Burning Bright

April 03, 2017:

Now duly warned that something dangerous is brewing, Six begins digging into James Wesley. A trip into the digital web tells her she's drawn the attention of something big.

Kinsey's Garage, Gotham City, NJ


NPCs: Various and sundry, emitted by Kingpin.

Mentions: Spider-Man, Matt Murdock

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

James Wesley has a superpower.

Not that he'd show up on any index, because genetically he's totally human. He's not a mutant. He's not a robotically enhanced anything. He didn't get bitten by anything radioactive or doused in any strange chemicals. He doesn't have any magic.

No. It's a superpower in the way that people in their 20s to 40s use that word…as a descriptor for an interesting or noteworthy but basically mundane talent.

Wesley's superpower is being the blandest man alive.

No Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, iDol, or other social accounts. Not even LinkedIn, odd for a professional. He has an e-mail account but it's used strictly for work, and the kinds of e-mails that pass to and from this account are as dull as dishwasher, usually things like 'Meeting confirmed for 2:00, thanks.'

His bank accounts are squeaky clean. He gets a fine salary from a company called Confederated Global Investments, right in line with what someone would pay a C-level executive, though he doesn't even have an online business card or "Our Team" profile on a website somewhere to say what, precisely, it is that he does.

His medical records and insurance claims show no major medical issues. He gets the flu sometimes like anyone else, but that's about it. He has no major prescriptions. He's on his company's BXBS policy.

He graduated from NYU, majoring in accounting, he went on to get an MBA from the same university.

His parents died when he and his sister, Leah, were very young. Leah is in college now, off at Stanford University studying engineering. She did not apply for financial aid. She did not take out a loan. Instead, a scan of the bank records shows that an anonymous someone wires money to Stanford in her name every semester, enough to keep her not only set up with tuition and books but with room and board as well. Those accounts twist and turn through a tangle of a mess that routes to Switzerland, to the Caymans, through several shell corporations, back into Switzerland and back again into the Caymans…it's headache inducing and basically circular, as if the money basically just kind of appeared out of thin air and made its way back to the university. It would take a forensic accountant to sort through it all, really; it's one thing to read the records, it's another to figure out what the Hell is happening when someone has gone to so many pains to hide that money so well.


In the world Six inhabits, a lack of known information is almost as unique as a profile she might generate from the endless trivia of a life: it's a fingerprint all its own. He is exceptional in his lack of exceptional qualities; noteworthy for how little of note can be found about him. It is, in spite of all efforts to the contrary, the foundation of a profile all its own. Only people with something to hide are ever this squeaky-clean. The more public information is available about an individual, the less cautious they are, the more entry-level foibles and failures you can discover…the less likely it is that they have something bigger, nastier, hidden at the bottom of the rabbit hole.

Which makes it imperative to do what she's about to do. With her entire life laid out and vulnerable beneath the Damocles' sword of whoever or whatever he represents, with Spider-Man's friend at the Daily Bugle at risk of being swept into her mess along with everyone he cares about…there's no room for inaction. It's no longer time to play things safe.

Twenty feet beneath the floor of the Garage is a cavernous space divided roughly in two, one half comprised of a cutting-edge laboratory, the other half a hangar for the Valkyrie. The space has been extensively shielded from prying electronic eyes in much the same way the Garage itself is far more secure than its mundane exterior of a retrofitted warehouse might suggest. Down here, encased in solid concrete, she feels as safe as it's possible for someone like her to be. Spidering wires and sensors emerge topside in various locations, tasting signals in the air. Fiber-optic cable and a massive satellite dish ten blocks away provide her the launch pad necessary to send her consciousness into orbit and one of countless satellites overhead, leaving the shell of her physical body behind in an ergonomic recliner, from the top of which cables snake out of the frame and into the port located behind her right ear. It's not necessary, this connection, but it eases the burden of what she does, sparing her energy for negotiating lanes of data. What follows once she's hurtled back to the earth is a web of bounced connections and proxies that puts Leah Wesley's accounting angel to shame. Earthbound technologies are not built or prepared for dealing with something like Six, an alloy of intelligent information with the instincts and out-of-the-box thinking of a flesh-and-blood human, and all of the capacity for calculation of an advanced, militarized AI.

