The Bazaar: Chapter 5

Fulton in The Zone

Fulton found himself in a different hotel.

This one was every bit as drab as the room he’d left, only here the atmosphere reeked less of sleaze than faded glory. He sat in a lobby. No casino here. Just an empty front desk and faded, paisley wallpaper. It was a roach motel out of a B-grade noir flick.

Certainly looked like a Reese production.

What struck Fulton most about the space was the quiet. Electricity pulsed steadily within the walls. Otherwise there were no obvious signs of life: no voices, no footsteps, no sex noises.

The visuals jived with Reese’s rendering style. The environment and objects in it had been sketched out in 3D wire mesh. Photo realistic skins had then been stretched over the wire frames. To pull this off properly you needed extremely high resolution images. Millions of pixels, if not billions. If you skimped on resolution everything came out blurry. There was a time and a place for that sort design aesthetic, but generally it left you with a wicked migraine.

Here the skinner had skimped in places. The wood grain on the front desk looked like a toddler’s finger painting. A drab service bell sat on the counter — battleship gray with no gradient. The shade could have come off any consumer-grade paint program’s palette.

Fulton tapped the cartoon bell with his middle finger.

Ping.

The sound echoed through the empty lobby. Crisp audio – another Reese-like touch.

“Hello?”

Stupid question.

Fulton tapped the bell again. Another crisp ping echoed across the lobby.

Whoever he was, the designer knew his stuff.

Spacial encryption had gotten more and more popular. Brute-force assaults became exponentially more effective each year, at about the pace you would expect given Moore’s Law (the number of transistors on an integrated circuit doubles every two years). This was hardware available at the retail level. Forget government agencies. Forget specialist contractors like Emily and AEGIS. Given enough capital you could hire all the computer power and hacking talent you needed on a freelance basis.

So governments and corporations got creative.

Spacial encryption required an incredibly detailed environment. Otherwise all you’d see would be items of significance. An effective encryption environment did one of two things: it either provided a highly-detailed, realistic environment filled with insignificant details, or it was a theater of the bizarre. Ideally both. Fulton knew this because he’d spent a not-insignificant amount of time studying the evolution of spacial encryption in augmented systems. The earliest examples had simply hidden information around a space (i.e. pick up a vase and engraved on the bottom would be the plans for your terrorist attack, the schematics for the latest wonder widget or a series of hacked credit account numbers). The next logical step had been to chop the data up and spread it across multiple places. In a hotel environment like this you might find a swatch of data printed under the bell, a bit more on a certain letter in a mail cubby, still more on the back of a particular room’s number plate.

The first documented example of data being abstracted into the actual environment came from Datadyne, the market leader in augmented chipsets. Its R&D department coded a set of blueprints as a maze. When you mapped out the maze in three dimensions and zoomed out far enough to see the proverbial forest for the trees you had the specs. Spacial strategies would eventually become so complex you would have to disassemble the entire environment and reassemble all its components in a different configuration to get at the underlying data.

Fulton sincerely hoped Reese had not made that leap with this particular project.

If he had anything to do with it in first place.

On the one hand, the slapdash attention to detail was pure Reese. He was a Big Idea man. A novelist, not a copy editor. Setting, too, was in line with Reese’s style. Faded glory appealed to him. Same with the noir undertones. But so far nothing had distinguished this app as a David Reese original. In fact Fulton found it rather boring.

Then, from down the corridor came a clicking sound, like knife-points on tile.

The figure that emerged was not human. Not entirely, at least. Up top was the familiar shape of a human female — a blonde woman wearing a bellhop’s jacket. She wore a red cap cocked to the right. Below the waist she had the body of a mechanical spider, polished chrome legs and abdomen. The legs themselves were narrow, spindly and pointed at the tips, vaguely reminiscent of javelins. Hydraulic pumps joined them to her body.

The bellhop jacket covered the place where flesh met chrome. Fulton suspected if he removed her jacket he would find a hyper-realistic surgical scar where flesh and bone had been grafted onto steel.

Forget the desk bell. The machinery practically glistened in the light. Of course the skinner could have used this same dynamic lighting on the service bell. Leaving it dull was an artistic choice. God forbid it detract from the spider’s entrance.

That was where Reese invested his creative energy. Here was his signature. His Big Idea.

“Good evening, sir,” the spider said. “How may I help you?”

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