The lobby of Klaxon Capital was like the inside of a palace built by a joint task force of elves, gardeners, and Hollywood set designers. A high octagonal prism tiled with rectangles of quartz , the transparent walls and ceilings provided a sense of weightlessness. A financial tower hewn of glass. It suggested, almost ham-fistedly, the notion that Klaxon championed transparency in all dealings. A categorically false notion, of course. The tower was a synergy of financial system rebranding and too much architecture schooling. Our man, Narwhal. The unicorn. That rarest of specimens; the banker-turned-anarchist.
The mission was simple. Intel collection. Infiltrate, pretend to be a prospective industrial espionage associate, and then spy on our ‘client’.
“Andy Cortez. This is my associate, Charlize Geist. We’re here to see Mr. Moynehan,” Spook offered the man at the front desk a hijacked identity, fine tuned to produce minimum discord when resonating through databases and background checks. Crisp blue suit, too light a blue to get in the door at a G-20 summit or a Goldman Sachs board meeting, and vaguely tantric-themed tattoos peeking from beneath the dull specularity of slate-grey cufflinks. Reformist-office attire. Microfinance chic. A celebutante Spook vaguely recognized from a popular gif-series was being walked out by a broker-dealer and an entourage of either security detail or backup dancers. Spook caught a snippet of conversation, some investment advice about going naked short Tokyo Nuclear Co and using the procedes to fund ecoterrorists blowing up fishing liners in the Antarctic.
“Yes, Mr. Cortez. Mr. Moynehan has been expecting you. Five minutes. Top floor.”
We climbed spiral staircases flanged with foliage. Hibiscus and silversword. Chandeliers of natural-variant tomatoes and trellises flowing with a bright pink strain of quinoa.
“That’s an agrobacterium-mediated transgenic. The only type resistant to the all-devouring scourge of vitaphage rust.” Mona commented. Our resident synthetic biologist and my wing-woman on our little venture. “It’s reserved for the private gardens of the rich who can afford the multi-billion dollar species-royalties.”
“So he likes to wave his status symbol flora around. Who can blame him, the renegade heir to the Ameribank empire. When Thanksgiving and Christmas is one big pissing match kept score with private tropical islands, you can’t leave the nest without a couple nasty character flaws.”
“He’s here to help us, Spook,” Mona said. “You’ve read the dossier. He leaked 8.7 million incriminating documents against Ameribank, proved they’d stolen 2.4 trillion from the American taxpayer through backdoor bailouts.”
“Yes. And he laughed all the way to his own Cayman-based slush fund, making billions betting against his father’s tanking stock. Just cause this wolf bit the alpha wolf doesn’t mean he’s going to take care of the sheep. Let’s not get foggy with mission creep: this guy is the target, not an ally.”
Spook punched the octagonal, beveled jewel with the number ‘50’ etched into it. The ovoid doors slid open like a sliced contact lens. So smooth was the acceleration up the skyscraper that there was no discernible g-force in the glass elevator, imparting on one the sense that they were becoming discarnate from Earthly existence, entering a shadowed spirit-plane of the agnotological; of distorted numbers, electrons, wonkery. Of a very old chess game in which the pawns consisted of retirement funds, the fortunes of princes, entire economies.
There were no room numbers, no indicators on this floor, but they knew the door belonging to the castle’s king by the quartet of RPLCNTs standing guard like humanoid gargoyles, their elastomer muscles sheathed in pigmented nanoplastic the color of human skin. Nearly impossible to distinguish from full-flesh Homo Sapiens, it was the inorganic stillness of their sentinel mode that gave them away.
“Replicants? No one said anything about them,” Mona froze up, halfway to the door. Spook grabbed her arm, gently. Keep walking.
The skinjobs drove a stalactite of ice through Spook’s spine. He’d had nightmares in District Ten, of the machine imposters burrowing their way into his Hex Gen cell, picking his comrades off one by one, stealing their faces like so many playing cards. Till he’d find himself with a close friend, turn to peer out a window, then the blade of retractable titanium would come bursting out of his sternum. On any other day, Spook would’ve looked away, obscured his visage with a hat, a mug of coffee, anything, and walked off diagonally till it was safe to run.
