Saturday Fiction: Cyberghetto Part 1

I shared a previous snippet on here with what I would call ‘Urban Sci-fi’, and really I haven’t continued too much further with it. Experimenting with the concept is fun, but so far nothing has felt golden. What I wrote today is a scene set in the same universe as my NaNoWriMo stories, a ‘socialist paradise’ cyberpunk world where the corporations were were defeated after years of harsh classic cyberpunk like darkness.

Life doesn’t get too much better when the world rewrites itself after years of cyberpunk.

Either way, here is a scene from ‘Cyberghetto’.

Cyberghetto

The door swung open, letting in a flood of noise from the street. It was the sound of people cursing, jeering, laughing. That meant Tee was home, and he brought friends.

“Hey RJ,” Tee said as he walked in and collapsed into the only other seat in the small ‘Famdorm’ family apartment, “You looking to get pretty?”

Tee looked like his shirt was wound on too tight, and his pants belonged to a different species entirely. It was all a little colorful, but it was the trend. The colors were defiant, against the endless gray into blue built into so many government built complexes like where RJ lived. He had two others with him, Mark, and Dabble, both nicknames, both kids from the Loop.

“I’m good,” RJ said as he typed away at his console.

“Whatever soft,” Dabble said as he leaned against the frame of the door, “We can barely get you out on the loop anymore.”

RJ looked over. The three of them surrounded a low table stacked with boxes from fast food and deliveries, with a small space left for RJ’s mother’s flower vase filled with little white marbles. Tee was smiling at him, showing off the left half of his teeth that had been replaced with plastic-like replacements that gave off fluorescent color in the right light.

“He got that chem test soon,” Tee said, “Almost forgot.”

RJ knew he didn’t forget. It was just how Tee was. RJ could be in the middle of winning them the Sea-Van lottery, and Tee would forget to remind him to turn in the slip. He thrived on conflict, those little moments where it seemed like there was nothing in the world but your own troubles.

“He trying to get that dawn to dusk cred, huh?” Dabble added with a laugh.

RJ turned back to his console, “Something like that.”

“Man, you gonna move your mail?” Tee said as he cleared space by shoving a ration box to the floor.

There was no mail, RJ hadn’t received a package in days, so he ignored Tee’s pointless complaining.

“Close the door,” Tee said, “Sit down Mark, you make me nervous.”

“Man but it’s hot in here,” Dabble complained as he shut the door and joined the others at the table.

Mark was the quiet one. He was also a bit of a punk. That’s where the name came from. You told him what to do, and he turn down his eyes and comply. You could get him to walk into a room of blackcaps in full riot gear if barked hard enough. It was no wonder he got mixed up with the wrong crowd.

Tee pulled out a baggie of crudely proportioned uncut tablets of glistening red. He pulled the stick out on the table, and got a small knife to divide it up between them. Mark smiled and rubbed his hands together, Dabble just watched Tee’s hands work.

“You still fuck with Wendy?” Dabble asked.

He was talking to RJ, pretended not to notice. Not because he didn’t like Dabble, Dabble was fine. He just didn’t want to talk about Wendy. He had enough problems in life without cutting at festering sores and seeing what fresh stuff he could pull out of them.

“Hey,” Dabble got louder.

“Man shut up,” Tee snapped, “Is there anybody who don’t fuck with Wendy?”

That was Tee being a friend, for what it was worth.

RJ’s display popped up a picture from a shooting the night before. Well, it was pictures of the crime scene, with Sea-Van law surrounding the point of the murder.

Mark must have seen it from where he sat, “That that scene near the underground?”

RJ read down, “Some local anti-drug chip, was heading to a vid filming, got seared by a nobody.”

“That explains all the black and blue,” Dabble said.

“No suspect, no weapon,” RJ added, scrolling down. Dabble was right, this explained all the cops. An NAB official gets shot in their neighborhood, they had something to prove. They wanted to pin someone down. Boys on the street were going to suffer for it, he had seen it so many times before. They were going to be harassed, searched, a few would probably end up in the hospital.

He was going to have to stay off the streets, he needed his record to stay clean for the job interview. Corporate didn’t like recent arrests, especially if it was related to one of their own. Even finding a chance at a job was hard enough, especially one that would pay good enough to get him out of the dorms. Losing it all to a wave of random arrests would be one more burn in his crisp black history.

There was a clatter as Tee’s knife clattered on the table.

“Damnit, just take your stupid box man,” Tee grumbled.

RJ turned and saw a plain white box sitting on the table with the rest of the trash there. It didn’t have any real distinguishing marks, but looked used. It looked like Tee accidentally ran his arm into it while cutting. It wasn’t RJ’s.

Back on his console, RJ had a message. It was anonymous, which meant it was probably junk. He still hit it, and a username that was just a series of numbers popped up.

‘You live in 534C at Everest Dorm?’

RJ replied, ‘Who dis?’

‘Then you’re home. Make this pretty for me. Hope you like the gift.’

Gift? The box.

Dabble grabbed a slice, and set it on his tongue before sucking on it. His face went passive, and he leaned back against the leg of Tee’s chair.

RJ got up and walked over, “What is this?”

“I dunno man, you’re always leaving shit around.”

RJ picked it up, and turned the box over in his hands. It was almost as long as his arm, but not nearly as deep. It opened with a clasp that was tied with a zip tie. Whatever it was, he was sure it wasn’t his.

He leaned down and grabbed Tee’s knife.

“What the hell, man,” Tee complained as he looked up.

RJ cut the tie, unwrapped the clasp, and then opened the box. His eyes locked on the contents.

“What is it?” Tee said.

Dabble was far gone, but at least Mark looked interested as well.

It was an SSW 9mm ‘Predator’ pistol. The gun had a long black barrel, the nu-safety technology that had become common. Still, the weapon looked worn. There was a magazine emptied, with slots where ammunition would sit beneath the magazine’s space. Only four bullets were in the case.

“Ray?” Tee asked, a note of real concern in his voice.

Then there was a scream outside, and all heads turned. There was a muffled popping noise, and a distant whine.

Tee shot to the door, opening the viewport and peeking out. His back went stiff, and RJ could see that he was ready to run already.

“They’re searching the building,” Tee said, “Look like they’re going door to door, they got busses!”

A bus? They were going to take anyone that looked young and dark enough to have shot someone, and process them all. At least the ones they didn’t leave facedown in a puddle of their own blood.

Worse, he was holding a gun that wasn’t his, while a killer was on the run somewhere.

“We gotta clean this up,” Tee said as he looked around. He snatched up the remaining tabs of Sparkle, slapping Mark’s tab out of his hand, “Help me stupid, they’re coming in here.”

“It don’t matter,” RJ said as he put the box on the table, lid open.

“What the fuck you have that for?” Tee said, “Since when do you pack that?”

RJ was shivering, it made it hard to argue, or to look strong enough to have any say, “Ain’t mine. Somebody dropped that on us.”

Even Dabble stared at it. A little box of trouble dropped into their lives. The NAB didn’t take kindly to weapons at all, but a gun like this would get them locked up for a long time. Just having his prints on that box would be enough to get RJ sent away.

Tee shook his head, “So what? We just sit here and wait for them to ram a codex down our ass?”

what else could be done? Fight off a whole complex full of cops? Take on Blustar and fight their way across the country? They had to hide, but there was no hiding.

But he had to try something.

“Watch the door,” RJ said as he took the lid to the box and put it back on, tying the clasp, “All of you get ready to run. We need to go dark real quick.”

He went back to his console, his eyes flashing to that stranger in a chat window. There was a new message, a winking emote.

It was always something. Life could never get easier.

Saturday Fiction: Some Love In The Air

Can you imagine I was too busy to set up my Saturday Fiction post until now? I grabbed a little cyberpunk, the most ‘loving’ scene I could find in a story of espionage and gunplay. Ashleigh and Benito, and first and second in a series of trained super-spies, make good use of a night on the town.

Excerpt: Corpfall Chapter 5

Ashleigh could feel Benito’s arm wrap around her as they walked the street. She smiled, and put her head against his shoulder.

“We should be able to see everything while entering,” Benito said with a boisterous voice that made it sound like he was talking about a tour of Mexcity, “Sure there will be a crowd, but don’t hold that against it.”