Confederated Global Investments is, she thinks in the micro-microseconds of this travel time, just about the most uselessly uninformative name for a company in the history of business — by design, to be sure.

Still: its network is beautiful to her, laid out in constellations of light. How her mind manages to perceive information as environment, as object, is one of countless things she doesn't understand about what's happened to her. It was never an intended utility of her work because it wasn't supposed to be possible; DEO agents in the field were always meant to link with HUD-enabled helmets and other smart devices capable of interpreting data.

She considers it a perk. The abstractness of her luminous surroundings changes by day and mood, often little more than a vast synthetic terrain, all pulses and lines…but occasionally something else. Once a tea-house she remembered from her time in Japan, another time a library. She supposes with time she may develop the ability to see things as they need to be seen for greatest efficiency of purpose, but after only a year of managing her new condition, the ability to do that consistently often eludes her.


If the constellation had a name it would definitely be Ananasi; it is a vast and shifting spider web of glittering golden threads intertwined with deep purple ones intertwined with black ones; each representing a deeper level of security than the one before it. There are over 40 pulsing nodules that look like flies wrapped in said webs; each representing a hub of information on one of the many, many companies that it holds on to. These stretch out to still more hubs and nodules, some little more than the most thinly constructed of shells.

There is what appears to be a literal spider at the center of the thing, a glittering red 'entity' which skitters up and down the webs, strengthening threads here, cutting them and rewriting them there, dashing into the nodules then back out again. Close inspection shows it is made up of about 15 or 16 data packets all originating from roughly the same location. Terminals, and the people manning them; whatever security or information team this monstrosity has at its disposal. There is beauty and elegance to the work of each part that makes up the whole, these are not amateurs. They don't respond to a mere look at the system, mostly because they aren't aware of it: consciousness is certainly not something any hacker can interpret or detect.

Often, golden threads go purple under its tender ministrations, or purple threads go black.

A similar spider entity made of roughly the same number of individuals radiates a poison green color. This thing leaps off the web she's watching to other people's glimmering data-constellations, slurps up data like it's sucking the blood away, and then leaps back to the CGI data web to spit it out into one specific node, one that looks indistinguishable from the others save for its role as apparent home base to the Poison one.


And what is Six, in this tangle of representations and placeholders for things that are more than objects? Whatever she wants to be, really — not that there's anyone to appreciate that — but by default, perhaps because she's still so instinctually tied to the notion of having and occupying a body, a roughly feminine figure with twisting coils of hair that swirl as though data were water, restless as snakes. It lacks facial features, but within the glowing confines of the head is a single violet star: Five.

Hovering outside of the mental construct that maps for her the internal network of the corporation she's come to pillage, she watches the ominous avatar go about its busy work of ferrying information and access from one place to another, from one level to another. The speed of thought delivers her to a peripheral node on the far outside of the web, the kind of thing connected with website portals and other public-facing systems. She reaches, and with delicate care plucks at the strand that links this node to the next in line, pinging the system with a packet of garbage information, something foreign injected into the system. An erroneous entry, an unexpected access attempt deliberately flubbed. Start logging network activity at this access point. I want to know how the spider catches flies.


The red spider detaches a part of itself. A tiny red spider skitters off to the garbage data. It doesn't really even waste time examining it. It sees it as a low risk threat, something easily cleaned. It works much like a spider does. It quarantines the bit of information, sequestering it in white threads, and then it bites into it and slurps it right up, deleting it. It isn't like it grows any stronger or more bloated from this…it's not actually food. Then it skitters up the strands to leap back into the whole.

It looks oddly contented though, that little spider. Mission accomplished! It's served its purpose.

It doesn't even look like something a human operator bothered to do. It looks like a pre-generated program that a human operator built, is running, and is allowing to do its job. However, the skitter back to the whole probably generated some sort of alert, whether a passive one that the human can go read later, or an active one that lets it know someone tried an attack.

But…little things like that happen pretty much constantly; amateurs, robots, all sorts of things try it. Nothing in the system indicates any state of alert or alarm. Not for that.




