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Category Archives: Ashlock

Ashlock

Ashlock does kung fu and keyboards; Tach does unspeakable things. They’re a pretty good team, when either of them can manage to string two true words together, and when neither of them is currently mad.

Not “mad” as in “angry,” “mad” as “insane.” Hacking the Nameless is sexy and profitable, but it carries distinct risks to the welfare of one’s mind. They’ll reach right up the cable and suck the light from your eyes, the Nameless, if they catch you poking around their secrets. They’ll show you things no mortal should see.

But Ashlock never could let a sleeping god lie.

Ashlock

This is the Flood. There’s a lot of expensive data in it, most of which you can’t read because of extremely large numbers. You could maybe figure the numbers out if you had more time than the lifespan of the universe.

These are the Nameless. They slumber in the deep. They dream of things lost and unknowable, of casual anathema, of alphabets whose mere numerals can erase your mind; they are quantum, though they cannot be quantified.

They dream of numbers from beyond time.

Do you see where this is going?

This is Ashlock. She’s terrified.

She really, really should be.

Ashlock

To hack the Nameless you need a Beowulf cluster, a circle in stone, two kilometers of copper wire and a serious disregard for your own safety. That’s just the basic setup, though, and in the last couple years Tach and Ashlock have kitted it out: inscriptions in slippery languages, a hotswap drive rack, staves and amulets and six monitors scrolling green on black.

All of it fails one night on a simple run for Kirrily’s money laundry. Ashlock loses a finger; Tach loses a year of his life. And in return, they get a number that wants to kill them both.

Ashlock

Tach’s iPod is smoking.

“It looks,” says their fence Celesque dryly, “a little too hot for me to move.”

“Hey, nobody’s coming after this one,” says Ashlock, which is technically true. “Just put out some feelers or whatever.”

“There are practically feelers coming out of that thing already,” says Celesque.

“It’s good math. Powerful. It’ll sell.”

“Then sell it yourself, sweetie.” Celesque shrugs. “I’m not touching it. If that’s what I think it is, do yourself a favor. Hit it with a hammer, toss it in a lake.”

But information, Ashlock knows to her dismay, can be neither created nor destroyed.

Ashlock

Phosporescent hexadecimal scrolls through Ashlock’s dreams.

When she wakes, the chronometer pulses 3:44. Cold water on her face, her boots, her jacket. She’s out pacing the mist-wreathed docks by a sliver of moon.

Nobody nice is out at this hour, but they don’t hassle Ashlock (she does kung fu). Down a wharf, she kicks splinters into jetsam.

This was an easy job: they should have come out with cash, not data. They’re lazy sometimes, arrogant, but not stupid.

Somebody dumbed it up for them.

Styrofoam hunks bob around the pylon, striped with broken barcodes. Hexadecimal teases Ashlock, just out of reach.

Tach

Tach started out as a scryptkiddie, pulling packaged cants off the flood for pranks and petty larceny. Before long he was tinkering with his own dead linguistics; vintage parchment isn’t cheap, so he took jobs off a slist of indeterminate legality.  That was where he met Ashlock.

Their shared spark wasn’t attraction:  it was ambition.  Two days later they’d burned their employer for fifty bills and walked away to scrounge copper for a hacking den.

Tach has no regrets, because dealing with the unspeakable screws with your memory.  Considering the circumstances, he’s wondering if it gives you a death wish too.

Ashlock

Ashlock clutches a vast mug of black coffee; Tach, a shot of very potent tea. Together they stare at the iPod, throbbing with nearly-visible menace.

“We could,” Ashlock begins.

“No,” says Tach.

“No one’s buying, we can’t throw it away–”

“I’m not putting that number in my head,” says Tach.

“Fine,” says Ashlock. “But somebody rigged that trap. It’s a curse, and it’s onto us but good.”

“So what? You want to return it?”

“That’s exactly what I want to do.”

“It’ll burn through our backups. We’ve got maybe two days.”

“This,” says Ashlock, “is why I always keep receipts.”

Ashlock

Kirrily’s money laundromat has no physical location, but her penthouse does.  They case it for hours before deciding it’s empty.  Tach does unspeakable things to the lock.

Inside it’s messily well-appointed, with a distinct shortage of blueprints marked “Screw Over Tach and Ashlock, Start Here.”  Tach peels a banana and starts gingerly sorting her trash; Ashlock looks for the office.

There’s a desktop PC in there, retro relic, a beautiful beige box with a bulbous VGA monitor.  Ashlock strokes it admiringly, then tries the keyboard.  One of its little legs collapses.  She flips it over.

“Adélie,” says the note stickied underneath.

Ashlock

It wasn’t ideal, but this is the last trip the icebreakers can make before the sea goes solid for winter.  They steam through the groaning water toward d’Urville, and muttering perturbs their Tasmanian crew.

Ashlock climbs down into the hold every few hours to check the trembling RAID and its car battery, lashed to a frame of PVC pipe.  Its lifespan diminishes.  Tach’s taken to whalespotting, and is no help.

The station ruins hove into view just as the sun begins to dip toward the twenty-hour night. Ashlock hoists the rig, and quells fears too old for the Greeks to name.

Ashlock

Tach catches Ashlock looking at his temples and pulls up the hood of his parka.

The captain of the Matthew Henson is tall and rightly suspicious. “You’re the investigators, you investigate,” he says. “Any supplies you need, we’ll run them down the plank and that’s that. None of my crew are setting foot on that ice.”

That’s fine by Ashlock: their cover would fold under scrutiny anyway. They hoist packs and drag the RAID-sled down to the broken road, and Dumont d’Urville rises cyclopean before them. The lights are still on, but no one’s waving. Katabatic wind burns Ashlock’s nose.

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