Author: Notmanos
E-Mail: notmanos at yahoo dot com
Rating: R
Disclaimer:  The characters of Swordfish are owned by Warner Bros.  No copyright
infringement intended. I'm not making any money off of this, but if you'd like to be a patron of the
arts, I won't object. ;-)  Any song lyrics or titles mentioned belong to their respective bands, and
no artist infringement is intended. This is pure fiction, and written as a sort of a challenge. Blame,
but no flame.

Life was code.

From the DNA in your blood to the memory card in your digital camera,everything could be broken down into bytes of quantifiable data,even though only a select few could read the code and make any sense out of it.They were all encrypted in one fashion or another:biological,machine code,all the same,all puzzles waiting to be solved,locks waiting for the right keys.

And nowadays you couldn't go anywhere,make a phone call,log on,withdraw cash from an ATM,even order a pizza,without leaving a digital footprint,a ripple somewhere in the cyberpond,even if it was to small or obscure for anyone to notice.

But Stan noticed.Or at least he noticed the ones he was looking for.

You could change your name,your physical appearance,hell,even your fingerprints,but some patterns were habitual,so knee jerk you were hardly aware of them.When he allowed himself to think about it,he realized he always started shaving his face from the left side first.He had no idea why,but that was the thing with routines;you established them without knowing exactly why.If you did something often enough,it became what you always did.

That morning,Stan stopped himself and shaved the right side of his face first.After all,he wasn't Stan Jobson anymore,was he?

He put in the contacts gently,careful not to tear the exceedingly delicate plastic,and blinked back the tears as he focused on his watch on the side of the sink.8:12.Early,but not so early he couldn't get this started.

He checked his reflection in the small mirror over the basin,combing his wet,green streaked hair out with his fingers.The contacts made his eyes seem as green as the temporary color in his hair,and was there anything more suspect than a color coordinated man?

But that was the point.Hide in plain sight.Be so easily dismissed no one would even think twice about him once the shit hit the fan.

He pulled on the black vinyl pants,getting a slight thrill from the way the satin lining felt gliding up his skin,then put on the see through black mesh shirt.A male prostitute kind of shirt,which made him laugh when he first saw it,it was actually perfect for the guise.It was a shirt for the vain,showing off your physique in hopes of getting laid.Truth be told,he worked long and hard for the body he had,so he didn't mind showing it off,but he didn't think it was something he would wear under any other circumstances. He'd also grown a devilish goatee,the type that was in during the mid-'90's for a while,and dyed it so blonde it almost blended in with his skin.With the lightning bolt earring and the clip on gold eyebrow ring,he looked like a sad poseur, someone too old to be dressed like this and too out of date to be anything but a joke.

Which,again,was the point.

He checked to make sure his tattoo was no longer visible.The make up he'd slapped on it looked phony,discolored,but with the mesh shirt on it was impossible to tell-it mottled the light perfectly.It was a long shot anyone would see it,nonetheless remember it,but he couldn't risk any identifying marks,no matter how small and hard to trace.

He walked out into the main area of his cheap hotel room,and glanced at himself in the full length mirror on the back of the door.He grabbed his 'piece de resistance',azure tinted sunglasses,and put them on."God,what a fucking geek,"he said,laughing at himself.He made an 'l' of his thumb and forefinger and put it against his forehead,sure it fit.All he needed was a fistful of gold chains,and he'd be a walking parody.

But there was only room for one thing around his neck.

He picked it up as he sat down on the edge of the bed.It was a lanyard with a small plastic card-a photo i.d. card,complete with bar code and corporate logo,of Synergic employee Jurgen Mills.In a younger head shot of Stan,PhotoShop-ped to perfection, Jurgen appeared to have joined Synergic looking like a complete geek boy,with bedhead style surfer blond hair sticking up at several parallel angles,Elvis Costello style thick framed glasses (they were,in fact,Costello's glasses-he'd cut and pasted them in),a small silver nose stud,and what Stan felt was the ironic coup de gras,a small 'soul patch' staining his chin like a dark blonde skidmark.

According to their computer,Jurgen Andrew Mills had worked for Synergic for five years,an IT employee from their Palo Alto branch.He was a steady if dull employee,unremarkable from every angle you chose to look at him from-single,living alone in an apartment near Santa Clara with a pet gecko named Hobs.He drove a 2000 model Honda Civic,and took five sick days last year,but only used four days of his vacation time.The funny thing was,Jurgen Mills didn't exist.

