it. I drank a long swallow. Then they opened theirs and drank too. And Thrash told me about the wonderful idea that I didn’t know I’d given him.


    Herr D

    “Guys,” said Thrash, “You all know who ‘Q’ is. Q? I’m Thrash, and I’ll be your point of contact. These guys don’t want any part of your umbrella or other contact if that’s all right.” Hmmm.
    “I am not networking at this time. Of course, I can’t speak for Them.” Two of them squirmed.
    “We’re calling them ‘A,’ ‘B,’ and ‘C.'” He nodded at each of them in turn. “And we have moved forward with your idea in a different direction.” I was glad for GameFace–that sounded stupid.
    “Which idea?” The conversation WAS almost twenty-five days ago. And my buffer was full.
    “Fighting off-camera.”
    “We know that you have your newfound faith, like the Six-” Is THAT what people call them? The Six? “But we have a more political interest.” Uh oh.
    “Excuse me?”
    ‘C’ burst in with “This is not really a prison. It’s a penal colony, and–” He actually looked around at the miners watching the screen. “–why? We should be our own country.” Hhhhhhh. Great.
    “Revolution?” I GameFaced mild surprise. The government put us here, so we fight them? Not my idea of staying safe. “I doubt that I can help you. The Six have their own agenda.”
    Thrash waved that down. “We know. We’re not going to ask much. But we want to know about hacking in to the system.”
    I nodded. “For what purpose?”
    “We want to make a counter-offer to the required registration. We’re just laying groundwork, you understand. What we want to do is create fake fights and other footage and pass them off as real. We want to do this before we push for the right to do it because it already IS our right.”
    I GameFaced a bristle. “How will this affect arbitration?” My reputation needed to be protected.
    “Only voluntary fights, no settlements. What we want from you is a way to finish them. ‘A’ can make and animate digital people. ‘B’ can make them look real, and ‘C’ can move them into and within an environment. We need a way to force the system to accept the footage, bypassing the cameras.”
    I GameFaced my expression through relaxing and then mild interest. That would be easy enough. I sent out a signal to the podium screen. A text box appeared with ‘SECURE’ at the top. ‘C’ noticed it first and nudged Thrash. I ‘followed’ their gaze and faked a startle reaction. I typed in a summary of the request. I blanked the screen and sent a follow-up. This time the text box opened with a really long title.


    The text box disappeared as the screen in the arena Upclose was in grew a caption. UPCLOSE PLEASE REPORT TO PODIUM AREA OF ARENA D7. SEE Q. WE ARE ADDING TO YOUR DUTIES. The Surgeon.

    The footage showed Upclose almost collide with a random beltminer, reading that. She and two curious men came. Thrash and his guys closed ranks around her and motioned them away. They complied with apologies. Her eyes were big and round.
    “How much trouble am I in?” she said. So I told her.


