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Next of Kin, Chapter Twenty-one: 63%


  11:47:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 2370 words  
Categories: Next of Kin

Next of Kin, Chapter Twenty-one: 63%

  1. Twenty-One, 63%

I held her a long time. I never wanted to ask her anything else, other than what I could do to make things easier for her. But I stayed as she cried because I knew that there could be more she knew, and I needed to know it. Because John's killer was still out there.

When she finally let me go, minutes after she finished sobbing, I braced myself. She wanted his killer found probably more than me. ?Was there anything there, anything out of the ordinary, that you could tell me? Anything that might help me find who did this??

?I would have told you already if there was,? she said. ?But if I remember anything, I'll tell you.?

?When did you leave?? I asked.

?11:15, something like that.?

?Okay. I'll let you know if I find anything.?

I believed Tara more than ever before. Not a single process had been out of order. But my interview with her did point to more sophisticated mods than I would have ever believed existed. Which meant I needed to talk to an expert, one who was likely to be about as hostile as possible with me over the idea.

I knew she was at least checking up on me, if not watching avidly. So there was a pretty good chance that she knew where I was headed, and perhaps just as troubling, that she would know what I wanted to ask.

I drove to the same spot I left my car the other night. This time there were no guards, and I walked right into her tent.

?Is this a warm reception?? I asked. ?Or just you not wanting witnesses.?

?That depends on whether or not you can play nice,? Jenel said.

?I want to know about some mods- black market ones. I'm pretty sure Jim lied to me, but if I want a shot at figuring out what about, I need to know how he got around my sensors.?

?Why would I tell you?? she asked, almost academically. ?Provided those mods exist, telling you is like telling the cops, and rendering them useless.?

?Those mods are the same debate as piracy versus anti-piracy measures, or antigens and antibodies. Your tools will evolve, so will theirs, and if history and nature are a guide, yours will thrive in the wild, while theirs will stake out little pockets they can hope to protect. I'm looking for a killer. Even here, do you really want to protect the 'right' to kill??

She smiled, and at first I thought it was because I'd made a cogent argument, before I figured out how nave I was being. She'd figured out a way to screw me- or at least screw with me. ?One condition: you let me shut down your cameras.?

?You can do that?? I asked.

?I always could. But I want your permission. Otherwise it would be a violation, me forcing vulnerability onto you- something I wouldn't do without a good goddamned reason.?

?The audience will hate me for it.?

?The audience are an asshole. And they'll hate you for not solving the case more. And ultimately, they're irrelevant, a shock collar around your neck there to keep you inside your little invisible fence; but a week from now? A year. They won't remember your brother, let alone your investigation into his death. But you will. If you fuck it up, it will haunt you for the rest of your days. So fuck 'em.?

I shut my eyes. The little part of me, that lived for approval, that couldn't stand getting anything short of an A going all the way back to elementary school, fought against the idea. I'd only just started winning them back, and this was a little like giving all of them the finger. But she was right. About just about all of it. ?Do it,? I said.

My interface flickered through static. The chat entered into conniptions; I made the window so small I couldn't tell they were still sending messages. For the first time in a couple of days, I wasn't on display, wasn't subject to public review. I smiled.

?I wouldn't get too excited,? she said. ?First things first, put that gun on the fucking ground.?

Whoops. I shrugged, and pulled it out extra slowly, and set it down at my feet. As a show of faith, I took several steps away from it. ?Nothing to do with you,? I said.

?Oh, I know. I conferenced myself into the call with Chase. If it had been intended for me, you wouldn't have come within a hundred yards of here.?

I believed her. ?Better?? I asked.

?It's a start,? she said. ?So what do you want to know??

?I want to know what kind of mod could defeat police interrogation software.?

?No, you want to know how to stop it from beating the interrogation software. Still a complicated question, but it pares it back enough to tackle the problem- without me necessarily violating my principals.?

?Okay. So how do I stop it? Chase told me to ask for root access.?

?Root access is a good start, but even that won't really move the needle on its own.? I frowned. ?For one, 90% of all of the processing for an interface isn't done locally- it's happening remotely, at the servers- dead zone servers in the case of pirate apps. But even the 10% that is done locally is happening about ten times faster than a human being could monitor the streams- meaning just watching for a program that you know is malicious. You might get lucky, but it's needle in a haystack luck.?

?What, then?? I asked.

?Give me a second,? she said. ?I was just having a little trouble finding the damned thing. I don't use it often.? I got a private message with an attachment.

?What's in it?? I asked, hesitating.

?Little program of my own coding. I've used it to root out viruses before. Not in my own system, mind you. I've got a honeypot computer; before I run any programs on my interface, I run them on that. But plenty of folks catch a virus- usually by moving too fast or being distracted, which means it comes from porn, usually. People worry about getting caught with it, so they rush through the warning and ads and inevitably run something they wouldn't if they weren't in a rush to get off clandestinely.?

?How does it work??

?It runs processes against legit versions of the processes. Any deviation gets flagged and 'clamped,' meaning it stops the process from running. And it goes through all of the active processes, closing off ones that even seem illegitimate, until all you're left with is bare bones processes.?

?Is this the freedom you were talking about?? I asked.

?Freedom doesn't mean we sit around hugging a bunch of communal puppies. Sometimes it's the freedom to try and screw over another human being. And it's also the freedom- and responsibility- to be paranoid enough to protect yourself.

