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Page history last edited by rsb 9 years, 7 months ago

"On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." - human cartoonist - 95% certainty 

Don leaned back in his chair.  He had only just arrived and began to relax when his desk phone began to blink.  His secretary was requesting a conference call. 

It was a lazy day at the office, and that was saying something.  Most days he did no more than lounge in his high-back leather recliner of an office chair, look and feel wonderful in thousand dollar suits, and fuck his secretary.

"Go ahead.", Don said to the phone.
"I have the notes you requested I take from this mornings meeting, Mr. Itram.", his secretary said.
"Well, there are some action items...I was wondering...if now is a good time...I could take your dictation..."
Without an ounce of excitement Don told her to come in.  She was wearing one of the tight, short dress skirts that fit her so well, and a fitted white blouse.  An unspoken conversation went on between them, as she walked around the desk, stalking him.  He turned his chair as she got down on her knees in front of him and something hit his knee, hard.  His secretary looked nonplussed as she continued her business.  He felt his knee slammed again.  It hurt like heck! 
"What the hell?!?", he said.

"You lazy drunk scum!", an older asian female voice shouted as Don slowly gained consciousness.  The light in the narrow entry way of his apartment building filtered through the metal bars and dirty yellow glass of the front door, and felt like splinters in his eyes.  The dark, blurry shape of his neighbor, Mrs. Yan, stepped over him roughly.  He saw Mrs. Yan, all four foot 11 of her, in her big blue down jacket, retrieving her mail from the grid of 16 mailboxes on the entryway wall opposite him. 
He wedged himself out of the twisted position he had passed out in the night before, into an almost-sitting fetal position against the wall.
"You move!" Mrs. Yan ordered, as she stepped over his left leg and headed up the stairway. "Bum!" she called as she disappeared.
She was a tough one, that Mrs. Yan.  There weren't many elderly spinsters in the tenderloin.

Don couldn't decide what hurt more, his head, the knee that Mrs. Yan had smashed several times with the front door, or his hip.  He decided his hip hurt more, and after a moment of exploration, removed the keys from his right pocket, which he had slept on, and could now easily be duplicated by taking a mold of his right a thigh.
He stared at his keys a moment in his right hand.  How long had it been since he used that mailbox key?  With a nod to fate, he grabbed the mailbox key in his left hand, and rose to his feet in fits and starts, until he was fully upright and could retrieve his mail.

All Junk.  And bills.  Which were also junk.  He almost put it all back in the box and closed it, when he saw something large and brown in the depths of the mailbox.  He dropped his mail to the floor and reached back into the mailbox.  With some effort he extracted a small package, about the size of an ice cream sandwich.  Sure enough, it was addressed to him.  The return address was messed up, however.  All it said was "Central".

Once in his apartment, he splashed water on his face, and opened the package on his way to the couch.  It was a cell phone and charger.  It actually powered on.  As he passed out on the couch, he wondered how many beers he could get for it.


The beauty of Central was that Bob could set up a meth lab with a single trusted manager, phase in Central Secure Workers completely, phase out the manager, and wala! - he had a highly efficient meth-lab with no ties to him at all.  Well, there was the Central Secure Work network, but that was probably uncrackable, and he definitely used it securely.  

Central was revolutionary.  Once an operation was established, none of Bobs direct employees ever had to contact the secure workers in person.  Bob could run an entire lab and delivery operation via untraceable work orders.  It was a completely insulated and efficient operation.  Might as well be entirely virtual, except for the cash accumulating in his accounts. 

When Bob needed to know the real name or address of one of his own workers, he could usually work backward and figure that out.  But in the process, he created links back to himself.  Links that would need to be messily undone.  Bob took no joy in that.


The dream of every drug dealer at Bobs level was to have no ties to operations.  Central was making it possible for Bob to pursue that dream to an extent he had never dreamed, and he wasn't about to sully it by logging names and addresses when he didn't have to.