Ashleigh frowned, “Not like we have a choice, dear. I’m not sneaking through the back door, no matter the crowd.”

“Did they train you two to act using ancient vidstreams?” Fuller asked in her ear, “This is torture.”

Ashleigh shook her head, mostly because she didn’t feel like holding two conversations at once. It was annoying enough dealing with one Fuller, but Benito had his own Fuller-esque moments. She felt like she was babysitting.

Benito stopped them, rubbing his arm across her side. She had to resist squirming under his arm. If there was one memory she didn’t feel like reliving, it was Benito.

“Look there,” He said, and they both stood straight to look at a car service across the street. Taxis and limos were stopping there.

“What building is that?” Ashleigh asked as she looked it up and down. They were getting close to the front of Jansen’s personal party shack, and a building like this was useful.

“Couldn’t say,” Benito shrugged, “Look how busy they are though.”

“Exactly what it looks like,” Fuller said in her ear, “It is a car port. Seems they have a reputation for keeping vehicles safe while guests go to local services. There is even a lightplane landing 5 stories up.”

Ashleigh looked up, and her eyes saw the hole on the side of the 20 story car port. Why not just land the lightplanes on top, she didn’t know. Of course, if you had lightplanes on top of the building, you couldn’t control who comes in and out.

“At least if we need to leave,” Ashleigh said to Benito with a smile, “We won’t have to worry about our transportation.”

Benito smiled down at her. He loved to show off that smile, every time she met him.

“It should be fine,” Benito said, “I’ve heard Mr. Jansen runs the best parties in town.”

She looked at the tall wall on their side of the street. It was decorated with symbols, like logos for companies that never existed. A massive letter T, a winged lizard that stood on a tall rock, a stylized roaring tiger. Beyond that wall, she knew that Jansen had his mansion, and furthermore it was insanely secure.

Ashleigh wasn’t even sure if the falsified credentials of the NAB would get them through the door. Even then, they would be under constant surveillance, and likely they were even while taking a walk outside of the building. Not just passive cameras, but true scrutiny by a security team.

Benito took her hand, and started to make them walk.

“Stay there a little longer,” Fuller asked, “I’m going to run another probe of his defenses.”

Ashleigh pulled back on his arm, “Can’t we just stay here?” She said with a giggle, “I just love it here, among the art.”

Ben stopped, lifted an eyebrow, and Ashleigh nodded. He walked back, and put his arms on her hips.

“You know,” He said, “When I was in ChiLo, I stopped by and saw my family.”

Ashleigh tensed up, “Really?”

He nodded, “Yeah, they were pretty sad you didn’t come with to visit. I told them you were busy, but I don’t know if they believe it.”

She put her head into his chest, and wrapped her arms around him. His chin was just able to rest on top of her head.

“I hope they aren’t disappointed,” She whispered, “But work does get in the way. They should call.”

Benito laughed, and she felt the rumble of his laugh against her body, “I guess they don’t want to admit they are busy as well.”

They separated, and Benito looked down into her eyes, “This trip isn’t about them though. Don’t let this spoil things, we will go to that party, and it will be glorious.”

He moved down toward her, and Ashleigh knew what came next. She pursed her lips slightly, and they connected, him hugging her close enough that she could feel his breathing.

“I was going to say I’m done,” Fuller said, “But I guess you two can take your time, or whatever.”

She rolled her eyes behind her eyelids.

“I mean it,” He continued, “I’m fine on this side. I can go silent if you two need some alone time.”

Ashleigh broke the kiss, and held a hand against Benito’s face.

“Any more of that,” She said, “And you’ll make strangers jealous.”

Benito chuckled, and grabbed her hand, bringing it down in front of her. “I’m not here for anyone but you, Sarah.”

She smiled, “Let’s go eat.”

They walked down the street, hand in hand. They made their way to a restaurant, just one block away. It didn’t look like anything special, but they were sure the food would be authentic just based on the decor.

“I think our server was a clone,” Benito said as he shuffled in his seat.

“What, and the Mexcity NAB HQ just can’t pick up on illegal clone production?” Ashleigh said with a roll of her eyes.

Benito smiled, “I’ve heard they’ve been having problems,” He said with a wag of his eyebrows, “You know, some accusations here, some arrests there. Can’t make it easier for them to uphold the law.”

Ashleigh looked around the restaurant, it was filled with other folks from Mexcity high life. There were plenty of them, but if she compared it to her trip to the SeaVan dorm, it was a stark difference. She could move and breath up here for one. The food smelled edible, and the people up here had color to their skin.

“So, what is your friend’s progress?” Ben asked.

While they weren’t dropping cover, they both knew that dinner conversations were odd on their own. Their initial intel said that Jansen’s security extended to several regions of Mexcity, but was tightest right on top of his holdings. Whether they were still inside the bubble of tight security, they were going to determine.

“My friend thinks he should leave us so we can have some alone time,” Ashleigh said as she pulled a small rewritable chit out of her bag, a little paper sized screen she could write on.

“I hope I’m not getting in the way of anything,” Benito said as he flagged over a waiter.

Ashleigh took out a special pen, and scribbled onto the chit, the letters writing across with a slight delay. ‘Fuller, is there anything further we need to investigate?’

As a tall and plain looking man came to serve them, she folded the paper in half.

“We will both have the special,” Benito said, “Also, a bottle of wine, whatever you recommend.”

The waiter bowed, likely thankful for the fast and simple order, and left them.

“My friend is aware of how our relationship works,” Ashleigh said, “Don’t complicate things.”

Benito made a hurt face, “I would never, It’s just, I’ve seen the way he looks at you.”

Ashleigh was looking down at the sheet, but her eyes popped up to look at Benito. What was he getting at? They had been around each other for less than a day, and already old rivalries were surfacing. If they had just asked her before the mission, told her she was going to work with one of the others, she could have told them. Were they so blind that they didn’t know the connection between her and Benito? Maybe she was being punished.

She could feel that Fuller was back, like a warning light was on in the base of her spine. Still, she had to say it.

“Diego,” She said, “You know how I feel about you. On the other hand, my friend has been with me, right inside my head, through experiences you and I never shared. You wouldn’t understand.”

Benito’s eyes focused for a moment, and every muscle in her body, in that instant, told her to prepare for a fight. Was that instinct?

“We aren’t at Fort 22 anymore,” She said, “Things changed.”

Fort 22, aka Home.

Benito looked out over the restaurant, “I see, so that’s how you feel.”

“To answer your question,” Fuller said, “I need eyes on a building to the West, toward Jansen.”

She cleared the chit, and wrote, “OK”.

Their food couldn’t arrive soon enough. They ate in relative silence, with Benito occasionally looking at her, and her trying to pick over her food.

“Does Fort 22 still exist?” Fuller asked, “There are censored references to it, but nothing current.”

Ashleigh’s heart leaped, but she smiled, whispered, “Code name.”

Benito looked at her, and he smiled as well.

“That’s where we grew up,” Ashleigh continued, though she didn’t know why she was still talking. If she was going to tell Fuller about home, why not over a year ago when they first met?

“Also,” Ashleigh said, “It sucked.”

Benito swallowed a bite of fish, washed it down, “Most of it did,” He said.

“It had its moments,” Ashleigh said as she looked at Benito.

“What did they do to you?” Fuller asked.

“Train us,” Ashleigh replied.

“Trained how?”

“That’s classified,” She said before taking a bite of her fish.

“Did they torture you? Scoop out your brains? Make you play ‘buzzkiss’ with the boys from across the lane,” He asked, “What did they do to you guys Ashleigh?”

She laughed, it started as a sort of chuckle, but it quickly grew out of control, until a few eyes in the restaurant were pointed her way.

“Maybe all of the above,” She said while looking at Benito, “We can talk about it more later.”

They finished their dinner, paid, and their waiter seemed more than pleased to help them leave.

“Where to, darling?” Benito asked with a hand out.

She grabbed his hand, and squeezed tight. “We have a building to check out,” She replied.

They made their way to the building that Fuller indicated. It was short, compared to just about anything else in that area of Mexcity. It was only 5 stories tall, and only had a select few windows, which looked a milky white from outside.

“What a strange building,” Benito Sandoval said, “Doesn’t seem to fit the local decor.”

“I agree,” She said.

