I hate press releases -- management/marketing babble on expensive letterhead. I look over the top of the top of the page -- where the hell are the interns who should be reading these? They had better be running for coffee.
Back to business. Where was I?
"AUGUST 7, 2025 -- The Pannalax Corporation today announced the hiring of research scientists Johan Thorsdottir and Heikki Finlayson. Company officials said the two will immediately assume management of Woof, Pannalax's code name for a specialized intrusion countermeasure scheme.
'We are delighted to have human resources such as Thorsdottir and Finlayson as part of the Pannalax family,' said Pannalax chief operating officer James Witt. 'As Pannalax drives cybernetics into a new paradigm for the 22nd century and beyond, it is people who are the value-added mode...' "
What bull guano, but that's what James Witt is paid for -- slinging the bull guano. Hmm. James Witt. Jim Witt. Dimwit. I laugh at my own joke, then clear my throat before answering the phone.
"Ice and Data. John ..." I say, but before I can finish identifying myself, the caller interrupts.
"That's 'Edlin,' " I say, correcting him. It's karma -- call the Pannalax COO "dimwit" for the millionth time in his life, and the next person you talk to makes fun of your name, too. At least it's cool. And appropriate.
Bleys doesn't repent. "Deadline, how are ya?"
"Very well, Bleys. How are you?" I smile. I can't help it. I like the kid.
"I'm great, man. Hey, I'm puzzled about something. Figured you might have a clue." Bleys doesn't sound puzzled. I can't imagine him confounded by anything, in fact.
"Nah, not over the phone. I'm at the Silicon Saloon -- come on down for lunch, or a belt."
Blecch. "Bleys, you know I hate that place. The hamburgers are ground schlaghund."
He laughs, then cajoles.. "C'mon," he says, stretching the "o". "I'll buy."
"Deal," I say abruptly, checking my watch. "One hour from now?"
"One hour it is. I'll be playing the holovid machine."
In 30 minutes I'm still reading the Pannalax press release, and my eyes are still glazing over. What happens to journalists who turn to public relations, anyway? I fold up the PR flack and tuck it into a jacket pocket -- gee, I hope I don't lose it.
In 30 more minutes, I find Bleys shaking the hell out of a holovid pinball machine. My grandfather said that digitizing pinball games was the stupidest technological advance he'd ever seen. Granddad said you might replicate the bells and the whistles, and maybe even the quirky spins and bounces, but he said nothing felt exactly like "becoming one with the machine." I don't know, Granddad, kids today are more than "one with the machine" -- one dedicated response team tilts you and it's game over.
I'm at the bar nursing a scotch when Bleys walks over. "It's five o'clock somewhere," he says on my behalf. In most cases, I can tell a Lucidrine-addled netrunner that he's calling the kettle black, but not Bleys.
"Yes, it is," I say, offering a hand.
His handshake is firm and his smile is genuine. He flips a few credits on the bar for the scotch. "C'mon, Deadline, our table awaits," he says.
Bleys orders a cheeseburger and I try not to make a face. I ask for a side of toast. We smalltalk until the food arrives, and Bleys gets down to business.
"So," Bleys says between bites, "I know this corporation ices its headquarter data forts with a static wall, so I load a couple of wallbreaking programs into my deck..."
I nod, slowly nibbling toast.
His eyes widen as he goes on. "But *nothing* I threw at that wall brought it down. I tell ya, Deadline, I was on the ground, clawing up dirt to throw at that thing."
"Wasn't a static wall," I say, without much thought.
"Code gate," I say. "Some corporations have been putting these code gates in front of all their ice. It somehow manifests itself at every level of security." I shrug. "I didn't know it would *look* like the other ice, though. Where was it?"
"Pannalax headquarters," he replies.
"Pannalax?" I reach into my jacket pocket, reach for the press release, and spin it across the table.
Bleys reads it, chuckling. "Thorsdottir and Finlayson? Those suits are from the Skalderviken test site -- they're major players in black ice, Deadline, *major* players. A couple of my friends have had their brains wiped by their work."
"Naturally Pannalax has tightened security," I say, referring to that code gate.