Oh sure,he existed in their computers,but if they checked the dead tree stuff (files,papers),they'd discover there were no records at all for this employee,no sign he ever existed,nonetheless worked for the company.

Stan had planted him in their computers three days ago.No one had noticed.And why would they?It would only matter to payroll,and they wouldn't be going through the personnel records until the end of the month.And in exactly twelve hours- well,no,now it was eleven hours and forty seven minutes-a built in time specific 'self destruct' he had inserted into the coding of the Mills file would activate,and completely erase every trace of Mills from their computer.It wouldn't affect Synergic at all;he had no beef with them.

Well,okay,they were a megalomaniacal computer software company that sold deliberately shoddy programs to civilians (non hackers) so they could make a windfall on patches and upgrades and security plugs for their flawed code,but what software company didn't do that?A sucker was born every minute,although he thought P.T. Barnum's axiom should be updated for the new technology to one being born every nanosecond.The more complex the code,the more you could sell the unwary on a huge bill of goods.

Thankfully,the 'dot com boom' had busted,and most companies were cleaning house.If Jurgen did exist,he'd probably be laid off in a couple of months as Synergic trimmed the fat from its branches in an effort to stave off bankruptcy proceedings.He was doing Jurgen a favor by making him implode into corrupted 'junk' code in a few hours.

For all intents and purposes,the plastic I.D. badge was real;made of the same material as the real one,based on the exact same design.If someone handled it,they might notice it was a bit lighter and thinner than most Synergic badges,but who would?And even then,it was unlikely they'd notice,even if it fell off the cord and hit the floor.If something looked authentic enough,the little details didn't matter;counterfeiters had relied on that for centuries.

He put the lanyard around his neck,but tucked the badge beneath his mesh shirt,turning the i.d. so only its blank white back showed through.It was unlikely the hotel clerk downstairs would notice,but here he was not checked in as Jurgen,but as someone named Paul Maynard.He'd paid in cash,so there would be no paper trail,no matter what.

He put on his socks,and then a tiny holster containing what looked like a snub nosed cap pistol,a child's toy.But it was far from that.A grey plastic body made the phony looking gun very light,and he hardly knew it was there,but it was a real gun:plastic bodied,illegal as hell,it contained only two bullets,because after the second shot the friction melted the inner workings and made it a useless chunk of plastic slag.But it was only for worse case scenarios-he hoped he'd never have to fire a single shot, nonetheless two.For the less extreme worse case scenarios,he had himself.

While avoiding the sun so he could get the classic 'hacker's tan' (skin so pale it was almost translucent),he'd been in the gym, learning to kickbox.It seemed he was a natural,and his muscles were the only flaw in the overall disguise,but it would just have to do.The last time he sparred,he accidentally knocked his partner out,a big guy that had several inches and fifty pounds on him.Although he didn't mean to hurt the guy,part of him was glad he had done so,as it proved he was good enough to take someone down.

He slipped on his battered Doc Martens,lug boots as ugly as sin and in for a while about four years ago,then reached behind him,grabbing the messenger bag sitting on the opposite side.It had the Apple logo on it,and was made to carry an iBook,but that's not what was inside.In the cushioned grey bag was a top of the line Ashton Digital Passport 2001 laptop,upgraded to maximum memory capacity,with the Windows XP removed and a customized Solaris operating system installed,along with a few other extras of his own devising.This was the weapon he would be needing the most.

He slipped the strap of the bag over his neck and right shoulder,the weight of the souped up laptop hanging heavily on his left side,and snatched the half empty backpack off the carpet as he got up,the bed making several unpleasant noises as the rusty springs reacted to the shifting weight.He was glad he was not spending the night in this clean but extremely depressing hovel.

He shoved the few items and clothes he brought with him in the nylon backpack,including the clothes he planned to change into afterwards,and returned to the bathroom to finally slip on his watch,a chrome Swatch that struck him as tacky in some indefinable way,and left his hotel room for the last time.

Going down the stairs to the lobby,Stan popped a handful of caffeinated mints in his mouth.He needed to be jazzed,firing on all cylinders,and while adrenaline was fine,it wasn't nearly enough.Not when he was risking his life,and breaking so many goddamn laws it made him laugh when he thought about it.If he got caught,he'd be going back to Leavenworth for approximately four centuries.So he had to make sure he didn't get caught.

He didn't know why he had worried about the desk clerk noticing the i.d.-the man was watching one of those reality shows on television,and never even glanced at him twice as he checked out.

