| The Network Revenant
I'd never seen Farnham drink anything but whisky, usually bourbon or rye. Spectrally presumably meant color. Brown. Damn Yankee was what Farnham always said whenever I mentioned living in the New Coast - i.e., in the Northeast. So, brown, north, east. I sat in South station and thought about it, and it didn't mean a damn thing until I decided that in fact brown should be orange, in which case it probably meant the north end of the Orange mass transit line, still called the T here in Boston.
The T it was.
I moved quickly across the lobby to the down escalator, trying to strip the goggles and webbing as unobtrusively as possible. It took an effort of will not to look around to see if anyone was following me; if they were, it was a certainty that I wouldn't spot them, but they'd surely see me being paranoid.
If they were following me, I was already in too much trouble to even think about what I was going to do next.
Exhaustion was starting to drag at my steps by the time I had descended four levels to the Red line train and made the connection one stop over to the Orange line. I swung into the train, which was lightly loaded as it neared midday and the commuting nadir, and wearily lowered myself into a seat.
The swaying light rail car tried its best to lull me into sleep, forcing me to fight to hold on to what consciousness I had left. I came awake with a start several times, adrenaline born of fear jerking me upright with cold moisture on my brow as I grabbed wildly for the pole to prevent myself sliding off the bench seat. Nobody paid me any attention.
I stepped off the train at the northern end of the line, looked both ways, and started to walk towards the exit doors. I couldn't see anyone familiar looking, but that didn't mean anything; I had no idea what Farnham actually looked like, any more than (I presumed) he knew what my appearance was outside the 'Verse. A light flow of commuters moved around me as I swiveled my head, figuring that looking for someone was at least perfectly reasonable in a train station. I didn't find anything that looked familiar until I was nearly at the exit gates, and then there was no doubt at all.
Leaning against the wall on the inside of the gates was a slim man, average height, wearing non-descript utility clothing. On his head was a brilliantly white Stetson hat.
I drifted towards him, noticing that despite the fact that his hat was tilted downward and his arms crossed, he was occasionally raising his face to examine people as they went by, perhaps from their path as they came near. As I came within range of his downcast eyes, he raised his face to mine, to find me looking directly back at him. He uncrossed his arms and pushed his shoulder blades away from the tiled wall, bringing his boots together against a pack near his feet. I stopped a couple of meters away from him.
"Tourette says you owe me a drink, Farnham."
He grinned, suddenly, and I was surprised to see that he was Asian. Then the grin vanished, he swung the pack up on his shoulder, and approached me with his right hand out. I shook it. "Bullshit, man. The tab's square."
It was his voice. "Damn, it's good to see you."
"Been trying to find you for some days, Mik. We need to talk."
"That's for sure. Let's get back on the train."
"Where are we going?"
"I don't know yet, that's part of the problem."
"Okay. Tell me later."
We turned and moved back to the platforms, taking seats in the front car of the next train to depart. The car was empty for the moment. I turned to Farnham. "So I've been-"
He cut me off silently, shaking his head, and waved his finger in a circle at the ceiling. I stopped, feeling stupid, and nodded. He leaned back and cocked his head. "So has your sister called you recently?"
I locked my face shut on my confusion for five seconds or so while he looked at me, then squeezed my eyes closed in self-flagellation and opened them again. "Yeah, I heard from her a few weeks ago. She didn't mention you though. Did you guys finally break up?"
"Heh. I don't know I'd call it breaking up, really..." Farnham was damn good, really, unless he'd been sitting around thinking up the conversation in detail while he waited for me to call him back; to me, it sounded like all the fumbling was on my side. I took us back to South Station and then we strolled south, out of the Lockzone across Fort Point Channel towards South Boston. The checkpoint ignored us as we left, reserving its energies for those crossing the bridge onto the peninsula of Downtown from Southie.
"So what's the scoop?" Farnham hadn't said much for a couple of blocks, but finally spoke up. He wasn't looking at me, and his hat was tilted down again. I didn't turn to him.
"I got chased out of a rally in New Hampshire yesterday. I got cut off from the prep area by a bunch of heavies and had to steal a damn flitter to get back. I don't know who the hell they were, although they looked government enough to be the Bent, but I don't know for sure. I was chased in the flitter by lawcraft, and they were there and on me too fast to be a GTA call because I know that the flitter I took wouldn't have been reported for at least another couple of hours - the owner was on the rally course and I disabled the sponder on the damn thing, so I'm guessing whoever vectored the lawcraft on me was the same team that had the crew come after me there."