“It should be fine. Klaxon Capital is a rogue hedge fund. Not affiliated with Ameribank City, the US government, or its subcontractors. We shouldn’t be classified as a target to these units.” Spook said, unconsciously fingering the sleeve button switch wired to activate the 6G spectrum jammer behind his breast pocket. The incoming tide of adrenaline floated into his mind a memory of a leaked corporate QA review, a weakness of the RPLCNT Mk III,. A twitch of the left deltoid upon making the state change from ‘idle’ to ‘exterminate’. If Moynehan had turned on them, they’d soon find out.
The RPLCNTs human eyes flickered with internal light, no emotion disturbing their facial topography, no human warmth of acknowledgement. Just the meaningless ocular twitch of biometric scan, wirelessly authenticated in a Klaxon server, somewhere.
“Mr. Moynehan will see you now.”
The machines stepped aside in unison, windup toy soldiers.
The office was a smaller isomorph of the octagonal lobby. Minimalist futurescape muted by flourishes of personality. The eight walls here were semi-opaque e-frames, providing a kind of autobiographical photo essay. A snapshot of a black silhouette straddling the white peak of Everest, hands raised as if claiming the heavens. A statuesque pose on the cover of Forbes Magazine captioned, “The killer whale of Wall Street.” The same strong jaw, now emaciated, skeletal, burnt by sub-Saharan ozone-free sun. A thin hand, reaching to share a mongongo nut with a black child, twiglike legs, brittle as a bird’s, and the collapsed stomach telltale of hydra plague, strain H34B7. Born again billionaire, baptized in dust, reaching across an invisible line of New Apartheid, an economic boundary inscribed with shanty wood and designer glass. The images idyllic, cinematic; a stained glass iconography detailing a rogue, Old Money magnate’s self-mythology.
A series of matte-white, two foot rectangles levitated by unseen forces into a kind of staircase leading to a raised glass pad. On the pad sat a desk and chair that resembled an extraterrestrial observatory. An icosahedron of illuminated screens, incubated a pilot’s seat at the center. The angular sphere of screens slowly rotated around this center, a three hundred sixty degree planetarium. As Spook and Mona reached the top of the staircase, the sphere split open, each half like a giant receding eyelid. Then another concentric membrane within, peeling back. A Matroska doll. At the innermost layer, the child-god was revealed.
“Here you are! My friends!” A man clothed in brilliant yellow poured forth like the yolk of an egg. Long horse-like legs erecting him to an imposing, Norse height, the notched lapel sealing his Greenwich Village heritage. Sharp Slavic cheekbones and white tiger eyes, however, suggested an uneasy merger with Russian New Money, the Iron Curtain legacy shoved aside by the invisible hand of market forces. He had a white mane, slicked up and back, marbled black at the ends. Mistaken for highlights at a glance, on closer inspection, it was apparent that no dye was involved. The man’s hair was truly the color of ash, all the youth burnt out of him by the blast furnace of high finance and geopolitics. His tailored suit was opalescent, hues shifting in the light. The tailoring itself was equal parts Gordon Gekko, equal parts Morpheus. Skitzophrenic, yet typical; the egomaniacal pathology of the very entitled.
“Mr. Moynehan,” Spook took the hand, large but controlled. The other slapped him on the back, as if they’d been lacrosse friends in some Skull-And-Bones feeder high school, running into one another at a class reunion. This was their first meeting. Moynehan wrapped Mona up in a full hug that lasted a few seconds too long.
“’Mr. Moynehan’? Please! You wound me.”
“Just ‘Whal’ or ‘Wally’ will do. Narwhal is merely a marketing label dreamed up by my PR people to give journalists and the mediarati a spicy headline.”
“Whal, then. We were informed that you were interested in our product solutions.”
“Wow, straight to it, huh? Small talk going out of fashion in the Manhattan Plutoclave? I left my power suit in Cairo, forgive me.”
