Monday, December 20, 2004

7r4d3m4rk in: "Wynt3r W0nderL4nd"

The snow made the city look like a TV turned to static. Black shadows of people moved about the streets. Somewhere a child was crying, and a woman screamed. The neon signs of the buildings turned the night as bright as day. And through the midst of it all walked 7r4d3m4rk. Hottest of the hot. Coolest of the cool. 'Leetest of the 'leet.

The snow didn't touch him. Corporate logos like an armor over a black leather long coat. Mirrored sunglasses, tinted yellow, a red light blinking on the right frame. Black hair slicked back, like obsidian. Face bare, hands in the thinnest of black leather gloves. Steel toed army boots on his feet. His breath didn't steam. He looked like he was powered by an internal furnace.

Suddenly hands grabbed him. Someone threw him into an alley. He began to reach for his gun.

"Trademark! Man, its me! Spyder!" Spyder. Pale as the snow. Red hair like fire. Black parka. Balaklava on his face. He looked like a goth commando. He held 7r4d3m4rk to the wall for a minute. "Dude, don't shoot!" He let go.

7r4d3m4rk pushed off from the wall, shaking his coat a bit. He gave his head a roll. He pushed the shades back up his nose. "Spyder, you keep doing that, one of these times I'm just going to shoot you."

"Dude, due, sorry. Shit. Listen, I've got info. Fucking LOADS of info! This is big shit, man. Fucking ENORMOUS!" Spyder jittered. Too much caffeine. Not enough sleep. He smelled like a cigar box.

"Then lets talk," said 7r4d3m4rk, heading for the alley's mouth. "Lets talk somewhere warmer." Spyder shut up and followed obediently. He followed 7r4d3m4rk all the way down to Omega Squared.

The neon omega in red was like the devil in the night. Even in the snow there was a line. But 7r4d3m4rk, coolest of the cool, walked right past it. He looked the bouncer in the eye. "Ramone."

"Trademark! Man, you standin' outside like dis? Come on in an' get youself a drink. On de house, man. On de house." Ramone smiled. Like a basalt statue in a black turtleneck. He looked like he could take on the world with one hand.

7r4d3m4rk and Spyder walked inside Omega-Squared. Holograms ran up glass panes in the floor. The music burst over the speakers. Beats, riffs, beats. People swayed and screamed. Everyone was in black and silver. Silver suits and hologram shades. The Techno-Elite. The Cool. And they looked at 7r4d3m4rk like he was Jesus Frackin' Christ.

Heads turned as he walked past. He was a god among men, 7r4d3m4rk was. People had heard the stories. Spyder followed at his heels, but all eyes were on the main attraction. By the time he found a seat, three women and a man wanted him. By the time he found a seat, he could have drunk the house dry without spending a dime. By the time he found a seat, he could have partied till he was dead. But he found a seat in silence, and people knew he wanted privacy. Heads turned away, sighing. Everyone wanted him, but right now he didn't want anyone.

Spyder didn't sit. He jumped from foot to foot. He swayed back and forth. He jittered. "Man, I got info on the World Council. Just like you asked. Man, its big. Its big, fucking HUGE! They've already won, man! Game fucking OVER! They're EVERYWHERE!"

7r4d3m4rk sighed. He flicked his glasses back up. He sat back in calm ease. "Spyder, no one's won yet. The world's not their clay. I will personally ventilate every last one of them before that happens."

Spyder shook his head, "But somethings going down TONIGHT, Trademark! Tonight! Its big. I mean...fuck, I know you get all philosophical, but how can you remain so fucking CALM?"

7r4d3m4rk shrugged, "Because I have my shit together, Spyder. Now take a seat. Jesus, someone's going to think I just broke up with you. You're going to draw too much attention. You're going to-"

He was cut off. Spyder exploded from the head up. Gore flew in the air. Red mist, white dust, gray pus. There wasn't even a bang, just a pop. A whistle.

7r4d3m4rk was out of his chair before Spyder hit the ground. He rolled as he hit the ground. Rolled and pulled his gun. 7r4d3m4rks gun was sleek, death machine perfection. It was long and black. Thick at the end from a silencer. Bullets half the size of a finger. But balanced like a feather.

"This is the police! You are all under arrest!" Someone screamed. Then the gunfire started. 7r4d3m4rk saw the men in black. They were like clones. Six of them. All dressed the same. Black hair. Black suits. Black shoes. Black shades. Black guns. Big guns. Submachine guns. Hosing down anyone that got in their way.

7r4d3m4rk didn't even think. His gun came up. Three red dots hit the central power box on the ceiling. A whistle. The box exploded in a rain of sparks. Omega Squared went dead. No lights. No sound. No holograms. Just gunfire and screams. 7r4d3m4rk's shades went green inside and every man in black was lined in red. Then his Head-Mail rang.