Ashleigh squeezed his hand, “I’m sorry about my outburst earlier,” She said, “I guess work really has been hard on me.”

“Like I thought,” Fuller said in her ear, “This place is a black zone on the South datalink. I have no access to its cameras, security protocols, nothing. As far as the Net is concerned, this building doesn’t exist. It could be empty, or it could be housing a supercomputer.”

“I understand,” Sandoval said, putting a hand on top of her head, and holding her close with the other, “It is a stressful environment, and it follows you everywhere.”

“I bet,” Fuller said, “If I was past Jansen’s defenses, on his personal lines, this building lights up. They went old school with this one. Okay, that’s all I needed.”

Ashleigh took a deep breath, “In that case, can we get a few hours alone?”

Sandoval squeezed her, “Of course we can.”

Fuller paused, but she knew he was still there. “Of course you can,” He said, “Just knock on my door when you two want to get back to planning.”

“Thank you,” Ashleigh whispered.

#NaNoWriMo Day 1: Sequels, The first page, and beyond!

If you ever wanted to read blogs about blank pages, now is the time. A million and one authors will be posting blog posts about how important it is to get started, conversations about blank pages, and ways to get past writer’s block.

I generally don’t get writer’s block. The question isn’t if I will put something to the page, it is if I will want to read it in the morning. After a long amount of time without writing, I tend to second guess every word that appears. I will write it, it will stay there, but I can’t help but wonder if it will derail my whole novel if it stays.

For those who have read my past couple of blog posts, you know that for National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo, I decided to do a sequel. I am writing a follow up to my Nano from last year, Corpfall. It is a cyberpunk novel that follows a government agent and her hacker partner.

Unfortunately, a lot happened in Corpfall, and I’m not usually the type to do sequels. I forgot exactly how much happened in the first novel, and this left me questioning exactly what my characters should be doing, and why. I knew what I wanted to physically happen, the main character was going to open the novel on an adventure, go in blazing like she did in the first novel.

Ashleigh looked out the doors of the lightplane, the shimmer of a million lights dotting the SeaVan cityscape. The air whistled beneath her, the lightplane moving invisible through the city sky. She took a breath, and leaped.

Then, I froze up. Ashleigh needed to be suffering from the action of the last novel, but what did that mean. When Corpfall closed, Ashleigh was hurt, and holding a small drive that was important to a major villain, without Ashleigh knowing what the drive was. I was skipping the aftermath of that, and jumping straight to more action, so now I had to ask myself, what was my intent with the end of the last novel.

I pushed forward, ignoring my reservations. If I didn’t know what was going to happen in the greater story, I could at least see what was going to happen when Ash beat up a bunch of nameless thugs. As I continued, I let the action tell me what themes I wanted to see. For one, Ashleigh would have one personality change from the previous novel. Her previous partner, Fuller, was a paranoid and nervous man. Ashleigh was never suspicious, her character was based on her complete trust of her superior officers. These were the people who trained her, enhanced her, and kept her alive.

This new Ashleigh is a little different.

“Is there any additional information on the target?” Ashleigh asked. She regretted the words as soon as they were out of her mouth. Ashleigh was sure they both received the same mission briefing. If anything, Ashleigh’s information on Samantha Fields was more indepth than Twain’s. Still, something was making her nervous.

Not the smoothest execution, but I’m on a time limit. Ashleigh doesn’t have the same complete trust. She isn’t Fuller, but unlike Fuller, she isn’t a hacker with information at her fingertips. This is going to be important later, but for now it is just a small hint to the reader of Ashleigh’s behavior.

Suddenly, a flood was released, and I knew what hints I needed to lay in this first chapter. For genre writing in particular, I think one of the most important aspects is laying eggs of intrigue, and then growing them to fruition. Even if an idea isn’t brought up until the end of the book, it will be satisfying to the reader if they were paying attention. For instance, in the first Corpfall novel, a throwaway name brought up around the middle of the book ends up being related to the conclusion of the novel. It isn’t critical, it isn’t a moment that make the reader go ‘why would you hide that information from me?’ It is a small nod that makes you see what the characters see, that the plot twists in life can’t always be seen a mile away.

In the end, the first day wasn’t easy, but I got 2,166 words in. I gave myself a small headstart into finishing my 50,000 words, but that won’t make tomorrow any easier. See you folks in a few days!

Hacking in Corpfall and more #nanowrimo Worldbuilding

I’m relatively tech savvy, but I’m no student of computer science. I can open up a computer, and do just enough to make sure it doesn’t explode, but don’t expect me to explain to you why a computer’s components are doing what they are doing, or how it all works together. When it comes to writing about computers, I follow the rule of speculative fiction: stay consistent and don’t establish anything that will make your reader incredulous. I mean, no one can be 100% accurate about what technology will look like 100 years from now, so there is wiggle room to predict a lot of fanciful changes.

I like cyberpunk as a genre, to a degree. I’m a fan of the Shadowrun tabletop RPG, Neuromancer, Deus Ex, Netrunner, I thought Ghost in the Shell was okay. There are certain technological advancements that seem consistent across the genre, as a staple. In the same way steampunk absolutely requires terrible facial hair and gears glued to your clothing where it cannot feasibly serve a real purpose, cyberpunk has elements that seem to cross mediums and series. Cybernetic implants are chief among, powerful prosthetic limbs that can serve additional purposes, work better than natural limbs at times, and might be networked with technology that would seem impossible to shove into a human body. Another common advancement is the ‘Matrix’ or ‘Net’, the internet advancing to the point that it permeates society, and has its own weaknesses and accesses that can allow crafty individuals to assault even those who might be unassailable in the physical world. In a way, these two technologies tap into the cyberpunk themes of a world where humanity is vanishing, and an overwhelming drabness is sucking up everything that we once considered magical. Cybernetics represent chopping off what was truly human and attaching computer pieces that don’t quite do the trick, aren’t nearly the same. The matrix/net is an endless world for normal people to be trapped in, so far from reality that they don’t realize they are a shell of a human being living in a post-apocalyptic hellscape.

cyberpunkishConsidering the age of your average successful writer, and when cyberpunk started as a genre, you can imagine this was a constant fear at the time. People were going to strap themselves into the internet, and never come back out. Outside of a few addicted people here and there, this is rarely the case. The internet is a wonderful tool, and has now outstripped all other forms of communication. We use the internet to communicate real problems, beautiful realities, as well as our made up dreamscapes. I’m not worried about the internet, or what it will do to society. I know that it will continue to shock and change the system, but that this change will eventually just craft changes in how humans work.

In a previous Nanowrimo I wrote, called Update, I followed a pair of detectives that had to catch a murderer. The crisis was that the murderer killed a ‘Public person’, an oversharer who broadcasts every moment of their life from the moment they wake up until they fall asleep. Because of how much social media, the internet, and computers, were in every aspect of society, it should have been impossible for anyone to kill the victim. When I think about the cyberpunk world of this novel I plan to write, Corpfall, I imagine things have only grown weirder from there. When most people don’t bother having any privacy, when every crisis is broadcasts across the world, media and communication have to change. A cyberpunk world has no use for newspapers, and even news media has likely become a glorified Tosh.O (a trend you can already see in your local news, where whole segments are dedicated to highlighting footage from popular internet videos). Information is shared, but so is misinformation. Trends come up in a moment’s notice, with millions of people becoming aware of a new idea simply because others have latched onto it, but some of these trends are just as artificial and constructed as a modern day TV commercial. This is our future, maybe.

Still, Corpfall isn’t about normal people, it is about a super-powered agent and her hacker. Carlos “Tru” Fuller, who grew up hacking in Mexcity, is an expert at the process of tapping into the Net (as I chose to call it, because the Matrix creates its own emotional response that I cannot control). Like a rigger from Shadowrun, or a runner from Netrunner, he knows how to infiltrate, hack, and alter computer systems from remote locations.

Unfortunately, the Matrix of Shadowrun, and similar internet analogs, have always escaped my full understanding. Personally, when playing Shadowrun, I always focused in magic. I only understand hacking in Netrunner because it is the basic process that the abstract mechanics of the cards are representing. Other cyberpunk series I interacted with are of no help in this regard, like the new shadowrun game, or Deus Ex. At the end of the day, it seems like a bunch of keywords are thrown out there, and the reader/player is supposed to get the feeling that computer programs are fighting other computer programs in an effort to protect representations of data that people would want.

