The Saint of Circuitry
A simple hack isn't enough to become a god... or is it?
The fluorescent bulbs flickered, buzzing all the while, as Hana sat within the holding cell, otherwise unbothered. The young oscuri woman wasn’t sure how long she’d been there; the guards had confiscated her phone, her watch, anything that would effectively allow her to keep time, apart from her sleep cycles. So far, she’d dozed off three times, but, if she was being honest, she wasn’t sure how much of it was due to her being tired, and how much was due to her own boredom.
The lights flickered again, including her name and number flickering on the “glass.” She wasn’t entirely sure what the barrier was made of. It felt solid enough but seemed to be energetic. If she’d had access to a computer, that would’ve been the end of it. They were all taking their dear sweet time. Slowly she got to her feet, stretching and pacing the seven steps to the barrier. No one was in the hallway. She slipped the small box of cigarettes out from where it was crushed against her calf, then waited for the flicker of the barrier. Holding the tip of it up to the corner of her name, she watched as the sudden vibrations caused the thin paper to ignite. Taking a long (and much-needed) drag, she took the seven steps back to the bench, and took a seat.
She was a little startled to see someone watching her as she sat back down. She peered at him from under her dark hair. He was tall. Dressed corporately, a well-tailored suit covering his slim frame. Drow, by the look of him, though his facial features were a bit rounder than others among his kin, and his ears not as pointed.
“Hana,” she corrected.
“You shouldn’t be smoking in here.”
Hana said nothing in response, glancing lazily up at him as she deliberately inhaled again.
“Frankly, I’m a little concerned about the security in this facility if you managed to smuggle those in.”
She kept her half-smile fixed in place, but said nothing more.
“Nothing? Nothing to say for yourself?”
“Depends. Are ya my lawyer?” her voice was low, but she could hear it amplified out into the hallway. Her accent was thick, despite her initial attempts to hide it, placing her origin just north of the Shardfall. An odd dialect around the Threecity.
“Can’t say I am. Can’t say as they’ll give you one either.”
“Then I’ve got nothing else to say to ya. ‘Cept to tell ya to fuck off.”
A middle finger in the air silently punctuated her response.
“Boss man wants to see you.”
That caught her interest. She leaned forward, elbows resting on her knees. “Does he now.” The cigarette hung against her lips. “That’s interesting.”
“It seems unlikely you could blame him. You’ve become of… particular interest to him.”
“‘Course I have.” She stood up, striding across the cell to face the drow man a bit more closely, and sticking the carton of cigarettes in her back pocket, where the last stick remained. His hair, which she’d initially thought to be short, she now saw was tied in a tail at the nape of his neck, a few series of knots and braids lining one side of his head. His eyes were unusual as well, glinting with an almost golden brown. “I’m of interest to a lot o’ people.”
“Are you going to come along to his office with me quietly, or will I need to acquire backup.” The question was not phrased as such, coming out with more of a bored tone.
“No need, mate.” She put out her cigarette, grinding it underfoot. “Let’s just get it over with.”
The drow man smiled out of the corner of his mouth as he began pressing the buttons on the keypad outside her cell. A series of beeping noises followed, and the energetic shield faded with a flash. As she stepped outside, the drow provided a set of electromag cuffs, locking her hands behind her back. She chuckled at that.
“What’s so funny?”
“You lot. Acting like I’m over here ‘bout to jump and murder someone. Like ya ain’t done your research at all.” She readjusted slightly as her shoulder shifted.
“There’s been enough.” He placed a firm hand on her upper arm, leading her down the first of the hallways, past a number of the other cells.
“Not nearly if ya think I’m any danger without a computer in front of me.” She rolled her eyes. Most of the other cells were empty, the glowing numbers had no names associated with them, but provided small patches of light that worked to illuminate the tile floors and ceilings. His footsteps clacked with professionalism, her sneakers squeaked against the surface.
The drow shrugged. “Just following protocol. Same for thieves and murderers as for hackers and spies.”
“I prefer the term ‘information specialist,’ if ya don’t mind.”
This was met with a tightlipped smile. “My mistake. I could’ve sworn those were the same thing.”
They reached a door at the end of the hallway, and the drow placed his hand on a pad at the door. It scanned the biological signature, and, judging by the slight glow around his hand, a magical signature as well. The door slid open. Most of the men among the drow were kept from magic, exiled for trying to learn it. Unless of course they had the means to learn apart from it. She kept her eyes on her surroundings.
“So how much did you get for it?”
“Get for what?”
“Don’t play stupid. The information you stole from Kage Enterprises.”
“Ya can’t steal what’s free to start with, mate.”
He chuckled mirthlessly. “Nothing about those plans was free, 0027.”
“Sure it was.” She met his smile.
“Who’d you sell it to?”
“I’d tell ya, but ya ain’t gonna believe me.”
His grip never wavered, never tightened nor loosened as they continued into the next hallway. The passages around here were winding and strange, but she watched carefully, memorizing each left and right.
“Who was it?”