Spook paused, recalibrated his assessment of the Killer Whale of Wall Street. He’d done his homework, studied the Gregory Ilyich Moynehan II dossier down to the step-sister sick with Vitaphage rust contamination and the rumored penchant for Punjabi crunk music. But he’d filled in the personality pieces of the jigsaw with memories of the last trad-suit, the last Blue Blood Spook had known personally, which was his own father. His father, who couldn’t be bothered to make it to dinner, couldn’t be bothered to hear about a soccer match or a science project or anything other than the corporate tower he’d acquired in Shanghai. A father who uprooted the family every six months to accomadate his career and quench his boredom with the current mistress.
Important people didn’t listen to people of less importance, unless they needed something from you, and even then it was all pretend. But this sun-swaddled trillionaire wanted to chew the fat. The new data filtered its way through Spook’s mind, altering platonic models.
“I like what you’ve done with the place,” Spook said.
Moynehan nodded, loafer heels clinking against glass as he paced aimlessly.
“Thanks, I’m trying my best to gel with the Green-Altermodern building codes here in the SoMa Autonomous Zone,” Moynehan chuckled to himself, a sound resembling a huffing tomcat. He gazed out at the ivory towers of Aquarius Industries, the centerless toroid arcologies of Demetric Vertical Gardens, encircling arms tattoed with flowing runes of urban-indigenous culture. The optimism of Fenix Foundation’s jobless refugee camps, whose gleaming, self-sustaining capsules could easily be mistaken for a Martian colony, terraforming in-situ over the burnt-orange wasteland of economics-leveled San Francisco.
“You know I always wanted to be an architect. My mom used to joke that when I popped out of the womb, before I cried or opened my eyes, I fashioned my umbilical into a pyramid and sculpted a sphinx out of the afterbirth. I had every Lego set ever made. Literally. All the Star Wars, the vintage wooden ones from the 1940’s. My parents even had the Danish company itself custom design a full-scale replica of the Gugenheim, assembled with cranes. Even the Legos released only in China that featured an invasion of Zeroes and Japanese soldiers. And the retaliatory Japan sets featuring Chairman Mao with devil’s horns and surgeon’s gloves, removing the organs of political dissidents. That was before Syria, and the Greatest Depression of course.”
Narwhal stared out into the distance, beyond the luminous oasis of the SAZ, beyond the red and black mitigated inferno of San Francisco, the Great American Prison Factories that washed the horizon away in bloody smog, looked out at something only he could see.
“I never wanted this. Never wanted this. This… empire,” he shook his head at the window, shook his head at himself.
Mona approached, tentatively, “So now you have your dream. You built this room. You built this tower. You’ve taken your share of Ameribank’s money by force. You’ve got all the Lego pieces you could ever need. All you need to do is put the pieces together how you like. You don’t like this empire, then create something better.”
Moynehan chuckled, the sound filling the hollow space. “I admire your optimism.”
“But the truth, I’ve discovered, is that the world is not architecture. You can not simply draw up blueprints, gather a willing and passionate crew, and manifest your vision, girders to cement. No.
The truth is, the world is a warzone. It is chaos. All the finest masterworks crumble meaninglessly to rubble under the slings and arrows of reality. Darwin’s brilliant theory of evolution devolves into the abomination of Hitler’s eugenics. Marx’s egalitarian utopia is commandeered by Stalin, Pol Pot, fashioned into a dictatorial, homicidal dystopia. The harmonious clockwork of Smith’s free markets produces a plutocracy that destroys all democracy, destroys our planet, and ironically turns even those free markets into manipulated, distorted, controlled markets, markets whose participants are no longer free to pursue ration self-interest, but are instead slaves, shackled to chains of debt. The blueprints, the ideological armatures twist and fray, and you forget what you were building, why you are fighting. You make up new reasons to justify what you do. You become addicted to the taste of blood; at first the enemy’s, but then it doesn’t matter whose blood it is.”