The night was muggy,smoggy and humid in a perfectly California way,making sweat instantly ooze out of his pores,and he was suddenly glad for the mesh t-shirt.It wasn't quite night yet,though;the sky was a half hearted sort of navy blue,a sort of lavender pink at the edges of the horizon between the spires of the buildings,surrounding him on all sides like a titanic security fence.

But for the first time in a long time,he felt good.He was finally making a move to get this attack dog off his ass and this shadow out of his life once and for all.

He got into the silver Saturn rented by yet another man (James Bloom-but he also paid in cash),laying the laptop carefully in the passenger seat,on top of the battered leather jacket he had left inside,but he just threw the backpack in the back seat.Clothes and crap-who cared about that?

As he started the car,he emptied the package of caffeinated mints into his mouth,and his foot bounced impatiently on the floorboard,a combination of the caffeine kicking in and just his eagerness to get this show on the road.

Saturn or not,he made sure he got one with a CD player.Before driving out onto the sluggish and randomly dangerous California highway system (like life,it was long stretches of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror),he got the Orbital CD out of his coat and slipped it into the player,so 'Satan' came out of the surrounding speakers as he he drove out of the parking lot of the Rose Court Hotel and headed West,towards the much nicer Palisades Grand Hotel.

The music reminded him of his college days,lots of late nights living on caffeine,junk food,and nicotine,surfing the virtually infant (well,toddler at any rate) World Wide Web and seeing what he could explore,what he could break into,what kind of trouble he could cause.A lot,as it turned out;endless amounts.

At the usenet group where he made several friends of fellow hackers (he suddenly remembered Torvald among them,with a tinge of regret-his screen name had been Phamous,because that's what he intended to become),he had simply been 'Killswitch', a term he pulled out of one of his electronic engineering magazines.He thought it sounded tough,and even hackers weren't above a little macho posturing,even if they couldn't back it up in the real world.Of course he could back it up now,but then he'd been a bean pole of a college kid,more concerned with a moby (great and huge in geek speak) hack than anything else,grades included.Yet he lucked out;even half asleep and coasting,he was more than smart enough to get by.

Still,he hadn't been Killswitch since he got busted by the Feds for fucking up Carnivore (and he was sure that Ragnarok,a prick who used to hang on the usenet board and seemed like a total leech,narc'ed him out).Tonight,though,he thought he should bring Killswitch back from the mental graveyard;he needed to have that sense of fearlessness,of immortality.That feeling that you wouldn't fuck up because failure never factored in to the equation-it was illogical,and based on a faulty premise,and therefore had no reason for being included in the end sum.

Was he arrogant then?Sure,probably.That was a common disease among hackers who were good and knew it.Then he crashed,and got his wings effectively clipped,to mix a metaphor.Maybe it was time to let a little of the arrogance out again.

After all,if he pulled this off,he'd have every single right in the world to gloat.

For a while it haunted why he was still alive while so many others were dead.Because he had an important role to play in faking his death-yes,he got that.But his continued existence afterward bothered him.Stan wanted to think they moved around enough that they couldn't be tracked down,but he knew he was kidding himself.So why was he still alive?

That that raging psychopath could have liked anyone besides himself was unthinkable.So there was only one reason he was not dead yet:he was being held in reserve,in case he was needed again.

Not that he'd ever do anything willingly for the shithead...but that's why Holly was still alive.She was the tool,the thing that they would need to control and manipulate him.She would always be in danger as long as that bastard was alive and running free. Finally,he decided to do something with his aimless,frustrated rage,and cast aside his sense of helplessness.He was not helpless. He was one of the best hackers in the world.He could do something with that.

Stan decided it was time to take the battle to Gabriel.

Now at first,he had no idea how he could possibly do that-the guy was gone,had assumed a new identity,even the Feds thought he was dead.He could be anywhere,and had the money to disappear for good.

But that's when it occurred to him that some habits were very hard to break.

Gabriel liked expensive things,and obviously was accustomed to indulging his every whim.Especially when it came to toys,known to the sane as weapons.

But not ordinary weapons;not those suitcase nukes he could supposedly buy in bulk.It would have to be a rara avis-something expensive,deadly,devastating,something no one had ever had before.

Which is why he was Jurgen Mills,and why he was headed to the Palisades Grand.He had found the weapon.

And he was going to get it first.