Handily, Central had created a 3-D world for users of the secure work network to meet in.  Expensive to use, but also a game-changer.  Since Central had come out with Revision 3, Bob had found a huge number of pseudononymous customers there.  He found far more customers, and far faster, than he could find on other secure shopping sites or even through gang-related marketing.  Revision 3 had allowed him to offer meth for sale, and deliver it, with or without a cash transaction, to customers that had absolutely no relationship to him or his direct employees, using secure work contractors that were clueless and basically completely innocent.  Besides, he was getting addicted to the 3D world.  It was fun.

Bob *did* have to get used to in-game insults again.  He always hated them back in his StarCraft days.  But that, he could tolerate, given the rush of cash he was receiving.  

Then there were the ridiculous game rules, like having to show up in a "public" place in the Central 3-D world to chat with other real players, or like having sanitized chat and work order logs, so that when Bob told someone to "Break this PCs arm, now.", it was translated to "Give this PC a flower, now." on the Central servers.  But he had his own copy of the original work orders, and the PCs got the translation, so thanks to some third party software, he could tolerate all those things, too.  

There was only one problem.  There were some bad people in this world.

Central operated on top of the Secure Work Network, a secure, pseudononymous peer-peer directory and payment system for services.  Secure workers, PC's for short, could be given any work order, and Bobs PCs were being targeted by some *very* violent orders.

The level of detachment was almost shocking, even to Bob.  In all likelihood, neither Bob nor the other player would even know the real names or location of their own PCs.  They *couldn't* know real information about the other players PCs.  Yet these clowns could kill his PCs and take his hard-earned meth.

This, Bob could not tolerate. 


"You're such a wimp, Don.", Preeta said.
Don stood uncomfotably in their SoMa condo kitchen.  From here he could look out over half of downtown.  He knew he would be giving this to her. 
"How did you come to that conclusion?", Don replied.
"Jesus, Don, I just don't want to talk about it.  Can you just be sure to be out tomorrow, and use the movers like we agreed?", said Preeta.
Don knew there was something wrong with this conversation.  Something wrong with every conversation Preeta had ever had with him.  He knew she wanted to hurry it along, like all the others.  So he stalled.
"That's interesting.", he said, grasping for the core fallacy here.
"Don.  Just be out, o.k.?  By noon."
The noon requirement was new.  Not unusual for the deal to change when you were negotiating with Preeta, though.  Why was he a wimp?  Because she had been talking to his brother, most likely, who didn't know him from Adam.  Or maybe...
"You know, I think I have it.", said Don.
"Have what?", said Preeta, implying: "No you don't."
"You confuse love with weakness.", Don said calmly, leaning back against the counter.
"That's not true.", Preeta snapped immediately. "You are weak at work, you are weak at home, you are weak everywhere.  A follower.  I'm done, Don." Preeta said as she put down her coffee and scrambled to put her thousand dollar purse together and get out of there.
That got Don a little riled.  Work.  She misunderstood that, too.  Same mistake.  "Listen, that guy at work is still alive.", Don said methodically, "and not beaten to a pulp.  I mean, it was a tough call.  Anyway, therefore, I have a deep love for my fellow man."
Don smiled, "See.  It's love."
No sooner had he spoken than he realized that he was arguing over a red herring.  He looked at the anger in Preetas face and on some level he knew that she would leave every relationship she entered.  She would never be happy.  His smile faded as part of his brain began to understand that tragic outcome.
Preeta stormed out.  The phone began to ring.


Don snapped awake off the couch, upsetting some of the garbage piled in it's corners, and looked for the source of the ringing.  He was sweating.  The cell phone he had recently unpacked was ringing, glowing, and vibrating on the low dining room table, the only other piece of furniture in his apartment.  Don sat up and answered it.  "To activate this phone, with free unlimited minutes, press 1."  Don figured out how to press 1.  "Welcome, Don.  This phone will work for you alone.  It is your work phone.  Your first secure work opportunity pays thirty dollars an hour.  Please see Hal at Crack Messengers, on the corner of Turk and Jones street.  Enjoy.  Press 1 to repeat this message..."