Farnham was just listening. He nodded. I was starting to feel a little melodramatic, but firmly reminded myself that it's not paranoia when they really are, etcetera. "Anyway, I stashed the Lotus I took in an old rail tunnel north of Metro and walked across the flats to a raillink station this morning. I went to South Station, and that's when I got your messages. The thing is, I'm guessing that if they sent guys after me, then my place is crawling with whoever."
"Are we heading there?"
"Not really, we're moving sort of perpendicular to it. We're maybe half a klick away."
"Okay. Why do you need to go there?"
"I need a better portable. This one has no guts. Also, I need Mik's latest codebase - well, maybe not need, but it'd sure help. Also, I want to dump the metastack there so nobody else gets their hands on anything in it. Oh, and there's one more thing."
I sighed. "I presume Paul told you why to call me?"
"Not entirely, no. She just said there was a Run, it was critically fucking important, and that you needed meatspace security help and were being your usual pain in the ass overconfident self and that this time it was actually going to be an issue. I didn't really understand why, but she called in a whole stack of favors on your behalf and her own, and here I am."
"Oh." I walked for a bit, thinking. "Okay. Well, let's go get coffee to go and find a quiet spot. This is going to take some time to tell properly."
"I got nothing but."
We went another two blocks and stopped for coffee and donuts, then turned back towards the Channel to find a bench facing it at the side of a frontage road. There was relatively constant traffic, and no structures facing the bench closer than the other side of the channel. Farnham looked at it critically, then nodded. "Okay, keep your head pointed down and your coffee cup up, and talk."
We sat. Flitters whined along the air traffic corridors down the middle of the channel, perhaps seventy-five to two hundred meters up. Ground effect traffic traversed the frontage road behind us several times per minute; delivery vehicles, heavy cargo movers and plain flitters en route between the station, the Turnpike corridor, the tunnels to Logan Boostport and the LTA liftfields at Wonderland.
I explained as succinctly as I was able about Jayanta Bharatmakhesh's visit to my loft, along with our subsequent discussion about the dangers facing the "Verse and, by extension, the Revenet and the general economy. Farnham was a good listener. He waited until I ran down before saying anything.
"So you said yes."
"I didn't really have a choice."
"You always have a choice."
"Okay, I had a choice, but the choices sucked."
"All right. How does this relate to getting back into your place?"
I leaned forward and put my head in my hands. "The damn code is there. The new VM code."
I wasn't looking at him, but I could feel Farnham wince. "You left it there? In the metastack?"
"No! No, it's not loaded anywhere. It's still on the damn chip. But the chip is there."
"You didn't copy it?" He sounded incredulous.
"Oh, yeah, I did. I have a copy online, and I'm pretty sure it's safe. But the original is in my loft, and although I'm pretty sure it hasn't been found yet - because the 'stack would let me know - I can't be positive, because if somebody's suborned my ware in the stack, I wouldn't get the message. Anyway, we can't take that risk. Farnham, we need-"
"My name's Chit. Chit Kyi Sein."
"Oh. I'm, uh, Top. Christopher, but everybody calls me Top. It's going to be hard not to call you Farnham."
"That's okay." He grinned again, showing teeth. "Just try not to do it when we're not among friends."
"Yeah." I grinned back. "Yeah, I see."
"Okay." Chit scrubbed his face once. "Okay, I'm here because I take security more seriously than you, generally. You're in charge of the run. We need Clotho, I presume, since she's a much better coder than either of us, and we generally always run with her?"
"Yeah. I've left her messages. She's at work, there's some kind of big flap at her job at the moment. She's going to call me when she can."
"Does she know about all this yet?"
"Good. Okay, tell me about your place. Tell me about what it looks like, tell me where everything is. Tell me everything you can remember."
"I can do better than that. I have a metaspace in my portable with the loft in it, you can take a tour."
"Let me do that, then I'll ask you questions. This is still a stupid idea, going back there, but it sounds like your mind's made up and frankly I can't see leaving that chip there either."
"Give me the tour."
I dug out my portable. Chit produced a highly customized set of goggles and web, eeled into them, then paired them to my portable. I called up the loft's spatial simulation and finished my cooling coffee, looking at the flitters careening by out over the water while he walked through it seventeen ways from Sunday, looking for places monsters would hide under the beds. I made the mistake of watching his hands, and noticed that at several points during the process, they curled into half fists, index fingers curled out farther from the rest and thumb separate. It confused me for a second, until I realized that they were perfectly positioned to hold handguns.
I shuddered, ate the last donut methodically, and watched the traffic until the friend I'd never met came up from his dream of my home and his trigger fingers relaxed.
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