If Delilah is new to you, start at the beginning.
“Maybe you’re crazy,” she said, not disagreeing.
“My cheese is you, Delilah Griffiths. Have you heard of Omo’s Island Adventure?”
The fuck. Delilah found a gap in the wall of servers, stepping between them. More servers, rows and rows. Her overlay started building a map. Her optics were having trouble piercing the surrounding racks, too much EM interference, so she’d need to do this the old fashioned way: one step at a time. “No,” she said. “Is it how you got to Ollie?”
There was a pause, and she used the time to jog down one wall made of servers. Sampson’s voice was muted when he spoke. “Oliver came to me, Delilah.”
“Bullshit. You hacked his link and left him a cripple. He can’t even piss by himself!” She shouted at the racks, for all the good it would do.
“Oliver is a symptom of a greater problem,” said Sampson. “He’s a symptom of what happens when you dare to dream.”
Delilah paused, looking around. She’d hit a T-junction. Left or right? Hell, left for a change. “Ollie had plenty of dreams,” she said. “He dreamed just fine.”
“You don’t know him very well.” That voice was so calm, so reasonable, that she wanted to murder him more. “Omo’s Island Adventure is a Reed Interactive product. It’s a holiday escape. Beaches. Sand. Waves. All the sun you could hope for. No pollution. No plastic washing up on the shore, choking the life out of some poor sea creature. No oil slicks.”
“I get it. Paradise.” Her link did a quick check. Reed Interactive had a product called Omo’s Island Adventure. It was as Sampson said: a paradise simulator. Usual gig, pay-per-use of a virtual getaway. Seemed popular on the network, five stars all the way. A hit, even, which didn’t surprise Delilah at all. Bouncing a beach ball or sipping a cocktail from a coconut sounded just fine for most people. Delilah had had enough of sand on her last tour, but she got the appeal. Sand without people shooting at her might be okay. This fucking world, sucks the joy out of everything.
“Paradise,” Sampson agreed. The glow of server LEDs stretched off ahead of her. She kept walking while he kept talking. Sooner or later she’d get to the middle of this maze, and then her sidearm would do all the talking. “It’s a big hit.”
“Yeah, Reed make a lot of fucking money,” said Delilah. “That it? That your thing? You suckle on up to their client base, coring their minds and stealing their cash?”
“Does it look like I need cash?” said Sampson.
That made her pause. “Not particularly.”
“Use your head,” said Sampson. “Oliver said you were good.”
“Stop,” she said, teeth clenched, “talking about my brother.”
“Let’s talk about market economics then,” said Sampson. Delilah hit another junction. The map on her overlay suggested right would lead her to the center of the server cluster. While Sampson had said cat and mouse, she figured him more for a spider-inna-web kinda guy, so she hooked a right. “If your product is all about synthetic entertainment, and you own the market, how do you grow your share?”
“I’m sure you’re going to tell me,” said Delilah.
“You can’t easily grow the number of people,” said Sampson, like she had said nothing at all. “There are enough humans, Delilah. There are so many of us. Billions of us, all wanting paradise. But there are other things we want more. We want to have more little humans. We want a better job. We work long hours to get them. What we don’t do is spend more money on synthetic entertainment.”
“Right, right,” she said. “We’re buying sports cars and education for our kids. You want the Mercedes, you better work, bitch. Where the fuck are you?” She looked at her sidearm, then on a whim, she pointed it at a server next to her and fired. The boom of the weapon echoed through the chamber, the LEDs on the server stuttering to darkness, one less machine in Sampson’s collective. Spent brass tinked against the stone floor next to her laminar boots.
“We’ll get to that,” said Sampson. “I wish you wouldn’t.”
“Shoot your precious servers?” said Delilah, lining up another one.
“No,” said Sampson. “I’ve got plenty of servers. More than you’ve got bullets for. I wish you wouldn’t stop thinking, Delilah.”
Her finger was on the trigger, wanting to put another round through another server. Wanting to do something to this fucker. “Oh, I’m thinking, Sampson. I’m thinking about what I’ll do to you.”
A sigh came over the sound system. “What you do to grow the market, Delilah, is you change people’s directives.”
“Don’t you mean incentives?” she said. “You were talking about market economics.”
“Ah,” he said, and she could feel the ghost of a smile in the sound. “You arethinking.”
“Go fuck yourself,” said Delilah.