“And is that all you’re after, the taste of blood?” Spook asked. Moynehan turned, long stubble-shadowed jawline nondescript. With a precisely angled wave of his hand, Moynehan’s personal Via Dolorosa vanished from the eight wall-screens, replaced with a ring of television blizzard, then silent blackness.
“Why don’t you tell me about this business of yours, Andy.” His gaze narrowed, the sky-blue windows of the magnate’s eyes darkened closed. Spook felt the beginnings of the business end of Moynehan’s personality, forged obsidian-sharp with the blood and entrails and hemoraged capital of a thousand vanquished competitors. Doctor Morpheus giving the stage to Mr. Gekko. Spook had to steel himself not to be rattled.
“Well, as you know, Zero Hour is a tech security consultancy. We’ve provided solutions to dozens of law enforcement agencies, private entities, and governments, among them the United States and the Chinese.” Spook now had the e-pamphlet of the real Zero Hour rendered in the upper right quadrant of his vision, and scrambled to pull up the hacked company data before Moynehan drilled down to the sixty four thousand dollar questions.
“Well, well, well. So you’re supplying Big Brother machines to the NSA? Since you’re still standing and I see your preferred shares are up 21.4% seasonally adjusted, I take it you survived the mass-crucifixion fallout of that whole Dresden affair. I’d like to know how you managed that.” Moynehan was already quietly racing through a background check. Probably an iris-mounted Oracle interface, maybe something cranial. Some military tech that wasn’t supposed to exist. Nanoseconds counted in a game of cyber-augmented wits. And Spook would have to be at his A-game, now.
“The ‘whistleblower’ was a major blow to the global spy apparatus the G11 were setting up in Utah. However we hired a competent reputation-control firm to erase all evidence of Zero Hour’s participation in illegal spying. Through our DC connections we had all leads wiped,” Spook just barely managed to excavate the email between the CEO and CFO of Zero Hour that detailed the cover up.
“I heard you had a few Bradley Mannings in your own organization. Escaped to Venezuela on a Mexican scramjet, as I recall from my golfing buddy at DARPA. I’m already fighting a PR war on two fronts against Ameribank and Goldmanne, who’re attempting to pin the Smash Crash on me. The CFTC and SEC are on the megabanks’ take breathing down my neck with a mile-long litany of securities fraud allegations. I can’t afford to bring any more suspicious contraband on my ship, you understand.”
“We had a few mid-tier employees who attempted to contact The Guardian and expose us, yes. However, we got to the Guardian editor’s family.”
“I see. And the rogue Zero Hour admins that fled to Greece?” Moynehan mentioned offhandedly, as if asking for clarification on a briefcase drop location in a done-deal. The question snuck up on Spook, sunk its fangs into the back of his neck.
Rogue admins? What rogue admins? Spook’s could feel his blood pressure exploding in his veins, felt his heartbeat in his eyeball as he scoured his meatware memory and his ‘ambient’ memory stored out in the Stormcloud darknet. As text and images splashed and rained across Spook’s pupils, he could see the first inklings of distrust forming like dark clouds on Moynehan’s forehead. Every split second increased the probability of failure exponentially. The specter of the four death machines just outside the door brewed in Spook’s head, then he shoved the dark cloud out of the way. There was no time for fear.
Moynehan began to turn, heading back to his sphere. Whispered something into a microphone somewhere on or in himself. If Spook couldn’t conjure the answer, he would surely perish as in his dream, slumping over the blade of a manikin death machine, his last vision that of his own heart beating at the tip like a cocktail meatball.
Then he saw the words in his Oracles, in his eyes’ mind, drifing behind the dense legalese of a fraudulent tax document and the socially graphed faces of a dozen energy, military, and prison corporation CEOs. A corporate memo addressing high-level management and two US senators. Rolling his right index finger along a pad of electric cilia in his pocket, Spook nosedived into the words, pulling the information like a child from a flaming building.
“Our people at the CIA eliminated the whistleblowers who’d fled to Greece using provacateurs in the Greek Nazi party. The far-right extremists lynched the whistleblowers along with the a dozen other immigrants in Syntagma Square, one of the ‘Clean Greece Of Foreign Filth’ rallies. There’s no way to trace it back to us.”
