I bought it shortly after midnight at the UND University Bookstore, where I also picked up a coloring sheet of Dumbledore, which I have colored to resemble Spock. We stopped by after a late showing of the Matrix, which was not nearly as confusing as I expected, given that I haven't yet seen the first movie. Actually it was Neo who we were comparing to Spock. The Dumbledore comparison was to the Oracle-- now we know why he always offers people candy.
So, since I'm too hyper to sleep, and I'm in an anvanced cyberpotter state of conciousness, and it's been quite a while since I've posted any fic at all, and everyone who would actually be interested is safely consumed by their new books, I give you a severely unedited version of the first part of that previously-mentioned HP!Cyberpunk story.
Black Ice. Part one: Rock and roll.
"Give me the beat, boys, and free my soul; I wanna get lost in your rock and roll, and drift away. . ."
June 16, 2124: A fold of extradimensional space in some sense analogous to central London.
Gracie woke slowly from her stone dreaming, feeling the slow shift of her body back to its too-complicated human shape. Her mind was still moving in the timeless pondering of the rock as her vision faded out of black, showing the blank darkness of the pocket she had rented, the pile of gray pills, her tiny bag of possesions, and a stranger sitting unexpectedly crosslegged in front of her.
She was still too stoned to panic at the intrusion, sitting up straight, her hand behind her slowly finding the hilt of her knife. "How," she started, then foundered; language was always the last human thing to return to her. "Here," she said, unable to recall the other words she needed.
He was a slender young man with olive skin and dark hair in a tight robe that blended into the emptiness of the pocket and pooled around his legs. "Magic," he answered, grinning, as he spun a coin out of thin air at his fingertips.
Her mind was speeding up. She realized he must have bribed the pocket cluster's desk attendent. Not difficult to do, as this was one of the cheapest squats in the crowded squalor of Punkshoe Alley, little more than a rack of doors that opened into tiny hypertoroidal twists of extradimensional space, so small as to be impossible to stand up in without vertigo.
"So you're back among the living," the man added to her silence. "What a relief. There is nothing more boring than waiting around for a stone to wake
"My apologies," she said, folding her hands primly in her lap so that the knife lay across her knees. "If I'd been expecting visitors I'd have endeavoured to be more entertaining."
"Dear me," he said, "I've been most rude, haven't I? You're Gracie Johnson, the best neuromancer on the Alley, and I'm Merle Zabini." He stuck his hand out.
She shook with her empty hand, feeling the last of the stone calm diffusing away, "Third best, at most," she said, and noted the tell-tale stiffness in his first two fingers: A street wizard, then, with wand-core implants through his finger bones, probably dragon heartstring. "And that's incredibly interesting, but you haven't actually told me anything yet." A faded Family Mark was a dark shadow on the back of his hand; the Longbottom crouching toad insignia, framed around with white scar lines.
He noticed her staring and pulled his hand back. "I'm here to offer you a job, Neuromancer."
She snorted. "How nice. If I wanted a job. But I'm flush, at the moment, as any of my contacts could have told you." She had pulled a major information raid two days ago, lifting classified spellwork plans from a Malfoy Family pensieve, and had planned to stay stoned as long as possible until her payment-- untraceable goblin gold-- ran out.
"But you'll want this job," he said, leaning forward, his eyes intense. "I promise you."
"They all say that," she answered, running her finger casually along the knife blade. "I'm not fucking impressed. Give me one good reason you shouldn't leave this pocket right now. In pieces."
He offered the knife pure contempt. "The job you pulled two days ago. Cracking Malfoy wards. You didn't hide your tracks well enough. The Family knows, and they've put a tracer out on your Mark. The next time you step onto mapped turf, or jack into the Framework, you'll have hit wizards up your arse. That a good enough reason?"
"Oh, damn good reason," she said. "And only you can save me, of course."
"I can, in fact." He sat back, smugly. "But I imagine first you'd want proof I'm telling the truth." He grinned and snapped his enhanced fingers, muttering under his breath, and an eerie green light suddenly appeared through the worn fabric of her sleeve, picking out the tracking charm that had been tied to the magic in her Mark. "That good enough for you?" he smirked.
"Shit," she said, clapping her other hand over the glow on her inner wrist. "Turn it off." He snapped again and the light disappeared, but she could still feel the putrid energy of the spell tracing over her skin. She had counted on keeping a low enough profile to be beneath the notice of Family enforcers, but she knew she was taking a risk every time she cut Malfoy ice. They had burnt their Mark into her flesh the day they took her into the Family, signaling their ownership with a brand and an intricate, indelible tangle of spells that left her entirely vulnerable to their caprice. She didn't look at it much these days.
