Most hackers think they’re going to live forever; Johnny San Vito isn’t so optimistic. While snooping around a protected construct in Vinestead International’s virtual reality network, he starts to get the feeling this might be his final visit to cyberspace. To preserve his data and leave a trail for his friends, he manages to prime a Dead Man’s Loop just in time for the network to come crashing down around him.
When the data reaches celebrity hacker Danny “Guns” Montreal and cipher den suit Megan “Tanzy” Riley, it points them to Johnny’s final resting place in virtuality—a seemingly unremarkable strip mall called Brigham Plaza. Getting there will be difficult, and leaving with their lives will be tougher still, but what they find there will rewrite history… and alter the course of humanity’s future.
In the aftermath of Perion City, long after the fall of the Net, the pivotal battle in the war against Vinestead will be fought and decided on the cracked sidewalks of Brigham Plaza.
Book 6 | Science Fiction | 351 pages | ISBN: 979-8618450928 | 2020-09-01
Brigham Plaza is the sixth book of the Vinestead Anthology. The events take place in 2019, following Perion Synthetics and preceding Vise Manor.
“You won’t forget me when I’m gone. Refuse the fire, take the song.”
The young woman on stage played with the hem of her Billie Eilish t-shirt as a smattering of applause went up from the nearby tables. She nodded to what must have been a group of her friends and hurried off the stage, as if relieved to be out of the spotlight.
From a roped-off area near the back of the club, Tanzy lifted her hands and clapped politely for a poem that had made little sense. The girl—with her thick-rimmed glasses and faded red flannel—looked the part of a New Age Portland Poet, complete with her subtle nose stud and tattoos that ran out of her sleeves to the very tips of her fingers. And while her rhyming verses might not have contained any true insight into the human condition, she was exactly what Cloves & Poetry advertised: coffee, flavored cigarettes, and if there was time, obvious rip-offs of Basho and the old beat poets.
The crowd seemed to enjoy it anyway.
The club was at ninety percent capacity according to the last update from Cleo. Tanzy enjoyed sitting in most nights, happy to get away from the grind of managing I.C.E-1, Portland’s premier cipher den, of which she happened to be the suit. She used the downtime to remember what it was like in the days before virtual reality and computers. She recalled her own youth, the years she spent writing terrible poetry and pilfering Newports from her mother’s purse. Life had been simple then. She’d known who she was and who her friends were.
But then the Net came, and everything changed.
Message from the Quatrain. Benny Coker is en route. ETA in six minutes.
Tanzy took a drag of her clove cigarette and placed it on the edge of an ornate brass ashtray. On the small table to her left, her palette lit up with a text version of Cleo’s message. She tapped the notification and an aerial map of Portland appeared, showing her location with a red pin. Nearby, a blue circle pulsed as it navigated the streets of downtown Portland.
“Thanks, Cleo,” she whispered to herself.
She had been expecting a visit all day, and the fact that Benny Coker couldn’t give her an exact time had irritated her to no end. The owner and proprietor of White Line Media considered himself some kind of celebrity who would be mobbed if someone let slip his travel schedule. So instead, he made people like Tanzy wait in anticipation, made them clear their entire Friday just so they would be ready when the feed monger finally decided to grace them with his presence.
Tanzy had spent most of the day at the office, waiting. Now it was past eight and the stress of the day had exacted its price. She pulled a code card from her clutch and held it to a small etching of a flower on her right wrist. Thin LEDs lit up on the card as it synced with the micro-controller in Tanzy’s arm, filling her with coded stimulants like pure adrenaline shot from the tip of a needle.
Chaucer’s Carafe. It came on strong, instantly, and faded with a nice taper some sixty minutes later.
Tanzy closed her eyes as the code latched onto her grow-wire and made its way up to the custom I.C.E biochip in her neck. The simulated caffeine hit her like a sudden rogue wave, sending a tremor down her arms that made her fumble with the card. She caught it halfway to the floor, replaced it in her clutch.
Footsteps nearby drew her attention.