Bleys rubs his chin. He stands from the table quickly, leaving several bites of burger behind, and reaches for his wallet. "Have to run, John. Thanks, man."
I hold up a hand to stop him. "I'll get the check."
He smiles. "I'll get the next one. Later," he says, and he's gone.
Back at the office, I'm fighting through a wall of my own -- Pannalax COO James Witt's secretary. "Yes, ma'am, 10 minutes maximum... No, just a few questions... 4:50 p.m.? Mr. Witt will still be in the office that late? ... No, ma'am, no offense meant. ... Yes, 4:50 will be fine ... Thank you. Good day."
At 4:50 p.m. in Witt's office, he's playing with an executive stress toy. When I walked in at 4:48, he was pulling on his coat. He looks at me with sad eyes. "I'm sorry, Mr. Edlin, what was your question?"
I scratch "moron" into my notebook. "Pannalax has just hired two scientists who are prominent in the field of intrusion countermeasures, especially in the development of brain-damaging 'black ice.' How do you respond to critics who claim that black ice is unnecessarily dangerous to..."
His intercom buzzes -- I'm sure he's glad for the interruption. Witt pushes the intercom button. "Miss Otten, I'm in a meeting," he says. If you say so, I think.
"Twenty-two blue," the voice comes from the intercom.
Witt swears, snapping off the intercom. He apparently forgets I'm seated in his office -- he swivels in his chair and remotely launches a bank of surveillance monitors. The monitors are cleverly concealed inside a well-stocked liquor cabinet.
Witt is muttering as he watches the monitors. I don't see a thing. "All quiet on the western front?" I offer.
Witt barely turns his head. "Finance pipe," he says. "Intruder wasn't after our data, only credits. Stupid fool would've been safer holding up a liquor store."
"Ah..." I say, actually agreeing with him. That is, unless the runner was actually getting ready for something bigger.
The intercom buzzes again, and this time I can hear a siren wailing in the distance. Witt jerks to the sound, pounding the intercom on. "What is it," he snaps.
"S-sir, this is Hansen, Dr. Thorsdottir's assistant. We have a code..." It's obvious Hansen is looking up the right bit of corporate mumbojumbo in a notebook. "C-code 4 green in s-sector 89A --"
Witt hangs up on him, and angrily punches buttons on his remote control. I think it's awfully sporting of him to let me hang around.
Nothing quite looks like a netspace grid. Everything's black, unless it delineates the netspace in color and geometry. This must be sector 89A, and that big pyramid surrounded by the laser wire must be one hell of an important data fort.
Good lord, look at those watchdogs. Enormous and muscular mastiffs with spiked collars. They're napping, but they even look vicious in repose. Hey, what the hell is that? It's a ... it's a kitten.
Witt isn't a cat lover. He's on the phone in a hurry. "This is Witt. Sector 89A. I don't *care* if you already know. Get the dogs *up*," he snarls.
I'm listening to Witt and watching the kitten. The kitten is sniffing at the laser wire. It steps back a pace, measures its leap, and skillfully jumps over the bottom laser. Pretty strong hop for a baby. Witt is demeaning some poor underling who probably has no control over the watchdogs.
The kitten is calmly walking through a field of huge blue dogs. Cats have a great walk -- both right legs, then both left. I lean forward in my seat -- the kitten is climbing to the top of one of the dogs' heads and, uh, dancing?
He's *taunting* them. It's Bleys.
Don't laugh, Edlin. Do *not* laugh. I swallow hard, and hide my face behind my notebook. Witt is still snarling at the subordinate.
Stifling a giggle, I look back at the monitor to see the kitten stroll left-left-right-right into the data fort and stroll back out in a moment. The mastiffs snooze through the whole episode while Witt is foaming like, well, a dog. He doesn't notice me leave his office grinning.
The next day I'm writing a story quite contrary to Pannalax's earlier press release:
"AUGUST 9, 2025 -- Citing a unexpected loss for this quarter, a spokesperson for Pannalax Corporation said the corporation would postpone development of its 'Woof' intrusion countermeasure scheme indefinitely..."
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