He had scoped the area around the hotel yesterday,figuring out the traffic patterns,which way would be the fastest way out,and which would be a good secondary exit if there were unforeseen complications.But he had planned this entire escapade meticulously,and didn't anticipate anything he couldn't handle.Unlike a psychopath he could think of,he didn't plan on hurting anyone.He'd defend himself if and when he had to,and he wasn't going to let anyone stop him.He would leave with the weapon tonight,or he would not leave at all.

Stan parked his bland little Saturn a block over from the swanky Palisades,but had found a shortcut yesterday that would allow him to drop right onto its backyard in no time.Well,so to speak.

The Palisades Grand was a huge skyscraper of a hotel,a massive spire of glass and steel chromed for a 'retro' feel,leaving Stan to wonder if you could feel nostalgia for something that had never existed.It went for an 'old fashioned' glamor,except it was idealized streamlined 'elegance',someone's idea of a past they had only seen in Hannah Barberra cartoons.It stood out on the entire upscale block like a rocket on the perpetual verge of launching.

Stan carefully climbed a cement wall backed up against a Starbucks (used to be an alley,but those were for low life neighborhoods ),and once clear on the other side,he decided he had time to grab a triple espresso before he walked down the street to the Palisades.

As soon as he decided to do something-anything-to get the psycho monkey off his back,the first thing he did was go back to his roots:the usenet hack boards where he met fellow hackers and honed his craft.But he didn't feel comfortable going back in as Killswitch,so he thought of a new i.d. for himself-Phisherman.A terrible pun,but one he perversely enjoyed.

He was surprised to find one of the hackers who had made up a cyber 'gang' with him and Torvald was still active-Alias359. A kid in Tokyo,Sakai,who had been the youngest of them at the time but now must have been in his mid twenties.He was good,but he didn't quite have the brazenness of the truly successful hacker.There were two others in the 'gang'-Rot13,a college kid at M.I.T.,and Zerosum,a guy who worked for a computer company in Texas (the oldest among them at the then startling age of twenty six)-and all he knew was Rot13 got busted for cracking and defacing the Department of Defense website four years back;he hadn't heard about him since.Zerosum seemed to drop off the face of the earth,which was probably for the best,all things considered.It was nice to know Sakai was still alive and kicking,not sucked into some psycho's whacked out scheme for...what was the scheme exactly?As far as Stan could tell,it just seemed to be killing as many people in as many gruesome and odd ways as possible.

Even lurking the boards as Phisherman,he was tempted to reach out to Alias359 on private chat-even if they had never met in person,he seemed like an old friend-but if he was going to make this work,he couldn't risk trusting anyone,not even the only other member of the 'gang' still alive and functioning in the hacker underground.

Phisherman was,as Stan had created him,a twenty three year old wage slave working as a codeslinger for a software company he abhorred (quite possibly Synergic-he'd left enough vague information he could have been referring to Microsoft,Synergic,or even Reveal Studios),and he wanted to do a moby hack,something unforgettable,something to make a name for himself.In other words,a grandstanding,attention craving,stupid kid-most hackers,to be brutally honest.

He managed to ingratiate himself among a group of 'senior' hackers on the board (Sakai among them),and that's when he began to tell a convoluted tale about his father back in Russia:a bullshit story not to necessarily garner sympathy,but to slowly open the door to stranger,seemingly dangerous requests.

In a way,Stan hated himself.He had 'social engineered' (a nice geek way of saying manipulated) these kids-and they were mostly kids-into helping him in what was an extremely dangerous gambit.More dangerous than any of them could possibly ever know. But it had worked.And as far as he knew,no one was dead yet.

He'd asked out of curiosity what happened to Killswitch,just to stroke his ego and see if he was remembered.Some said after he went down (went to prison),he worked for the Feds-which would leave him hopelessly tainted in the hacker world-but Sakai, bless him,was quick to defend him,saying he'd never work for the Feds;he even rejected a plea bargain for a lighter sentence because it would have meant helping the Feds undo the damage he had done to Carnivore.So the basic thought was Killswitch was gone,exiled to the land of civilians because the Feds wouldn't let him touch a computer again.

Gone,but not completely forgotten.True,and yet so very wrong.

As part of his social engineering,he told the hackers his father was being muscled by the Russian mob over a weapons design he had created,but the design was stolen by someone else and smuggled out.What he needed to find was someone-anyone-with direct info on the world's weaponry black market.A lot of those guys weren't online,nonetheless easy to find-no one in such a dangerous game even wanted to risk leaving a digital footprint.