He activated the link. "What is it?" he thought at the sender.

"Trademark. You know me. I'm the big guy who hits shit. Listen, I have something I need to show you," the man on the other end said. 7r4d3m4rk looked up over the tables. The men in black weren't coming his way. They were too busy shooting clubbers. The Techno-Elite, the Cool, were now just the Dead.

7r4d3m4rk shook his head, "I don't have time for this," he thought at the sender, "I've got six agents. I'll call you when its safe." He cut the connection. He didn't need distraction. Those men weren't police. The Union had sent them. That meant They knew where he was. He swore. Someone must have ratted him out.

But 7r4d3m4rk was cooler than ice. He had no fear. He had transcended fear. Fear wasn't for the coolest of the cool, the 'leetest of the leet. 7r4d3m4rk stood and raised his gun. An agent turned his way, and stared in surprise. He didn't even notice the three red dots on his forehead. Then his head was gone in a spray of gore. "Dust to dust," 7r4d3m4rk muttered as he ran for the side doors.

He fired off as he went along. Two more agents went down. They fired back. The bullets hit the wall around him. They landed near his feet. You just couldn't hit someone that cool that easily.

7r4d3m4rk booted the side door. Boot hit metal and the metal gave. The door swung into an empty alley. The agents were in hot pursuit. But 7r4d3m4rk's world was wider than theirs. He didn't have their boundaries. He ran at the other wall and leapt onto it. He bounced off the wall and onto a dumpster. He rebounded off the dumpster and grabbed onto the fire-escape, twenty feet off the ground. 7r4d3m4rk scaled the fire escape like it was the easiest thing in the world. He had the Edge. Gravity couldn't stop someone that cool. Bullets couldn't either.

7r4d3m4rk bounded along the rooftops for a few blocks, getting some distance. He cloaked himself in information. He wasn't seen. He wasn't heard. The snow blew around him, but no one would have noticed. Finally, he came to the side of a building and leapt down the fire escape. He slid down the ladder to the ground without ever touching the rungs. He hit the ground and holstered his gun.

7r4d3m4rk sauntered into the Hotspot Cafe like he'd been relaxing all day. Cool as ice. Every muscle relaxed. Not a care in the world. There were geeks sitting at iMacs on the walls. Hackers in black. Weekend hackers. No real conviction. They all wanted to be him. All they were was pathetic. But they looked at 7r4d3m4rk like they knew him. They tried to be cool. But they were all amazed. It showed on their faces. Amazed, scared, hopeful, pick one. But none of them approached him. How could anyone that lame approach someone that cool? How could you even open your mouth in front of him? You'd just embarras yourself. 7r4d3m4rk walked past them like they weren't even there. He didn't care about weekend hackers and casual revolutionaries.

He walked up to the owner. "I'll take a booth. I just need a few minutes." The man looked awed, but tried to play it cool. The look on his face said that he wanted to worship 7r4d3m4rk. Instead, he said:

"You want a booth, you must pay. This is not place for freeloaders. How do I know you not fuck with network?" His voice was thick. He came from one of the 'Stans, probably. 7r4d3m4rk shook his head and sighed. He tried to slip the man a bill, but the guy wouldn't take it. He was determined to face him down.

"If I wanted to fuck with this network, it'd be fucked. I wouldn't need to be on it to do it. I just need to borrow it for a minute. Besides, c'mon, man. I have no problem with you. You're cool. But its cold outside, and I'd rather not have to go somewhere else right now. Cold is fucking cold, you know?"

The man looked gruff. He began to relent. Stronger men than he had broken in a few minutes with 7r4d3m4rk. "You call this cold? Back in Khazackstan, we have winters three times as cold! The piss freezes in the cow!"

"Yeah," said 7r4d3m4rk, "I'm sure its pretty cold." He sounded bored. The man bored him. The weekend hackers bored him. He worked his mind and accessed his computer with a thought. He broke through the man's shit security with a thought. He ran it all through his shades. As he talked, he hacked.

Hackers around the city came to 7r4d3m4rk's call. The message? "Spyder is dead. Keep your heads down. Find me info on the World Council." And across the city, hackers began to converge. They met in chat rooms. They emailed. They worked together and wedged open systems long thought secure. Information trickled back to 7r4d3m4rk within minutes.

The owner relented before any of this was more than a minute old. He gave 7r4d3m4rk a booth with a view of the door. And that was when the coolest of the cool, the 'leetest of the 'leet, the hottest of the hot realized that They had found him. And that's when he began to wait and plan.



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