    Herr D

    Thrash and his fellow revolutionaries gave us a little space but stayed right in earshot and looked generally amused and curious as I began. “They seem irritated, want you to buy back your safety, and expect an explanation.”
    Eyes still big, she nodded. “I was–“
    “NOT to me. I’m not even sure why they’re miffed at you. Type it to Them.” I nodded at the podium screen where a graphic appeared of a stick figure waving it’s index finger right at her. She raised her eyebrows. She wasn’t at a predictable angle to the screen. She turned slightly to the arena screen and did the math.
    “They have infiltrated ALL the hardware here, haven’t they?”
    I smiled at her. “I wouldn’t be surprised to hear they own hidden hardware all over V-gamma-7.” Heh heh. –Not yet. . .
    She nodded and slowly typed ‘The Enforcers already know I hack, so they WILL be after me for information on you. Is there anything you would LIKE me to tell them?’
    The graphic disappeared and a chatbox jumped up showing what should have appeared to be an accidental glimpse at an argument in code between The Surgeon and The Shade. Then it disappeared. A short pause followed. This was going about as I thought it would. “I thin-” I interrupted myself for effect as the next header came up, reading ‘DO NOT MENTION CONTENT OF THIS MEETING WITH NEW ASSOCIATES. TELL ENFORCERS EVERYTHING ELSE YOU KNOW OF US. DO NOT DIVULGE YOUR ROLE IN TODAY’S SHOW. DISCUSS PLAN WITH Q AND DO WITHIN TEN HOURS UNLESS TOLD NOT TO BY Q.’ The header took up the whole box. I let the screen go blank before I broke the respectful silence. “I was right; they want me to tell you the plan. These men have footage we want in the system, but we want it in the system as if the system’s cameras filmed it.”
    Upclose nodded, “How much footage?”
    Thrash spoke up. “There’s less than an hour’s footage ready. It’s sorted by location and time index.”
    Upclose frowned, “Have you already made sure there’s no other footage for those places and times?”
    Thrash looked surprised, and turned to the group. ‘C’ was nodding. “And all arenas.”
    Upclose nodded, “That’s good; the system won’t kick it out, even during a self-audit. I’ll have to fake system tags and camera signatures and maybe some upload garbage temporary files–” Her eyes grew big again “–within ten hours?! I can’t do that! The cameras are all off in the arena area! The uploads will be flagged even if I sneak them in unless these cameras are on!”
    I knew she had her limits. “Upclose?”
    “If you prep the uploads, the Six can toggle the cameras on and off and erase evidence that they did that.”
    Her eyes narrowed at me. “What?”
    I smiled widely. “I’m pretty sure they’ve done that to hide peoples’ movements.”
    She shook her head. “There are LIVE Enforcers that watch feeds.” Yikes.
    I nodded along. “So there would have to be a big diversion or something.”
    She blinked. “Well, it wouldn’t have to be LONG. An upload should take about 20 milliseconds.”
    I pretended to be impressed. “We’ll leave the exact timing to them then. I guess I’ll ask two of these fine young men to come with me and leave the footage with you?” She nodded. We had a plan.



