All’s Well That Ends…

The next several days were a whirlwind of paperwork, face-to-face visits, and extemporaneous explanations (aka “lying”). Fortunately, these were all things I’d had a great deal of experience with. It felt good to exercise them on someone else’s behalf for a change.

In the end, we had arranged for a new campus, a significant loan of funds, and the transfer – and, eventually, relocation – of a large host of high-end servers from Persephone to Samson. Delilah landed her next few employees from the host of “security experts” who had helped expose the CSO’s vulnerabilities. Most of them just wanted to go back to their old lives, though. We assisted by lacing enough bogus trace data through the worldnets to keep the CSO busy chasing ghosts for years.

In the end, Persephone came out ahead, with me still at the helm and a steadfast ally on the council. I think it’s not a stretch to say I was in a better place with some the older corps, too, now that I’d “proven loyalty” to their cause or whatever. Hell, Laurie MacKinnon made some subtle passes at me last time we chatted. Not sure where that’s going.

Jet ended up staying with Persephone, though I offered him a glowing recommendation to move on to Samsoncorp if he was so inclined. He seemed to think I still needed a “solid buffer” with their “head on straight” to keep things running smoothly. I could run smooth, right? Right? Maybe he had a point.

When it was over, I felt like I hadn’t slept in a week. I called on CH prerogative and went off to a private house in the islands. A case of old whiskey and a pile of books awaited me, as well as the softest bed money could buy outside of zero G.

I watched the sun set over the ocean and began to drift off, feeling a real peace for the first time since dad had died.

Bzzt. Bzzt.



Cornered, Part 2

Slaiton nearly dropped his pad. His jaw most definitely dropped. At the moment, he didn’t care what his heavies saw. Prepared statements and comebacks fled his brain.

“How?” he choked out roughly. “That would take at least -”

“At least a simple majority of the current corporate council,” Hellard finished. “Which I have. Most of them were actually rather enthusiastic, once I explained everything that had been going on. Some even applauded my ingenuity, I might add, though I rarely self-aggrandize.” He winked.

“What? You told them everything? Then how -”

“I told them that Persephone has been running a clandestine review of the CSO’s security and responsiveness for months now, culminating in the fiasco earlier today. Which you failed at utterly, I might add. When I provided data to the rest of the council, they were extremely disappointed.”

Slaiton gave up and threw his pad to the ground. “That damn secminion! I trusted her. I swear she will never work in -”

“I think you’ll find her resignation letter already awaits you. She’s been hired as Samsoncorp’s first employee. Interestingly enough, we discovered that the CSO has nothing resembling a non-compete clause in its contract anywhere. Not much foresight there. You might want to have your lawyers look into that.”

“Non-compete? You mean that… that Samsoncorp is…”

“Going into the secure storage business, Commissioner,” Hellard said. “The council actually thought it very humble of me to spawn off a corporation to my top security researcher instead of holding onto this data myself. They might have had issues with me doing it directly. But here we are. I have all the paperwork in order, ready for your review, if you like.”

“So who is this new security head of yours?” Slaiton asked. At this point, his brain had given up. He knew he’d been defeated, somehow, and was just trying to figure out how.

“I believe you’ve met in a few circumstances,” Hellard said. “She’s gone by Dee. Short for Delilah Helsdottir. A wonderful employee who deserves all I’ve given her. I couldn’t be more proud.”

“Delilah?” Slaiton roared. “But she’s – it’s just a – a server – a program – a thing!”

“On the contrary, I think you’ll find all her files and records to be completely in order. She’s a distant cousin, actually. Hopefully I won’t get blamed too much for the nepotism.” Again, the bastard winked. “Alas, she couldn’t join us in person today, but she should be calling in soon to finalize her status to the other council members.”

Slaiton turned on his heel and walked out, leaving his troops standing alone, unsure of what to do. After a few moments, they began to trickle out the door.

The closure of the door behind the last one was met with uproarious laughter.


The streets had been cleared well before Slaiton’s ground vehicle roared through them. Less than an hour ago, the general search for Hellard had produced an anonymous tip. He had crept out to some anonymous warehouse of his in the outer reaches. Not only that, but several No-Man cards had used to buy hypers from throughout the city to the same general area. Lines that linked directly back to areas of high suspicion in the most recent assault.