Nice phone, Don thought.  Weird scam. 

Something in the message clicked with his memory, however.  He popped up the wikipedia app on the phone and looked up "secure work".  A few gunshots rang out outside. 

"Secure work worldwide (sww)" was an extensive entry.  It was something that he had looked into for one of Rich's business ideas back in the day.  They had both coded up a few game prototypes, and explored the idea of incorporating hourly labor in exchange for in-game items.  That wasn't long before Don got mixed up in the DRM business, and lost it all.  Secure work worldwide was a legit peer-peer network that had become the utility for work barter and work payment processing.  It made it dirt simple to create apps that trade work for cash.  It was possible to remain pseudononymous when using the system, which meant that governments worldwide hated it like they hated TOR and BitCoin.  But it had momentum.  It's worker directory was worldwide and open.  You could find anyone, anywhere, to do anything.  And that was powerful enough that large corporations and even small local governments used the heck out of it.  Google even had a page at sww.google.com to explain their policies in using it.

Well, Don thought, no harm in checking out the scam.  What could they do to him other than take away this phone?  Besides, it could be legit, he needed a drink, and Turk and Jones was on the way to the blood bank.


On the sidewalk outside of Crack Messengers, three lean, tattooed and pierced messengers sat at a metal table, drinking coffee and eating sandwiches.  A chain and lock ran through the metal table, cheap kitchen chairs, and a bike rack with a half-dozen bikes of custom build.  Inside, Don walked to the counter and asked for Hal. 

"You're a secure work messenger?"  The man behind the counter was six foot one with neck muscles like pythons, a shaved head, and, Don thought, rather more tasteful piercings and tattoos than the messengers he saw outside.
"Yeah.", Don said, not knowing what else to say.
The man typed away at a terminal behind the counter.  He took several scowling minutes to come up with the information he was looking for.
"Don?", he asked.
"Hey.  I'm Hal.", the man said, appearing more congenial.  "Listen, you've never been a bike messenger before?"
"Nope." Don said.
"O.k., well Koji is going to show you the ropes.  It's 30 dollars per delivery to you, cash, but you only get one delivery a day while you are training. Training lasts two weeks."
Don asked a few questions, like "How many hours a day is that?" and "Do you have a bike I can use?" and "Do I get paid today?" and "How many deliveries do I get after training?" and "How the heck did I get picked for this?"

On the last one, Hal said, "Hey man, I have to stay out of that stuff.  You must have advertised and the boss liked your ad."

Not that it mattered.  Thirty bucks a day would pay Don's rent, food, and beer money, which was the better than he could have hoped for given that he was a probably week away from being forcibly evicted.  He was, in fact, a math major at one time, but he didn't need that to do the math on this deal.  He was sold.  Don thanked murphy for whatever bug in the secure work network had put his name on the ad, stopped asking questions, and just hoped he would get paid that day.

Koji was a cruel little asian 30 year old with a whispy fu-manchu and engine cylinders tatooed on the backs of his ridiculously vascular calves.  He delivered Dons packages for him, and had Don riding seemingly at random up hills most of the day.  Don, for his part, in between panting, puking, and walking his bike up hills, looked around for Koji, who always appeared behind him just as Don was considering turning back.

If they hadn't paid him cash and taken him out for beers and encouragement the first night, Don never would have come back.  Most of these guys were just like him.  Former vets, ex-cons, but with some education - interesting people, in other words.  By the end of two weeks, Don realized this was the best rehab he could ever have received.  He also started to believe he could get in shape enough to make 10 deliveries a day if he really worked at it.  That would bring in his old salary as a programmer again, the difference being that he would be happier and more fit for it.  The exercise had been a wake-up call - man was not evolved to stare at a computer screen all day.  Don fell asleep for the first time in a while with money in his pocket and less than two beers in his system.