    Herr D

    The Show Must Go Off–part twenty-two

    Thrash and ‘A’ came with me. The other two immediately huddled with Upclose. I set up another subroutine named Upclose, just for recording her movements in code to the nearest device under my control. I’d get it out of order, but I’d get it all. No more surprises. As we exited, the famous fight between Griffon and Gryphon started up. Last no-grav aerial fight with no winners. Griffon was obliterated, pieces everywhere, and Gryphon was declared the winner before anyone realized he’d cheated. His last three shots had been taken after he died. No automatic targeting or shooting has EVER been allowed.
    I had been running a long con when it started getting air time on Earth. You know the Pranky Neighbor? Get two neighbors thinking that the other is pranking them over the fence while making book across the street with voyeurs. Start a prank-war-watching party, taking bigger bets as the crowd gets drunker. Then duck out with ALL the money bet, never having given a real name as BOTH neighbors suddenly get an ‘anonymous’ tip that the real pranksters are watching them? I’d come up with my own ingenious version of that when most of the thunder was stolen by the fight coming available on pay-per-view unannounced. The buzz ruined the timing on at least two-thirds of my action. I’d been about to start a firework fight–
    “Thrash? What do you know about chemistry? Pyrotechnics?”
    His eyebrows went up. “Uh. Not much.”
    “What do you know about junk ore storage?”
    “Do you know where the morgue is?” He stopped walking. He went pale. It was so cute! He recovered quick.
    “That would be V-gamma-5” Thrash said. He was suddenly no longer happy with claiming a connection to me.
    I whirled to ‘A.’ He stopped walking too. “How far away is V-gamma-5?” I demanded.
    He only paused a moment. His face hardened. “Charts. I’ll look it up.” He started for a kiosk. I followed him, Thrash in tow.
    “What do you want the morgue for?” asked Thrash.
    “A diversion, religious reasons, and, of course, to help your cause.” I gave him my distracted smile. I didn’t even need GameFace, though I was using it. Too much could go wrong right now.
    “How would blowing up the morgue help the revolution?” asked Thrash.
    “What are you, brainless?” burst out ‘A,’ “Before it’s full-scale revolution, it’ll be just crime–and the Enforcers might hesitate a tenth of a second before killing if there’s no morgue. Now shut up and do a parallel search with me. You’re looking for storage of junk ore, like Q said.”
    “How do I find that?”
    “Bound to be between deposit stations and payout unless it’s grouped. If it is, look for records of heavy freighters with no pilots.”
    “They fly auto?”
    “No, Thrash,” ‘A’ rolled his eyes, “They correct for anti-collision and docking without pilots. They’re randomly used as push-offs by whoever needs them to get to the belt.” Ah, a fuel saver–that would come in handy.
    Thrash really was a bungler. Just a thug who knew how to wind up with the right friends at the right time. I took over and found coordinates for four junk ore freighters between us and the morgue, waiting, of course, for ‘A’ to verify where it was for me. Off-screen, I verified Thrash as a surprisingly good pilot. Must’ve had that unteachable feel for flying. I set him up good. I tracked Gibb down in the shop and sent him a message he couldn’t ignore. One-tenth of his remaining debt would be considered paid if he collected fifty shop-droid’s worth of spare parts, an assembly droid with a bank-full of generic plans, two cutting torches and three fifteen-second thrust tanks, fully charged. All of them had to be off-book, not from machinery in-use, and he could NOT be caught. Partial success would be appreciated and valued later–he had one hour.
    Gibb got only ten shop-droid worth of spare parts, but everything else. I have a feeling he just told a lot of people their droids couldn’t be fixed without more parts and took them right out of those being serviced.
    Thrash came back with his mining suit looking worried. It had extra armor. ‘A’ came back with four extra air tanks. I didn’t ask.
    “YOU WANT ME TO WHAT?!” Thrash looked like he’d be sick.
    “Drive, that’s all,” I said blandly. I walked up to the assembly droid with an ordinary piece of copper wire I’d snagged from a broken stove we’d seen being hauled in not two minutes before. I stuck one end half into the infoport and held it just out of synaptic range. I stuck the other end half into a walljack. Gibb frowned. He knew this data transfer wasn’t possible. Just as a precaution I sent out a records request.
    “BUT IT’S NOT A SHIP!” Thrash continued. ‘A’ actually looked puzzled. Gibb was still frowning.
    “Gibb? Any advice for the assembly droid?” I’d told Gibb a little bit.
    Gibb nodded. “The air tanks in front, since a direct hit with an asteroid would kill him anyway. Cone-shaped visor. Everything else is like packing material. Shell in front.” He picked up an old ship’s rear window and hung it in an assembly frame.
    By the time he’d finished I’d sent the instructions through a compiler and input them. The assembly took four minutes and looked horrendous. I clapped Thrash on the back.
    “You’ll do fine,” I said.
    “Our cause must go on,” said ‘A.’
    “You guys are nuts,” said Gibb.
    “I must be,” said Thrash.
    The assembly droid helped Thrash put the ‘ship’ on and climbed onto his back. A walking junkyard. Soon to be a flying or dying one. ‘A’ and I began walking him to the airlock. I had to divert cameras away singly, so almost missed Gibb kneeling down to the walljack. A quick trace found an assembly droid; I had it turn from it’s work, step over a cord, zip under two work tables, remove a wall panel and reach through diagonally to within an inch of the walljack. Through its eyes I saw what the records request hadn’t finished with yet. The walljack was disconnected. And Gibb was about to open it. I faked a muscle spasm and told the guys to wait. I closed my eyes to concentrate. Using the assembly droid’s cutting torch, I zapped Gibb through the walljack panel’s fastener with about a third of tazing force. From his reaction, I probably miscalculated. He hopped around holding his hand and swearing for several seconds. That was enough for the assembly droid to build most of a CPU from used parts and debris, completely fry it, and then hook it up via a ‘melted’ connection to the nearest net gridlink. I had it close the panel and get back to work, erasing the rest of the shop footage while I did it. Then I helped get Thrash out the airlock so he could become the revolution’s first martyr.