Five interprets for her what the actual mechanics of what she's looking at are: that it's an automated defense, a firewall, something simple, unfocused-upon. Probably chucked into some IT guy's to-do list as something to review, one of countless assaults no doubt endured daily by spammers and goodness knows what else.

After a moment's thought, the firelit figure that represents Six divides, stuttering out mirror images of itself: twenty of them. They maneuver close to peripheral nodes, and this time when she reaches out to pluck at the network, she does so in twenty different places at once. Garbage data pelts public-facing access points, not quite the equivalent of a DDoS attack — it lacks the sheer volume necessary to knock something offline, and she isn't looking to send the IT department into action, anyway. What she wants is to see how the focus may split, how multiple threats are dealt with. What resources are mobilized in assessing and rectifying.


Multiple threats produce a swarm of spiders. Twenty little ones break off from the big one, which barely diminishes in size. There is a bit of a reduction, representing the way the processing power is diverted in order to deal with it, but…there's a lot of processing power to be had. Six gets the sense that it could draw from several other sources to get more power if it had to.

She does note the sudden recall of Poison Spider, even as the tiny spiders go after the data in much the same way: quarantining it, then erasing it.

Poison Spider suddenly leaps right next to Red Spider; it goes into 'wait' mode, all malicious hacking activities suspended as someone on the other end of the line gets the notion that something might be happening. Nobody's alarmed yet; someone's paying more attention. Poison Spider starts to slowly take on red spots as the people attached to it begin turning their attention towards protecting their own turf.


Whatever this shell of a company is or does, they very clearly prioritize information security — which is, actually, quite rare in the overall digital infrastructure of the United States, where plenty of people think that a password on their wifi is enough to keep creepers out.

I'm putting you in. Give me a catalogue of databases. Find me the places we can learn about Wesley, mark them, and then… The candlelight figure that is Six has no mouth with which to frown, but if it did, it would. Then lead them the other way. And don't get caught.

The little violet star inside of her zips off to one of the untapped points of entry to execute the requested actions: Five, in all of its sentient glory, for all intents and purposes a hostage within her head.

And while that begins, Six gathers herself: a mental girding that also happens to prepare a vast suite of code blocks: tools, weapons, defensive measures, the kind of kit script-kiddies can only dream about. She will brute force this if she has to, and set their whole network on fire on her way out the door…but it will be so much easier, so much safer, if she can distract them with Five and snatch what she needs while they're otherwise occupied.


The violet star will have a long search. She'll see him dip and dive here and there. It's as if Wesley's fingerprints are briefly on all sorts of places in this network…a signature here, a phone call there…but there is never really a place where he can dive in and get his teeth straight into things. He dips again, and again, and again.

Finally he finds something in the center of the web, quite close to the node where the Poison Spider was bringing all of its info. He flashes thrice for her…then zips down the lines. Basically it's the equivalent of watching him set dumpster fires all over the outer edges of the system, none big enough to set the whole thing aflame while she needs it, but definitely big enough to put everyone and everything on high alert.

The two spiders break into a swarm of red, and take off in hot pursuit, putting out the fires and snarling after Five, flinging Tolkien-esque webs of light at him in the attempt to do what they've done to every other bit of garbage on the system…contain and feast upon it. But there's a hunger now. Whereas everything else Six threw its way was garbage, this is something else again. Something that could make the collective of arachnids and their human controllers better, stronger, more efficient; something they can devour, take apart, learn from…or at least, that's how they read and perceive it.

The spiders gain speech bubbles. There's an awful lot of, "WTF is that? Never seen anything like that" and "get on it no time to waste" and far more technical speak as they try dozens of things which will probably never work, but which will certainly serve to keep Five busy doing his job nevertheless.

They do not leave that node unguarded though. What remains is a single electric blue spider that looks exactly like a black widow with a glowing white hourglass on its back. It's as feminine in its way as Six's form. It moves like something sentient. This isn't consciousness on the web, but it is someone using an augmented-virtual reality link to come as close as a normal human can come and still be a normal human.