That is to say, in most of these cyberpunk futures, the process of hacking is visualized as something akin to a video game battle, and the winner gets to steal information from a computer. Which, if we think about it, seems absolutely ridiculous.

On the other hand, this is speculative fiction, and we have to understand exactly what might be happening here. In Neuromancer, the hacker Case had been ‘burned’ after a previous incident. The access nodes on his body, where he would interface with a ‘deck’ (or computer), were destroyed, making it impossible for him to fully connect to a computer. The idea is that for deckers like Case, you don’t just type a bunch of keys on a keyboard, the best hacking is done when your spinal cord has a direct connection with the computer. This means that you can perform more actions than made possible by any other input method, it means you can sense computer output directly as if it were another sense. To a decker/rigger/runner/hacker, when you are fully connected, the internet can become its own world.

When someone first invented this, it is likely that the first interfaces were boring and predictable. You could see squares that represented your files, touch them, read them, and probably type on a virtualized keyboard or ‘think’ commands to the computer. Entertainment would take it further, with users (who didn’t have the full implants, but other ways to sense this virtual reality) would want computer games and programs that take advantage of this new interface. Soon we have users who set up servers to be social, and games like Second Life or social MMOs already represent this sort of advancement. Soon, most internet users would be used to a VR interface, where an avatar of them represented even basic actions, like going to social locations or visiting digital ‘parties’. Of course normal interfaces would still exist, because you can’t always have a full avatar set up or the equipment that might require.

In a situation with virtual reality internet, that is always growing in scope and features, every user would be experiencing something different. Based on their hardware, operating system, software, output devices, input devices, you have millions or billions of people seeing slightly different version of a space. This would require a sort of ‘agreed upon reality’ system within the programming, where different hardware would need to come to consensus on what they ‘should’ be trying to show to their user. If three computers know they have entered a social room that is based on feudal Japan, they would do their best to portray that, but the general idea of ‘feudal Japan’ might be all that the users can agree is in common.

Hackers also use this virtual visualization. It would help people like Fuller react properly to output. Sure, a computer that is tracing another computer doesn’t need to waste extra power to represent that as a hunting dog, this might be completely on the part of the hacker’s computer. Two hackers entering the same space might not even see the same ‘programs’ trying to attack them. But likely, because the sysops and programmers also grew up in a world that relies on this same virtual reality, they would program a baseline visual aspect to their internet countermeasures. A simple program wouldn’t need much more than to be an arrow shooting out, or an axe slicing down. These work to deter internet users who don’t know what they have gotten into, or are way over their head. It is the new symbology, like giant stop signs when a website is blocked, or the disruptive sound of a computer giving an error message. Few programs need to have complicated symbology, and usually those programs would be intelligent enough that their appearance would make sense. Examples of these would be human shaped guardians, or hunting animals.

So when Fuller hacks into another computer, he attaches to his deck using implanted interfaces in his skin. He can use a less clean method, but this is his preferred way to do it. His computer creates a virtual interface, and he may even have a comfortable ‘home’ environment there to do basic functions. When hacking, his computer interfaces with the net, and the whole of the internet is represented almost like a vague world if he wants it. When he connects to an internet address, a computer or server, that space may have a pre-set visual setting that his computer will try to adapt to. If he connects to a server and it is coded to represent itself as a cozy house, this would be communicated to Fuller’s deck, and his avatar would materialize in a house. This is done automatically to help him understand what the server is trying to communicate. This server could just be a cozy party, and it would be visually confusing if he was seeing an empty box with blips of information while the server was trying to represent a room full of men smoking pipes and talking about sports. If he were to be hacking the server, he would use programs he had installed on his computer to attempt to pull hidden information out of the server, or take control of the server’s functions. Because programmers create program visuals to reflect their function (usually), hacker programs that deconstruct or disrupt these functions can usually take on appearances of their own, and sometimes the theme of destruction matches the visuals (like using a virtual axe to represent a program that hacks at simplistic digital barriers that might often be represented by doors). In reality, these are hacking scripts assisted by their creator to destroy a digital space and mine it for information. The details of what happens to these constructs aren’t important, the results of the data are. The door may look like it is in splinters, but the important part is whether the hacker can now bypass the barrier and get to the other side. This seems obvious when I think through it, but the important part I need to remember is that the visuals don’t mean that hacking is a video game, Fuller or whichever hacker still need to be an active part of the process. Not everything can be done with scripts, or our hacker isn’t all that impressive.

There are other aspects of the technology that I should investigate, like AI, but I’m already reaching 2000 words. This investigating has already helped me a lot, and I might still be able to think about what happened with AI technology in my world before November hits. So maybe I should just be patient.

#Nanowrimo worldbuilding and the new nations

As I expected, thinking about the New Nations of my cyberpunk novel has been the hardest part of my pre-National Novel Writing Month preparations. There is a lot that I could go over, and at the same time I don’t really have an urge to go over any of it. I’ll tell you why, it isn’t always important.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love world building. I spent some time just before work today telling strangers on the internet about the family and relationship habits of a made up fantasy world I created for two Nanos ago. When it matters, I enjoy digging into random details that the reader may never fully understand. But when it comes to some details, they are both not important to the story, and not constructed of elements that I understand enough to construct well. I’ll explain more as I jump in here.

plainfuture

The ‘New Nations’ as they are called, are three (sometimes four) trade organizations that serve as the primary form of government for several world powers. They are, in order of importance to the story, NAB (the North American Business Authority), WEB (West European Business Securities, sometimes OEB for French speaking countries), and SAB (South American Business Authority). The fourth is the UAT, or the United African Treaty. These are world governments in that they create laws, execute those laws, and govern over the citizens of their regions. It was important that they function enough like a world government that the reader doesn’t have mindless questions about that, but at once I didn’t want them to just be the world governments we know today.

Really, I want them to be like strange megacorporations. The new nations are here to help the people, they saved the world from the Corp war, when megacorporations fought openly with mercenary armies, when citizens were cannon fodder for their schemes against one another. When the new nations materialized, there was cheering in the streets, and a new age was born. People stopped starving on street corners, you became less likely to die in random gunfire between mercenary armies, and your block was less likely to explode at random. These are all good things. But the new nations didn’t just appear out of nowhere. Leaders came together and decided that a new government was needed, but the world was too advanced for the old method of nation forging. They couldn’t just fight a guerilla war, or write a sternly worded letter. They needed assets, infrastructure, and support from billions of people.

So the new nations were created in a business deal. Smaller corporations, some just below qualifying as ‘mega’, and others just too weak to compete with the largest megacorporations, bought into the new nation idea. A president would be elected, but these would be nations that would have a board of directors. Those with the most money in the country, the wealthy who were at risk of losing a lot, were given that chance to sit in what would be like a new house of lords. Sure, their power to govern is checked by the other branches of government, but money has an obvious place in running the government, instead of hiding in the shadows.

In exchange, the new nations did several things that were missing since the corp wars. The world is made up of many people who cannot protect themselves or their assets. The poor, the homeless, those who are making just enough to get by, the sick, the odd, the oppressed. The world was dangerous for these people when corporations were the ones in control, and were more likely to take advantage of them than help them. When you are a megacorp and you can either feed the poor, or give them an experimental slop that will feed them but might also give them life destroying side effects, you have to think of the bottom line and torture the homeless. With the new nations, a super welfare net was created. The world was at a state where the homeless could be housed in cheap dorms, the sick can be kept marginally healthy with cheap drugs, and the poor can be given just enough cash to pour it back into the system. Everyone is supported, on the backs of the system. It isn’t the prettiest solution, which is why Corpfall has nicheads and dorms, people given enough money to buy ‘scrip drugs and lounge around their one bedroom ratholes instead of even trying to be productive. It is meant to play at the nightmare scenario of every republican presidential candidate in the last few decades. The new nations bleed money, and only through support from their board companies and business efforts can they ever make enough to stay stable, and maybe not even then.