    Herr D

    The Show Must Go Off–part twenty-three
    I hadn’t taken any chances on my transmission range–the assembly droid’s memory was wiped and the new instructions input before the airlock opened. We’d chosen one with a quick-release open so that the puff would push him out and save a little on the first burn. The assembly droid had docking clamps put together and ready, even had time to spare for swatting micrometeors away, and Thrash touched down on the first junk-ore freighter undetected. No one was looking for a ship too small to hold three people and reserve fuel and shielding–if I hadn’t tweaked the assembly droid for batting practice, this really would have been insane to try. We lost signal about then. ‘A’ was cool under pressure. He didn’t even act curious, just helped me look up chemistry questions. I hadn’t forgotten he was an artist. When we were done I asked him to make a few color-combination choices.
    “Fireworks in SPACE?!” he said, “How could THAT work?” The real reason for the morgue stop was the stasis packs. The year before, somebody’s dead uncle was being shipped back to Earth when an unnoticed meteor cluster had impacted with the fuel mixer. It turned out that the byproduct of rocket fuel burning through the cadaver null-g stasis packs was a vacuum-suitable dead-human-colored firework. The one news channel replayed it about six times, including commentary on when his copper bracelet caught and turned the flame blue for just an bit. Well. Obviously there wouldn’t be COPPER in the junk ore freighters. Copper’s good money. I explained the news flash of ‘Blue Barney.’ Turns out ‘A’ was in comatransit at the time, hadn’t heard.
    We were probably looking at oranges, yellows, maybe a bit of green or red. ‘A’ was pretty enthused. He came up with five or six plans based on differing amounts of calcium to the sodium, barium, and strontium that might turn up.
    The assembler droid, after docking Thrash, had him reading electronic manifests out loud and looking for frozen methane and fuel convertibles while it built droids and hijacked more with my subhacker routines. One at a time, three re-configured freighters were joined, docked to, taken over, pilfered, repointed, and launched from. With ten droids it took seven and a half hours at a breakneck pace.
    When I checked in with Upclose, I discovered she was already ready. When I told her I was surprised, she said: “I used some rooms’ transmitters like an array to send some of the processing to an empty server on sunside.” That turned out to be rather important.


    Herr D

    I hadn’t figured out how to get around hiding messages inside other messages until Upclose reminded me about making one large signal out of a bunch of small, synchronized ones. Sure, the programming, the timing, and the testing is a lot more work, but it is a lot easier to disguise origin, meaning, and purpose. It also takes less power. By nine hours and ten minutes, the reprogramming was ready, signals exchanged, cameras synced up to ‘blink,’ the fireworks were deployed, and notices were ready to screen.
    At ten hours on the nose, every arena showed a caption explaining which outer viewports, which feeds from which cameras, and which side of V-gamma-7 to be on for the best views without obstructing the viewports. Every kiosk showed the same message. The fake fights were in the system. There was a mad scramble. Everyone wanted to see. Three people got broken ribs and there were a lot of sprained ankles before things settled down. No one had seen fireworks since they left Earth. I was taping it with a rogue camera. I was dead tired. I went home. People could do without me for awhile.
    And they did. The revolutionaries faded into the crowds. Spontaneous parties and drunken brawls broke out in the hallways. Crunch wound up getting torn limb from limb when he tried to stop Upclose doing a celebratory striptease on top of a cleaning bot. She wasn’t the only one. Female Enforcers had been deployed to do flying leaps and carry the strippers to safety. I was taping that too. I got home and almost got a nap before the bottom fell out.


    Herr D

    I had dozed off mere seconds by my autoclock node (which did run a few percent slow in those days) when an old subroutine kicked in. I’d written a few anti-ambush modules the first day I knew I’d go to prison. SleepSafe informed me that Jenko had keyed in with his i.d., that his biometrics checked out, and that he was pointing something at me. I really wanted to stay asleep, but this wasn’t normal behavior for him. The man’s record was clear. He’d grandfathered in to miss most of the Gladiator Game requirements. He’d been mugged several times. No other violence. He WAS a murderer, but he’d used poison. As I began to wake up, lower-priority reports bombarded my consciousness. The missing cleaning bot had been trapped outside the hallway debris in old trashfill. Or maybe it hadn’t. The data didn’t match up. Thrash had not sent the coded signal he was okay. The morgue cargo ship he was supposed to steal had not been stolen. The post-firework riots were over. Every single planned color-combination had fired, with results about like we’d figured. The free fights show Upclose had started was still going on. The fake footage was in place and ready for purchase. A record number of beltminers were not working at the moment. A record number of Enforcers were ‘assisting’ the local prostitutes. Enforcer data traffic was oddly silent. As I pretended to wake up, I sent out instructions for the cleaning bot to reassess and tried to bounce a signal to Thrash’s batter, the assembly droid. I opened my eyes to Jenko pointing a gun at my face just about a meter out of reach.
    “You know,” I said slowly, “If you fire that in here, the ricochet will very likely get you, too.”
    Jenko frowned and moved his other hand. He knocked on his gun-hand’s wrist. I mean knocked. Jenko didn’t have subdermal armor. It wasn’t in his profile . . . “Who are you, REALLY?” he said.
    “I am exactly who you’ve always thought I was.” Why did Jenko have armor? He never signed up for fighting. Who had implanted it?
    He motioned me to hold out my i.d. “Now tap it on the wall just above the couch.” Mmm?
    I reached down from my hammock and did what he said, frowning. I felt it in my head. Something in the wall scanned me. Something I hadn’t put in the wall scanned me.


