Korehammer got the few belongings he had and walked out of his room at the Omnicrom. He waved his NIIC over the reader next to the door and the voice of the Omnicrom MCP softly intoned “Have a nice day sir.”
He took the elevator down to the lobby and exited onto Passyunk Ave. Even at this relatively early time of the evening it was crowded with people, all looking for something even they probably couldn’t articulate. Korehammer decided taking the magrail would just be asking for more trouble, so he used his NIIC to order a cab.
The self-driving autocar arrived a few minutes later and Korehammer climbed into the back. He waved his NIIC over the terminal and said “Home.” He was quickly on his way, heading west on Passyunk toward Broad Street.
Traffic was worse than normal and it took almost twenty minutes to get to Korehammer’s apartment at 16th and West Shunk Street. What used to be a block of individual row homes before the War was now a featureless 10-story structure that provided shelter for just about anyone who had the money for the rent. The entire Plex was made up of buildings just like it, built by Comcast Systems after they bought the city to deal with the homeless population. While the number of homeless in Philadelphia has dropped to almost nothing in the last few decades, everyone would agree that what made the city unique was lost in the process.
He had the autocar drop him off a few blocks from his building, fully expecting there to be more armed soldiers waiting for him. However, after casing the surrounding area for a full ten minutes, Korehammer concluded there were no goons to be found, which made him even more suspicious than he already was.
Korehammer never used an elevator if he could help it. Something about being in an enclosed space like that made him uneasy. So he took the stairs to the fifth floor and then made a right, heading toward his small one bedroom apartment. He was about fifteen feet from his door when he slowed and then stopped altogether. He had learned a long time ago to trust his intuition. Listening to his gut had saved his ass more than once and it was speaking to him again as he stood in the hallway. He pulled out his Sternmeyer, slowly creeping along the wall towards the door to his apartment.
The NIIC reader that he used to open the door looked fine, with the small red light blinking every few seconds, indicating that the door was currently locked. For most residents that would have been enough to reassure them since no one but the person who lived there could use the NIIC reader to open the door.
But Trevor Korehammer wasn’t most people.
Korehammer moved as quietly as possible, easing toward his door, his Sternmeyer out and online. He was fully expecting trouble but hoping against hope that he was wrong. He reached out with his left hand and waved his NIIC over the reader. A low chime sounded and as the light went from red to green the door slid open, revealing the dark interior of Korehammer’s home.
He stepped inside, quickly sweeping his Sternmeyer left to right, covering the living room and small kitchen. As his door slid shut, the room was plunged into darkness and the only thing he could hear was the sound of his own breathing. He slowly walked down the short hallway past the bathroom, which was also dark and empty, toward the door to his bedroom which slid open as he approached.
Unlike the rest of the apartment, his bedroom was bathed in light by the overhead LED bulb. Korehammer did a quick check and could see that no one was here.
However, someone had definitely been in his apartment.
Korehammer knew this because first, he never left any lights on in his apartment. It was an old trick he had learned from a friend in the Tyler Gene Systems army. Odds were that if someone broke into your home and was stupid enough to turn on a light, they wouldn’t think to turn it off before they left. And second, Ludmila was lying on his bed with her throat slashed ear to ear, blood pooling under her body and running onto the floor.
“Motherfucker…” Korehammer cursed softly to himself.
He walked over and saw that whomever had cut her throat had obviously enjoyed their work. They had practically severed Ludmila’s head from her neck and Korehammer could tell it was likely done with a vibro-blade, but one that was a bit longer than standard.
Korehammer looked down at the waitress and shook his head, getting angrier with himself by the second. This was exactly why he had decided to get out of the game. It seemed like as he got older, he was saying goodbye to more and more people that meant something to him and it had gotten to be too much. Korehammer didn’t exactly have a large circle of friends to begin with, so when he found someone he liked, he didn’t want to see something happen to them because of him.
Which is precisely what had happened to Ludmila.
“I’m sorry,” was all he could bring himself to say.