Truth is, Kinsey has no idea what would happen if Five were to be 'caught.' How does a silicon chip interpret digital intelligence? Five began its life in code, inert lines of programming, but it has long since ceased to be that thing, as complex as the electrical impulses of any brain, recursive, self-referential, learning, adaptive, introspective. They might capture snippets of code that make no sense, the programming equivalent of having a moment's glimpse of someone else's thoughts or the chaotic symbolism of a dream: impulses and urges.

She just doesn't know. It's the not-knowing that drives her nightly efforts to dig into her own past, desperate to cobble together some understanding of what she is and what that means. It's the not-knowing that's frightening, because how do you protect yourself from threats you don't understand the shape of, or aren't even aware exist?

Trial-by-fire runs like these are exhilarating, brimming with potential, but they are deeply dangerous, and back in the lab underneath the Garage, adrenaline begins a steady intravenous drip in her physical body, the microsaccade of her eyes behind closed lids gaining speed. Her breathing remains deep and regular, but her skin flushes with the chemical cocktail that feeds into her alertness, as much a part of her mental response as her physical one.

She is like a sprinter crouched at the starting line, waiting for the pistol to send her hurtling into the blue and green. That signal comes in the form of Five's triplet of winks, suspiciously close to the center of the web. Either James Wesley is more integral to this company than she thought, or —

It doesn't matter if they know she's coming — though the implications of that may matter, later. She needs this. She needs whatever that is. Because if she doesn't get something…she's going to do, as she told Spider-Man, the dumb thing.

..Not that this doesn't qualify on some level.

She drops herself in. Expanding senses bleed now across not just the visual elements of the network but the physical map as well, discovering the specific nature of the corridors and gateways that lead her toward that ultimate goal. She is a blur of manufactured permissions and timeouts, slipping through silently wherever possible and figuratively kicking down the doors where she must.


The glowing woman chases leads across the desert, and the blue spider follows.

Swift and silent, streaking after her, lines of code spewing out in her direction. The spider is having trouble keeping up; Six is an eldritch flicker, a flame here and now gone, gone and now somewhere else. But the creature shifts and adapts, becoming a feminine spear warrior herself, swifter, smarter, growing wings so she might fly.

She flings code; something meant to slow Six down, something meant to put an end to those manufactured permissions and timeouts, something meant to force more of a confrontation than is possible right now. Spear-like, aiming where the woman thinks Six will be rather than where she is.

The code fragments are stamped with a hacker's call sign: the pursuer has a name. She calls herself Cerulean.


Sprayed nets and webbings fill Six's connection to the network with plenty of hurdles to be negotiated. Firewalls, elevated levels of security, timeouts — whatever sits to hand, shy of disconnecting the physical hardware…

Now there's a thought.

It's an idea. A seed, a germ of an idea only…but she tucks it away into the arsenal of possibilities at her disposal, electing to pursue her goal through still-traditional means, even if the manner of her assault differs wildly from any remote connection.

She can dodge for a while. Evade, evade, digress through backdoors that lead to digital cul-de-sacs only to blink off in another direction entirely, capitalizing on what she has in spades: speed.

These circuitous movements to avoid pursuit are costing her time, however, and while it might yield useful data to find out what happens if Five is snatched up…she should probably avoid indulging that curiosity in a system as potentially hostile as this one. Need a new plan.

The one she comes up with is a long way from safe, but: her current pursuer has a specific identity. It represents a user, and a user requires, by necessity, an access point. An IP address.

She stops blinking. The light from which she's constructed breaks apart into hexagons that roughly maintain her shape, a red grid of hastily-erected defenses. A shell of a bubble that glistens like half-seen filaments pops into existence around her, protection against malicious code. With that done, she stops moving altogether. Makes a target of herself, deliberately, willing this ambitious Cerulean user to make contact with her, even if that contact arrives in the form of a spear through the chest.

I really hope I'm right about this.


It arrives in the form of a spear shattering against her protective code as Cerulean hovers to a stop directly across from her, studying her and her defenses. It all happens in…nanoseconds, really, but in this artificial world it seems like a poignant pause, two warriors facing off against one another in battle.

It also gives Six the moment she needs to pull the address.

It's a static IP.