The primary new nation in the story is NAB. NAB is divided into three zones that I mention, based on internet backbones. Westboard is centered on SeaVan, the megacity that developed out of Seattle and Vancouver crashing into each other. While SeaVan isn’t the biggest city in the West (that would probably be SanSan in the Southwest), it is a cultural center, and the weather is nice. Southboard covers much of the American South, and the biggest cities I mention there are SanDall, San Antonio and Dallas megacity, and Mexcity. Mexcity, you might guess, is the future version of Mexico City, and has grown to consume most of what was Mexico. Eastboard has Boston, which is still just Boston, but now bigger and better than ever. NAB is known for being the most creative of the new nations, a wildcard among them. While many say the brightest creators are still in Asia, NAB has created new medicines and technologies that rival the old markets (aka, East Asia, India, Russia, and East Europe). NAB, more than the other new nations, has a poverty problem. There are a lot of people in North America, and the economy was already hurting when the corp wars began. With the new nations, and old habits, NAB has certain holes in its support net that leads to an oddly large number of its citizens taking advantage of the support net.

I might not stick with all of those ideas, especially considering where I want to go with SAB, but it is worth typing out.

WEB, or OEB, is Europe. It is effectively the European Union, but in the future. My first thought when I considered WEB, was a very American thought. Who is better at high taxes and welfare states than Western Europe? WEB is the king of welfare, but not in a bad way. When it comes to helping their citizens, no one does it better than WEB. Among world nations, they have the strongest lock on their megacorps. It is to the point that many would say, “There are no Megacorps in WEB”. The corporations there are taxed, controlled, fined, and sued into submission. For this reason, WEB has few players in their megacorp game, most companies choosing to relocate, or never trade in the WEB market, despite the large pool of customers there. WEB doesn’t have a poverty problem. When people are poor enough to be put on welfare, the administration makes it a motto to have a ‘personal touch’, as much as you can in such situations. They try to turn over every person who falls on hard times, and make public cases of those who have become successful members of society. Of course, this also means that WEB is a leaking ship. As a nation, they tax so much that it almost seems easier to fail than to succeed, at least then you will know for sure where your meals will come from. The system, compared to NAB, is easy to work and hard to fail out of. WEB is known for their service work, with many citizens simply serving in office jobs that support other citizens of WEB in an endless cycle of customer service.

WEB has their own version of the Billion Dollar Babies program, that was started after NAB. In comparison, it is much more spy-like, and it is likely that they spent a lot less per agent. Less cybernetics, less intensive training, more specialized.

spaceelevator

SAB is the last new nation I’m going to talk about here. Their territory starts south of Mexcity, and heads to the tip of the South American continent. You can imagine that the center of SAB is Brazil. This is true, but not just because Brazil is already powerful. SAB is the problematic cousin of the new nations. SAB is rich. Because space flight is best done close to the equator, the new nation with easy equator access was the most successful, and SAB is overflowing with space trade, space experiments, and contracts with the old governments. SAB is also a tourist haven. Combined, SAB has the least control over their markets. Some say that SAB is still being controlled by the megacorps. They take trade deals, they give tax breaks to certain corps, and they allow for some special rights and privileges to some businesses. SAB can also be a dangerous place, with people vanishing in the literal tourist traps that dot the region. On the other hand, SAB has money to burn, and they sometimes use it well. It is also said that no one gets sick in SAB, and it is the richer America. They use their money to achieve results, creating massive infrastructure projects that keep their people employed, and business flowing into the region.

SAB isn’t thought to have a babies program, and they usually use third party mercenaries to fight crime. Whether this is better or worse for them is up for debate.

Like I said at the start, there are reasons this was difficult for me. Geography, while once a favorite subject of mine when I was a kid, is no longer my strong suite. I have trouble deciding major hubs of activity in other regions, especially because I don’t know their background enough to know why cities would grow or combine, and which would shrink or be enveloped. Paris is probably going to be a megacity, but would London grow or just become an artifact of the Britain that was? What about Sao Paulo, is there a city nearby it could merge with to be the megacity of SAB? I need to research, but then again I don’t know if I need to research more than what is necessary to namedrop the megacity.

I’m also not a business expert. I didn’t even think about Megacorp interactions with New Nations until earlier this week. What happens if a Japanese company wants to do business in NAB? Do they block them out on principal? Do they let them in but control everything they do?

I used an example to decide this one. take a company like Domotek, an entertainment megacorp centered in Japan. They create toys, electronic entertainment, interactive objects, anything that can have a cute mascot on it, Domotek does. They are powerful, so powerful that everyone knows their brands, and the world buys their toys, apps, microtransactions, all day. Except the new nations are supposed to control megacorps, so how do they do that? Well, with Domotek, they likely would tax their products heavily since they are a foreign company. They would hold Domotek to regulations and standards that would block some of their other products (please, no toys that explode, contain poisons, or will degrade into hazardous materials). They would limit the amount of land Domotek could buy to business property, which would stop them from pulling schemes they can do for cheap in other regions (in Japan, Domotek might be free to buy up land, build housing on it, and then pay factory workers with housing instead of a living wage). The end result is that while Domotek might sell their products in NAB, the prices would be high, and some cheaper products might never hit the shelves or be rare. This would make the new nations feel different from their neighbors. Even with electronic products, the new nations might limit access to certain sites and products (which would cause a huff with those against censorship). While a game in Japan might be big that scans child brainwaves, adapts to their whims, but also tends to brainwash the kids a little to like more Domotek products, this could be banned or censored in NAB for the protection of the citizens under a special act.

In the end, this creates a set of countries that ‘feel’ clean, but mostly because they are pushing the problems elsewhere. Less bums on the streets, we built giant apartments for them to sleep in. Less drug addicts, because they are all addicted to this one particular drug that helps you get off of other drugs. The new nations feel ‘clean’, but the seeping wound is right there under the surface, and it isn’t nice when you run into it.

Anyway, I think that is enough thought about that, it was good to work it all out. Now I can move on to thinking about technology, and how I want to represent hacking, computers, and future tech.

Megacorps and #nanowrimo Brainstorming

Megacorporations are a difficult topic. They are so common in cyberpunk and near-future fiction that I don’t think we really think about what they actually represent, and what they require to be a reality.

Lately I got into the card game Android: Netrunner. The game simulates a fight between a ‘runner’, a hacker/lowlife, and a megacorp, a faceless entity creating evil schemes to take over the world. In that game the corporations perform actions that don’t so much represent one person, but an unimaginably large bureaucracy that doesn’t stop to consider what it is doing to the individuals in the world, unless those individuals put a spanner in the works that bring the corp grinding to a halt. I think it is a wonderful representation, and the game really helped me understand why megacorporations work so well in fiction.

Weyland-yutani

For a megacorp many of us might be familiar with, think of Weyland-Yutani, famous for their depiction as ‘THE COMPANY’ in the Aliens franchise. Weyland-Yutani is willing to send living people, cutting edge technology, and brave soldiers, to their deaths for the sake of a little more information and a possible profit. Weyland-Yutani doesn’t care that 5 people die terrible deaths, or that they have passed on information to an alien race that might one day destroy all of mankind. That will be someone else’s problem. The important thing is that they might make that much more money. As long as no one can connect the horrible crimes to the Weyland-Yutani brand, they won. Even if someone can connect it back to their brand, they could pay to make that go away. That is a megacorporation.

When a company gets that large, control has to become weak. There are different minds at different levels of authority, all trying to perform actions that they consider the most profitable to themselves, and to the company they work for. So these massive companies can seem a little scatter-brained, and really, the vast majority of those working in the company would have no awareness of ‘evil’ actions taken by their employer. Others within the company might think the actions are just, like a security director that thinks killing a gang of 20 men would save the thousands of employees who were being financially threatened by the gang raiding one of their outposts. Or a medical researcher who believes that letting a virus loose in a dorm with a hundred tenants is okay if it means saving millions when they have the cure. Megacorporations create distorted senses of morality within them.

In my Nano novel, Corpfall, Megacorporations got out of control. JIL, one of my named megacorporations in my timeline, is considered the perpetrator of one of the worst crimes against humanity. They destroyed a space station with a city on it. So many people died, that the backlash would be felt across the world. JIL was a ruthless corporation, and I imagine that many of the other megacorps that competed with it had to be equally brutal. They were part of the Corpwar, which means they hired and maintained attacks against other megacorps, actual physical violence that took to the streets of cities that the corps had constructed when the world relinquished governance to them.