"I see you've been hiring PCs for the North Wall Basket Weaving Operation."
"What the fuck do you care?  Zoom in on your Cloud City Yogurt shop.  See anything special?"
"That's right, motherfucker, you see your PCs disappearing."
"You're welcome.  I sent in a single PC this morning, and he's nearly done dealing with that Operation."
"Stupid clown.  Look at your sta..."
"You mean look at our stats?  Where your PC count is about to go down by one?  And where I filed all my PCs out into a transport while you were training units?  Wonder where that transport is going?"

Bob stared at the screen.  In the upper right hand corner his PC count decremented by one as he watched.  On his map, the Cloud City Yogurt Shop went dim. 

Midwestern Bait and Tackle lit up red, as the six PCs he had in that shop came under attack.  Bob quickly assigned work to those six, and to four of the mobile units he had nearby, to come to their aid.  He customized the work orders after the fact.

A battle was raging at Midwestern Bait and Tackle.  Bob zoomed in to first person view.  Shoddily rendered 3-D showed a hole in the back wall, a clown-mobile smashed halfway in, clowns spread out and throwing pies at pinned down Cowboys.  Then the clowns began to retreat, and as they entered it, their clown-mobile began to dislodge itself in reverse. 

A quick glance at Bobs stats showed his in-game cash had just dropped by more than the value of the bait and tackle store, while the Clown Farms cash had increased. 

Bob ordered his mobile PCs to attack the Clown-mobile, and the Bait and Tackle PCs to retreat from the store and hide.  Slowly they got the message.  Hopefully not too slowly.

In map view, Bob saw that the mobile units moved in quickly - they were represented by cowboys on horses - they disabled the Clown-mobile.  The clowns fought in retreat on foot, leaving the cash in the bus.   Bob left the store in 3-D view and took an over-the shoulder view of one of his Horse Cowboys, Casey-Jean-Sue, whom he ordered to retrieve the cash, hightail it home, and stay there until further orders.

A bright flash appeared in map view back at the Bait and Tackle.  All but one of the cowboys had made it out.  The entire store was covered in lemon merangue.

Bob zoomed out to map view.  Giant donuts began to swarm toward the clown bus, winding down city streets, and a flying pig on the other side of the city lifted off.  Bob quickly gave one very reliable cowboy a detailed order, and told the rest to retreat to their homes. 

The reliable cowboy, Bobby-Joe-Puddin', was to follow Casey-Jean-Sue at a distance - keep her safe, and make sure she didn't leave her home.  Bob upped the days task reward for Bobby-Joe-Puddin', and fed him Casey-Jean-Sues GPS info.

The Donuts and the Flying Pig arrived at the bus, then chased their tails.  Bobs highly mobile units were long gone, fortunately.  He hoped the Clown Farm was not so lucky.

The Clown requested a meeting in first-person.  Bob was obligated to meet him in order to continue the game.  He seethed.


In 3-D view, Bob stood on the corner of Happy and Sad in the neutral zone, an Eastwoodesque figure seated on a brown steed.  A ridiculous hot-dog-shaped clown-mobile pulled up, squeeking it's tires and a musical horn.  Out popped the Clown.  Bob got down from his horse.

The Clown did a little dance in his huge shoes and honked his red nose a couple times, then pulled out a pie from behind his back.

"Ready Cowboy?!?", the clown said, shooting a finger gun at him with a huge clown finger.
"Get it over with.", said Bob.

The clown hauled back and threw the pie with force at Bobs cowboy, covering him in cream.  "Wooohooo! I *never* get tired of seeing that!", he said.

"Good Game, 1053r!", the clown said as he hopped in his clown-mobile, flipped Bob off and drove away honking.  Bob noticed four cowboys painted on the clowns drivers side door, all with circles around them and lines through them.

Bob recovered from the insult, and assessed the immediate action items.  He had lost a Bait and Tackle shop and two PCs.  One of the PCs was a highly trained and expensive unit.  At least he had recovered all the cash from the bait and tackle shop.  Nothing he can't clean up.  He turned away from his computer screens and called his Houston office. 

"Carlos.  Yeah, I know.  I need you to take care of cleanup on Blah and Blah.  Make sure none of our people get within a few blocks of the building, assess any leaks, contact the lawyer.  I'll be in touch before end of business for a full report."