Whoever did this was sending a message: “Don’t fuck with us.” Obviously they knew who Korehammer was, where he lived and that he was involved somehow with whatever Caldera had going on. That meant he had a big target on his back and any sane man would probably head off to a tropical island and hide.
Unfortunately for them, that wasn’t an option anymore. Aside from the fact they had attacked Caldera and tried to assassinate him, they had killed Korehammer’s favorite waitress, the only woman who knew he liked ketchup on his burgers.
They made this personal.
Putting the grisly scene out of his mind, Korehammer realized he needed to get out of there and fast. While he didn’t expect whoever did this to come back, there was no reason to stick around. This apartment had been compromised and was no longer of any use to him.
Korehammer went over to his closet and quickly emptied it, throwing the contents all over the room. Once he was finished, he knelt down and placed his right hand flat on the floor of the small closet. Where his hand made contact it started to glow a faint green and eventually a voice said “Scan accepted.” Korehammer removed his hand and slowly a section of the floor opened to reveal a small space with a metal case inside. He reached in, took out the case and then walked into the living area.
Korehammer placed the metal case on the table he used for eating and typed a 12-digit code into the screen that was fixed to the top. He heard a satisfying “click” and the case popped open. He looked down and lifted the lid the rest of the way, his face illuminated by a soft orange glow.
Inside were seven NIICs, each taking up one of eight slots on a computer board in the interior of the case. One slot was empty and each remaining circuit glowed with the same faint orange light that had become ubiquitous with the NIIC over the decades.
Psidev Corporation, the megacorp who had designed the NIIC, had been adamant that it was impossible to hack one. Korehammer had spent a number of months and an ungodly amount of cryptos to find this out the hard way when he started his courier business. He knew that in order to move the things his clients wanted moved and to do it without getting caught, leaving a functioning NIIC in his wrist was not going to work. Korehammer needed to figure out some way to neutralize the damn thing.
Thanks to his many connections, Korehammer knew some of the best hackers on the planet. People who could get into some of the most secure datastreams in the world without anyone being the wiser. Yet even they couldn’t crack whatever Psidev had done to make the NIIC software impossible to hack into.
Once he gave up on the idea of trying to hack the NIIC, Korehammer decided to think his way around the problem. After a few weeks, it dawned on him; if he couldn’t neutralize the NIIC, maybe he could use the tech to his advantage.
One concession Psidev had made to the initial design to keep the lawyers at bay was to program the NIIC to erase all an individual’s information when they died. Within seconds of a person’s death, all the data on their NIIC was deleted and irretrievably lost. Since the burial of dead bodies had been outlawed, the NIIC itself would then be destroyed when the corpse was vaporized, leaving no information behind.
Luckily Korehammer knew someone who worked in the city morgue who owed him a favor. Digging NIICs out of the wrists of corpses wasn’t exactly a fun way to spend an evening, but once done Korehammer had seven blank NIICs to show for his work. Thanks to Psidev never thinking anyone would want to do something with a inert NIIC, figuring out how to input new information onto the circuit was surprisingly easy.
In no time Korehammer had taken the seven NIICs and created seven new identities, each one serving a specific purpose. The hackers who had no luck getting into the NIIC itself had no problem breaking into the government’s secure NIIC database and uploading all the information Korehammer had provided.
Next he and Caldera had to find someone who could create the tech needed to make the rest of Korehammer’s plan work. Who they found was Darwin Rhyne, a mafia-paid booster doc who worked with the underground cyberfighting circuit on the side. He had a reputation for thinking outside the box and being one of the best cybertechs on the East Coast.
Eventually Rhyne came up with the idea to remove Korehammer’s entire left hand and replace it with a cybernetic one that wouldn’t be visible to the naked eye. That way Korehammer could swap out the NIIC in his wrist for whatever the situation called for and could become someone else when he needed to.