Moynehan stopped in his tracks, looked back over his shoulder. “I see. Why the hesitation?”
“We’ve not yet signed on to any deal with you. This information is potential blackmail material. We don’t give it out lightly. But we feel Klaxon Capital is worth this show of trust.”
Moynehan’s bright eyes flickered between Mona and Spook, processing probabilities. Assessing risk.
Then he smiled.
“Yes, I may be in need of your services after all, friends. Let’s see the product.”
Mona reached into the sterling crescent of leather serving as a handbag, another prop in her executive suitskirt costume. A prop like the Faradata dongle, an EM-shielded quantum-encrypted drive, that she extracted from the bag. She passed it to Moynehan.
“Schematics and locations of the high-frequency trading server farms of Klaxon’s competitors.”
He accepted it, peeling back a flap on his polished cufflink, exposing a hole outlined with silver. Moynehan inserted the flat black rectangle into the port, as if injecting some new and prohibitively expensive narcotic into his ulnar artery. The seconds dripped by as his irises fluttered in waking REM. The data was fabricated, of course, wouldn’t hold up if Moynehan decided to actually attack his rivals. But it was never meant as actionable industrial intelligence. If the world was a warzone, then the little thumb drive of blueprints was a Trojan Horse. It was designed to infect Klaxon with a million tiny cameras, a million eyes moving at the speed of light throughout the digital rooms and corridors of the hedge fund’s servers.
“Beautiful. You’re the real deal.” Moynehan said, finally, having inspected the data to his satisfaction. Spook exhaled a heavy sigh of relief. A sigh of success. Hex Gen would be able to remotely monitor the flux of incoming and outgoing transactions made by the quasi-bank entity. Like a swarm of barometric sensors released into a category five tornado, distilling the shape, the governing principles of the black weather that was the financial system.
“There’s just one last thing. A little mandatory non-disclosure agreement of sorts. No free marketer can escape some obligatory modicum of red tape,” Moynehan said, gesturing toward the doors through which Spook and Mona arrived.
The heavy double doors parted, and in poured the Royal Guard of RPLCNTs, along with a backup phalanx of another dozen flesh-faced Tin Men, fanning out in a semi-circle around Spook and Mona. The robo-death squad extended their arms in unison in a dark mockery of a Catholic blessing, their wrists wrenching an unnatural 180 degrees to reveal carpal tunnel gun barrels. Spook’s stomach lept up, grabbed his heart, pulled it down into his rectum.
Moynehan had played their play. Was it the lag during Spook’s cross-examination that blew his cover? Had the Killer Whale of Wall Street run Mona’s counterfeit schematics through the wash already? Spook couldn’t say. All that was certain was either Spook and Mona were going down or diplomacy was about to continue by other means. Spook didn’t feel like going down.
“Well, Whal, I think you’re right about free markets. Except, besides plutocracies, they produce one other thing: revolt.”
Spook reached into his breast pocket, triggering the failsafe.
The 6G signal jammer went off, silently wiping out the control signal to the RPLCNTs, who went berserk, twitching like the legs of partially-crushed insects. The humanoids clattered to the floor like tipped wind-up toys.
Mona pulled a cylinder of nuclear-red lip gloss from her handbag, twisting the cover a half-turn and lobbing it at Moynehan’s face in one fluid motion. The prop flashed, banged, sending the meat antagonist sprawling.
Spook leveled a Desert Eagle of sanded black plastic at the forehead of the nearest glitching robosoldier, forearm blades extended, thrusting uncontrollable and dangerous. The magnum round blew fragments of the android’s cranial silicon out of a fist-sized exit wound, the momentum sending the humanoid back through the doorway and bursting through a railing, to plummet several floors. The acrid reek of melting PVC tarnished the air. Spook checked the barrel, no fractures. The 3D printed Deagle would be good for at least another dozen rounds
“Time to go,” Spook grabbed Mona’s arm, kicking the next nearest RPLCNT out of the way and pulling her into the hallway.