    Herr D

    In the next several nanoseconds, GameFace had to work overtime. I was actually panicking. Several of my subroutines kept running without me. ESO in particular. Several Enforcers were pinged with the same question: “Can you i.d. this man?” It went out with an attachment. I hadn’t actually ever decoded their graphics compression for stills. One of my decoders began automatically. StayNeur was aggressively scanning the wall. And coming up with an explanation. ‘Implanted hardware in all sites inactive for long period of time.’
    ALL sites? That snapped me out of it. What all was IN here? I kicked it into rapid scan mode and began to formulate a reply.
    “You have an i.d. scanner in the wall?” It sounded rather inane, but that was actually important.
    Jenko smiled absently. Somehow he looked completely different. “I have the works of an entire Enforcer uniform in the wall.” He twisted his hunched neck slightly to the right. “Identify,” he said to his wallscreen. He sounded different too. What was going on?
    His wallscreen showed my full legal name, charges, date of entry into the BMPS system, two deaths to my credit, trading status as active, mining quota as fulfilled, and three paragraphs about how I was suspected of an uncertain number of murders, thefts, and possibly worse. Then it stated I was to be considered dangerous unarmed, uncooperative to authorities, and possibly protected by The Six.
    And that’s when I got the report from a droid I didn’t even know existed. It explained almost everything.



    Herr D

    The Show Must Go Off–part twenty-four

    When I had ‘loaned’ Thrash the assembler droid, I’d added a sort of ‘shunt’ to it’s software, enabling it to go unidentified as a separate machine even while carrying on separate functions. So when I’d sent out for Thrash’s batter, I’d looked for a task being executed by an assembler droid with no machine i.d. Being in a panic, I’d not coded very tightly. So I’d found another assembly droid without an i.d. I was in enough of a state, what with a gun pointed at my face, that I almost postponed processing the data. That decision saved my life.
    The assembler droid I hadn’t known about was running on it’s last few hours of battery. Those batteries sometimes hold a charge for ten years or more. I was bouncing the signal to try to triangulate it’s position when it completed reporting the nature of it’s failure.
    Cache?! Maybe it was something valuable? I could dig it out with another droid and buy my life with it? I sent it the simple command: CAM SEND and almost instantly realized what was up. It was an image in greenscale, obviously a night-vision filter, partially blocked by a mangled aluminum spar. Probably the same spar that had broken the bot. The image was of a mangled obsolete jumpership chassis full of freeze-dried human bodies. One of them had a spine bent almost double.
    GameFace kept me looking like I wasn’t surprised or preoccupied. I glanced at the wall ‘casually.’ “Was it an Enforcer I knew?”
    Jenko–who obviously wasn’t really Jenko–said “He ‘disappeared’ when we did.” AH. Confirmation. I nodded. Sometimes the best way to save a badly failing bluff is to act like you still believe it. “Are you going to tell me who YOU really are? I hadn’t planned on actually meeting any of you.” Here he snorted. “I thought you didn’t want to.” He blinked hard and too fast for me to move.
    I was scanning the image for clues of identity. “I don’t really know all I could about The Six. You obviously aren’t The Surgeon. Did he replace your ENTIRE spine? Impressive. No one else has ever done that!” And I smiled at him past the gun in my face. All I needed was about another minute.


