About a year ago in a drug fueled haze (I was fresh from the ER and on a cocktail of painkillers and muscle relaxants) I wrote the rough draft of a short story about live streamed VR assassinations in a 4 hour span while listening to the Transformers animated movie soundtrack on loop. I was really high. Like holy shit high. High enough that my usual procrastination and tendency to over think things never kicked in. It was a very cool, very liberating experience for me to just sit and finish a story. I gathered a crew of beta readers, got it edited, and even submitted it for publication.

So, of course, this is where my fundamental fuck up comes into play. See I am quite familiar with copyright law and fair usage laws concerning movies and books and the like. However I am quite a bit fuzzier when it comes to music copyright laws and fair usage of materials covered by it. This lack of knowledge combined with my eagerness to finally accomplish something with my writing led to a single mistake that makes my story unpublishable.

You can’t publish a story with lyrics in it without licensing the song. Well fuck me sideways. That’s kind of a bitch. One that I have been mulling over since it came to my attention relatively recently. Considering ways to change the story to make it work but I ultimately came to a conclusion. That I would have to replace the song with one of my own or do a massive re-write to replace the song element completely. I may do the last some day but I have no ability for the first. I have no musical ability in any sphere. Till I decide to re-write it one day I am just going to share it in it’s current version here. Maybe my few readers will get some enjoyment out of it.

 

Code Black

 

LAUNCH STREAM.

Reality lagged as a thousand net connections hit my feed bogged down by the audience syncing with my sensory output. Seeing what I saw. Feeling what I felt. Eager to experience the world through the cutting edge of black ops cyberware – and more joined them with every passing second. Channel regulars and backers mixed with a crowd of curious random onlookers. Terabytes of information burning across the net accompanied by the prattle of a couple thousand stream junkies. It was like being plugged into a cesspool of colorful curses, memes, and porn.

After a moment my mods jacked into the feed. Jace turned off the noise on my end as he took over the chat. Arcee activated the slave server and shunted the syncing for the masses to it. Hunter ran the standard security protocols – sweeping for narcs, rivals, and viruses. Between the three, the roar in my head became a faint background buzz and my senses stabilized.

“Sorry about the delay, DMH. Shiwikara Corp tried to blackball the feed,” Jace said, synthesized voice dripping disgust. “Took a second to scrape the shit from our boots.”

Hunter snorted. “You’d think they’d know better than to toss that bullshit at us after we burned through their corporate walls last month.”

“Fucking digital crossing guards pretending to be security specialists,” Arcee cursed in soft feminine tones.

“Going female this week, Arcee? I thought you were done with binary genders till at least January.” The tease came automatically as I double checked my set up.

“Just up top, love. Going futa this month,” she corrected me. “How’s the sync on your end?”

“Feed’s good.” I said rolling my neck in a reflex left over from when my neck was flesh and bone rather than metal. “We ready to get this show started?”

“Green light from me. Chat is lively. People are antsy for this one.”

“Crowd is cleared, DMH.”

“Feed is strong. Turning your mike on… now.”

“Welcome to Code Black, ladies and gentlemen,” I said to an empty room, but was heard by six thousand three hundred and twenty one (and counting) viewers scattered across the Darknet. “As always, you put up the money, you picked the target, and we provide the action. Today’s target is Roger Hammish, CEO of Eizenhertz PMC. You may have heard about their recent ‘collateral damage’ incident when they hit Addis Ababa with enough force that God felt it. Well, thanks to our generous backers, today Hammish and Eizenhertz get hit.”

“Arcee?” I set my speakers up to provide only the finest of musical accompaniment. “Give me a beat. Something classical. Stan Bush’s ‘Dare’ 1986.”

“Classical? That’s ancient,” she laughed. “Coming up.”

Sometimes when your hopes have all been shattered.

The background drone was drowned by the power of classic American hair metal, back before vocal augmentation and direct sound manipulation replaced actual skill and talent. A time before cybernetics made the human body obsolete. Back when governments at least pretended that corporations didn’t run things.