They made it halfway to the elevator, when seamless panels in the milky quartz of the floor parted like tears in reality. A ring of automated fifty caliber sentries popped up like daisies. The jammer was useless; the floor-mounted M2 machine guns were hardwired to Klaxon’s defense matrix. Spook and Mona froze, letting their weapons rattle to the ground, turning slowly.
Moynehan rubbed his eyes, the blues tearing up red from Mona’s lipstick flashbang. He lifted his hand to his mouth, bit a hangnail from his thumb.
“I like you group. I really do,” Moynehan began, returning to that frighteningly jovial tone. The tone of an autistic, ten-year-old hermit, shelled in a forty year old’s body, still looking for a friend.
“You probably don’t believe me, but I’ve always felt a part of Hex Gen, even when I was betting on the bankruptcy of a dozen US cities, then engineering their collapse, at Ameribank. I’ve always been a hacktivist, in my heart of hearts.”
A rhythmic thunder rolled up from the hallways as Moynehan staggered over to retrieve the plastic pistol and the signal jammer.
“How did you know? What gave it away?” Spook asked, hands still raised. He ran through the torture resistance exercises in his head, steeling himself for what was surely to come.
“As I said, the world is war, but of course everyone is fighting along their own axes, their own binary constructs. System versus the revolution, rich vs poor, colonists versus the colonized, American versus illegal, brown versus white, or just plain bellum omnium contra omnes. But I believe the war you’re fighting. I believe you have the requisite skill,” Moynehan said, holding up the signal jammer, appraising it as though examining fruit at a market, looking particularly satisfied with the specimen. He ignored Spook’s inquiries, continuing, “although perhaps your strategy could be tweaked, if you’re open to input, Mr. Cortez. Or should I say, Silver Spook.”
How could Moynehan have nailed him to his Hex Gen alias? They’d only just met, there was no way Moynehan would’ve had time to sort it out. Unless…
Unless Moynehan had known they were Hex Gen members before they’d even entered the building.
The thunder became distinct, rhythmic. A flash flood of meat-soldiers augmented with exoskeletal suits and tactical gear gushed like an oil slick through the doors, surrounding Spook and Mona. A couple techs peeled off from the squad to troubleshoot the fallen RPLCNTs.
“You knew we were Hex Gen the whole time," Spook said.
"Yes," Moynehan said. One of his human guards approached, a lieutenant from the inverted chevron pinned to his chest. He spoke to his employer from somewhere beneath a visor of faceless black glass. Moynehan waved the man away.
"But we contacted you of our own volition. We decided we needed intel, needed to infiltrate a Pluto Enclave."
"And perhaps a thousand sock puppet bots in my employ all up-voted Klaxon as the target."
"So you led us for what?"
"I led you here because I need your help." Moynehan studies
So you want us to help you? Is that it? You know you could’ve just asked nicely for a meeting rather than having us engage in all-out combat with your private machine army you've got here.” Spook said.
“No, I had to be certain. As my father used to say, ‘Only when a man has skin in the game can you see his true face.’ Anyone could claim to be the flesh avatar of an anonymous alias. But your degree of resourcefulness, skill, and commitment to your cause cannot be faked.” Moynehan said.
"Every battlefield is a mountain of tax-free profit to be capitalized on."
The ceiling began to part, tessellated skylight blooming like a glass tulip. An upward zephyr sucked the wind up, and the temperature dropped several degrees. An exospheric aircraft descended through the shaft of Moynehan’s now roofless lair, obviously meant for near-space transit as evidenced by the tapered, dart-like silhouette. It was the size of an archangel drone and the shape of a scramjet, perhaps a surplus Pentagon stealth-nuker or something more esoteric. Its wings and tail locked into place at three anchor points in the metal studs protruding from the walls, the craft landing a dozen feet above the platform. A boarding ramp of linked chrome panelling unfolded itself from a rounded rectangular hatch, like the unraveling tail of a metal scorpion.
“Fly with me.” Moynehan, said, starting up the ramp. More a rhetorical statement than an invitation. "Let us survey the warzone."