Ashtray

Hando looked across the wide conference table, eyes locked on an ashtray sitting there.

He didn’t know why it was there.

The thing was glass, or some glass-like synthetic, he couldn’t really tell. Translucent and dark, ‘smoky’ was the best word Hando could think of to describe the coloration, which he supposed was fitting. He reached over and picked it up. It was small enough to fit in the palm of one hand, but heavy enough to be authentic glass he supposed. Turning it over in his hands, he noticed a small maker’s mark etched into the underside. A few cyrillic letters that Hando didn’t know.

It looked old.

It wasn’t in bad condition, and it seemed quite beautifully made, but it was chipped a bit here and there, and the bottom of the tray was soiled with the black residue of snuffed ashes.

Hando wasn’t sure why it was here. Almost nobody smoked tobacco anymore. Most people couldn’t afford it, and even among those who could only one person in a hundred, maybe. Everybody was using ecigs. It was cheaper, didn’t require an extra dose of anti-cancer meds, and you could get a THC pack for less than five dollars American.

You were lucky to find a pack of cigarettes for less than fifty these days.

Hando glared at it, enthralled, puzzling over its presence here. He’d never seen anyone in the company smoking ever, much less in the conference room. He’d seen plenty of people pull out an electronic; so many brands and flavors that the table had become a soft rainbow of different LEDs. Never any real tobacco though.

And yet; here was a hand made, and probably very expensive, antique ashtray in the middle of the table.

Was it just for show?

That seemed to Hando like the stupidest waste of money he could think of. But even as his nose wrinkled at the thought somebody specifically buying an antique ashtray with the full knowledge that it would never see actual use, he tried to imagine the long conference table without it. It seemed…empty. He tried filling the space occupied by the ashtray with something else in his mind. In his AugR application, he cut and paste a floral arrangement, an amusing knick-knack, or a projector into the space that the ashtray had occupied. Nothing seemed to fill the space the way the ashtray did. He wondered if that was an actual ability inherent to the ashtray, or if he had just become accustomed to it being there. Or maybe he was just conditioned by culture to think cigars and ashtrays when thinking of corporate boardrooms and high powered executives.

The Nineteen-eighties had never really died in the corporate world. It had just been rebranded.

The door behind him clicked and Hando hastily set the ashtray down, flinching at the sound of glass thunking against polished wood. He stood as the a series of smiling faces entered the room. Everyone greeted him as they came in, some even offered hands to be shaken or bowed slightly. Hando read the identification that popped up over his vision as each of them entered. A supervisor from his own department, cyber-security, as well as a director from the general security branch. A head from one of the subcontractors who handled the botched night-club operation, the executive who’d authorized the op, and a company VP from Kansas. Mr. Larson, Vice President of the company’s internal affairs division, took the time to exchange of few words with Hando.

“Good to see you Mr. Orimo,” he said as he grasped Hando’s fingers, “Nervous?”

“A little, sir,” Hando conceded. An icon flashed in the corner of Hando’s vision. A new message. He ignored it.

“Don’t be. We’ll get to the bottom of all this in no time.”

Everybody took their seats, Hando on one side, everyone else across from him. All attendees signed into the room’s logging equipment. All communication in the room, verbal or digital, would be recorded and filed away in a server somewhere, tagged for IA use, Hando’s permanent record, and all 0sl0 related material. That one was becoming quite a large collection of files.

Hando had been in six of these meetings already. He knew it was standard procedure for any inquiry into an operation that went as badly as the night-club, but he couldn’t help feeling nervous. It was natural, he thought.

Everyone was stating their names and entering credentials as the meeting got underway, and Hando’s messages popped up again at the corner of his eye. He checked the subject absently while everyone was busy.

This is 0sl0: READ ME NOW! Right now. Seriously; this is not a joke.

Hando froze.

“Mr. Orimo?” Hando nearly jumped as his name was called.

“Yes?”

“State your name and submit your certification for the record please.”

“Yes, of course,” and he did, quietly running a trace on the message. He knew he shouldn’t bother, it was a wasted effort, for any number of reasons. 0sl0 had proven be skilled at avoiding even the best attempts to trace her, and quite adept at circumventing company security. He shouldn’t have even received this message if the company ICE was working properly.

“Alright Mr. Orimo, we’d just like to go over the events of that evening one more time. Do you understand?” Mr. Larson asked, still smiling.

“Yes,” Hando nodded, “Where should I start?”

“Let’s start with the moment the marionette entered the establishment,” Mx. Baum, Hando’s supervisor, suggested, starting up a green glowing ecig, “Walk us through that again.”

Hando began explaining; the body-language reading software (which failed), the hunter-killer program (which failed), and the nanite laced drinks (which also failed).