And there’s nowhere to run.

I started the countdown, prepping the chassis for high performance. Biomechanical muscle strands shifted and increased the flow of cushioning fluid. Nootopic drugs filtered into my wetwork CPU dialing my brain up to 100, helping soggy brain matter keep up with the thousands of calculations running through the combat sleeve.

You wonder how you keep going (going). Think of all the things that really mattered.

 The VR framework that turned cold mechanical information into sensation upped the sensitivity. The empty office was suddenly more real than real, high definition reality being pumped directly into my sensory cortex. Cracked stucco… faux wood floors creaking beneath the weight of the chassis… sluggish breeze from a half-dead AC unit… and a pro’s stock of armament hanging off of the tactical harness directly attached to my frame.

And the chances you‘ve earned. The fire in your heart is growing (growing).

 I slipped a chaff grenade from the harness and primed it with a flick of my thumb faster than a hummingbird’s wings. Seconds to detonation. Not enough time for a flesh and blood human to clear the office. All the time in the world for me. For what I had become – and for what nine thousand backers had paid to experience being.

You can fly, if you try, leaving the past behind. Heaven only knows what you might find!

 The words echoed as I exploded into motion, speeding through the office door and down an empty hallway. I covered thirty yards in the blink of an eye. A window loomed large in my vision showing only bright sunlight, the Eizenhertz Johannesburg office across the way, and a fifty-three story drop between us. I hit the window doing 356 kph.

Dare!

The window shattered into a glittering cloud three-sevenths of a second before quantum computed reflexes whipped carbon nanotube limbs forward, chucking the chaff grenade ahead of me. Wind whipped and howled. I was fifty stories up and gravity couldn’t touch me at this speed. Chaff burst into a spray of silver metallic flakes, spamming foe recognition signals across a dozen different channels blinding me, and the defense drones fired from the office building. But I didn’t need to see where I was going with physics playing guide.

Dare to believe you can survive!

The forty-seventh floors eastern office exploded inward as I plowed through it, rolling with the impact and coming up running. Everything was fluid, metal limbs moving like liquid. Program, training, and hardware came together in a single violent instrument, my SS-73 “Doorknocker” in my hand, barrel leading the way.

Dare!

 Eizenhertz security met me at the office door – or what was left of it after I hit it. Three big black cyborgs built like the bastard love child of a knight and a gaming console with serious compensation in their hands. EU Urban Assault Borgs with Tankbuster shotguns. They might as well have used toasters for security.

Dare to keep all your dreams alive!

The Doorknocker roared beheading the first guard in a cloud of carbon shrapnel and flash-grilled meat. A shotgun swung my way, but I had all day to respond. I dipped my shoulder beneath the barrel and forced it up, trapping it between me and knightbot number two. A free hand, an extended leg, and a basic knowledge of physics sent him tumbling into the line of fire of number three. The Tankbuster shredded him in two shots. By the third shot I had tackled the shooter, rolled him, landed in full mount, and put a high explosive round through his faceplate.

It’s time to take a stand.

 The hallway was clear but alarms were blaring over every channel except for public services, nothing but internal security services. The interference from the chaff died and my sensory package kicked into high gear. Red and blue outlines overlaid my sight as foe recognition took over. Noncombatants lit in blue hid in offices lining the floor. A flesh and blood sec team in tactical gear and two UAs flared red as they exited the lift in the sector foyer.

And you can win, if you dare!

If I could have smiled in my chassis, I would have. I took off running, hit the rail overlooking the foyer, and leapt. The UAs had a single red-spectred moment of foe rec before I landed, but the sec teams only warning was of their own being crushed like a can of tomato juice and failed dreams beneath the weight of my frame. I came up firing. Both UAs were down before they could pull the trigger. The sec team followed without ever fully registering what was happening.

Everybody’s trying to break your spirit. Keeping you down.