Bob relaxed a little.  I'm covered.  I got where I am by thinking things through under fire, he told himself. 

Bob had been using CSW3D (Central Secure Work 3-D) for a few weeks now, and it had been cost effective for deliveries and manufacturing, until now.  The money he spent training PCs was trivial, but losing a meth lab had lost him more than he had saved on all the other services combined.  To make this profitable, he needed an angle. 

Minus the clown, he had no in-game enemies.  Without in-game enemies, he would be making a mint on secure work.  Enemies were always the problem in Bobs line of work, and CSW3D was no free ride.  As in every other aspect of his business, he would need to maximize the average return despite them.

Bob came up with four questions he needed the answers to:

Question 0: How did the clown know Bobs PC was coming? 

No need to think much about that.  In retrospect, he had obviously been set up.  The clown had inexplicably killed two of Bobs PCs.  Bob had been allowed to follow one of the clowns back to the clowns operation, if that was even a legitimate operation.  That's when Bob got hit.

Question 1: How did the clown find his operation? 

The CSW3D in-game world was many times larger than planet earth.  Totally random exploration with PCs was highly unprofitable.  This was only Bobs second encounter between his PCs and those of the Clown Farm.  He would have to go over his communication logs, but there was no chance in Bobs mind that he had leaked the location of an operation in-game.  Either one of his PCs was being followed, or the Clown had subverted the game.  Bob was 99% sure that it was the former.

Question 2: Did the clown know he was going to get cash out of the Bait and tackle? 

Probably not.  The clown must have hit operations in CSW3D before, most of which were illegal, and profited.  So the clown was playing the numbers.  Bob quickly checked the leaderboard.  The clown had only two operations of his own, and had hit 36 operations.  That made the clown, primarily, a thief.  That neatly solves the clowns motivation.

Question 3: How can he avoid attacks on his operations in the future? 

It was always tempting to answer this the way criminals/governments had always answered it - destroying organizations shows a credible deterrent - immediately kill the clown at all costs.  But Bob knew that if he was going to continue to play at this table, he would have to become a better player.  All good players made more alliances and gathered more intelligence than he did.  That was half of the defense puzzle.  Bob had three more operations in CSW3D, each one representing over a million dollars a piece.  The other half of the puzzle required hiding and physically defending his remaining operations more effectively. 

Question 4: Was Central compromised? 

It might be worth researching.  Central had him by the balls.  There was no way he would stand for losing this game, and they knew it.  They had charged him to get reamed, and they would charge him for his revenge.  If he didn't believe they were a totally decentralized profit-sharing collective, he would put them on his list, too.  Fuckers. 

Bob was sure that his use of Central was untraceable even if Central was ever compromised.  He wasn't sure that Central could not be gamed to leak information, however.  He made a note to hire someone to look into it.  If anyone was gaming Central, it should be him.

One thing was sure.  Eventually, he was going to kill that fucking clown. 


Matt was a fat man.  A man who respected tough guys, but hated the uneducated.  Drug dealers in Central were just the kind of target he loved, since Matt could be tough, beat up idiots, and stay completely out of danger.  So he was celebrating.  He was positive that the operation he had just destroyed was a meth lab.

Over and over Matt replayed the scene, in which his firefighter sprayed the garbage man in the face with the hose, cracking up the entire time.  God that was good.  "Good game, 1053r!", he had typed, as he flipped him off and drove away.  Perfect.  Matt closed the secure tunnel to the rented server he played CSW3D on, and opened a chat session with one of his managers, Trey.

"Beers on me tonight!"
"U winning in Central!"
"On points only today, but yeah."
"I knew it.  You'll have to tell me all about it."

Yeah, Matt thought.  Treys got skills.  And he's already running PCs in Central for that IT business on the side.  If I'm going to expand, it's got to be with Trey.

A calendar alert went off.  "Mission statement planning with board in 10 minutes."  As CTO of a silicon valley computer security firm, Matt lived his life by the book.  He made it to the meeting 5 minutes early.