But dedicated hackers could find anyone,even those who were accustomed to hiding under rocks in the civilian world.And a Bulgarian hacker known as Stop666 helped him get in touch with a semi-civilian known to him only by his on line name, Xrayeye.

(Most civilians would probably be shocked to know Bulgaria was the hotbed of hackers in Europe.After the collapse of the Soviet Union,they tried to repurpose themselves as the 'dot com' capitol of the Eastern Bloc.It never worked,and the whole infrastructure collapsed,leaving Bulgaria teeming with bored,out of work codeslingers.A recipe for trouble if there ever was one.)

He knew little about Xrayeye:he spoke very good,although occasionally sloppy,English (the hacker lingua franca worldwide),and from the info he had,Stan believed he worked for a government (or quasi-government) agency,tracking the black market weapons trade.Or perhaps not.Not all the players on the board at any given time had a clear agenda.

The reason he seemed to be throwing 'Phisherman' a bone was because Xrayeye seemed to have a vitriolic hatred of the Russian mob-or perhaps just Russians:his loose use of English didn't always make the distinction clear.

But one night weeks ago,Xrayeye came through for him in a big way.

It seems there were rumors a scientist in a Russian government lab had perfected a 'super weapon' that had been on the drawing board since the waning days of the Cold War,and built a perfectly functioning prototype.The problem was,since the government hadn't bothered to pay him (or any other scientist) for some time,he decided to take off with his prototype and put it on the market for the highest bidder.

One buyer quickly out bid all the others,but the scientist (referred to by Xrayeye as 'M.K.') was wary,because the man was an American.

As soon as he said that,Stan knew exactly who the bidder was.

M.K. had fled to the States,but the 'client' was unwilling to do the deal in America itself-the deal would be on (of all places) a boat,in international territorial waters,which meant even if they were caught,there'd be many questions as to who-if anyone-had jurisdiction.

M.K. had several aliases,only one of which Xrayeye knew ('Boris Zhelov'),but that was enough for Stan to track him down.

He was staying at the Palisades Grand under the very Americanized name 'Steven Kirk' (Captain Kirk?),which was where, ironically enough,Synergic was having its annual end of fiscal year party for most of its employees in the leased out main ballroom.

He didn't think M.K. would be stupid enough to have the weapon-referred to by Xrayeye by its code name,'Peacemeal' (the weapon makers obviously loved irony)-with him,but he wouldn't be far from the thing on the verge of bringing him a cool fifty million dollars (or so it was said.Knowing Gabriel,M.K. would just end up poor and dead,shark food).Which is where the building next door came into it,explaining why he was staying at the Palisades.

The building next door looked like a sparkling clean warehouse,an oddity on this block and in the entire area,nonetheless next to the Palisades Grand.It had a sign out front reading 'Galleon',and everyone took it for an art gallery that never seemed to open.

But what Stan had discovered was this:Galleon was the name of a secure storage facility,but not just any facility.It was owned by the same man who owned the Palisades,namely Synergic's Vice President,James Houten.Under the guise of an art gallery always on the verge of opening,it was in truth a high tech storage facility for the extremely wealthy and secretive,blabbed on the hacker board by an engineer-Borg9-who helped set it up.He had no idea about the exact nature of the software running the system-it was personally created and installed by Houten himself (who,while not exactly a hacker,still didn't qualify as a civilian either),but Borg9 admitted the main computer of the Galleon was 'massive and mondo scary',and he pitied the fool that tried to break into or otherwise hack that security system.

Stan was glad Killswitch had always been foolish.

He gulped down his triple espresso,burning his throat,as he walked down the lightly populated sidewalk to the Palisades Grand, the weight of the laptop inside the bag heavy against his back.He barely glanced at the darkened cinderblock facade of the squat Galleon as he walked past it,more focused on the neon lit front of the Palisades,made truly tacky for the Synergic fete.

From the amount of Lexuses and Explorers in the Palisades's parking lot (they even hired valets-how fucking classy),no one who worked for Synergic and bothered to show up was exactly hurting financially.Or at least not yet.That would have to wait for the inevitable 'house cleaning'.

Security was reasonably tight:he had to show his i.d. badge to three different burly,black suited men as he pushed through the big glass doors and entered the polished wood and golden hued lobby,which was larger than his trailer in Texas.They zapped his bar code with an infrared scanner,and it bleeped an affirmative every time.Jurgen Mills was a recognized employee...well,at least recognized by the computer,at any rate.