JIL is dead now. It is less important what sort of corporation they used to be, and more important what happened to them. They were dismantled, their CEOs tried for crimes against humanity, and they were the head on a spike to warn the world that the ‘New Nations’ of the world meant business. Likely, JIL is an acronym, maybe an acronym that stopped functioning as one as the corporation grew in size and took on more subsidiaries and departments. JIL would have been a name so well known, but so powerful, that no one could imagine life without it. We don’t have a lot of those in reality. We have competitors to Microsoft, Time Warner, PepsiCo, and even if we love or hate their products, we could imagine a world without them. JIL would be bigger than that, maybe they were in the center of technologies that changed the world, like cybernetics, food, or transportation. Transportation would be an interesting one, since it would mean they could have built a space elevator, efficient space planes, or reached our neighbor worlds. Destroying a company with that much power in transportation would have a radical effect on normal people, especially if the company was then split into competing powers after years of being an advanced near-monopoly. Sort of like the baby bells (sorry for non-North Americans who may not understand that reference), these smaller JIL companies would take what they were handed, and then mostly sit on it for vast profit, only advancing when absolutely required by the market.

the other Megacorp I already have partially defined is Mailer-Bronson. At the end of the novel, Ashleigh and Fuller break into Mailer-Bronson, searching for a crucial piece of hardware that has been hidden in a sub-basement in their building. MB for short, Mailer-Bronson has the sort of hyphenated name that is supposed to imply a long history of other companies merging together. MB is old, a corp that survived the corpwars by being complacent. When the other corps fought against the government, Mailer-Bronson bowed, and was spared. Now they are one of the strongest remaining Megacorps. The only interactions with Mailer-Bronson are in an office building, so they could be any kind of company. Maybe, based on the first half of their name, they could be related to communications technology. Similar to Cisco as we know them now, a corporation like this would be wired into absolutely everything, and in a cyberpunk future, they would be absolutely essential for the future to continue functioning. Of course, that means they would want to cut out any business that might threaten their future, and aggressively research any future technology that might slow them down, then repress it until they are ready. That means technology like advanced high speed communication (like some sort of faster-than-light communication tech that could work for space stations).

Mailer-Bronson has a major stake in NAB, and maybe other world governments. For MB to continue functioning, they use NAB for protection, and invest in the government to keep that protection active and strong. Mailer-Bronson would be famous for their low number of violations of the NAB charter, a company that plays by the rules, but mostly because they always have a hand in writing the rules.

Of course, I should consider why I want interactions with Megacorps at all. I think that a common theme in modern society is the idea of the faceless corporation trying to crush down any and all opposition. They use underhanded tactics to get what they want, even buying politicians, or social support. In the future, this wouldn’t stop completely. The idea of a cyberpunk future is that corps eventually win, and the future becomes dark when your politician can actually wear the logo of the company that bought him, instead of that just being a clever joke in liberal memes. In my Corpfall novel, the timeline is supposed to be so far forward that this period of time has ended, and now the government tries to bring these companies back in line. The new nations would try to stop corruption, violations against human rights, civil rights, and the environment (what is left of it at that point anyway). So megacorps would be forced to have faces again. These faces would, in most cases, be constructed and false. Buy social media connections, buy spam to drill your ideas into consumer heads, buy fallguys to make sure that nothing is ever really your companies fault. Buy the prettiest people to accidentally use your product while their picture is being taken. Some of these actions wouldn’t be illegal at all, it would just be the future of advertising and media. Except, all of that megacorp money has an influence on normal people. They would think like the corps want them to think, to a degree. They would be a hodgepodge of all the campaigns they were hit with, a walking jumbled commercial. It is an interesting concept.

Another idea is that in Corpfall, the biggest megacorp of all IS the New Nations, and our main characters work for it. They are likely evil, no one within seems to realize what they are doing, and they sacrifice people to get the tasks they need done. The most shifty group in Corpfall is definitely the NAB, and they do have a large number of investors from corporations and old money. They stopped the hackers, but made them ‘Intelligence Agents’ they could shove into office buildings. They stopped the gangs of street samurai working runs for megacorps, and then turned around and created the Billion Dollar Babies to do the same for them. Maybe that is why I’m having so much trouble thinking about Megacorps, my largest and most well thought out Megacorp… isn’t.

I think I need to think about the new nations, and the old. NAB, SAB, WEB, UAT (the United African Treaty), and whatever happened to Asia. I can do that next, which might give me some time to think about what technology I should expect across the globe.

The Corpfall Babies and #nanowrimo worldbuilding

The Billion Dollar Babies were part of my original concept when I wanted to write a cyberpunk story. I had a previous story idea. The concept was of a future world where superheroes were occasionally found and molded into government agents. Not perfectly original, but something I would enjoy writing. The main character was a young girl that was discovered to have superpowers as an infant, and was sold to the government. From there she was trained, a billion dollars or more sunk into turning her into the perfect hero. When she became an adult, she wasn’t quite normal, because of her stunted childhood. When she meets another hero, one who doesn’t work for the government, her life and expectations are torn to shreds.

That original story would have likely ended as a romantic drama, not my best concept. The character in it, became Ashleigh, Billion Dollar Baby #A.

I didn’t have a lot of ideas for the babies when I started, I just knew that instead of known cyberpunk concepts, like street samurai and razor girls, I wanted someone who was clearly full of cybernetic implants and technology, but had the full support of the government (in retrospect, this character is the Major from Ghost in the Shell, screw me). Ashleigh was ‘donated’ as an infant, her parents willingly releasing her for government experimentation when the NAB (North American Business Authority) was still young. She was kept in perfect form, physically, mentally, for the training that would come when she grew older.

When the Babies program continued, others were added. It was established that the second generation of babies came after Ashleigh.

“I love you, Ashleigh,” Ciel said, “You know how much I love you. You were the world to us. When we first got in the system, you were everything we wanted to be. Strong, smart, that perfect discipline.”

24 other babies were introduced to the program, each noted alphabetically, ‘A to Zed’ as Ciel says. They alternate in gender, and differ wildly in their personalities. But each of them is a well trained agent that helps the NAB police their dangerous world. The established names so far: Ashleigh, Benito, Ciel, Derrick, Elise, Frank, Marsha, Naota, Reagan, Yvonne, Zander.

So why create 25 super agents instead of, well, a whole super force? Well, for one, the Babies are expensive (hypothetically, a billion dollars each). They are also a specialized force. If police officers are needed to stop a riot, that is as easy as calling in public or private police in the area. Ashleigh is better for spy works, wetworks, or deniable operations. In the opening of Corpfall, Ashleigh takes down a room of thugs to chase down a CEO that is attempting to avoid persecution for his crimes against the people. A full force might have alerted him early, where Ashleigh wasn’t detected until she was already in the building and ready to climb the stairs.

The babies also have technology in them that helps them infiltrate and spy on the powerful megacorps that they are required to keep in check. Ashleigh displayed several extra senses, heightened hearing, lightning reflexes, and impossible strength. She is also more durable than any normal human, and her training also makes her a master of manipulation and infiltration. The babies also have one final advantage that is already established, they are a cybernetic insertion point.

Every baby is a walking advanced network. If you need a hacker in the building, and a network is blocked from external intrusion, a baby can walk your hacker right into the building and help bypass those defenses. These ‘Cyberspace securities officers’, or just hackers if you aren’t being PC, keep a close eye on the baby they are connected to. In the case of Ashleigh, she has a full ‘simulated stimulation’ suite within her body, meaning she can broadcast exactly what she hears, physical feels, sees, all of her senses directly to someone connected to her. This is called ‘simstim’ in cyberpunk terms.

The babies we know so far are a weird mix of characters that naturally popped up in the story.

Special Agent Ashleigh Anderson is our main character. She starts the novel strict, a by the book agent that focuses on completing her missions. She is accompanied by her hacker, Carlos Fuller, who is a bit of a slob and joker. Ashleigh is the original baby, and for that reason she holds a special place in the program. She is usually kept divided away from her fellow babies.

Special Agent Benito Sandoval is her ‘little brother’, and number B of the second generation. He is a large swarthy gentlemen, full of energy, constantly poking fun at their situation.

It was annoying enough dealing with one Fuller, but Benito had his own Fuller-esque moments. She felt like she was babysitting.