    Herr D

    I could see doubt in his eyes. He couldn’t quite believe I was in contact with The Six. But he was beginning to believe I believed it. He needed more to think about if I was going to slow him down enough. He was already about a percent slower.
    “My spine is my own. The Surgeon just altered it.” he finally said.
    “Pretty good cover,” I said, slowing my speech by another tenth of a percent. “No one suspects you. Not even with me rooming with you. Is he going to put it back someday? Maybe after the revolution?”
    He startled. “Revolution!? We’re not starting a revolution!”
    I GameFaced quiet but utter confusion. “I know YOU’RE not. Thrash and his buddies are. –But you did have Upclose help them.”
    He let his surprise show. “Who is Thrash?”
    “You know, the firework setter?” I GameFaced a slow, dawning doubt with confusion. “Are they not keeping you up to date? If you need—“
    He brought the gun slightly closer. “The Six are dead.”
    I blinked at him, cocked my head to one side. “They type pretty well for dead guys. –Or did you mean you’re not really with them anymore?” It was at that moment I gained access to Enforcer suit maintenance. The files only showed one Enforcer as disappearing the month The Six did. My nearest cleaning bot had received a maintenance arm and new software and was in the service shaft on it’s way, looking for the way between the walls. I had to time the ventilation patterns to cover the noise.
    “I mean I killed them.”
    I looked at him with the most doubtful expression I could call up. This was it. I had to shut off GameFace and con him without electronic assistance. All my processing time was needed for saving my life. “You mean you killed Rack and Epi? How long ago?”
    “No.” He was savoring this. I raised the airflow and sped up the bot.
    “You killed the unnamed one? What? What are you talking about?”
    He smiled. “I killed ALL of them. And now I’ll kill you.” He sighted down the gun.
    Realizing I was running short on time, I did the only thing I thought I could pull off on such short notice without assistance. I started laughing at him. “Hehhheh. YOU?” More laughing. My StayNeur processor bounced a signal from an array of unused wallscreens to the buried assembly droid, through the i.d. tags in the buried chassis, back to a secret segment of server I’d partitioned away. “Don’t you know about The Shade’s hobby?”
    “The Shade’s hobby was torture. That’s how he got me to agree to being a hunchback.” His eyes were dead-cold. Yikes.
    “NOT THAT hobby. THE OTHER hobby!” Time for the big bluff. “Onscreen, please. Picture of mass grave, angle 1A.”
    He backed up to the bathroom door, reached in, pulled out a small mirror. As he began to look, I had green circles and captions forming. There wasn’t time for real i.d.’s. I circled ten tags and wrote ‘unknown’ five times. Then ‘Jenko,’ ‘Epi,’ ‘Your Worst Nightmare,’ ‘Rack,’ ‘The Surgeon.’ The only two I was sure of was Jenko and The Surgeon.
    His eyes narrowed, “That’s not possible.” Then he startled, realizing the print was being written backwards on the screen. “The Shade was in those ten.”
    I pulled up a text box and had ‘The Shade’ start typing.
    Your spine was my idea, you know. I thought you died on the table.
    I love making doubles. I knew if you could be accomplished that we could hide forever.
    You killed the man I had doubling myself before I knew what the others’ new faces looked like.
    If you release my man, I will allow you to bargain for your life.
    There is nowhere you can hide now.
    –The Shade
    I smiled at him bigger and shifted slightly toward the middle of the hammock. He followed me with the gun. Calculations were complete; drilling had begun. All that remained was to find out whether my calculations were actually correct.


