It wasn’t the job that bothered me, it was the lack of holiday pay. If a Moldovan numbers syndicate wants corporate secrets at this time of the year, then they should have some goddamn respect for tradition! But, when Piotr_46 gave me the job, he was very insistent that his friends would only pay the standard distance rate.
I’d tried to give him the spiel about how all the big corps run on air-gapped servers, cut off entirely from the net, but he wouldn’t even hear the words “site access fee”. Still, two thousand creds was two thousand creds. So, I figured that I deserved an extra present. Maybe I wouldn’t even blacklist the syndicate if this job went well.
But, there I was, trudging through the streets on Christmas eve. The black pyramid of the DexTek Central offices loomed above the muddy night sky, the pinpricks of amber light from it’s windows providing a better show than the few flickering fairy lights that festooned the shuttered shops around me. The air smelt of cheap fuel and even cheaper wine. A carpet of acid snow stretched out as far as the eye could see.
I suppose that the walk should have been relaxing, but it was more eerie than anything else. At this time of year, even the tramps have colonised the net cafes – spending Christmas in the free demo of LANCorp’s “Winter Wonderland” SIM. The whole world was there, spending the holidays in some carefully engineered version of the past. I had the whole city to myself.
Even the CCTV cameras had been taken offline to free up bandwidth for the SIM. The cops were on strike and their armed drones were down for routine maintenance too. This job should have been a walk in the park, but it was actually a literal walk in the park thanks to the fact that the automated trams weren’t even pretending to run a limited service this year.
When I eventually reached the armoured doors of the Central Offices, I was exhausted. I leant against a glowing billboard and lit a synthetic cigarette as I thought through my options. There wasn’t really much to think about. I’d just breach the door code with a nasty little Hungarian lockpick program I’d skimmed from my last job, make up a dummy access card image, waltz into the server room and connect directly. Maybe I’d even have time for a few hours in Winter Wonderland afterwards.
Once my cigarette flickered out, I got to work. Even though they’d obviously added a numerical hardening algorithm to the door, it yielded to my pick in seconds. The two metal doors creaked and grinded as they slid open a mere thirty centimetres before stopping. For a second, I thought it was an old-school physical security measure, but a quick glance sideways showed me that the acid snow had already started eating into the door motors.
I slipped through the gap and cracked a light stick. Although the lights were on in the offices upstairs, they were obviously saving power in the lobby. It looked a bit like something from one of those old archaeology films, like the antechamber of some laser-scorched pharoah’s tomb from the old Egyptian Federation. Naturally, the lift doors were as tightly sealed as a sarcophagus.
Still, I didn’t need to use them. All I needed was a port. As I turned around to sweep the room with my light stick, a shadow towered above me. Adrenaline surged and I regretted not bringing my gun. But, then I heard myself laugh. My eyes fixated on a woman sitting bolt upright at the reception desk. Her black hair was pulled back in a neat bun and she was wearing an angular red suit. Her cold, empty eyes stared at the wall behind me.
From the fact that she wasn’t trying to eviscerate me, it was clear that even the company’s reception droids got a better Christmas holiday than I did. Typical. Sighing, I walked over to the desk and gingerly slid her chair to one side. Kneeling down, I scoured the mass of wires under the desk for a spare port. There wasn’t one.
Eventually, I noticed that the receptionist’s personality algorithm had led her to connect a novelty holographic snow globe to one of the ports. Once it was disconnected, I plugged in and watched as the world around me slowly dissolved into a familiar mass of floating lights and glowing platforms.
Getting the secrets was almost as easy as just reaching out and grabbing them, but something else caught my eyes. There were cameras active in the building! Why is nothing ever easy? I’d have to triple-wipe the local cache and then send a Bulgarian Burner routine to the cloud servers. At this time of the year, the upload would take at least twenty minutes!
Pulling up the camera hypervisor, I breathed a sigh of relief. None of the lobby cameras were active. Still, I was curious about why any of the cameras were active. With a few lines of code, I inserted myself into the nearest camera feed.
The sight that greeted me was like something out of an old movie. In one of the lit offices above me, there were people dancing. There were people in rumpled suits doing archaic toasts with imitation plastic wine glasses. A rotund man sat on top of the 3D copier machine with his trousers down, a plastic replica of his buttocks gently forming in the tray beside him. A discarded necktie and pair of court shoes lay in front of a mostly-closed stock cupboard door.
Puzzled, I pulled out of the camera feed and started diving into the internal mail system. It didn’t take me long to find answers. After running a data recovery algorithm, I found them in the CEO’s outbox burn folder. The only text I could salvage read: “Productivity Plan…. Allow a traditional party…. Resulting footage should motivate staff….. Even still images would trash … social media ratings… they won’t be behind schedule this year!“.
I guess that it was the spirit of the season, or because I actually felt some flicker of sympathy, but I opened up a banned horror SIM I’d got from the Pirate Cove last month. Using the company’s server space, I chipped into the game’s data file and extracted a few game characters. Scavenging the CEO’s neural address from the message header, I recompiled the data and sent it.
After all, if they were bringing back the ancient tradition of office parties, it only seemed fitting that the local miser should be visited by three ghosts too. ‘Tis the season, and all that.