And that's all the time she gets before the woman suddenly flings up her hands. Blue-brick walls start springing into existence, grids forming beneath and above and to the sides of Six, trying hard to trap her. She can erase Six later, whatever she is…if she can get Six quarantined.

Six has speed…the speed of thought…but this coder has definitely adapted to push the maximum speed out of her own rig, eliminating margin for error in response brick by perilous brick.


Not enough.

They might be able to hurt her. They won't, barring some miracle of modern engineering — say, the development of their own AI — be able to catch her, but it doesn't matter, in the end, because Six has what she needs in that single address.

Six isn't just consciousness as information, she's also information as energy on a quantum level. It's the effect that allows her to power quiescent electronics and machinery even remotely — like taking control of massive construction cranes, for instance. The moment she acquires that address she has a hotline directly to the heart of the only thing letting Cerulean interact with her in the first place.

As it was so eloquently put by the character named Turkish in that instant Guy Ritchie classic: 'Now, we are fucked.'

Only the we is they, and the means is Six.


Massive torrents of electricity surge through the lines, directed with the impossible precision of a lightning bolt through the conduit of Five in the direction of the given address. It would be a lie to say that the effort did not cost her — it does — but she once powered an entire opera house through her fingertips. For all intents and purposes, Six unleashes the full electrical fury of some virtual Odin on the host machine at that address, and as the surge ramps up ever-increasingly, Five chimes in with an entirely unscripted contribution of his own:

<Goodnight, Moon.>


Every spider is just gone from the network at once. It's as though 32 voices cried out in agony, and were suddenly silenced…

Well, not really.

The passive security programs still run on the various networks; but there's now a big hole in the middle of everything; the network flickers and flurries, unable to remain its beautiful cohesive spider-web constellation with that massive outage turning everything into a massive mess.

Phone lines light up in that web. One call goes to four people, which goes to sixteen, which goes to still more.

The web winks out. In light of this, someone decides to start shutting down servers one by one, taking them offline, leaving only the residual data that's stored 'in the wires', so to speak. Someone is taking whatever that was very seriously, and their response is swift. Immediate. Decisive.


Shit. Shit! Shit!

She should leave. She should begin to pull herself out of there before it all winks out around her and slams her with a dangerous backdraft of feedback — not unlike disconnecting a peripheral before 'ejecting' it first. But she's so close, and the people on her tail are gone

With me, Five. And tap those fucking phone lines! Get me anything! Everything!

AI summoned, she whips through the lines toward the database Five signaled her from, racing against — against —

They were too prepared for this. Who can mobilize shutting down an entire network this size at a moment's notice, at this hour of the night? Who even creates a server farm capable of that, when they don't specialize in information storage, providing server space to the public, or managing massive amounts of monetary transactions? She'd expect this kind of emergency killswitch from Amazon, maybe, or Google, but this…

Ice-cold fingers of ill-feeling creep over the nape of her neck in the lab, aware that she could be making a catastrophic mistake, that the information she's after could be planted, that this whole thing could have been — could have..

I need to know.

The whole goddamn thing is collapsing around her, and she grits her teeth and doubles down, Spider-Man's anxious tone of voice accompanying her every virtual step of the way.


She can watch Five create the taps; he steals data like a violet Robin Hood, a nebula magpie. He goes after the very first one; he tries to get the second, but the data falls apart, gone before he can retrieve it. VOIP lines, then, tied to this beautiful collapsing system, rapidly becoming a galaxy of black holes, if only black holes without the power to generate any kind of sucking vortex. Just void holes, black space, sudden emptiness.

A dizzying array of data is available for one last ditch snatch and grab. She's there near the center already, right there by the CGI bundle of information, the very last bit to go dark. They hang there like ripe fruits for the taking: accounts payable, accounts receivable, high level board meeting information and minutes, legal agreements, sales data, marketing strategies, operations information, human resources files, phone records which are so large as to be mismashed.

She can see at a glance that the details of certain business agreements lay within the pulsing pods of either the legal data or the board meeting data; she has time to snatch one or the other, but…probably not both.