They had the the bastard. Finally. No way was he weaseling out of this.

The CSO heavies pulled up with a screech at an unlabeled building of black metal. It was virtually indistinguishable from the others around it. A simple block-code above its door couldn’t even be read without the appropriate scanner and clearance. To Slaiton and the CSO, though, this was clearly the place. Slaiton smiled and gritted his teeth. He jumped out and commanded the door breech team to start their work.

And that’s when it started feeling fishy. The door wasn’t even locked. It slid open on motion sensors as the first of them approached. If Slaiton hadn’t been surrounded by a dozen special ops heavies, he would have given this serious reconsideration. There was no way Hellard would just booby trap the place, though, and starting a firefight wasn’t his style. Slaiton gave the signal and they marched in. He followed behind a few seconds later.

The warehouse was huge but quite full. Floor-to-ceiling server racks. New-gen CSO hardware, from what Slaiton had been told, ready for the big roll-out in the next phase. If they’d known Persephone was going to be such a problem, they never would have rented this place from them. But Hellard the Senior had always been a great ally. And Slaiton would make sure that Junior’s replacement was equally so.

There was a single desk with a half dozen terminals laid out at the front of the farm, hastily assembled. As Slaiton approached, Hellard spun around in his chair positioned behind it. Damn that man’s cocky smirk. He couldn’t even look properly scared when trapped in a corner.

“Corporate Head Hellard,” Slaiton said, satisfaction dripping from his voice. “You are under arrest by CSO authority for conspiracy and actuality in breaching the security of the Central Server. Your corporate immunity is hereby revoked until such time as a trial of your peers is conducted. I also know that you are harboring agents responsible for the recent attack and damage at this location. You will produce them at once or additional charges of obstruction and…”

Slaiton stopped. The man was still grinning. Damn him.

“Thank you for responding to my invitation, Commissioner Slaiton,” Hellard said. He rose from his chair easily, leaning against the desk. “We could have done this all remotely, but it always feels better face to face. Especially at such a rare and momentous occasion.”

“What. Are. You. Talking. About,” Slaiton growled. The heavies on either side of him shifted nervously.

“Today marks the start of a new corporation, sir,” Slaiton said. “Welcome to the birthplace of Samsoncorp.”

Loaning to a Friend, Part 3

“Thank you, Mikami-san,” I said to the terminal. “I will keep you posted on events.”

I could check Raijincorp off the list. I was surprised Mikami had taken my call, to be honest. We hadn’t talked in years – since long before I became CH of Persephone. Apparently he still had fond memories of my father. Nepotism for the win.

It was going to take a lot of buy-in to pull this off. There were already half a dozen corps I could write off without even talking. Old rivals or just people I’d manage to piss off recently. Which was appearing to be the hallmark of my term as CH. You couldn’t say I wasn’t making an impact.

It had been five hours since Ace had first shown up at the warehouse door. Three more had trickled in, all using their alphabetic pseudonyms. Jet had shown them around. Fortunately, this place had been designed as a long-term development facility, so showers and other basic amenities were available. We had to peel the plastic off most of it, but it functioned.

I didn’t spend much time making smalltalk with the hackers. They didn’t trust me. I didn’t blame them. Besides, having a familiar relationship with me wasn’t going to help them one bit in the short term. I used Jet as my relay if I needed to communicate to them. Heh. Even in a situation like that, he was doing the job I’d hired him for.

“Progress, Hellard?” Dee asked. Was that impatience in her voice? She really was learning.

“Six shy of simple majority, Dee,” I replied. “Waiting on a callback from Edvard Thorson. I still have a reasonable list. We might actually do this.”

“I hope so,” Dee said. “I also want to add that I very much appreciate the risk you are taking.”

I smiled. “I’m thinking of it as an investment. Both in the potential of the future and in the area of getting my ass out of the fire.”

“Still. I know there were other ways you could have gone to save yourself trouble. I will see that you don’t regret it.”

“Oh, there’s no stopping that at this point,” I said. “But I’m hoping it’s worth a few sleepless nights and a few years of therapy.”

With that, I put a call in to Arestech. A few key phrases and I was into a directly line to the CH.