While he did that, he probed the network’s ICE, and his own, looking for how 0sl0 had gotten past the security. He knew he should report it right away, he was currently in a meeting about 0sl0’s security risk to the company at that very moment, but he was too curious, and too enamored with 0sl0. He knew it. It bothered him, but not enough to stop.

“Can you tell us about the nanites?” Mr. Larson asked.

“I beg your pardon?” Hando asked. He’d been going through the evening’s events on automatic.

“I’m just wondering why the nanites couldn’t tell right away that the marionette was what it was. Shouldn’t that have been obvious?”

“I would think so,” Hando admitted, “But the subject,” He’d been reprimanded for referring to 0sl0 by name (well…handle) on the record previously, “Has proven,” his eye twitched towards the message on his display again, “quite frequently to be more than capable of bypassing company security-”

“Yes, we’ve noticed,” Mx. Baum interjected.

Hando hesitated, “Right…So I imagine it’s possible she -sorry- ‘the subject’ hacked our nanites or the nanite control system.”

“Wouldn’t there have been evidence of such a hack?” Mr. Larson asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Probably, but I imagine it was destroyed by the EMP,” Hando shrugged.

“Of course,” Larson mumbled flatly, his fingers drumming on the table. Hando wasn’t sure what to make of that. “Alright, you can continue.”

“Yes…ok,” and Hando did, but as he went about explaining how he came to realize the thing they thought was 0sl0 was a mary, he unpacked the message from 0sl0. Worst case scenario, the message compromised his own brain’s security, but that didn’t seem like 0sl0’s style to Hando.

His view became obstructed by a series of attached documents. Hando began cycling through them. A notice of a meeting between the board of directors, a few requisition orders, and a black-page document.

Hando froze.

“Mr. Orimo?” Ms. Holt, Director of Security, asked, “Are you alright?”

Hando shook himself, “Yes…I…” black-page documents were highly protected, digitally and legally. How 0sl0 got it was no secret, but even if she could casually beat the company security, a million alarms should have sounded when it was accessed. Hando should have been alerted, this meeting would have been canceled, the whole building should have gone into lockdown. His instincts told him to delete it and alert Holt right then and there. Even reading a black-page document without clearance was a crime. “Sorry, I lost my place. Where was I?”

“You were explaining why the security team wasn’t able to be warned in time?” Mr. Armstrong, the security contractor, said bitterly.

“Yes. So…,” Hando continued.

He opened the first few docs. The board of directors’ meeting wasn’t of much interest, just a formal dispatch bringing all the board members together. The requisition orders were for security personnel, travel arrangements, a shielded lock-up at a site off grid, and a half dozen other things required for a black bag job.

He didn’t think he needed to guess what the black-page document was then. He knew this would happen. As soon as the board was convinced it had learned all it could from the night-club debacle, they would try and grab her again. He hadn’t expected it to be so soon though.

He opened the black-page doc.

Black Bag Order

Target: Orimo Hando

Hando froze.

“Mr. Orimo? Are you sure you’re feeling ok?” Mr. Larson asked.

Hando stared around the room. The department heads and supervisors stared back at him.

He glanced back at the document.

The name hadn’t changed.

Why? Why would they order a black bag for him? He wasn’t some rogue blackhat, he was on the company payroll. He’d designed a fair amount of their current security protocols.

Hando leaned back in his chair and sighed.

Of course.

Mx. Baum was right.

0sl0 did get past company security with startling efficiency didn’t she.

“Mr. Orimo?” Mr. Larson said, leaning forward. Hando’s neck muscles burned, desperately wanting to look back, towards the door.

“Mr. Orimo, are you feeling ill?” Ms. Holt asked. The subcontractor, whose contact card identified as Mr. Bachman, reached into his jacket in a move that might have been casual.

Hando knew what happened next. He’d help write this playbook.

When he finished going over the events of that night, they would ask him to go through it again. Maybe even a third time, looking for subtle hints of unease of falsification. They probably had a psych program running in the room’s sensors right now, feeding them info on his body language, word choice, and a thousand other little things. Finally they’d ask the question right out. Are you 0sl0? Are you working with 0sl0? Do you know who 0sl0 is? And if he didn’t confess (and honestly, even if he did), he’d be on his way to a tiny cage somewhere very remote within the hour.

The black-doc had its own attached notation from 0sl0.

You need to run, right now Hando. Run this file and then look at the table.

Hando sat up.

“Would it be alright if I had some water actually?” He asked, stalling for time while he ran the file. It looked like a patch for his AugR application.

It was done in seconds.

He looked at the table, just like 0sl0’s note had said.

There had been an ashtray on the table.

It had been big, and heavy, and etched with some cyrillic letters.

Now there was a gun.

When I make a move, you’ll have 60 seconds at most to get out. Make the most of it.

-0sl0

 

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