Benito operates like an alpha male, and likes being the strongest and most attractive person in the room at any time.

Special Agent Ciel is number C. She is small compared to the others, and holds an old grudge against Ashleigh for events in their childhood. As Benito put it, Ciel used to have a ‘crush’ on Ashleigh, and it is implied they used to be closer than any of the other babies.

Elise is number E, and she was stricken from the records of the program. She appears in the novel briefly near the end, attempting to take revenge on the rest of the program. Elise is an example of what happens when a baby doesn’t have the government maintenance that is expected. Her body is falling apart, and it is implied that several of her implanted abilities, like advanced vision, have suffered catastrophic failures.

Four babies have died. Yvonne and Reagan died in the line of duty, supposedly. On the other hand, Elise escaped the program, and Derrick was killed by Ashleigh while they were still in training. Derrick’s attempt to leave caused a rift among the babies, with Elise and Ciel siding with Derrick, while Ash held to the only thing she has ever known, her government handlers. The death of Derrick destroyed the relationship between Ciel and Ash.

Other small details of the program. Commander Paulson is the military officer that was in charge of the program, and Dr. Long was the researcher on site at Fort 22, their ‘home’. It is implied that all of the babies hold at least some grudge against these two. Dr. Long is said to have a long sordid history, but it isn’t expanded on. Also, the whole program has been expanded, with many new young agents being introduced at the end of the novel, more than were ever in the first and second generation.

That is what there is to know. The question is, what else haven’t I covered?

There are many babies that I haven’t named or detailed. Frank, Naota, Yvonne, and Reagan, are all names and that is all. Naota went on a mission to China. Yvonne and Reagan graduated but died at some point. Not much more information is necessary. If they aren’t going to be in the story, they don’t need a full life. I would rather focus on the babies that are likely to appear.

Benito is a tricky character. I played him as a relationship foil between Ashleigh and Fuller. Benito is the big strong sort of man that Ashleigh would actually like, compared to Fuller. Both men are vague minorities (supposedly both are hispanic), both men are goofballs, and both men don’t respect Ashleigh’s personal space. There are other possibilities with Benito that were not important to the story. I imagine that his attached hacker is male. Benito and Ashleigh, as the ‘big brother and sister’ of Fort 22 have played ‘mom and dad’ to the others. If there was any chance of a romantic connection between a baby and Ashleigh, Benito’s natural competitive attitude would make sure that he instead insisted on being the one who was romantic with Ashleigh. For that reason alone, I think that Benito and Ashleigh ‘dated’ as much as any strange implanted super teenagers could while they were in the program. Benito is physically impressive, and capable in martial arts and athletics, even when compared to his fellow Babies.

Ciel is the awkward character. She only appears to begin the drama about Derrick’s death. She also introduced the possibility that not all of the babies are loyal to the government. Ciel is loyal to the other babies, not the government. She takes care of her siblings, even if they have turned evil, like Elise. She is a skilled shot, and works best in teams. Ashleigh calls her a ‘Bonder’. It is also implied that Ciel had a real crush on Ashleigh, which creates an odd relationship dynamic among A,B, and C. Ciel and Benito obviously still interact amicably, but if Benito won’t let anyone be close to Ashleigh but him, he doesn’t seem to consider Ciel a real threat. Adult Benito doesn’t seem to fight for Ashleigh’s affection anymore, so this odd relationship triangle could have resolved itself in the past. For now, Ciel is best described as small, angry, and loyal. All of these factors play into her interactions as personal hang ups.

Elise was a villain idea that didn’t live as long as I expected her to. She is the kind of grey villain that I enjoy having in stories. Her motivation, to stop the Billion Dollar Baby program that destroyed her childhood, is just in itself. Her friend, Derrick, died while she was young. She escaped the clutches of the government, and now lives a miserable existence hiding from those she previously considered family. She hates the NAB, Fort 22, and even certain members of the program. Whether Elise was smart before she escaped, or only became a schemer after, is unclear. It is possible that her physical abilities failing on her required her to turn to mental efforts. She works together with another party to help her infiltrate a meeting of all the babies, and attempts to kill the third generation before they can be used by the government. Ashleigh doesn’t even believe that Elise is still alive before she shows herself, which shows just how skilled Elise is at staying invisible in a society that tries to monitor everything. Elise dies, but her history is still important. There is the implication that she managed to convince several babies to side with her, without NAB noticing. This includes Marsha. She unwittingly hires Fuller’s gang to do her dirty work, but it is possible that an AI may have lead to that unfortunate coincidence. The full danger that Elise posed may not be dealt with, because she represented the possibility of rebellion, and soured the minds of a new generation of Billion Dollar Babies.

Really, I want to see more interaction between Ashleigh and her family. In particular, I want to see how Ashleigh and Ciel talk when they aren’t ready to kill each other. There are also a lot of letters that haven’t been filled, and a few, like Frank, Naota, and Zander, that only have small notes about them. They Ashleigh’s feelings about the Billion Dollar Baby program have soured with the death of Elise, but she still stands with her handlers by the end of Corpfall. Likely, she will want to work with her family more in the future, and do what she never did before, protect them.

Also, the third generation are an interesting possibility. Whether these younger agents in training will become a problem, need protection, or develop into important characters, is yet to be seen. Ashleigh protects a young boy from the third generation, and watches another become a young leader.

Finally, the Babies project was created by NAB, but WEB (the government over West Europe) has a program of its own. In Corpfall, I wanted Fuller and Ashleigh to work together with an English agent at some point, but never got around to it. The capabilities and differences between them are worth considering. NAB and WEB are very similar, and French sensibilities play well into the kind of future I’m imagining. Still, invading privacy, hacking, and assaults, might not be as popular in WEB. Surveillance is already a larger force in Western Europe than it is in the US, but militant police action isn’t seen the same. It is possible that WEB agents work more like traditional spies, with less run and gun.

Still, their job is the same, to control Megacorps and make sure they don’t start a new corporate war. The connections between corps, their plots, and how they may be manipulating the government (and even the babies program) are all likely important plot elements for future novels. Which is why I will be covering Megacorps next time.

Let me know what you think with a comment, or just tell me I’m boring and talked too long. Either one will keep me going.

#Nanowrimo and a little Worldbuilding

November is on the way, which means it is almost time for National Novel Writing Month.

Last year my one month novel was a cyberpunk story, Corpfall. After reading Neuromancer, by William Gibson, and playing a lot of Netrunner, I couldn’t escape the urge to write a cyberpunk novel of my own.

This year, I decided to write a sequel to one of my four novels. In the end, I chose to write a sequel to Corpfall. Now comes the fun part, thinking about what the plot will be.

Corpfall is about Special Agents Carlos Fuller and Ashleigh Anderson. They work for a future North American government known as the North American Business Authority, NAB, that replaced the United States, Canada, and most of Mexico, after the ‘corp wars’.

Ashleigh, or Ash, is known as a ‘Billion Dollar Baby’, trained as part of an expensive program to create perfect government agents through early training and expensive cybernetics. Fuller is a hacker hired into the Business Authority when his former gang was shut down.

By the end of the novel, we are introduced to the other ‘babies’ that followed after Ash, the other members of Fuller’s gang, and the threat of artificial intelligence manipulating NAB for its own ends.

Now I have to ask myself, what more can I build in the toybox I created?

One of the aspects I fleshed out a little before writing the first novel was the history of the world. Cyberpunk as a genre usually leans on a few key ideas: Unrestricted capitalism that allows anything to be sold, Megacorporations that are willing to do anything to continue expanding, and small people who are trying to stay afloat in a world that is collapsing around them.

When I started writing Corpfall, my idea was to write some sort of ‘post-cyberpunk’. Considering I’m not a cyberpunk aficionado, this has likely already happened, and the word doesn’t mean what I thought at the time. In the end, what I wanted was a world that is moving out of the ultra-capitalism stage, and into a stage of returned government control. My question was, ‘what if we mixed stereotypical socialism, and cyberpunk?’

In my timeline, legislation called the Taylor Act allowed corporations that owned enough concentrated land to govern that land like an incorporated town. In the end, corporations gained so much power and control that several of them moved from covert corporate spying to outright violence. The governments of the world took action after an orbital station was destroyed and a the Megacorporation JIL was thought to be involved. Protesters wanted the company ripped apart and held responsible, but the UN was powerless to do much of anything. Shortly after, direct fighting between Megacorps and world governments began, with the mercenary armies of the megacorps winning out.