Signs pointed down a wide,ecru carpeted corridor to the main ballroom on the ground floor,which was twice as large as the lobby,and over three times as full.Middle of the road rock music played over the sound system at a reasonable level,and he crumpled up his espresso cup before lobbing it into a garbage can,so hyped up on caffeine and adrenaline he could swear his synapses were sparking live wires,his whole body as primed and ready as a loaded gun.But the bullet was in the bag slung across his back.

It wasn't hard for him to mix in to the swarm of people filling the ballroom:there was an even mix between stereotypical suited middle management sycophants and slovenly or outrageously dressed codeslingers,programmers,and geeks from the tech department.It was almost as if there was some invisible bifurcation keeping the groups at a safe distance from one another.

He nodded at people,pretending he belonged here (half the battle),and went up to the bar on the geek side of the room,asking the perfectly blond,stereotypical California surfer boy bartender for an imported beer he had no actual intention of drinking.It was a downer,and he didn't want to come down,not yet.But it was part of his camouflage.

He hadn't been there long when a geek who had dressed nicely for the evening (casual tan suit,open necked white shirt,missing only a tie) came up to stand beside him."Hey-"he glanced at the card around his neck."-Jurgen,I'm uh,Ian."He held up the card around his own neck sheepishly."Ian Burnham,from the Oregon branch."

"Hey,"Stan said casually.Geeks didn't shake hands."So what do you think of California?"

Ian was a reasonably average looking man,with a round face and a thick,combed back shock of brownish black hair,brown eyes guileless behind stylish wire framed glasses.His complexion was a bit clearer than most geeks,which was saying something. "Oh,well,I've been here a couple times.I started out in Palo Alto,but the traffic got to me,you know?"

Stan nodded agreeably,and made all the right noises,simply letting Ian talk.He asked if he knew some of the people at the Palo Alto branch he used to work with,and,recognizing their names from the employee list and the inflections in Ian's voice when he mentioned the names of the people,he agreed and either said they were okay or pains in the asses.He called it right,as Ian chuckled knowingly and agreed.

After a couple of minutes,Stan realized that Ian was,in a subtle,clumsy way,hitting on him.That made him feel really bad.He had expected to come in,chum up to someone staying in the hotel,and swipe their key card,but he had not expected to get picked up.He consoled himself with the knowledge that what he planned to do would fuck up the records,so they would never know if it was a valid key card or not,nonetheless who it might have belonged to.

He played along,not stringing the guy along but not openly discouraging him either,waiting for his chance.

Ian kept his wallet in the front right pocket of his sports jacket-Stan could see the familiar rectangular shape beneath the fabric.He wondered if he kept the key card loose in his pocket,or if it was in the billfold.He was able to coax the fact that he was staying at the Palisades out of him,no shock since they probably got some kind of discount..

In spite of its retro facade,Houten was determined to make this one of the more secure,higher tech hotels.Nearly all the systems were automated,and you needed a key card to use the elevators-a security measure some found extreme,but many of the rich and famous clientele liked the extra barrier between them and the riff raff.Stan didn't need room access;he just needed to get into an elevator.

What most people who hadn't dug up the schematics on line didn't know was that there was a secret,private underground garage for Houten and all his wealthy friends,who wanted to park their Jaguars and Lamborghinis without worrying about them getting stolen or vandalized,or spotted if they were stepping out on the wives or partners.While the elevator went down to the private garage,that wasn't obvious-you needed a special code to access the hidden panel,and another code to go down to the garage.

The underground garage was also where goods were moved in and out of Galleon,to keep it secret.So Stan needed to beat one computer's security system to get to the garage,and another to access Galleon,and that was all before he went after 'Peacemeal'. A million things could go wrong.Some undoubtedly would.But Stan was sure he was more than a match for anything Houten could brainstorm,even on his best day.

Stan set his beer bottle aside on the acrylic topped bar,as if he had finished it,and after a few minutes of debating the merits of UNIX,Ian noticed he was drinkless and offered to buy him one.Stan declined his offer to pay for his drink,but admitted he could use some caffeine.

As Ian turned to get the bartender's attention,Stan darted his hand inside Ian's coat.

He didn't notice,and he kept his room key card loose in his pocket.As he slipped Ian's card into the front pocket of his vinyl pants,Stan wondered if he missed a secondary occupation as a pickpocket.