?And this is only a start, because a lot of the higher-level pirate programs mimic for all intents and purposes legit processes. Because you wouldn't want the cops to be able to just do this to passersby. Did you know they've been working on tools to basically force a reboot of an interface- giving them root access in the process? They don't have it, yet, because they would always get too much feedback. A couple of people got electrocuted by their implants when they tried it out. But it's an eventuality. So we've programmed around it. But it should clean up some of the static.?

?And it's not going to screw up my interface?? I asked.

?Or piggyback on your signal back into the police systems. Come on. If I wanted beef with the cops, I could get in there without much effort.?

?How?? I asked.

?Well, for one, they're using outdated encryption. Two, that's when they're using it. There are about a dozen working officers who still aren't using their encryption all the time- including when they transmit their credentials. And that's the low-hanging fruit, not taxing my brain or getting creative about it.?

?So you've thought about it?? I asked.

?I'd be a fool not to. They're my ideological enemies, and the only reason ours isn't a hot war is because they haven't fired the first shot- yet. They will. Because, and this is a dirty little secret, but the dead zones are expanding. They're losing. We screw with their data enough that they might not know it yet- or maybe they're just playing along to put off a confrontation because they're not sure they can win.?

She recognized my uncertainty. ?But I'm not going to screw you over just to make my life a little easier. That's black hat work. And I stand firmly in the gray. Even out here, where I'm a firm adherent to a trust but verify ethos, there's only ever so much verification you can have. But if you take that too far, you start assuming your doctor's on the take when he suggests vaccinations, or that science is corrupt when it comes to trying to keep the air breathable. You can't verify everything; eventually, it all comes down to trust- deciding who you will, and won't let have real estate in your life.?

I sighed, and downloaded the program. ?I mean, I am going to ghost your ID and empty your bank account,? she said, then laughed. ?Kidding.?

?Not much there to drain,? I said. ?And you wouldn't be the first to ghost my ID.?

?Your brother?? she shook her head. ?What a scumbag. I'm all for making it hard for the government to crack down on drug smuggling, or hurting protectionism, but you can buy IDs- that's the whole point of having a black market, where things can be valuated and people inconvenienced can be compensated. But that makes sense. I thought your name looked familiar. I think he was Conrad when I first met him.?

?So what next?? I asked.

?There isn't one,? she said. ?There aren't a lot of spy-catcher tools I can give you in your current state. Most of the rest would require hardware modifications.?

?Why's that??

She raised an eyebrow. ?You people really have no idea what they put in your skulls, do you?? She sighed. ?Part of your interface is a BIOS- it's a default operating system. It prevents viruses from loading on an interface- but it also prevents using an unapproved OS, or pirate programs. The first generation or so of interfaces used a rewritable BIOS, like most computers at the time. But they quickly figured out people like me would take advantage, flash the BIOS, and get up to all manner of mischief. So now they us a one-time-write storage medium. Depending on the manufacturer there are a few different ones they've tried; one of the Japanese manufacturers field-tested an optical disc- a miniature blu-ray inside your brain. Only those are read by lasers, and lasers are hot, so... yeah, that didn't go well. But to run pirate programs they have to yank that out of you, and replace it with a more malleable BIOS.?

?And we don't want to do that??

?It's invasive surgery- so there are risks that come along with it. And once you start modding, you can't stop. Because there's an arms race- you have to stay two steps ahead of the cops, or they'll find illegal workings in your noggin and arrest you for them. That's a long-term commitment- a change to your entire lifestyle. And I'm happy to evangelize- happier yet to convert the uninitiated- but it's also a decision I wouldn't let anyone make lightly- or under the gun, like you are. But probably most importantly, none of our doctors would do it.?

?Why not?? I asked.

?Because right now you're chock full of proprietary police code. And if the cops know we opened up someone like you on a whim, that we'd take as much of it while you were out as we could. And they couldn't abide that. They'd have to crack down on us, raid the bejeezus out of us to try and figure how much data we had. Not that they could ever get that genie back in a bottle- but they'd need to know how much of its power was out in the world.?

?So it's existential threat for you,? I said.

?Something like that. But hopefully all you'll need is the spider. We won't know until you find him. But... there's a good chance he's going to know all of this, in advance. I shut down the public feed for those spore cameras. But they're feisty little bastards. They'll latch onto any signal they can and try to transmit- anything to push data back to the mothership. I've blocked them from phoning home, but they're still transmitting. On a data use map you'd be a bright blue snowflake of video streams trying desperately to cram info onto any takers. You wouldn't be hard to find- if he wants to find you.?

?Is that why you asked to shut down my cameras??

?Yes, and no. Yes, because maybe it could help. But no, because I don't think it will. Jim's tech is decent. I can grab hold of somebody like ShartGurgler's interface like it's nothing, and make her dance. His stuff, is unpredictable. It's got countermeasures, and it's jury-rigged to have different components from different manufacturers work together. One of the benefits of living off the grid is it makes it harder for somebody else to screw with you. But, it means if someone comes at you, they're less vulnerable, too.?

?So Jim probably knows I'm coming??


?Anything you can do to help me out??

?I can tell him to behave- that he knows this is an aggression-free zone. He starts shit here, and I will goddamned end it. But I don't know how much that might hold him back. Not far, I'd guess.?

?You could always loan me a pair of your shotgun goons.?

?That's not the way we work around here,? she said. ?But good luck.?

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