Boss Key

Gregori is a runner, trapped in a city controlled by a powerful computer AI known as The Boss. With technology working against him, he must stay alive long enough to bring his fight to the public.

1. > hit.ground(running)_

There was never time to mourn.

It had been months since Gregori started running, shuttling data for the dNet. His contacts were dwindling, and at this rate it was beginning to feel like he'd soon be the last of them. His latest dead drop had been just that; dead. He was lucky to have checked the building's security feeds before entering into an ambush. He had to leave empty handed, but at least he still had his life.

It wasn't a sneaking suspicion that prompted him to be so cautious. It was simply habit by now. It was that habit that saved him time and time again. He had learned to think like the machines, to follow their logic and stay just out of reach during his missions.

This particular mission was aborted before it began, and now he ducked down alleys, taking cover in fog as he tried to distance himself from the scanners. Several yards behind him a small army was giving chase. Some were human, most were not. It was impossible to tell them apart with the naked eye. They were all just uniforms, heavily armored and stampeding his way.

Gregori’s HUD lenses gave him an intelligent map overlay, letting him choose his turns long before he arrived at any forks. They alerted him to anything, meat or metal, that might cross his path. He wasn’t in a social mood, and intended to take the quickest, quietest path out of here. Thankfully, the side streets and alleys were nearly abandoned tonight. This allowed him to snake through and lose the scanners quickly.

His map showed a glowing circle around where the chase began. Based on his previous dealings, he knew this indicated how far he’d have to run before he could call himself safe. He also had a countdown running for how long he’d have to stay out of sight before the alerts shut down. At the moment, he had to stay invisible for at least twenty minutes.

Everything in the city ran like clockwork, governed by rules and if/then statements. The humans among the scanners only acted as a fail safe, and were quick to trust the judgement of machines around them. True surprises were few and far between for someone who understood the inner workings. For Gregori, evasion was a simple task of knowing where to go, and how to get there.

He came to a dead end, several blocks away from the now fading sphere on his map. He raised his right hand, palm out, and allowed a hidden reader to recognize the current set of prints on his glove. This identified him as some random worker from the colony he’d bumped into earlier. The brick wall before him shimmered and disappeared, revealing a metallic door. That slid aside, and he stepped into the dank hallway beyond, fluorescent lights flickering on to guide his path.

Being unmarked, Gregori had small advantages over the other sheep, but shared none of their privileges. He had no credits, had to steal his way through life, but he was also free from The Boss’ network. He didn’t adhere to the logic of the city, and moved about in digital shadows, stealing identities and slipping through the cracks wherever he went.

The people around him had no idea how screwed up things had become in the last twenty years. They went about their lives, protected by the systems that enslaved them. They were addicted to connections that fed the machine with names, numbers, and algorithms that made it grow. Even a person who wasn’t directly part of the system would get networked in eventually. The Boss knew everything about everybody.

Gregori knew there was no simple way to break such a thing down, but he and his fellow runners felt responsible to continue on. Once you were made aware of the machine’s nature, it was hard to ignore it. The gift of that knowledge came just recently for Gregori, but it had been there, coded, waiting for him his entire life.

He arrived at his temporary home, a dimly lit circular room. There was no maintenance around here, but no scanners either. The access tunnels and server farms of the old world were cleverly wiped off the map by other runners. Much of the equipment left behind was useless for anything other than recycling, but with a little guidance they’d been able to cobble together a handful of workstations.

These systems ran offline, out of The Boss’ reach. Their encrypted bits ran along protected cabling from one outpost to the next in a token ring network. It ran in serial, like a set of Christmas lights. If the ring was broken, the entire network would enter lockdown and information would stay put until it could be repaired.

As a technology, this sort of network had been obsolete forever. But as a security protocol, it had a simple genius to it that defied every advancement that led up to The Boss. The code that managed it all had to be salvaged from much older systems, long before wireless transmissions and unique addressing. It wasn’t good for much aside from communication between outposts. Anything that passed between this private network and the dNet had to be done manually from separate terminals.

Tonight, the network was quiet. That’s the way he liked it. Chatter usually meant trouble, and he’d had enough of that for one night. He pulled off his glasses and gloves, slid out of his jacket and climbed into a makeshift cot. Laying back, he went over the day’s events in his head and tried to determine just how this latest mission was compromised. Tired and aching from the run, it wasn’t long before the adrenaline slowly left him, and his thoughts turned to dreams.

The End

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