"Would you take the job," Zabini asked, "if I told you we would wipe your Mark?"
"If you told me that," she answered, her mind racing, "I would say you were lying." To have her Mark wiped, to be free of the last of their hated control, to lose the nagging fear that had been with her since she had fled the Family creche at age twelve-- but it was a cloud-castle, a dream impossible as Hogwarts, and always had been. The ways of removing Marks were the most closely kept secrets of the great Families, and for good reason. "I would say you had some illusion that would make it seem to go away but leave me with all the spells still stuck on me."
"That doesn't make much sense. You wouldn't be of much use to us if you were still Marked for death by the Malfoys."
"For all I know that tracing spell is an illusion too. For all I know, you are Malfoy family, and this is a trap."
He cocked his head to the side, dark hair falling around his eyes. "I didn't know stoning made you paranoid."
"It wasn't being a stoner made me paranoid. It was surviving this long in the Alleys."
"Well," he said, "Then I guess that you will just have to decide how far you trust me." He stood up halfway, his hand on the doorway, his outer robe falling open down the front. She looked him up and down, then slowly slid back the flared wrist of her jumpsuit, looking at the ugly dark Mark over the coffee-colored skin of her wrist: the rearing cobra of the Malfoys branded on, and over it, painstaking tatooed with a sharp quill, the crude silhouette of a musteline animal stubbornly hanging on to its throat.
She flipped the sleeve up. "All right. We'll talk."
"Good." He visibly relaxed. "Can we do it somewhere else, then? Pockets give me the creeps."
"Afraid of the dark, are you?" she asked. "I like it here. It reminds me of being in the Framework." She stood up, with a rush of vertigo as her inner ears reacted to the bizarre geomentry of the pocket. "There's a pub near here I know of. That do?"
"That's perfect." He grinned, then touched the door with his wand fingers and said, "Alohomora. Lead the way."
She ducked out the door, and into the tiny lot filled with the floating ovals of portals, threading her way out into the Alley. With the Muggle population explosion, and their technological capabilities beginning to rival magic, the wizarding world had been crowded into the Alleys, themselves pockets, there-but-not-there in the middle of London. The only other safe places were the heavily protected Family compounds; but for the undesireable, the unimportant, the uncooperative, the only choice was the hardscrabble life of the lower alleys, where space and light were at a premium, and so was life, if one wasn't very careful.
The pub called the Mangy Owl was one place where Gracie could be a little less careful. She ducked under the scruffy stuffed owl on the signpost, the only owl that had been seen in the Alleys since they were banned from wizarding commerce almost a hundred years ago, and entered the pub, Zabini ducking in behind her. The reassuring rumble of biz and Gobbledegook filled her ears, under the sound of the squeaking thaumemin that played itself at the back of the room, half-hidden in the smoky torchlight.
Delilah Creevey, the massive proprietress, looked up at the sound of the door, her mottled face breaking into a smile. "Gracie! You said you wouldn't be in for a while!" Then she caught sight of Zabini, and whistled appreciatively. "And who's this, you minx?"
Gracie couldn't help smiling back. "It's business, Lilah. We're taking the private booth at the back. And two pints of Wol."
"If you get anymore business like him," Creevey said, rapidly wiping and filling two mugs, "Let me in for a cut, eh?" She winked, and handed him the drinks. Gracie rolled her eyes and tossed her a coin. The only official currency sthese days was in Family credit slips, but the goblins had simply moved their banks and businesses underground, and goblin gold was welcome everywhere that a Family enforcer wasn't. "Send Kat back in a bit."
"Gotcha," Creevey replied.
Gracie maneuvered her way to the empty booth and pulled the privacy curtain, accepting the drink Zabini slid her. "That barmaid," he said, "Was rather startling."
Gracie took a sip of her water-of-life. "Lilah's an old friend, don't mind her. Rest assured I would never consider such a thing."
"Actually I meant the boils."
"Oh, that. She took a bad furnunculus curse a few years ago and refuses to get it removed. Says it reveals her inner beauty." She forced herself to lean back and relax. "So tell me about this miracle job you're offering me."
Zabini ran his finger around the edge of his glass. "Have you ever heard of a person named Anagram?"
She thought for a second. "Rumors, yes, the past few months. Some sort of gang leader who's been using the politics of the old Dark Lords to gather followers. Nothing very exciting."
"Essentially right," he said, "Except that my employer has reason to believe that Anagram is more dangerous than anyone thinks. That he is not just using their politics, but that he is a Dark Lord. The last of the Dark Lords. Lord Voldemort."
Gracie snorted. "Voldemort's dead. Harry Potter and the Weasleys killed him, a hundred years ago."
