Essays are over, and so now Grumpy can get to writing once again. Here's an early draft of that contemporary-cyberpunk thing I've been working on. Wallatext (Move your mouse to reveal the content) Wallatext (open) Wallatext (close) I ride at the back of the public bus, next to the emergency exit. This gives me two distinct advantages over the rest of my fellow passengers; should we crash I’ll have myself an easy exit from the vehicle if I survive, and should the engine decide to detonate on us all I’ll be killed instantly and will get to avoid a long and painful stay in some burns ward in an under-funded NHS hospital. Its pleasant little methodologies of mine like this that are the reason I’m so fun to be around. Or the reason why I’ve never had a happy relationship with another human being in my entire life. You decide. ‘Our driver today is Simon’, some irritatingly chirpy automated voice announces to us all as the doors close and ‘Simon’ pulls us out towards the freeways that run over the slums and past the high-rise apartment buildings of London. Another feature of modern public relations that make me seriously consider spree killing as a career choice; try and bridge the gap between the dealers and consumers by projecting this pathetic pseudo-closeness between the two. “High, my name is Simon, how are you?” “Your server today is Kelly, just talk to her if you have any problems”. What a load of wank. Miraculously I’ve managed to find myself a seat that isn’t also occupied by some other member of the public with enough space for my bag, too. It sits beside me, one of those sickeningly popular messenger bag things with space for a laptop, a couple folders and fuck all else, the kind of thing you see marketed to ‘young professionals’ all the damn time. I would imagine that anyone who discovered the silenced pistol resting inside one such folder in this bag would be more than a little surprised. William Gibson once wrote that “If they think you're crude, go technical; if they think you're technical, go crude”. I think he was onto something there, appearing as the opposite of what you are. The people I am on the way to meet are expecting some 20-something desk-jockey asshole who wants to get a bit of danger in his life, a bit of action; this is exactly the impression I have endeavoured to give them when I arranged this meeting. In other words, they’re thinking crude. So I’m going technical. They think they’re meeting some sucker who has access to somewhere of interest to them. What they’re getting is me, a man with a silenced pistol, a bulletproof vest underneath my disguise and an interest in what they’re up to. My feeds are abuzz with news of some impending attack with a scale unlike anything that’s hit London before, and these guys seem to have the skinny on it all. Naturally any tech of theirs that I could locate was encrypted to be tighter than the cuffs slapped on protestors of late, but there’s always another way. In my line of work you’ve got to get your hands dirty sometimes. The image people have of us is some balding geek stuck before multiple monitors 24/7, firing code into the ‘net. For the most part this image isn’t an inaccurate one, but sometimes the only way to get at the information you want is to go and take it by hand. Or to point a silenced pistol in the face of the guy who has the information and politely ask that they give it to you. I find that this almost always works well. Twenty minutes later, having crossed freeways and streets crowded with perpetual London traffic, the bus grinds to a halt at my stop. ‘Simon’ just can’t help but offer me a sycophantic, “Have a nice day, sir!” as I step off his cattle ferry, and I resist the urge to recommend he go throw himself off a fucking building. Jesus I miss the old-breed of driver, grumpy old cunts who’s greatest joy in life was deliberately ignoring your requests for them to stop and who wouldn’t be caught dead offering platitudes to every prick who climbed aboard their bus. How times have changed. In more ways than one. This a rough area of East London, removed from the new corporate towers of nearby Whitechapel. This is proper ‘Old London Town’, the true heart of the city; a place where you can still find defiant stretches of cobbled roads and pavements and red-brick houses. A place that’s holding out against the mayor’s drive for a “modernised London for modernised Londoners”. Tory prick; I wish this country had a finer tradition of murdering its public officials like the US does. I know that they’ve carefully analysed this persona I’ve created online for the man they think they’re meeting. Damn fine work if I do say so myself; even managed to edit the time-stamps of everything so that it all looks legitimate. ‘Jonathan Pratt’, I’ve called this one, taken from a roster of current employees of the company they’ve expressed an interest in. But just who are ‘they’? A very good question that, and a worrying one for me professionally. Because I don’t know. Despite all my various attempts to figure out just who these people are and what they represent, I don’t know. And that both concerns and fascinates me, it’s something that ignites that drive to understand that has led me to become what I am. If they’re hacktivists they’re not your garden-variety loudmouth morons with more ideals and computer-smarts than common sense; these guys operate very low-key. If they’re government they’re not operating under any protocols that I’m aware of. And I should know. That leaves only one other likely candidate. A potential candidate that worries me more than a little. From one of the few payphones in this neighbourhood that haven’t been smashed to shit by protests or local kids, I call the number they’ve given me. I didn’t want to make Pratt seem too stupid to them, or else they’d start to get the idea that this whole thing’s a set-up. Thus I’ve taken a few obvious precautions so their hackles don’t get raised. The voice on the other end of the line is monotone, electronically-filtered. “Apartment 26B, on the street you are currently on,” it tells me, and then hangs up. Barely a few seconds on the line, electronic filters to prevent detection. I bet if I were to open up this telephone box I’d find that they’ve played with it, too. Very professional work. From this moment on, I know that there are eyes on me. There are