| The Network Revenant
The problem with being infamous on the Street came down to one of homelessness. The immutable rules of the Ouroverse, known to its denizens in their human-readable forms as the Lines of Code, dictated that the only way an avatar could enter the 'verse without transferring onto it from a registered private server space was to rez in Downtown. Connecting to what was known to official lexicons the world over as the Global Reconnection Network Root Virtuality directly was to see one's avatar burst from the simplistic splendor of the Entryhedron into a riot of advertising space on a low-grav trajectory guaranteeing a forty to sixty-second period before one hit the ground and could move, rez objects, or do anything useful, which was why most regular 'verse users had home servers - either commercial services, in most cases, or private servers, where they could rez and step out into the greater 'verse.
But if you were a Flashrunner, having a home wasn't a good idea. The entire purpose of being Mikarecursore - from the nondescript avatar to the mirrored visor - was to avoid identification. Being tied to a specific location, even in the 'verse, wasn't a good way to remain anonymous; rather, it guaranteed that one would have to spend inordinate amounts of time avoiding electronic ambushes and surveillance just to log on and check mail.
I wasn't sure what Clotho and Farnham and the others did. We were all secretive about our habits, if not our methods. Mikare, though, well. He never did anything the easy way.
The rescued chatbot had been resident in my metastack for three or so hours, and had been quiet for most of that time. I'd given it access to the network through a filter, and watched as it queried a series of locations in quadspace. Nearly all of them were long gone, of course, but a couple of them had responded, and the entity had taken data dumps from two or three of them. The metastack had informed me that the data appeared to be compressed log files from old conversation boards of various types; the pauses after each of these were accessed (and the burst of activity in the emulator) indicated that the entity was parsing the contents in some manner.
I shook my head and sat back down at my desk, placing the gin and tonic on my slate coaster. Time to meet the crew.
Flickerjack powered. Monitoring on. Caltrops active. Injecting now.
I settled the goggles over my eyes and watched as the view of my desk shivered and stuttered out of visibility behind the onrushing storm of data.
* * *
Mikare flexed his fingers, hovering in nonexistence; then, satisfied, he elected a destination. VirginData's private server network obediently connected him to Location DT45/35. He rezzed into the private server running the Virgin DataStore, soaring out of the transfer pane in a forward somersault, and rose smoothly to his feet as the flickerjack soothed the location's 'ware from realizing that he didn't have an origin tag. Ignoring the several stares his appearance had garnered from the other avatars in the shop, he sauntered out onto the Street, carrying a small wooden box in one hand.
Downtown caused his visual filtering to jump up three levels as it usually did. Mikare approached the Entryhedron from the North, but instead of approaching it he turned off the wide avenue that funneled traffic to and from the portal and stopped before a rather plain if enormous structure. Resembling the bottom of a pyramid with a huge cylinder protruding from the top, it existed mostly to support the cylinder. The cylinder's face was alive with advertising imagery, overshadowing the pyramid to the point where it was difficult to make out that there was, in fact, an entryway at one corner.
They didn't want to let Mikare in, but that had never stopped him before. The code of the doorway had yielded to him weeks before, and the bouncers were shocked to find that even on their private server space their routines couldn't touch him. Mikare gave them a jaunty wave and somersaulted neatly between their reaching hands on his way to the central atrium, sparing them one glance to settle a bet with himself as to whether they would pursue or simply pretend it hadn't happened in order to simplify their lives.
He won. They turned to face the outer doors again. Carrying his box, he floated up the lifttube to the top of the cylinder, proffered some more highly irregular and probably illegal codestructs, and walked through a portal onto the top surface of the structure. The portal from the lift area irised closed behind him and vanished.
Three lounge chairs were waiting, neatly arrayed near the edge of the cylinder. Mikare settled himself in the middle one, muttered "Phone," and waited for his comstruct to rez into existence near the right side of his visor. "Clotho," he told it. When it bleeped agreeably, he grinned.
* * *
"So what the hell do you want to do with him?" Farnham tipped his Stetson back on his head, tilted his weatherbeaten iconic cowboy face, and lit a cigarette. The Zippo flashed with the characteristic white wirelike spark of flint and the warm yellow glow of burning fuel; he flicked it closed with one hand and snapped it back into his jacket pocket in one smooth motion. The action was familiar - most avatars that smoked would eventually perform the Ignition Point Maneuver at least once every few cigarettes. This was in homage, it was said, to the unknown coder who had written the core of the routine which they all shared, years later and spread to the corners of the Ouroverse. The IPM, as it was known by dedicated smokers, showed that you not only likely smoked in real life, you cared enough about the activity to want to model it obsessively in the 'Verse.
Farnham's cigarette glowed at the tip, and he blew a stream of slightly tiled smoke to one side and nodded towards Clotho. She was sitting in the lounge chair a few meters off to one side, holding the wooden box with one open side facing her. Her avatar was wearing an expression of delight that would not have been out of place on a young child who has just been told that in fact, Gods exist but will only talk to those who stay awake after bedtime under the covers. She was conversing with the box in tones of laughter and curiosity. Mikare put down his drink and shook his head.