In the period after, nicknamed ‘the Free Market’, corps fought against each other, and the world governments faded into powerless figureheads. This is the period that is normal ‘cyberpunk’. The average person suffered, but technology took leaps and bounds as no one was able to restrict scientific research that might make the megacorps a profit.

After the Free Market period, came the New Nations. These new governments partnered with corporations, offering to govern the market, but also let them invest in the government as partners. Enough smaller corporations joined that all but the strongest megacorps were forced to consider. As these ‘Business Authorities’ gained traction, their first act was to dismantle the ‘monopoly’ organizations that caused the corp wars, like JIL. Others, like Mailer-Bronson, were simply crippled.

The three well known new governments are NAB, SAB, and WEB (OEB). They are the North American Business Authority that controls the North American business, South American Business Authority that is its sister, and West Europe Business Securities. Russia, Eastern Europe, and most of Asia, resisted the new nation movement. This is also why corpfall doesn’t have the same heavy Asian vibe that most cyberpunk does. While Asian corporations likely had strong sway during the corp wars, the New Nations idea makes me imagine that North America maintains its usual mix of cultures, instead of the ‘future where Chinese is mixed into everything’ that I see in a lot of fiction.

Before November starts, I want to investigate a few parts of the setting that I didn’t look at before.

1) The Billion Dollar Babies: Ashleigh and her ‘siblings’ were my ‘Razor girls’. Hopped up on cybernetics, powerful, but full of issues. I touched on their history, and more babies being made, but their use as agents is still a little vague. Ash is the main character of Corpfall, so I won’t be able to avoid telling her story as the plot continues.

2) The megacorps: JIL, Mailer-Bronson, I don’t have a lot of Megacorps defined but they are important to the plot. Their movements and actions are a background force in cyberpunk stories. They don’t have to be primary actors, but I have to be careful not to make them complete background noise. So knowing a few of them could be helpful.

3) AI and Technology: In Corpfall, an AI is one of the central big bads. To tell the truth, the whole story was born from a short story that I wrote that mirrored the final scenes of Neuromancer. I wanted to see if I could capture that same feeling. Now I need to stop imitating, and figure out the reality of AI in the Corpfall setting. When did they start existing, how many are there, and how powerful are they?

I can’t wait for November this year. I love National Novel Writing Month, and this year I plan to split this novel into two ‘books’, and maybe write another 25,000 words on top of that. I’m pumped, and hope that cyberpunk can motivate me the same way it did last year.

#NaNoWriMo Day 30: Running Backwards

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I knew that the holidays would make it hard to update, but here I am on the 30th. Hope you didn’t miss me too much.

Nanowrimo was… a success! 51,000 words later, my 5th (5th? I think 5th) National Novel Writing Month novel has been completed. I got myself so far ahead of the curve, it was simple to come in for the finish. As for the content of the story… well that is a different story.

Let me tell you a little something.

When I first decided on my Nano novel, I based it on a short story that I actually posted here on The Little Tower. It was called Panopticon, and I wrote it in the aftermath of reading the novel Neuromancer for the first time. I was excited, I wanted more, and I definitely wanted to do cyberpunk for my Nano. So I wrote my novel these past 30 days, with Panopticon in mind.

Small problem, and a spoiler, one of the characters in Panopticon doesn’t make it out with their life. Which means, the short story was going to come at the end, or I would have to edit it. Since I usually Nano by the seat of my thumbs, I got close to the end, and realized that I wanted to shove Panopticon at the end of my novel, Corpfall.

Oops, this is a dumb idea. I mean, in general it is an okay plan, I’m sure it could work, if you actually plan around it. Corpfall got so far ahead of me, that I didn’t have enough time to establish some of the elements that would make Panopticon an awesome set of closing chapters. Instead, this plot twist rises up out of nowhere, like a terrible creature from the Black-guy-can’t-write lagoon.

How bad was it? Well the two main characters weren’t even partners anymore when I started shoving a final story arc into their face. For shame, I felt terrible the whole time.

Then I was finished, then I didn’t feel terrible. I felt very relieved.

Lesson learned, either way. Plan ahead, unless you don’t, in which case power through it as fast as you can and forget it ever happened. That’s my life motto, at work, in writing, in the bedroom, wherever it works.

I’m glad though, Corpfall can join my previous Nano stories (The One With The Black Cloak, Update, Shaman, and … that one about amnesia…), where it will collect dust until I figure out what to do with it.

Well, if I edit it and try to do something with it, you guys will be the first to know. Hope you had a happy Thanksgiving (unless you are from Canada, in which case this is too belated to matter), and I will see you folks in December.

#NaNoWriMo Day 13, How Lewd

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I don’t really care about writing lewd material, but now and again I remember that sometimes people want to read my stuff. 

I’m not known as a lewd guy. Sure I make dick jokes as much as the next guy, but up until maybe this last year (I talked about this recently), I was pretty stern about keeping my language clean. 

Why? Well one lesson of my youth that stuck around is that bad language is caused by a deficiency in vocabulary. A genius move by my mom to make sure I didn’t go around singing the bad words in songs, I guess. It worked, though I’m guessing she never could have guessed that I would go on to consider my vocabulary important, when I started to care about my writing craft. So now I barely even curse, unless the scene calls for it, so of course I wouldn’t talk about naughty bits, that was like, a level beyond.

At this point I don’t care. I’ve figured out some several dozen ways to describe a penor going into a vagoo, and it really doesn’t make me blink an eye. On the other hand, I have to keep in mind that not everyone sees things the same way.

For instance, it seems like women read a lot more about sex than guys do. When I was young, I didn’t understand that those books with buff men on the cover were actually full of women longing for hot dickings. In retrospect, it was the perfect hiding place. 

When I was writing a previous NaNo, I kept thinking I had to either admit the story was romance, to excuse the dickings inside, or tone them down. No way that a book, focused on elevating the story (aka, literature of the pretentious college kid kind) should have delicious sex-making inside right?

Well really, I was working off some faulty experience. When I finally read Neuromancer, in order to prepare for writing a Cyberpunk story, things got pretty hot and steamy (and it wasn’t because of overclocked decks, you know). George R.R. Martin wowed the world with just how much character development he could pack into scenes full of characters making whoopsie together. I guess, and maybe it was because of the age of my favorite books, I underestimated the amount of sexytime across commonly consumed reading material.

Why is this important? Well sexytime came to my current Nano, and I really didn’t know what to do about it. Not that I couldn’t write it, but it felt like I was mixing work (some of the contract stories I have to write) and pleasure (Nano itself). I kept things relatively light, but the circumstance did most of the work. As much as I enjoy giving people fodder for new fetishes, it would have been awkward to describe a male hacker experiencing the sensations of a woman having sex with a guy that he hated. Plus I think i’m at risk of diminishing the character of my female lead, and that scene may have been the straw.

Unfortunately, for what she had to do next, she needed a little privacy, and a little time.

She went and sat on the edge of the desk, and went into her bag. Palming a small disc, she pulled out a tube of lipstick, and began to apply it. The guard didn’t falter, behind his shades, he kept a close eye on her every move.

With a check of her pad, she realized she was in the window for action. She put the lipstick away, and put her hands under her the slip of her dress. With an adjustment, she pulled her panties from underneath her dress, and removed them in one long motion.

“Think you can hold on to these for me?” She said to the guard, her knees kept just far enough apart.

He didn’t respond. He was good, and that worried her about the final stage of things. If he couldn’t be distracted, she hoped he wasn’t a good shot.

“Your loss,” She said with a smile, turning to put her panties in her bag, then moving the bag toward the rear of the desk. She leaned over the edge of the desk, and as she placed the bag in its new position, she slapped the small disc she had palmed onto the lip of the computer console seated there.

When she turned around, the man adjusted his head up from where her ass had been up in the air. Maybe he wasn’t as good as she thought.

Oh well, toned down went better than not at all. 

I’m nearly at 25,000 words, a few days ahead of schedule. There is still plenty of time for Ashleigh or Fuller to find themselves some hanky-panky, maybe even with each other (now that is lewdicrous).