The information on offering is substantial, but given a choice between all of the things on offer…the business activities of this bizarre leviathan are too tempting to pass up, and may yield intelligence about people in Wesley's orbit. The man himself has no immediately accessible records of note, but there are people around him, and other people may not be so careful as he. In the system of his life, other people are the weak link.

And with a choice between board meeting information and legal data, there is no contest whatsoever: she plucks the legal data from the system without hesitation. She can find the public information about who's on the board if she cares to — which she may, later — but this? This is something she may never have the chance to see again. And, as it happens, there's someone in her immediate circle of acquaintences with a very sharp eye for law.

The very moment she finishes retrieving the data she's yanking herself backward through virtual space, retreating from the crumbling network as it becomes increasingly difficult to find remaining linkages to the outside. And when she snaps back into herself, torpedoing through the atmosphere of the earth and back toward safer networks, slipping through a Gordian knot of connections designed to foil any attempts at tracing her…

She does so to discover she has a blinding migraine and a substantial nosebleed. Half-numb, trembling fingers lift to delicately trace the line of the cable near her head to the jack that connects with the port in her skull, pulling it free. That arm dangles off of the side of the chair as she stares upward with glassy eyes into dizzy darkness lit only by the pale blue glow of banks of monitors, swallowing. Her throat is dry, and clicks.

"Play the — fuck. Play the phone call."


The phone call goes as follows.

Nervous voice, female. "Um. Mr. F—"

A low cultured bass with a seething, gravely quality about it.

"You have very few slip-ups left to you, Cerulean. Are you sure you want to waste one on that? I don't give out mulligans."

"Er. No. No sir."

Mr. F: "Very good. What have you called to share with me this evening? It obviously has you quite rattled."

Cerulean: "Someone just fried the fuck out of the bunker. It had to be intentional but I have no idea how it was done. I was chasing— I think it was another hacker. Registered as vaguely feminine and humanoid on my VR display, moved like a person, not like code. I think she did it. Or he-posing-as-she."

Mr. F: "Interesting."

"Sir, she's still in the network…"

Unconcerned. "Yes, I'm certain she is. Follow the protocol. Contact your counterparts in our IT departments. Get the plugs pulled. Don't bring it up again until it's virtually unrecognizable and outfitted with better security."

Cerulean: "Yes, sir."

"The auxilaries as well, Cerulean, not just CGI's."

"Yes, sir."

Mr. F: "If she fried the bunker she knows the bunker's location."

"Yes sir."

"Tiger protocol, Cerulean."

Cerulean exhales nervously. "Yes sir."



Silence descends on the lab once the call ends, and Kinsey allows her eyes to close, heavy lashes dropping down to rest against her cheekbones. VR display? She'd expect that kind of thing in Metropolis, maybe. In a government installation, possibly, but this isn't government, and it damn sure isn't DEO. Not New York, though.

If she fried the bunker she knows the bunker's location. Did he mean its virtual location, the IP address, or its physical location…? What the hell does 'bunker' mean, and what the ever-living-fuck does Confederated Global Investments need with something they'd want to call a bunker?

"Tiger protocol," she says, and winces as she breaks into a sudden laugh. "Jesus. So Hollywood." Lightheaded, she reaches to wipe at the slick, sticky spill of red dripping out of her nose, onto her lips, down her chin and cheek and jaw.

<Tiger, Tiger, burning bright, in the forests of the night,> Five says quietly over the lab speakers. They finish the lines from Blake together: "What immortal hand or eye could frame they fearful symmetry?"
She slowly, carefully curls upright in her chair, reaching for the door of the mini-fridge under the desk. Soda is a cheap source of sugar, but it works well — a little tip cribbed from the Tour de France, actually. She wipes her bloodied fingers on the side of her leggings, then leans forward to have a look at the file she grabbed — one that'll need, if not decryption, exactly, then certainly translation, torn like an organ from the body that gave it sense. There is work to do before she can contact Spider-Man with whatever she finds, and time is of the essence. This is bigger than she'd hoped…but maybe less invulnerable than she'd feared. Not government, and certainly not DEO.

And yet, it's Blake's ominous lines that whisper through her thoughts as she begins what will be a long night of tedious, careful work:

When the stars threw down their spears and watered heaven with their tears: Did he smile his work to see? Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

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