I sang along with the music as I moved towards the lift carrying another sec team up towards me. The doors screeched when I ripped them open and saw the roof of the elevator car several stories below. I could almost hear the mounting excitement of the home audience as I pulled a demo charge from my harness, primed it, and dropped it down the shaft.

Seems like it’s been forever (ever), oh! But there’s another voice if you’ll just hear it.

The roar shook the building as the shaft became a chimney. A hundred sensors showed warping struts and broken cable lines. Foe rec showed the team flicker from red to gray and forty stories lower than they had been a moment ago. Surging audience numbers showed me the satisfaction of my viewers — current count 20,347.

Saying it’s the last round.

Sensors fanned out searching for the target. Intelligence had put him in a meeting on this floor but the sensors couldn’t find him. Pinged my mods. A multitude of feeds popped up as they used me to hack the buildings systems. A moment later they found Hammish… forty-seven stories below and being escorted towards the exit. Someone had tipped off Eizenhertz.

Looks like it’s now or never (never).

Schematics and pathing software showed me the quickest way down — a weakly guarded emergency stairwell, but I had a better idea.  I made it happen by barreling towards the reinforced glass of the buildings atrium. It took a single shot of the Doorknocker to bust the window. I reloaded the gun with reflexes assisted by military small arms combatives programs. I hit the break and sailed into open air.

Out of the darkness you stumble into the light. Fighting for the things you know are right!

A hundred sets of eyes watched me fall one hundred and forty-three meters while another twenty-two thousand felt me fall. Levels shot past me, rendered vividly by my hardware and then gone. If I had a heart it would have been pounding, but fear was a lifetime ago, years of pain and reconstruction ago. Now the visuals lit up the rapidly approaching floor in red as foe rec went off the charts. But among the red was a single silhouette of green. Target acquired.

Dare!

In less than a second I dropped my remaining bombs into the crowd below, not caring where they landed, moving too fast for them to react. I hurled each explosive like it was a cannonball. The lobby erupted into a haze of smoke and fire swallowing me whole.

Dare to believe you can survive!

I hit the ground rolling, only able to see red spectres through the hellscape I had created. Pain seared through the biomech augments in my legs, structural warnings turned into nerve impulses and fed into my brain. 450 kilos at forty-seven stories was way over the specced limits of the chassis. I had to keep moving while I still could, before the shock of my entrance wore off.

The power is there at your command!

I switched on my blinders and watched the sec teams start firing wildly into the haze as their foe rec went apeshit. Ignoring them I kept moving towards my target. Gunfire ripped through the smoke chipping away at my plating. The fall had damaged my ability to execute my evasive protocols leaving me with only my armor and the confusion to protect me. If I lost either they would shred my chassis in seconds no matter how cutting edge it was.

Dare!

One moment I was moving forward and the next, flying sideways with sensors screaming. The stream almost crashed when I kissed a plascrete pillar at high velocity. HD agony shot straight into my brain from a dozen different sources along with worried pings from my mod team. When I could make sense of the world I was crumpled at the base of the pillar. I felt like I had been fucked by a missile.

Dare to keep all your dreams alive!

Foe rec wasn’t showing anyone. I shut it down and went purely visual. A hulking, tac-black chassis like a tank was doing its best rhino impression as it charged through the chaos. I forced myself to move, rolling to the side before it could shatter me along with the pillar. Dust and fake stone joined the smoke and debris.

It’s time to take a stand.

Recognition flashed through: Mark VII Jin Woo Heavy Assault Borg. aka the Juggernaut. My Doorknocker was useless here, which was good because it wasn’t in my hand or its holder. The Mark VII’s sensory blinders blocked any targeting assistance. As it turned towards me, dust coating its semi-truck-wide shoulders, I slid my monoblade free of the mag sheath on my chest. I had to do this the hard way.

And you can win, if you dare!