Don woke up at Vanessas place to the sound of his phone, as usual.  He rolled Vanessa out of the way, grabbed his phone off the dresser, and started to get dressed.  He had met Vanessa at Binders, a bar that Crack Messengers frequented.  Crack Messengers had a huge groupie-base of hot females, which was a good thing, because man or woman, there wasn't an employee at Crack Messengers that didn't love women. 

He decided to shower at the club, another benefit that Crack Messengers offered.  CM's owner owned businesses all over town, and full-time messengers got everything discounted or even free at times.  One business, Fight and Fitness, was a huge fitness club with martial arts classes, next door to a gun shop with an underground pistol range.  Don pretty much just used them for the showers.  Evidently, Crack Job Enterprises (CJE, LLC.)was a national conglomerate in fitness, sports, delivery, and legal services.

"Here's how you keep this job:  Don't get arrested.  Never let a package get opened.  Never let your phone leave your side."  That was how Becki explained the rules to Don during his fourth week on the job.  Becki had been working at CM for almost two years, and was one of the toughest bike messengers Don knew, and the best paid - she ran at least 25 deliveries a day.  That, on top of health insurance and a "base" salary of $3000 per month, was what made Don scratch his head at the economics of it all.

One sunny Sunday afternoon, his curiosity got the best of him, so Don cornerd Koji at Binders after work.
"Koji, can you explain Becki's pay?" Don asked.
"You've been at crack, what, one month?", Koji asked.
"Almost six weeks.", Don said.
"And you haven't had any work requests from Central outside of deliveries?"
Don pulled out his phone, and popped up the Central app.  Nothing in his inbox.  "No.  Should I have?"
Koji, hemmed and hawwed, and considered that for a moment.  "I didn't get any until I joined the combat pistol club.  I can pull 300 bucks for certain tasks, now that I carry."
"Yeah, I guess some customers are kind of paranoid.  They want you to carry.  They pay extra.  That's how Becki makes her base.", Koji said.
"A gun.", Don said.
"You want to see it?"
"NO!  Thanks, Koji."
"It's just a little thing.  It's on safe.", Koji reasoned.
Don considered this.  "So Becki carries a gun, and delivers, what...20 packages a day, at 30 bucks?  That's..."
"A couple hundred grand a year.", Koji chimed in, "At least.  All in, including her base and benefits.  Maybe more..."
"That's nuts.  I get like, five deliveries per day.", Don sighed.
"Once in a while, I get to work for another one of CJE's businesses.  Legal services pays the best.  I had a *huge* bonus from them last time.", Koji said.
"Like what?  What did you do?", Don asked.

"You can't talk about legal services jobs.  It's all under NDA.  We work for lawyers, sometimes we investigate stuff.  Private investigation, stuff like that.", Koji said. "The best bonus is bodyguarding, that's mad cash."
"You ever do one of those jobs?", Don asked.
"Nah, not yet, but I'm trying to get certified as a bodyguard at fight and fitness.  It's a lot of training.  They sponsor it, though, so, why not?"
"Hmph.", Don said. "So they basically pay you to work out.  Is it dangerous?  I mean, bodyguarding..."
"I don't think so, I mean, yeah, but not as dangerous as biking these streets.", Koji added.
Don had to admit he had a point there.  Not a day had gone by without a close call that could have killed him as a messenger.  It was only a matter of time at this job.
"O.k. ballpark.  How much money can you make bodyguarding versus delivering.", Don asked.
"More than Becki makes.", Koji said, rubbing his thumb and forefingers in the international moolah sign and nodding his head appreciably.

Don had a vision, in beautiful, crisp, detail.  The picture was so sharp and the colors so true that it was better than the real thing.  There he saw, in high contrast and bright light, a vision of an ATM receipt, which he had just pulled from the machine, one fine, fine, sunny Friday afternoon.  It read: $209,506.67.

"I'm sold.", Don said.  "When are you working out, next.  I gotta get into that gym."


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This work by Rich Bodo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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