"I think we should get him an avatar and a place to hang out."
Farnham considered this for a couple of drags on his cigarette. "On whose hardware? One of us, or do we jack space for him somewhere on some target's frame?"
"Neither. We can't risk him getting found and nuked in some stupid audit or sweep."
Mikare took another drink, slowly, and listened to Clotho trading dirty jokes with the rough voice in the wooden box. It had taken him a few minutes to find a stock object he could pipe the unknown bot's voice through, but the bot had taken to it surprisingly quickly. Clotho, who thought the gravel-voiced non-sequitur spouting thing was completely awesome, had volunteered to work on an actual formed avatar for their new friend while Mikare and Farnham gave thought to where he was going to live.
He turned back to Farnham. "He's on my ware at the moment. But that's not viable. Both because I don't like running persistents on the public 'Verse, and because it's not fair to him."
"Him? Mik, it's a bot."
"Are we gonna have another one of those is-it-or-isn't-it-a-person arguments?"
"No, because you'll lose again. Anyway, that's not the point. I'm not saying the thing is alive. I'm just saying that if it is, or turns out to be, then it living on a box I own isn't fair to it or to me."
"Well, then, where?" Farnham looked exasperated. "Third line of Code, Mik. Everything Casts A Shadow. I don't have to explain it to you."
"No." Mikare laughed. "He'll have to have a process running somewhere, yes, in order to exist. But we're going to be very, very clever about where his process is running, that's all."
"Well." Mikare took another drink and looked out at the endless busy chaos of the Ouroverse from inside their hushfield. "The 'Verse runs on virtual machines."
"Yeah. So? They only run 'Verse tiles. And they only run them as part of 'Verse clusters, unless you run them on a private piece of hardware with private maps."
"What if one of them ran a private server?"
Farnham frowned. Across on Mikare's other side, Clotho looked up from the box, her expression sharpening. "What?"
"Look. Theoretically, every 'Verse tile does run its own object routines, right? If an object is part of the tile map - a street light, the Bullet, or whatever - then the VMs running in the cluster which are running that tile will execute that object. They may even distribute the load, I don't know precisely."
Clotho turned sideways on her lounger and sat up to face them, placing the box carefully on the seat next to her. "How does that help us?"
Mikare toyed with his smartglass. "What if we could hijack a cluster?" They both looked at him with almost the same expression they might have if he'd grown a third or fourth nose. He put the glass down. "No, seriously. I'm not talking about creating a private 'Verse tile. That can't be done, I don't think, because we don't have the Ouroverse Authentication Key, so it would never be able to attach itself to the rest of the 'Verse and no other server cluster would talk to it. But what if we built a private server map - a building, say - and picked out a place for it to live, just like it was a real private server. Then, instead of running it on a real piece of machinery, we hijack a newly created 'Verse server cluster ID and graft it onto the private map?"
"That can't possibly work," objected Farnham. "You just said it won't ever join."
"Ah," said Mikare grinning. "No, it wouldn't ever join, as in form an edge join. It can't pretend to be a public 'Verse cluster without the key. But maybe, just maybe, we can hack the image enough so that it can pretend to be a regular server image running a private map whenever it authenticates to the cloud. In other words, it's a 'Verse server cluster for purposes of allocating available public hosts to run the VM, but it's never going to migrate a running public space image onto it. All it cares about is hijacking one or maybe two of those publicly available hosts to run on, and then fooling the 'Verse into thinking it's just like any other private server."
Farnham looked thoughtfully up into his hat brim. Clotho closed her eyes, trying out the idea. Mikare sat back in his lounger and picked up his drink, a smug expression behind his visor as he sipped at it, the glass passing through the silver surface.
There was a croaking laugh from the wooden box. "Avast, ye corporate fucking scum! Board this and suck it, damn it. Up the revolution. Wooooooo!"
"you like it?" Mikare asked the box.
"Can run there time all live?"
"Um, yeah. Well, there would be an interruption when the server migrated to another public host; since you would be running on a single VM, you'd suffer a downtime when that VM dropped offline. We'd have to figure out how to save state in case that VM dropped offline unexpectedly, that'd be a problem."
Farnham scratched his head. "How would the bot be able to save its state?"
"I dunno. We'd have to work on that."
"Save THIS!" shouted the box. Farnham snorted.
"Okay, so let's assume we try this stupid scheme." Mikare looked over at him questioningly. Farnham continued. "What kind of public space are we going to build for this thing? Where the hell is it going to fit in?"
"Don't be an idiot." Clotho had opened her eyes again. "Look at us."
"What?" The other two looked back at her.
She shook her head. "We've never met except in a virtual space, correct?" They nodded. "And every time we've met, we've all been drinking."
"Holy hell, that's perfect." Farnham grinned quickly before his normally saturnine look returned. "We need a bar. Now it needs a name."
"Fucking name THIS, cupcake! Up, down, system unstable? Warning state can we see shit if we try it out?" yelled the box.
"I think he likes the idea." Mikare finished his drink.
"I'd say. Hell of a mouth he's got on him." Farnham settled back in his chair.
The name of the bar was obvious at that point.
* * *
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