The drow pushed the up button for the elevator as they stood side by side in front of the chrome doors. He furrowed his brow, turning those odd amber eyes to hers. “You--”
“Didn’t sell it to anyone.” Hana smiled, the sharper teeth almost threatening to pierce her lip. The elevator dinged, and the chrome doors opened into an equally cool and fluorescent interior. The two of them stepped inside, as they slid shut with a soft swish. He pressed the button for the thirteenth floor, and for the first time, he let her arm go. She leaned against the back wall, palms pressed into the cold metal.
“What did you do with it then?”
“That’s for me to know, an’ the Boss Man to find out.”
“Hana.” She met his stare.
“Hana. I don’t think I can stress to you how pivotal and delicate the information you obtained is, nor how dangerous it could be--”
“In the wrong hands?” She shook her head, her own hands twisting in the cuffs. “In the hands of someone like Herwess?”
“Of course I bloody know about Herwess, everyone an’ their uncle does.” The smile she gave him was perhaps the most genuine she’d been able to produce yet. “Don’t have to be an information specialist t’ know Kage and Herwess’ve been at each other’s throats since this whole shard nonsense took off.”
The lights on the elevator showed one at a time, ticking upwards from the sub basement. Passing seven, eight, nine. She fiddled with the cuffs one final time, feeling the pulse of the energy through them as she reached into her back pocket, and withdrew the last “cigarette.” Pushing the button at the tip of it, timing it with the pulse, the cuffs suddenly separated from each other, flying open. Snatching them with one hand, she threw them against the panel and hit the button again. A surge of electromagnetic energy flooded the elevator, her rubber soles insulating her. The drow stumbled forward as the elevator lurched to a halt, just shy of the thirteenth floor, looking Hana dead in the eyes.
“And I’d say that here an’ now is a perfect time to start our negotiations. Wouldn’t ya say, Mr. K?”
There was a beat of silence. Then the drow man started to laugh. He stood upright, all pretenses of formality gone, but the true Mr. Kage standing there.“You have done your research, haven’t you.” The elevator swayed a bit back and forth, creaking.
“I’d prefer to talk here in person. Not have ya peekin’ through that Replika up in your office, and presentin’ a recording after all’s said an’ done.”
“Odd for a hacker to distrust tech, isn’t it?”
“I take it ya ain’t familiar with a lot of hackers.”
“Can’t say as I am.” He motioned for her to sit, taking his hair out of the ponytail and sitting cross-legged himself on the floor of the elevator. “You’re a special case, Hana Tor-Bezen.”
“An’ why is that?”
“Because as of now, you’re the only one who’s successfully managed to hack into our database. Even if you were caught.”
“Caught, sez he...”
“You disagree?” Kage asked, an eyebrow raised.
Hana lowered herself to the ground in front of him, mirroring his sitting position. “With all due respect given someone of your standin’, Mr. K, ya wouldn’t’ve caught me if I didn’t wanna be caught.”
“Is that so?”
“I’m good at what I do, sir.” She pushed her hair back from her face, staring at the young-looking man. “I’d made my way in an’ out of your system a dozen times ‘fore I left a trace you could follow back. I wanted ya t’ find me.”
“Why?” He shook his head. “After all that trouble, why let yourself be caught?”
“Because frankly Mr. K, I’m on your side.”
The elevator shifted as Mr. Kage did, and the lights flickered and surged. “My side?”
“Herwess is a greedy sonuvabitch. Ain’t many know just how involved he is on his whole corporate side of things. Or just how many folks he’s promised one of his artificial shards to, just t’ get what he wants.”
“But you know?”
“T’ a degree.” Hana smiled, leaning on her elbows, and looking Kage up and down. “His system ain’t all tha’ much different from yours, after all. ‘Course, I didn’t leave any traces in his databases.”
“Wise, assuming you enjoy your internal organs in their current configuration.”
“I ain’t stupid.”
“Never said you were.” He leaned back against the wall. “So why leave any signs in mine?”
“Ya need me.”
Kage laughed. “I need you.”
“Without a doubt.”
“And why is that?”
“I took your information just t’ get your notice. Full intentions o’ givin’ it back. I told ya. Herwess’s system ain’t so different from the ones you’re usin’. I can get in and out like nobody’s business. He’s been ahead o’ you since this whole thing started.”
“Hey, that’s a little--”
“Accurate. He’s had the resources. Th’ experience. He’s always been an energy baron. He’s just changed what kind.” Hana cocked her head. “An’ with him at the reins, we’ll be stuck in another fuckin’ Age of Chaos, or worse. You ain’t had any qualms with sharing these artificed shards so far. Given yer track record, seems, like as not, you’ll keep that up.” She steepled her fingers together under her chin. “I wanna help.”
“And how do you propose to do that?”
“I break into the Herwesses’ data banks. Copy out whatever plans he’s got for the tech and see your people get it fast enough t’ make a difference in your current experiments.”
Mr. Kage propped himself up a bit. “That’s your plan then. Hack into my systems, let me catch you, so you can convince me to let you hack the Herwess Corp on my payroll? A plan, all of which, I feel I should remind you, hinges on my compliance in letting you commit corporate espionage?”