Marlon nodded as he approached, a tight smile on his face. He’d gone with purple eyeshadow that flared into his buzzed hairline. Short, beaded dreads clattered on his head with every step.
“Cleo says we’re having company,” he said. “Can I bring you something?”
Tanzy breathed in sharply through her nose. “Bottle of water. And a… um…”
“Whiskey neat,” she continued. “Top shelf.”
“Sure thing, boss.” Marlon shot her a finger gun and turned back for the bar.
A chorus of voices rose in encouragement as a young girl no more than fifteen climbed the two steps up to the stage. Even at a distance, the electric sky-blue energy of her eyes sparkled. She approached the microphone and cleared her throat.
“Hi, thank you,” she said. “I’m Lisandra and this is Sunrise.”
Message from the Quatrain. Benny Coker has arrived.
Tanzy drew her gaze away from the young poet and eyed the doorway with a casual glance. Two security guards entered first, branded in White Line suits. Benny came in behind them, dressed down in a button-up and slacks, his dyed black hair slicked back over his ears. Bringing up the rear were two I.C.E-1 enforcers in thin jackets and sunglasses.
She sat watching him out of the corner of her eye, pretending to be entranced by the swirls of smoke rising from the ashtray.
His security detail stepped to the side as Benny found a path through the setup of small tables and chairs. He didn’t wait for anyone to remove the rope around Tanzy’s section, instead opted to step over it with the effortless alacrity of a much younger man.
“Please, don’t get up,” he said, raising his hand.
“Wasn’t going to,” said Tanzy. She gestured to the seat across from her.
“Thank you for meeting with me,” said Benny. “I really appreciate—”
“Let’s skip the chit chat, Mr. Coker. I’ve been waiting all day, and I still have work to do.”
His right eye twitched. The owner of one of the most powerful media companies on the East Coast was unaccustomed to being interrupted.
“They told me you were a hard-ass,” he said, smiling. “I wouldn’t have expected that from a Portland girl. Aren’t you guys all flannel and Birkenstocks out here?”
Tanzy held her tongue and her gaze as Marlon returned with the drinks. He placed her bottle and Benny’s glass on C&P-branded coasters.
“Five minutes,” said Tanzy.
“There’s this kid,” said Benny, picking up his drink. He sniffed the whiskey before taking a sip. “Little punk named Dylan.”
“What about him?”
“He was fucking my wife.”
“Yeah, I know, hilarious.” Benny put the glass down. “Good whiskey. Anyway, it was my fault. I was ignoring her. She put an end to it, but the kid didn’t see it that way.”
“We don’t do hit jobs here.”
He chuckled. “I know. Believe me, if all I wanted was him dead, I wouldn’t have come all the way out here to find someone to do it. Plenty of Atlantic City shore trash who would do the job for twenty bucks and some synth. No, I need a den for this.”
“Spit it out, Mr. Coker.”
“And in the light of dawn, my vagina stands alone.”
Benny narrowed his eyes, cast a glance over his shoulder at the girl on stage.
“You, uh,” he said. “You like this place?”
“I own this place.”
He nodded. “Should have known. Anyway, kid’s got some pictures of my wife, Eileen. Compromising pictures. Pictures I don’t want out in the world, you get me? He’s threatening to sell them to another feed, says he’s mobbed up with a den called FireChain out of Margate. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but my IT team can’t find those pics anywhere in VNet. I thought maybe you could go where we can’t.”
“We could,” said Tanzy, mulling the job over in her head. Ultimately, it was a simple seek and destroy, with one little wrinkle. “So, the job is to find the pictures and remove them from a network where they can be infinitely replicated?”
“And burn the kid.”
Benny leaned forward. “Burn him out of the network. I don’t want him to be able to jack in again, ever. Burn his chip or do a viral block—I don’t care. Kill every picture you can find and then boot him completely.”
The audience applauded; soft orchestral music rose to fill the silence that followed.
Message from the Quatrain. References to Eileen Coker have been found in two darknets: Dreamside and Overrun 6. Chasing.
“Two-fifty,” said Tanzy. “Seven days.”
“Two hundred and fifty thousand?” he asked.