eyes on me as I walk up the cobbled road towards the meeting place. There are eyes on me as I stop outside the heavy-wooden front door and press the old buzzer. There are eyes on me as I enter the building and climb the stairs. I’m in their territory now, the lion’s den. Of course the lions are sadly unaware of the silenced pistol in my bag. Sucks to be them. Flat B of building 26 turns out to be on the second floor, with a door painted with peeling red paint. I hit the bell and wait for a response. From here the persona I have crafted for Pratt needs to be in effect; I’ve concocted the image of some bored asshole who’s now in way over his head, knows this all too well but doesn’t want anyone else to. Lots of pseudo-confidence and barely-contained nerves. If I do it right they’ll eat it up and ask for seconds. If I do it wrong I’ll be shooting my way out of 26B. Or not leaving at all. Answering the door are two men in plain clothes. Non-descript, short haircuts and the bearing of men who know exactly how to put other men six-feet under without breaking a sweat. Immediately I rule out hacktivists; these men don’t strike me as individuals striving for social and political change via unlawful internet use. I’m waved into the flat and suddenly there’s a metal detector being produced and scanned over me. Very, very professional; suddenly I’m rather glad of the added expense of a firearm with ceramic parts, as the only thing that sets the detector off is the smartphone. Which they confiscate, as I expected; they didn’t find my actual phone hidden in the bag. It’s a small apartment, old and dilapidated with that lovely ‘no-one’s lived here in over a decade’ feel. The two men on the door lead me through to a dusty living room that smells of old cat piss and mould, where a third man is located. This gentleman is different from the other two, much younger and with that crisp, well-kept look that immediately sets my teeth on edge; expensive suit and a look of authority that could easily also be arrogance. Undoubtedly the man in charge of this little exchange, though how far this thing goes is anyone’s guess at this point. “You know why you are here?” he begins, seating himself on the old couch and opening his briefcase. “Well, yeah,” I reply with what will hopefully be interpreted as a nervous chuckle. He seems to buy it, going by the nod. “Good. Sit down, and I shall run through what we want from you.” I’m placing his accent from somewhere far nicer than this place. Possibly Oxford, which implies some serious education and some serious money to back it up. This isn’t street trash I’m talking to, here. If the nice suit and bodyguards didn’t make that abundantly obvious already. The two bodyguards in question stand at the door to this room now, watching over the proceedings with the detached look on their faces that let’s me know they are quite capable of murdering me and disposing of my body without even blinking. If I’m to pull this off I’ll need to play it safe, wait until I’ve got the drop on them. I have the advantages of underestimation and surprise, but those aren’t enough to stop me from being a little nervous about all this. Better that I just play the part I have concocted for Pratt until they give me the chance to get rid of those two goons and have a chat with Mister High and Mighty sitting opposite me. So I let him run me through what they have in mind for Pratt, the idiot office boy who wants to feel like James Bond. It’s more or less what I expected; they want access to the internal systems, and so they plan on giving him a USB drive that he is to plug into his computer when it’s connected to his company’s network. Standard insertion policy for whatever nasty malware they’re packing; they’re probably in the process of interviewing and selecting multiple Pratts whilst gearing up for multiple virus-insertion methods. Unfortunately there is no Pratt the idiot office boy; there’s only me. I’d be more than happy to take a look at whatever malware they’ve got cooking, though. Mister High and Mighty continues running me through the process, and I make sure to look a bit excited when payment is mentioned. Not that I would imagine Pratt, were he real, would ever actually get paid; these guys don’t strike me as the type who leave loose ends untied. Damn talk takes forever, and he’s wording it as if I’m the greatest moron in all the lands. Though given the impression about Pratt that I’ve put across I guess I can’t blame him for that. Finally he stands up and presents me with the USB. With feigned eagerness I snatch it up. “You are aware of what is expected of you. We shall be in touch.” He nods towards the door, signalling that our meeting is now over. I thank him profusely, a small part of me dying inside from having to act the simpering fuckwit, and I start towards the door. This, I figure, is as good a chance as any. Past the bodyguards and into the cramped hallway, I open the messenger bag to place the USB stick inside, placing a hand on the grip of the pistol as I feign doing so. “Oh yeah!” I announce cheerily, beginning to turn back round to face the trio, “I just wanted to ask one more thing--” That’s when the pistol comes out and I start shooting. The first bodyguard goes down with a round to the back of the head before he even knows what’s going on. The second manages a yelp of surprise before I put another through his eye socket. In the space of a second two men who were a second before alive are no longer breathing. Makes you think, right? At least I hope it’s making the third man think as I level the silenced pistol at him and step back into the room. “--Gimme your fucking briefcase, you cunt, before I make this a triple-homicide.” No trace of my previous feigned tone of voice; this is proper cockney-accented intimidation. Suit-boy’s got his hands up and he’s lost that ‘holier than thou’ expression; now he’s got one of confused panic. Three seconds ago he was in charge of the situation, now his guards are dead and he’s got a gun pointed at him. If he hadn’t spent the last twenty minutes being condescending to me I might almost feel sorry for him. “It’s… it’s got a fingerprint scanner,” he informs me, which makes me sigh at what this means for me. “How very unfortunate,” I reply simply. I then shoot him through the head twice. Constructive feedback is always welcome.