I’m glad the music was confident because the Mark VII came fast. Fast as me in a straight line. Fists the size of a grown man led the way, trying to compensate for my agility with knuckles covered in reactive armor plates. As the metal scraped my chest with a horrendous screech, I could almost feel my audience having heart palpitations. I could sympathize but I couldn’t think about them. I couldn’t think about anything other than my target – who was getting farther away with every moment I wasted on the metal gorilla trying to peel me like a banana.

Dare!

 A plan came together in my head almost in response to the music’s command. Praying that my legs could handle the strain, I leapt into the air, balled up, and kicked off of the Mark VII’s fist when it hit the soles of my feet. I quickly discovered a new ability of my chassis: I could fly with the proper force. The controls were iffy though.

Dare to believe you can survive!

Hammish was green lit and directly in my line of fire. I saw his eyes widen when he turned – his mental augmentics strong enough to register my movement but not strong enough to get him out of the way – before we met a speed just below fucking psychotic. He burst like a piñata full of blood and poop. My sensors registered another coating of man puree for my effort.

You hold the future in your hand!

Six sec team members, two assistants, and one surprised doorman later, I erupted from the wrecked remnants of the Eizenhertz lobby. I learned to land the hard way and skipped off the concrete, hitting some corporate statuary. My sensors shrieked, half of them crashed or dead. My pain was distant as the framework struggled to do its job.

Dare! Dare to keep your dreams alive!

I could barely move. My systems were not responding, my frame was past any reasonable specced limits. No chassis was built to be a missile. My monoblade was still in my hand, having scraped a groove in the ground as I skidded to a stop. The speakers were somehow still crystal clear after all the chaos and abuse. The maker’s brand was noted.

The power is there at your command, oh!

I couldn’t bring myself to agree with the music as my foe rec flickered on, showing a dozen sec teams converging on my position. Another moment and they would have clear lines of sight – and a moment later I would be scrap with a criminal record. My blinder must have shorted during my brief career as a human javelin. Something big moved through the sec forces. Literally through them. Scattering them to the sides as it came forward. It took a few tenths of a second for my brain to register the Mark VII’s continued existence.

Dare! Dare to keep all your love alive!

I couldn’t fight it head on like this – no matter how pushy the music was. Too slow. Too damaged.  I wasn’t sure how many teams it would take to beat me, but I knew how many they were going to use – and what they were going to use to do it. Not that they would have to after the Mark VII turned me into a smear on its fists.

Dare to be all you can be!

I was out of bombs, out of guns, and running depressingly short of options. My eyes on the advancing black mass of the Mark VII I wracked my brain for any idea on how to pull this off. Even if I could get my blinders to work it would still follow – the thought process cut off midway as I took the monoblade to my own chestplate. It took less than a second for the blinder to be free and in my hand. The few sensors I had left told me what I needed to know: that the controls had shorted and not the blinder itself. A flick of my thumb maglocked it to the monoblade’s hilt.

Dare, there is a place where dreams survive!

Hoping that the song wasn’t lying to me, I chucked the knife forward as the Mark VII broke free of the smoke and I watched the blade bury into the tanks chest. That’s when we both learned valuable lessons. I learned that I should never doubt Stan Bush. The Mark VII learned that blinders on different frequencies don’t get along. My foe rec watched it turn from nothing to scarlet – to me and the sec teams.

And it’s calling you to victory!

 The Mark VII never knew what happened before the programmed reflexes of the sec teams opened fire on the foe in their midst. It was tough, but a dozen Tankbusters ripped into its armor. Through sheer accumulation of firepower it went down. By the time the Mark VII hit its knees I was safely in the back of the getaway car speeding away from the smoke and the fire.

 Dare, dare!

 The song ended and I said to the stream, “Thank you for joining us for the assassination of Roger Hammish. And thank you to all of the backers who made this possible! Without your support the Code Black stream wouldn’t exist. So until next time – watch the news and keep us in mind. DeadMansHand out!”

END STREAM.

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