“I wish I could,” Sampson said, the note of his words turning wistful. “I said directives, and I mean it. Reed Interactive were using Omo’s Island Adventure to … well, Oliver was a customer.”
“So?” Wait, a part of her wanted to say, this is getting interesting. But a larger part of her said, Get to the middle and euthanize this motherfucker.
“He was a customer, until the virus in Omo’s Island Adventure corrupted his link.”
Delilah paused at another intersection. She was close now, she knew it. Close to the middle. Close to her objective. “You’re saying that Reed, what, uploaded a mind control virus?”
“No,” said Sampson.
“Thank God,” she said, “because hacking link architecture to get into the brain is impossible.”
“I’m saying that Reed tried to upload ‘some mind control virus.’ Reed’s tech didn’t work. Hacking the link isn’t impossible, Delilah. It’s just difficult.”
She laughed. “You’re rich,” Delilah said, “and like a lot of rich assholes, you’re also crazy. And I know your tricks, Samspon. You’re trying to turn me against Reed. Trying to make me point the gun at someone else’s head.”
“Well, yes,” said Sampson. He didn’t say of course but Delilah felt it was implied. “I don’t want you to shoot me. Not yet.”
That made her pause. Nearly there. “What do you mean, ‘not yet?’”
“I’ll make you a deal, Delilah. The cheese, remember? You find me and you get to decide my future. I’d rather you kill me than them.”
“Uh. Dead’s dead.”
“If you kill me,” he said, “I’ll just be dead. If they kill me, it’ll be after they’ve cored my mind, pulled out the crypto keys, and undone all I have done.” He didn’t sound sad, or happy, just certain. And she knew what he meant: you get taken in by a syndicate, and you’ll want to die. A reprogramming facility was no party. No bands like the one playing upstairs. Just needles, or electronics, and a lot of sociopaths who didn’t care if you screamed, as long as it didn’t get in the way of their results.
She looked up at the roof, wanting to see something there. A person, or a screen, but seeing nothing, just a stone ceiling above the server racks.
The server racks.
You’re so stupid. Sampson was right about one thing: she’d stopped thinking. Here she was, solving a maze, when she should have just gone over the top. Delilah grabbed the top of a rack with her free hand, dug a booted toe in between server blades, and hauled herself up. Here, she could see the maze of servers stretching around her, paths leading to nowhere. The center of the maze was walled with servers, no paths leading in or out. She’d never have made the middle unless she’d climbed. “Got you,” she said.
“Ah,” he said. “About time, I believe. Linear thinking is the end of everything. It’s how they get you, Delilah. A world laid out like you’d expect, because they teachyou what to expect. Come. To me.”
Don’t need to tell me twice. She hopped over the gaps between the racks, her bionics carrying her with ease. She made the server cordon around the middle, a triumphant smile on her face as she pointed her sidearm into the space. Delilah felt the smile fix, freezing in place. A change of the wind would be enough to shatter it. In the area ringed by the servers was a man — what was left of one, anyway — in a wheelchair. He was facing away from her, his head lolling to one side. He was surrounded by screens, some full of text and graphics and systems readouts, others showing news feeds, still others with stock prices in real time. A hard link connected to the back of the man’s skull, thick cable snaking down behind the wheelchair to be lost in the wall of servers around him. Delilah leveled her weapon at the man, but she didn’t fire, her eyes drawn to the shaking of her hand. Well-tuned bionics but with a tremor nonetheless. “Sampson?”
The man’s chair whined as it turned him towards her. She could see his slack expression now, a long rope of drool extending toward the floor. She didn’t know what to expect, but this wasn’t it. “Delilah,” said the room’s sound system. “At last we meet.”
Her weapon lowered like it had a mind of its own. She stared down into Sampson’s pit. “You’re … like them.”
“We are all alike,” said Sampson, “but some of us are worse than others. Omo’s Island Adventure took more of a toll on me than it did on Oliver. I was an … early adopter of the technology Reed was trying out. That left more of a … result. But it gave me something too.”
Delilah climbed down from the server rack, boots touching the ground, wanting something older and more faithful than the technology she’d been atop. She walked around Sampson, taking everything in. These were more than devices to keep him informed. Her overlay reported that his chair had systems to keep him breathing, make sure he had nutrients, and systems to take away waste. Sampson’s body was a shell, and he was dying. Nothing would stop that. “How … long?”
“I’ve been in this chair for a year, Delilah. I’ve got less than six months left in it, even with the best technology has to offer.”