    Herr D

    He moved back a little and turned his head slightly. I got a bulletin from the cleaning bot about how it’s power was draining too fast. Those batteries were never well made, and they didn’t have enough to power a maintenance arm anyway. Luckily I’d already sent for a backup. He studied the screen with his peripheral vision doubtfully. “How did he know to write backwards?”
    “This place is bugged. He probably figured it out because he would use a mirror too.” I nodded at the screen. A certain portion of server had finished processing another description of remains and extrapolated the results. I went ahead and put it up. ‘Higgy’ in green replaced one unknown. Then I realized I had a bigger problem. Who really was who? Higgy and Jenko and The Surgeon were certain, but the pile of i.d.s didn’t necessarily go with the bones? What if some of The Six really HAD survived? What if one of them was the fake Jenko in front of me, lying to me? They were all sociopaths, so my StayNeur and augmented software wouldn’t be able to tell. If The Surgeon had reached the point he was able to alter a spine, then maybe the work I was doing was irrelevant. Inwardly cursing, I sent a team of droids to dig their way there, though it would take forever, to do chemical testing on the bones themselves. I needed to get back on task before this guy shot me. “So who are you, then?”
    “I never had a screen name. I never even learned my prisoner number. They took me right out of the comaship.”
    Hey! That was supposedly how the unnamed one joined up. They took him and didn’t have to break him because he was already so messed up. He supposedly volunteered for everything they tested out if it didn’t reduce his benefit to the group. Voluntary unnecessary surgery. Torture methods. Must have taken the thrill out of it for the sadists. . . “I mean your name; mine is Oscaw Huver Miller.”
    He paused like he really didn’t remember. “Clay,” he said, “Clay Billins.” I sent it off. Why not? Maybe he was telling the truth.
    “You might not have much to bargain with.”
    I pointed at the text box. “For your life? You don’t exactly live like a king.” His eyes flicked to the floor. “But I know what they value these days. I could save you some time in negotiations, maybe.” This was back to first principles. When you don’t have the goods to sell in the first place and things look bad, make sure what you don’t have to sell sounds more expensive without hurry or making nice-nice. At least now I knew where he put his wealth.
    “That is, of course, unless you’re going to make sure we both die by killing me.” I nodded at the text box again–
    StayNeur activated at machine speed, preventing me from reacting to the sound or the fall. I was machine-still for the fall to the couch and the program I’d written kicked in so I slid off the couch as if I had no bones. The Enforcer uniform’s shoulder cannon had fired right through the wall, deflected the calculated amount toward straight through, severed my hammock rope, and hit Clay in three spots on the torso, one in the lower neck, and one through the left side of his nose. He was probably dead before the exit wounds started blowing outward. My bots had done well.
    I nullified the alarms as they started. No record of Enforcer electronics booting up would do. I was halfway through composing an arbitration scenario where Jenko had started a fight when I realized no one was reporting the noise. A quick check told me the only people anywhere near here were listening to fight footage at high volume. I had the bots take down the whole wall panel, had them clean the room and strip the mechanisms off the Enforcer’s suit. He was mummified inside. Enforcer number-end GL8. My bots dragged GL8 and Clay’s bodies out into the corridors. An assembly droid finally caught up and removed everything of potential interest from the bodies. I had the implants sterilized and hidden in the wall for when I could sell them. The suit, now empty, went right back where it was with a charged up battery, just in case. I hacked in and had Jenko will me his life and ask me to guard his room while he went off to do some claim-jumping. One camera malfunction was enough to cover him not walking to the jumper, which I sent on a collision course with an automated patrol at high speed. Cleanup was definitely getting easier.
    Thrash never made it to the ship he was supposed to steal. An unscheduled morgue worker with a camera phobia had shoved him out an airlock. When the revolution finally came it was no big deal. The Enforcers weren’t willing to die for anyone who didn’t even want them back. Upclose, Chugger, and revolutionaries A through C died along with at least seven agitators, fifteen Enforcers, and at least twenty disinterested parties. Most people completely forgot about the cave-in and Door 23.
    The truth was simple enough. The first BMPS workers hadn’t ever separated their recyclables, just dumped it and made landfill out of it for an external wall over that whole area of V-gamma-7. Clay had been mining it. He’d caused the whole thing and was only just sending his bot to make sure his bodies were still buried. I used a digital composite to fake poor footage of a terrorist attack by revolutionaries that died in the cave-in anyway and sent droids in to remove all the wrong bodies just in case. Clay had almost five hundred pounds of gold under Jenko’s floor. Pity it wasn’t iron or something else really valuable up here.
    Some people can’t adapt completely, right?
    I took up where he’d left off. Did it responsibly, though. Geodesic structure of compacted blocks and REAL junk ore. I was genuinely scared for over a year when I found out there was never any real Clay Billins. No one of that name was ever put in the BMPS system at all. Never convicted. There may never have been one. I may have been talking to the unnamed member of The Six for real. The i.d. tag he wore was Jenko’s of course, and I was never able to match up any more of the remains. He had limed them and ruined any chance I had of figuring out more of them. Five of The Six could not be really accounted for. The i.d. tags beside the bodies were of hookers. Hookers! We’ll never know what happened to them, I guess. This place is dangerous enough without worrying about them. I have my food delivered by bots. Same for everything else. I don’t leave this room and even Gibb isn’t welcome. He could be one of them . . .




    Herr D

    Wow. It’s finally over. YIPPEE!
    –So, does anyone need anything explained?

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