Benny scoffed. “Calle Cinco bid seventy-five. I’ve got a freelancer in Margate who’ll do it for fifty.”
“Then hire them. Calle Cinco’s been running without a suit for years; I wouldn’t trust them to handle my laundry. Or pay your fifty to a freelancer and send him up against FireChain and see what happens. They’re a small group, but they’re still a den, and they’ll eat him alive.”
Benny took another sip. “I’ll do one-fifty, and that’s based on reputation alone.” He gestured to the club. “This place doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in your tech skills.”
“Three hundred,” said Tanzy. “You insult my home again and it’ll go to four.”
He put the glass down roughly, splashing the table.
Out of the corner of her eye, Tanzy saw her I.C.E-1 enforcers perk up.
“Two hundred. And I’ll let you advertise on White Line. And free stays at the White Dragon, everything comped.”
Tanzy picked up her cigarette, tapped the ash away, and drew. Smoke billowed from her mouth.
“Three hundred, crypto of your choice, in the I.C.E-1 proxy account by midnight, or you can try your luck with one of the Seattle dens.”
“Tanzy, be reasonable.”
“We’re done here.” She lifted a hand and gestured to the enforcers.
Benny watched as they removed a section of the rope.
“Well,” he said, standing, “this has been a complete waste of my time.”
“That depends,” said Tanzy.
“On what?” He brushed away the outstretched arm of one of his bodyguards.
“On whether three hundred large gets to the proxy by midnight. The choice is yours, Mr. Coker. My ciphers have already located some of the photos on multiple darknets. It’s up to you whether we’re finding them for you or for us.”
Benny scowled, but only for a moment. He turned in a huff and hurried out of the club. Only when he was outside did Tanzy hear him growl a distant bitch.
“Let the girls know I’m expecting payment from White Line by midnight. I want to know the second the money hits the proxy.”
Message relayed to the Quatrain. Do you think he’ll pay?
“I don’t know,” she whispered. “I don’t think he’s used to being talked to like that by anyone except his wife. If he doesn’t, we’ll do the job anyway and sell the pictures back to him.”
A faint giggle echoed in the back of Tanzy’s head.
As the night wore on, the poetry from the stage grew darker, more militant. Once the Chaucer’s Carafe wore off, Tanzy loaded a downer known as Single Needles. It produced a languid warmth throughout her body and smoldering fires in all the right places. Marlon brought her an ottoman for her feet as she settled deeper into the chair.
“It was your luster I lusted for and rushed us through the rusted door.”
Tanzy clapped, mostly out of habit and partly because it was expected. Her patrons weren’t subtle about looking to her for approval. She obliged when she could; it kept them coming back, kept them buying… kept the money flowing, kept the money washing.
Message from the Quatrain. A large sum has been deposited in the proxy.
Tanzy eyed the clock on the wall—10:55 p.m.
“How much?” she asked, sitting up. “Is it the full three hundred?”
Total sum is $475,000 in Helsinki crypto.
“Helsinki? No one uses that anymore. Ugh, get Benny on the phone.”
The transfer did not originate from White Line Media.
Tanzy pulled her palette from the table, loaded the ledger from the proxy account.
Helsinki privacy protocols prevent—
“Tell the girls to find out.”
Several minutes went by as Tanzy stared at the nearly half-a-million sum at the top of her ledger. Someone had sent her money through one of the oldest and most secure cryptocurrency houses on the planet. Unless Benny really wanted to hide the payment from the feds, there was no reason to use such an untraceable proxy. Any of the stateside houses would have masked it sufficiently, and with much lower fees.
Message from the Quatrain. The payment is a POD disbursement from account #193BA83K.
“What’s a POD disbursement?” she asked.
Payable on Death.
Cleo was silent for a moment. She answered softly.
Johnny San Vito.
Tanzy sat back in her chair. For a moment, tears threatened to overwhelm her, but she pulled them back, pulled them all the way back.
“I… I want confirmation. Ask the girls. Is Johnny San Vito really dead?”
Message relayed to the Quatrain.