1-31-17-cyberweb-smll

Cyberweb by Lisa Mason
1
Street Tough

Carly Quester creeps through the crowd, winding her way around a hydroponic vegetable vendor whose brackish tomato tanks twitch with mottled olive crawdaddies. Her stomach rumbles at the sight of fresh food, but shellfish grilled in butter will have to wait for another day. A frumpy bank teller lingers in the gridlock, humming softly, waiting for the light at California Street to change.

Yeah, that’s right. Don’t freakin’ move.

Green light, and traffic plunges forward half a block. Red light, and traffic halts. Steaming with frustration. Spewing noxious fumes.

With a cautious hop, the bank teller ventures off the curb, navigating the squat stack of its main housing between a pickup truck packed with surly locomotors and a bus of screaming schoolchildren. The bank teller pauses in the crosswalk, twiddling its secondary cables.

Carly pounces, seizing the bank teller’s monitor. She jams a credit disk into the teller’s download drive, punching her code on its astonished keypad, together with a bootleg file extension overriding Data Control’s order freezing her assets.

The bank teller struggles and beeps, staggering and swinging about.

Carly slaps the monitor’s faceplace, holds snub-nosed pliers to its main cable. “Spit it out, bot,” she mutters to its audio. “It’s my damn account. Eight grand or you’re chop-shop parts.”

The bank teller sputters but commences downloading credits onto Carly’s disk. One thousand, two thousand, three. Four thousand softbucks.

A synthy voice suddenly murmurs through the bank teller’s audio. “Hello, Quester space C colon fifty-three dash five point twenty-four paren AAA close paren. How are you today? We’ve got to talk.”

Carly slaps the monitor again. Flat of the hand, no fingerprints. Talk, right. The synthy voice, the voice of a sengine, is reciting her former telespace access code. Talk? Don’t even breathe.

The bank teller’s alarm system clicks on, wailing through the downtown din. The red Cancel-Trans light blinks furiously. Carly joggles the main cable with the pliers till the cable is nearly free of the port.

Five thousand, six thousand softbucks.

“Carly Quester!” rattles Pr. Spinner’s rusty synthy voice. The perimeter prober stands next to a Recycling Bin on the opposite side of California Street. Her owlish faceplace puckers, her graspers clack, her spinnerets click. The prober’s foot rollers scoot back and forth with anxiety. “By bot, it’s the heat!”

“She means scram, flesh-and-blood,” squeaks Saint Download standing beside Spinner, waving its multitude of armlets. Its gender-neutral faceplace clicks through a dozen ambiguity sequences. Saint Download is the ugliest little bot Carly has ever seen. The bot doesn’t think much of her, either.

Six and a quarter, six and a half. The bank teller stalls at six thousand five hundred softbucks. “Damn!” Carly pounds Eject but the disk won’t come free.

A team of copbots careen down Sansome Street, weaving in and out of the gridlock. Sirens shriek.

Carly pries the disk out with the pliers, denting the edges of the bank teller’s drive. Then she yanks the main cable before the bank teller can save a commcord of her face and voice. Cutting its power won’t void identification of the transaction, though, since Carly’s code was archived with Data Control as soon as the credits downloaded. Still. Any spybyte or telespace pirate could have pillaged her account, too. Data Control doesn’t have to know who.

Or what Carly looks like these days. No longer the polished professional telelinker. No longer a telespace mediator with the corrupt megafirm of Ava & Rice. That gig is gone. Her copper-gold hair spills down her back in a wild mane. Always slim, she’s gotten scrawny. If she can’t rustle food from the lockbox Bins before recyclers sell it to second-hand markets, she doesn’t eat. When the cuffs of her silk blouses fray, she cuts off the sleeves, layering on bits and pieces of patched clothes. She avoids her reflection most mornings because she doesn’t want to see the haunted expression in her own eyes.

“Tweak it up, Carly!” Spinner yells.

Saint Download’s armlets wriggle. One grasper pokes an electroneedle into the keyhole of the Bin’s lockbox, overriding the security code. The lid clicks open. Saint Download seizes a dipstick from the Bin’s corner, pries the Bin open.

Copbots screech around the corner at California Street, sideswiping the pickup truck. The locomotors jeer and rattle the chains cinching them to the truck’s flatbed. The copbots fan out, spit projectiles. The projectiles explode, ejecting a cyberweb, the steel strands of it gleaming in the cold morning sun. The cyberweb drops down around the bank teller’s shoulder ridges.

Green light again, and traffic races for a half-minute sprint. The school bus fender-butts a copbot, knocking it aside. The children cheer.

Carly crouches, rolls into oncoming traffic, which swerves around her without stopping. But the cyberweb catches her scuffed boot. Catches her, grips her. Damn! She struggles, kicking and twisting, The cyberweb pulls tighter, feeding her movements into its standalone software, countering every thrash by tightening the trap.

A copbot chugs up, synthy voice booming from its mouthplace. “Hands up, you have five seconds to get your hands up . . .”

Bye-bye boot.

Carly darts, leaping around a smart Harley-Davidson motorcycle that wolf-whistles through its tailpipe, a pedicab of gawking tourists drawn by the usual wizened peddler, a wind scooter with azure sails afloat in the sea breeze. She rolls to the opposite curb, crawls to Pr. Spinner and Saint Download.

“In you go,” cackles Saint Download, eyespots blinking in its pinball machine of a faceplace. “Garbage in, garbage in.”

“Funny, Download,” Carly says, sniffing at the ripe funk inside the Bin. “Also, you’re buggy.”

“Do it, Carly Quester,” Spinner urges. “And you shut your mouthpiece, Saint Download. She’s my flesh-and-blood.”