“Not t’ assume too much at your expense, Mr. K,” Hana replied, “but you’ve let me talk this much without shuttin’ me down. An’, as I said, yer track record speaks for itself.”
Silence stretched between them for a moment. Then the smile he’d been trying to hide spread slowly across his face as he made his way to his feet. He started pacing back and forth in the confines of the elevator. Four steps, pivot, four steps, pivot.
“If, and this is a strong if, I decided to hire you on to perform such a task... What would you want from me out of this? What’s your going rate?”
“I don’t need much, sir.” Her lips pursed together. “Consider it a… passion project, if ya will.”
Hana’s eyes narrowed as she stared up at him. “Yeah. So far, you’ve been on my good side. Information demands to be free. Resources like this ain’t gonna do any good in the hands of a bajillionaire like Herwess. An’ these things… these shards’ve done their share of good an’ harm alike. But that’s how things oughta be. If you’re gonna make ‘em, then all sorts are gonna need ‘em. Not just the folks who can afford it as their ticket to a quick godhood.”
“And you’re not in it for the money.”
“You don’t want to get paid?”
“I mean, a small stipend t’ keep me outta the slums’d be preferable, an’ use of whatever computers ya can give me would be maybe a bit more necessary, given tha’ yer guys did a pretty thorough job o’ confiscating an’ smashin’ the shit outta mine.” She smiled again. “I’ve got the backups, of course.”
Kage stopped pacing for a moment. For a moment she missed the rhythmic sort of clacking of his shoes on the tile. “These terms are agreeable. I’ve got a few of my own, naturally though.”
“No more hacking my databases. This includes my personal ones. Given that’s the only place where anything about the Replika is mentioned, I can only assume.”
“Right then.” He went back to pacing. “I can get you whatever hardware you need, though theoretically some of them might be prototypical.”
“We’ve been exploring the shards as an alternative form of energy, as you know. Most of our hardware runs on them now.” He smiled wryly at her. “I hope being on the cutting edge won’t prove upsetting to you.”
For the first time, Hana Tor-Bezen grinned. “Shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Lastly. I can’t provide any assurances that we’re going to be able to protect you, should Herwess find out. We’ll do our best, naturally. But should anything particularly… damaging escape and be traced back to you. We’ll have to wash our hands of it.”
“On the other hand,” he continued, trailing off, as if in thought. “Should such a leak of Herwess’s information happen,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest, “in a particularly public manner… and those technologies remain in place for your use… You’ll have to accept whatever additional responsibilities may arise from a cult following.”
“Cult following?” This was the first time anything Mr. Kage had said had proven even remotely surprising, and she found herself staring with some degree of confusion at the drow man before her.
“You’d be surprised. It happens to the best… and the worst of us.” He shook his head, chuckling. “For all your discussions of rich assholes buying their way to a godhood, anything you do from here on out has the potential to reach, if not a godhood in its own right, a sainthood at the least.”
She jumped to her feet. “Hang on a minute, I never asked for that.”
“Which is why it seems like exactly the sort of thing we’re going to need to anticipate.”
“Who in their right fuckin’ mind would think I’m worthy of worship?”
Mr. Kage smirked, placing a hand on her shoulder. “Count me as your first follower.”
She fumbled. “You’ve gotta be shittin’ me,” Hana muttered.
“Decidedly not.” He placed a hand on the cuffs jamming the signals to the elevator. His hand glowed slightly and the cuffs detached. The elevator jolted to life once again.
“You… could’ve done that the whole time.”
“I didn’t want to ruin your moment.”
The elevator dinged, reaching the thirteenth floor. “Look, I didn’t get into this t’ become anybody special. I wanted to fuck over the Herwesses, and figured I might as well get paid for it.” Her excuses were wearing thin, and she knew it. Folks above the Far Below here in Threecity were running over themselves, killing each other for opportunities like this. He was offering it freely. “I never asked to be a god.”
The door slid open. Kage stepped through, offering his hand to the young oscuri woman. She stared at him suspiciously, but took his hand. Together they walked towards what appeared to be an office door. He cleared his throat, looking at the young woman with a smile she would almost call kind.
“We never ask, Hana Tor-Bezen. But when fortune hands us an opportunity like this, we’d be fools to refuse it.” He placed a hand on the knob. “You were right. I do need you. You have information and services I deem more than valuable. At this moment, they’re downright precious. And since you were so kind as to offer them…”
The door opened inward into a comfortable and spacious looking office. “I believe we have much to discuss.” He gestured for her to enter.
Hana stared at the room for a few moments, then entered in.
Kage situated himself behind his desk. As if it were an afterthought, he withdrew a small box from the breast pocket of his suit jacket, and offered her a cigarette.
With a wave of his hand, the office door swung shut.
Hello! If you've read to the end here, I hope you've enjoyed this short story I wrote as part of a D&D Cyberpunk challenge. If you liked it and would like to read more stories from the same setting/in the same vein, drop a like (or a tip if you're feeling generous!) Thanks again friends!