“Good afternoon, Miss MacKinnon. I have a rather urgent proposal I wanted to run by you…”

Loaning to a Friend, Part 2

I was waiting when the first of Dee’s “friends” arrived. I wasn’t sure how many to expect. I also wasn’t sure how far behind the CSO would be. Nobody had asked, but I felt they’d have a much better chance if I was here to take some heat off their backs.

Now there’s something I hadn’t thought I’d ever consider.

The first person through the warehouse door was tall, female, middle-aged. She seemed in surprisingly good shape given her hobbies. But that was just internal bias talking. No doubt none of the hackers really looked like they showed in the vids. Jet, for example, made you think pro wrestler before computer geek.

“Welcome to Outer Block Z-Gamma-Five,” I said, offering an open hand to the clearly nerve-wracked hacker. “Affectionately known as… well, it doesn’t actually have a nickname. I didn’t even know it existed until today.”

The woman’s eyes darted left and right and she maintained a deathgrip on her small satchel. “Who are you?” she snapped.

“Jake Hellard,” I said. “Got a bunch of titles, too, but they’re not really relevant right now. I think we have a mutual friend.”

“You talking about Dee?”

“One and the same,” I replied. “She should be joining us presently.” The woman’s gaze drifted over my shoulder. Made me nervous. I’m not used to being ignored.

“Well, well,” said Jet’s voice from behind me. “I’d recognize that voice anywhere. You’re a lot taller than I expected, Ace.”

“Jet? Holy -” Ace dropped her satchel and nearly tackled him for a hug. “You are not what I expected either. I am damn glad you’re here, though.”

Jet smiled an easy grin. “Thank my boss, here. He’s making all this happen.” Ace turned back to me, her eyes wary and speculating.

“Right. I guess the title Corporate Head has a bit of relevance here,” I said. “Persephone Industries. At least, for the moment. It remains to be seen if I’m anything at all once this plays out.”

Loaning to a Friend

So it turns out you can learn some interesting things working with an AI that’s been unshackled across an entire CSO server. Like the presence of idle “black servers” that they’ve been keeping under wraps. Including some that were, apparently, stored in buildings leased from Persephone.

What? I’m more of a big picture guy,  okay? I can’t keep track of all the details of a multiglobal conglomerate. Although this seriously made me want to put more work into it.

I’m not sure what the black servers were intended for. They were online but largely blank. Also much higher end than the typical CSO crap. Part of a next stage plan, maybe? Whatever it was, the plan was scrapped now. Delilah had much better use for that sort of resource.

“Do I have your express consent to make use of the servers located in Outer Block Z-Gamma-Five, as per stipulation fifteen in article A of your lease agreement?” Dee asked.

“Affirmative. This is Hellard, head of Persephone Industries, giving you rights to utilize the systems stored in leased territory, as per the aforementioned stipulation,” I pronounced in my best formal voice. I then added, “You realize this only allows for a temporary seizure, right? It’s undefined as to how long, but a few days is the longest precedent.”

“I understand,” Dee said. “I imagine in a few days things will be worked out, one way or another. Would you be able to grant biometric access to a few individuals?”

At this point, I just grinned, shrugged, and went along for the ride. “Sure. Just tell me their CIDs.”

Pingback, Part 2

Ace raced through the long-forgotten panic routine she’d put together years ago. She had it written down somewhere. Had bits of it memorized. When she’d started all this, she would practice weekly. But nothing ever happened with the Raid sim. It was too secure, right?

Oh, god. Where was her flee kit? What had she been thinking of, running Raids from inside the CSO policing radius? Just to get faster ping and crow about victory. And now she had maybe five minutes before her door got kicked in.

Screw the flee kit. She’d pick stuff up on the way. No-Man credit chip in her pocket had enough on it to get basics. Burn the rig on the way out. Ace was halfway through the routine when her phone rang. She nearly threw it out the window in a panic. Some little bit of hope made her open the line. She didn’t say anything. Just waited.

“Ace,” said Dee’s familiar voice. “I understand the CSO has managed to triangle-trace due to the high Raid traffic. I’m sorry.”

“Dee?” Ace said. “You’re okay? Did it work?”

“Better than expected. I would like to thank you. I will send you an address. Please come as soon as you can.”

“I’m kind of on the run here. I don’t think I can stop -” Ace began.

“There may be a solution. Come to the address and see. I do still recommend you scrap your terminal.” Her phone popped a message with a local address. Still in-city, but a ways out from CSO radius.