The prober gives Carly a leg up, and she scrambles into the Bin. The lid clangs shut. She hears Saint Download’s electroneedle scrabble in the lockbox. Beep. She hears a click like doom sealing her fate, then hunkers down, crouching as still as she can.

The Bin smells of rotting vegetables and days-old fish, but contains no food bound for the fourth-hand markets. Only paper and wrappings, bound for end-product recyclers. Mega. What if the recyclers come, haul off the Bin, incinerate its contents without logging in types and quantities? It happens. Lockbox Bins are one way to dispose of all sorts of illicit things: corpses, toxic waste, criminal evidence. She fingers shredded paper. How loud will she have to scream before the recyclers hear her? Sometimes companies on the cheap take the audio chips out. The incinerators won’t hear a thing.

Yes, and what if Pr. Spinner deserts her, leaves the lid locked, and lumbers away, convinced by Saint Download that she’s better off without Carly, a flesh-and-blood on the run from Data Control? A renegade coordinate institutor, Saint Download is wanted by Data Control, too, for unspecified telespace crimes. Same as Carly and Pr. Spinner.

Spinner herself is hardly above suspicion. The perimeter prober is the last link in a long chain of AI entities that have ruined Carly’s career as a professional telelink mediator with Ava & Rice. The prober subjected Carly to the questionable and dangerous technique called probe therapy. Pr. Spinner has brought Carly to the brink of annihilation. To the brink of death.

Now the two AIs are spending way too much time together. It makes Carly nervous.

But in the end, Pr. Spinner didn’t betray Carly. Not since she and the prober discovered an archetype—the Arachne—in Carly’s telelink, shattered her perimeters, and pieced her back together again.

She hears their synthy voices chatting outside the Bin, can’t help but shiver. The authoritative copbot interrogates Pr. Spinner. “A flesh-and-blood, officer? Grease my wheels, look around you, officer. The street is rotten with ‘em.” Good ol’ Spin. Crackling with bafflement, the copbot questions Saint Download, who twitters and clicks like a tech-mech parrot. Well, all right. Carly gives the nasty little bot a couple of points for good behavior.

A knock on the lid, and the lid pops open. Fresh air, laced with gridlock fumes.

“Teh! They’re gone, Carly Quester,” Spinner says, fidgeting with her graspers. Her eyespots pulse. Saint Download cocks its faceplace at her curiously.

Carly climbs out of the Bin, drops down to the pavement. “No fourth-hand food in there, you bucket of rust, just paper,” she says to the coordinate institutor. The bot holds out her boot in one of its armlets. “Thanks,” Carly says, snapping the boot away, stepping into it. “They take the bank teller?” she asks Spinner.

“Yes, indeed, they did.”

Carly sighs. Hello, six thousand five, bye-bye fifteen hundred softbucks she worked long and hard for. No hope she’ll see the rest. She pockets the credit disk. Her last six thousand five hundred softbucks, if she can find any vendors who will trade bootleg credits at double and a half. She looks at the cars, bumper-to-bumper, radiators steaming, batteries shorting out. Human drivers faceless, anonymous, behind the windshields. “I hate the freakin’ gridlock,” she says. “Let’s get out of here.”

From the author of Summer Of Love, A Time Travel (a Philip K. Dick Award Finalist and San Francisco Chronicle Recommended Book). On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo. On Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.

The Gilded Age, A Time Travel (a New York Times Notable Book and New York Public Library Recommended Book). On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. On Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.

Time Travels to San Francisco (boxed set of Summer of Love and The Gilded Age). On US Kindle, UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo. On Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Brazil, Mexico, India, and Japan.

Arachne (a Locus Bestseller). On US Kindle, UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. On Kindle on  France Kindle, Germany Kindle, Italy Kindle, Netherlands Kindle, Spain Kindle, Mexico Kindle, Brazil Kindle, India Kindle, and Japan Kindle.

Strange Ladies: 7 Stories. On Nook, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo. On Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.

The Garden of Abracadabra. On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. On Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.

The Garden of Abracadabra, Book 1: Life’s Journey. On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. On Kindle in Australia, Brazil, Germany, France, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, and Spain.

The Garden of Abracadabra, Book 2: In Dark Woods. On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. On Kindle in Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, and Spain.

The Garden of Abracadabra, Book 3: The Right Road. On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. On Kindle in Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, and Spain.

Celestial Girl, The Omnibus Edition (A Lily Modjeska Mystery). On Nook, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo. On Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.

Celestial Girl, Book 1: The Heartland (A Lily Modjeska Mystery). On Nook, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, and India.

Celestial Girl, Book 2: Jewel of the Golden West (A Lily Modjeska Mystery). On Nook, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, and India.

Celestial Girl, Book 3: The Celestial Kingdom (A Lily Modjeska Mystery) and Celestial Girl, Book 4: Terminus are on Nook, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, and India.

Shaken. On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.

Hummers. On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, and India.

Daughter of the Tao. On US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, BarnesandNoble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in AustraliaFrance, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.

Every Mystery Unexplained. On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, and India.

Tomorrow’s Child. On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands.

The Sixty-third Anniversary of Hysteria. On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, and India.

U F uh-O. On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, and India.

Tesla, A Screenplay. On US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, BarnesandNoble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, and India.

My Charlotte: Patty’s Story. On Barnes and Noble, US Kindle, UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo. On Kindle in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Netherlands, and Mexico.

“Illyria, My Love” is on US Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. Also on UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, Germany Kindle, France Kindle, Spain Kindle, Italy Kindle, Netherlands Kindle, Japan Kindle, Brazil Kindle, Mexico Kindle, and India Kindle.

Please visit me at Lisa Mason’s Official Website for all my books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, reviews, interviews, and blogs, adorable pet pictures, forthcoming works, fine art and bespoke jewelry by my husband Tom Robinson, worldwide links, and more!

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