"Good, at least you know your history." He took a gulp of his drink, then said, "So no, it's not the Dark Lord himself. It's a high-fidelity copy-- either a memory recording or a detailed portrait. But with all the skill and personality of the original, it would be every bit as dangerous, wouldn't it?"
"I haven't worked with memory recordings much above the level of an mwpp subprocess. They're extremely rare."
"You know the basics, though. And you've done a lot of work with portraits."
"Of course," she said. That was the basis of neuromancy, to project oneself into the interlinked information space where paintings dwelt, which then with skill gave one access to the data stored in pensieves and enchanted parchments. "But only the very best portraits really recreate their subjects to any extent, and those are almost as rare as recordings. Anyway, such a thing would still need human agents to do anything in the real world."
"And it has them. We think it is being controlled by the Malfoy family, used in a bid to gain control of the underground trade. Your job will be to find it, and erase it."
"Wonderful," she said. "Any clues as to where it is."
"Yes," he said. "It's in the inner sanctum of the Manor in the Malfoy compound. Just find the place where the security is heaviest, and it will be there."
She stared at him. "You expect me to jack into the framework and cut through Malfoy ice, the deadliest ice in the world and incidentally belonging to a Family that's already pissed off at me, in order to face down and defeat some version of the Dark Lord? On no more information than that? I'm soorry, but I happen to have a morbid fear of death."
"We have more information," he said defensively. "We'll get it when we need it. My employer has sources inside the Family itself. Incidentally the same ones who provided the countercurses for your Mark, so you had better hope they're accurate. And he says that if you can't break the security yourself, we can hire someone called the Diarist to help you."
The Diarist?! The legendary, all-powerful neuromancer whom no-one had seen in decades? "Who, exactly, is this employer of yours?"
He shifted. "I don't actually know. I've never seen him. He always acts through agents. But he's always come through with the pay. He calls himself Black Ice."
She blinked. "He does know that black ice is neuromancer's jargon for Dark Magic security spells? The kind that can kill a decker?"
Zabini shrugged. "He does seem to have a strange sense of humor, actually."
"Is that why he wants to take out Anagram?"
"I've never asked." Zabini stared at her, his dark eyes intense. "I assume it's for the same reason I do. Because this--" he swept his hand in the direction of the bar, "Is all that's left of the true wizarding world. Of independence, and friendship, and pride. And no true witch or wizard can allow a traitor Dark Lord to hand it over to the Families to be destroyed."
She stared at him, at the passion in his eyes, and ran her finger over the pattern of the mark under her sleeve. The cobra, for the Family which had taken her in when her mother died on the street, trapped her and sought to mold into a vessel for their filling. The weasel, for the family which had bred her and borne her, the ancient family which had always refused the games of power and wealth in favor of trying to do good, and for its pains had been humiliated and defeated until, as far as she knew, she was the last of their line remaining.
"All right," she said. "I'll do it, if you can really wipe my mark. But there had better be some pay that clinks, too."
He grinned. "Plenty of clink. And rights to any incidental acquisitions."
"Acceptable, I suppose," she said. "Since I'm trusting you anyway--" She held out her hand and they shook.
"Great," he said. "The first thing we do is take you to a spellshop and get that Mark taken care of."
"No," she said firmly. "The first thing I do is tell some people that I'm on a job and I might be out of the Alley for a while. If I just disappear I'll lose important connections."
He frowned. "We really do need to get that Mark clean as soon as possible. As long as the Malfoys are after you you're a danger. But I suppose if it's fairly close, and I walk with you, to protect you--"
"I'm a neuromancer," she said. "A decker. Walking is for meat." She pulled her neuromancy deck from her back and smiled, starting to lay it out for a quick run to Laurel's place. Seventy-eight cards, each hand-painted with a set of symbols that were also each a magical operation to assist her in the Framework. The auburn-haired Magician on the first card smiled and offered her a sweet.
"If you jack in you'll be in even more danger. Your Mark will wake up every guardian between here and the manor."
"Credit me with some skill," she said, pulling out the four aces. She could do this run with a simplified deck of twenty-six. "I can avoid notice for a simple run like this; I'll be staying inside the Alley's frames." Before he could come up with more objections she pulled out the last card of the deck: the card that in a Diviner's cartomancy deck was called the Fool, but in a neuromancer's deck was left blank, and called the Fifth Jack. Through that card she could "jack in," move her conciousness into the form of a painted image, and travel among the portraits in the informational otherworld of the Framework.
. No canon characters at all! (yet) Although quite a few are referred to more or less obscurely. The next part is an actual run, which I haven't quite worked out yet.
This is the last time I'll be online until at least Thursday. And I shan't read my friendslist till I've read my new book.