“No way I wouldn’t,” Ace said. “I’ll trust you the rest of the way.”

She hung up then whispered to herself. “Please be right.”


Ace grinned and stretched. She had pulled her avatar back into the lobby and waited for the others to do the same. One by one, they all came back. Excited shouts and emotes flew left and right.

“That’s a wrap, boys and girls,” Ace said. Her jaw was starting to hurt from smiling. This had been the best Raid night of her life. Hell, probably the best night, period.

A lot of the Raiders knew each other by name or reputations. The score charts made it easy to recognize the heavy players. Some she’d even run with before, in times past. So there was some friendly competition, some ribbing and bets. Every one of them knew what they were there for, though: to give the CSO a solid kick in the ass that they would be feeling for years.

“That enough excitement for you, Gee?” Zee asked.

“Meh,” Gee said. He threw an exaggerated shrug. “I guess it’ll do for this weeks fun.”

They all laughed at that.

“So what do we do -”, Ace began. An alert flash suddenly lit up in the corner of her screen, red and urgent. A single click and all the enthusiasm drained from her, along with maybe a little bit of pee.

There was sudden shouting from all throughout the room. There was a surge of noise that grew quieter as avatars started logging out left and right.

“Pingbacks from CSO!” somebody shouted. Even more logged off then. Probably the ones without enough kit to detect it themselves.

Ace stared at the screen, gawking. Then realized she was the last one there. She hit the kill switch on her rig and sat in the fresh darkness.


Distraction, Part 2

Over two hours in and no sign of letting up. Slaiton had found himself rolling up his sleeves and dusting off decade-rusty skills from his secminion days. He had never been particularly good at the tech work. But for now, they needed anyone who could read a console.

Whent had not been exaggerating. Nearly every single server was being hit, all the way to fourth-tier backups on the other side of the world. There were gaps here and there with no particular pattern. There was no time to figure out any reasoning either. The servers at risk were a much higher priority.

After the second hour, the corps started to notice. Downtime was expected as part of normal business, but they had started to compare notes. Slaiton had to retreat to his office to put out the rapidly growing PR fire that accompanied this fiasco. He had some more skill with that. Unfortunately, he wasn’t much of a liar and there was precious little good news to hand out with the bad.

He had just ended a call with the fiery head of Arestech when Whent burst into the room unannounced. Any other day, Slaiton might have chewed him out for it. Today, it was just part of the new routine.

“Commissioner. New development,” the Secmaster said.

“What now?” Slaiton asked. His voice was low and dripped with exhaustion. Just like everyone else here.

“It’s – well, it looks like the attacks have stopped,” Whent said.

“Stopped? You mean all of them?”

“Yeah. More or less at the same time.”

“More proof of coordination, then,” Slaiton said. He hefted himself from his chair and tried to put his commander voice back on. “Start the traces. And get me a damage tally asap. There is no way in hell we’re just going to let this ghost.”


As soon as Slaiton walked into HQ, he was bombarded on all sides by people shouting, interns running back and forth, and a crowd of people that immediately sought his attention. His anger management classes hadn’t prepared him for this. At the moment, though, he didn’t particularly care.

“Can somebody please explain to me what the hell is going on?” he roared. The room stopped for a moment, but only briefly. Secmaster Whent ran up to him through the middle of the group, pushing people aside.

“Um. Your office, please, Commissioner?” he asked meekly. Meek was an unusual look on him, so Slaiton took him seriously. Slaiton waved him into the office and shut the door.

“Report,” Slaiton said.

“I’m not sure all that you heard over the com, but…” Whent trailed off, apparently distracted by something on his pad.

“Just that I needed to be here,” Slaiton snapped. “Now out with it.”

“It’s the Raids, sir,” Whent said. “There has been an… abnormal uptick in activity. It’s hard to think that it’s anything but coordinated.” The Secmaster kept glancing down at his pad, occasionally tapping something.

“Okay,” Slaiton said. He took a deep breath. “Raids are something we know, at least. What sort of activity are we talking? What servers are being hit?”

This time Whent deliberately averted his eyes, apparently finding the stack of reports on Slaiton’s desk fascinating. “That’s the thing sir. As far as we can tell – it’s all of them.”