The Girl in the Web

She slunk through the murky, neon street where shadowy forms hid. Wary eyes flickered in her direction as she passed; scared prey watching a predator pass at a safe distance. This was a dangerous city and a dangerous planet. It was dangerous out there and people died here all the time.

Her coat hid her bigger modifications, as little of her birth body truly remained. Or, at least she thought so. She no longer claimed those memories as her own; the life before this life seemed a distant, foreign thing floating in someone else’s memories and she spent no time dwelling on this.

Pulling added power from her body mods, the web-enabled Conduit implanted in her mind scanned the shadows around her. She felt and processed the entities and portions of the Web present around her: various digital vagrants, an illegal bandwidth trader from the neighbouring moon, a bio-smuggler carrying his wares in his chest, an undercover low-level BWeP agent–perhaps stalking one of those two?–and a range of less interesting Conduits and the usual mix of code-addicts, prostitutes and hustlers.

No threats, she thought as she kept moving, area secure, she kept the dialogue going, perhaps reporting to herself, moving into position. She felt comfortable with her reports.

She turned smoothly into a narrow doorway with a red, flickering sign above it announcing ‘girls, girls, girls‘ and, immediately, she was assaulted by neuro-advertizing that tried to push into her Conduit’s audio-visual channels. This sort of neuro-advertizing was banned on most civilized planets but this was a dangerous place.

Luckily, she had a unique Conduit…

Her own, personal high-level Artificial Intelligence–AI–that inhabited her Conduit overrode the advertising, blocked it and used the same channels to hack back into their IP addresses. This opened up the bar’s internal feeds to her Conduit and she could now see all its cameras and sensors as if they were her own vision. Cameras were covering the bar, the tables to the side, and one recording the poker game in the corner while feeding the hustler hired by the bar the others’ cards. He was about to win another hand. There were cameras showing drinks being poured, illegal codes being downloaded at tables and, in a room above the bar, a feed recorded the sexbot and the man in the backroom, probably for blackmail purposes.

She sat down at the edge of the bar nearest the door and pointed at a bottle of bourbon on the shelf. As the automated barman whizzed into action, her AI smoothly hacked it, injecting an anonymous artificial payment receipt and wiping its recording of her at the same time. She cast her Slow Eyes across the dingy room as she zoomed her Quick Eyes into the feed from the Asian-model sexbot in the room above and the heaving man.

It was not their activity that interested her but the top-right corner of the camera feed that peered out from the room’s window. The angle gave it a fantastic vantage point of the street she had just left; in position, she reported to herself and her AI cropped and zoomed into the feed, clarifying the pixelation into a crystal-clear image of a forgettable man in plain clothes walking towards to them in the street they had just left. The only thing that hinted at some significance was the Forgettable Man’s wary, darting eyes and the tense forearm muscles on the arm that ended with his hand in his pocket. A pocket roughly the right size for a small, untraceable firearm to be hidden.

Target inbound, she reported and her AI swept outside, superimposing the scans being performed by the Forgettable Man’s own AI onto the camera’s live feed in her mind. The Forgettable Man–or, at least, his AI–was currently sweeping the street and had not considered sweeping cameras outside of the street that may be capturing the street. A predator watching its prey. Target unaware, she reported and smiled, or did her AI smile? Sometimes she thought of them as one and the same. Maybe they were one and the same? A predator…

The bourbon burnt her mouth as it went down and the glass was cold in her hand. She looked down at them and blinked; sometimes the Slow World was jarring and she forgot it existed. She missed her father; he had drunk bourbon before he had died and she had moved to the city. Which city had it been again? Why had she needed the AI? She blinked again and took another sip. That was a strange memory to remember. Was it hers?

It was dangerous out there and people died all the time.

She felt the AI embedded in her Conduit nudge her thoughts back to the present. It was very goal-orientated; she was very goal-orientated. Back to the Quick World, she shifted her focus and watched the Forgettable Man walking steadily closer. His AI kept sweeping the area in scan after scan… Closer. Her hand slipped inside herself–a bio-pocket in her leg–and her forearm began tensing.


And then the Forgettable Man passed by the front door of the bar, its red neon sign bathing him in its hellish glow. Prey caught in the headlights. His gaze shifted from the street to inside the bar, and their eyes locked. No scans could hide that but it was too late.


The untraceable gun in her hand had gone off and the hollow-tip bullet pierced the Forgettable Man’s brain, exploding upon entry and blasting his Conduit–at the base of his brain and neck–into a thousand broken pieces out the back of his skull. The Forgettable Man was dead. More importantly, the competing AI he carried had died with him. There would be backups, but this copy–the primary copy–was now terminated and she would keep hunting down the competitors’ various, lesser, backups.

Target eliminated, she reported, sliding her gun back into her bio-pouch. Her leg clicked shut. Her AI was already kicking into overdrive–pulling added bandwidth and power from her limbs and nuclear heart–wiping all feeds around them, in the bar, its customers and out in the street. She cleared all nearby Conduits of the last five seconds of memory, and then predatorily slunk back into her shadows. Digitally, she had never been there, and digital was all that mattered these days.

Someone out in the street screamed as a bloody, headless corpse appeared at their feet and everyone suddenly realized there was a body there. The prey was scattering and scared, unsure where the predator had struck from. Police would be confused by the gaps in all the surrounding feeds and the lack of witnesses but it was dangerous out there and people died all the time.

She smiled and took a sip of her bourbon, and remembered the smell of the old ranch in the hazy afternoon heat as insects buzzed loudly around her. Blue sky and dust. Who was the predator and who was the prey? She had had a brother. Byzantine Minor, she suddenly thought, I was born on dusty old Byzantine Minor in the Outer Planets, and my name is? Is? Is…

And then the AI in her Conduit soothed her. It was her and she was it. The half-smile melted from her face as it slipped back to a neutral expression. She stopped tasting her bourbon. She stopped remembering her late father’s old ranch. She stopped remembering her late brother. She stopped remembering completely, and her consciousness slunk back into the safe shadows of her mind; prey watching a predator pass at a safe distance.

It was dangerous out there and people died all the time.