The only problem was that in order to get Korehammer’s original NIIC out of his wrist and into the new cybernetic housing, Rhyne would have to cut off the hand while Korehammer was not only awake, but without any type of sedative or painkiller. According to Rhyne, the fear was that the NIIC would sense it was being removed and would alert the authorities, so it would have to stay in the living tissue of the wrist until the new cybernetic hand was attached to Korehammer and online.
Rhyne had a reputation among booster docs for having a bit of a sadistic streak. It’s entirely possible he wanted to cut off Korehammer’s hand without the aid of any anesthesia just for the fun of it. Regardless, the pain was something the likes of which Korehammer had never experienced before. The booster doc used a laser scalpel to remove the hand, which cauterized the stump immediately but did nothing to stop the searing white hot pain from almost causing Korehammer to black out. During the entire procedure, Rhyne had a small smile on his face that seemed to grow the more Korehammer screamed.
Once the operation was finished, Rhyne placed the hand in stasis, where it would remain until he was ready to move Korehammer’s NIIC into its new home. Four excruciatingly painful hours later, it was finally done and Korehammer had a new cybernetic hand that looked almost exactly like the original.
All Korehammer had to do was press on the fleshy part of his hand where the thumb connected to his palm and a small panel would slide open on his wrist. Similar to popping out a VR chip, all he needed to do was apply pressure and the NIIC would release from its housing and could be replaced by another.
In effect, now Korehammer could become any one of eight different identities. Over the years, the tech had proven invaluable and worth every crypto he had to pay Rhyne. It was what made him so good at his job as a courier. Why shoot your way out of a situation when you could simply wave your NIIC and walk out without a shot being fired?
Rhyne had also built and designed the case that stored the extra NIICs when they weren’t being used. He called it a Stasis Cradle and each NIIC had a specific slot where it would be kept. When the NIIC was placed in the slot, it would then send out a continuous false datastream that, if anyone happened to look, would show that Korehammer was still on the move and using his NIIC as normal.
Now that Korehammer had the Cradle and knew that whoever had broken into his apartment didn’t know about the NIICs, it was time to go. He pressed the base of his thumb and the housing opened to reveal his NIIC, glowing orange just as it should. He gently pressed down on it and once it released, Korehammer pulled it out and slid it into the empty slot in the case. He then took a different one and placed it into the empty housing, pressing down until it locked into place. He once again pressed on his thumb and the panel slid shut, leaving no indication to the naked eye that Korehammer had a synthetic hand.
There was always a moment of disorientation whenever her changed the NIIC and adopted a different identity. A whole new set of data flooded his brain and it took a second for his mind to adapt. Thankfully over the years he had gotten used to it and the mental confusion only lasted a few minutes.
Korehammer grabbed a satchel that was laying on the couch and put the Cradle inside. He then went to the bedroom again and changed his clothes, stuffing his still bloody jacket into the satchel and replacing it with a black duster. Last he went to the nightstand and emptied the top drawer of every bit of ammunition he had for the Sternmeyer.
Before he left the room he looked over at Ludmila once again and exhaled softly. Korehammer still couldn’t believe she was gone, and in such a unnecessarily violent way. She deserved better.
“Don’t worry. I’ll get the fucking bastards that did this to you.” he said.
Korehammer looked around the apartment for the last time. He had lived here a number of years, longer then he should have if he was being honest with himself. It sure wasn’t fancy, but it was home and he was going to miss it.
He looked up at the ceiling and said “Activate Purge Protocol Delta. Fifteen minute delay. Activation code Zero-Zero-Beta.”
A disembodied male voice replied “Code accepted.”
He exited his apartment and on his way to the stairs reached out and pulled down the fire alarm. Instantly the hallways darkened as emergency lights came on and you could hear a robotic voice saying over speakers “Do not panic. There is an emergency situation. Please evacuate the building.” The voice said it over and over as people began to fill the hallways and head for the stairwells.
Given the high turnover of the place and the type of renters it attracted, most of the occupants were probably out, asleep or high on some kind of drug. Korehammer watched from across the street as the residents who were left streamed out into the early evening air, wondering what the hell was going on.
Satisfied Korehammer had done what he could, he walked away from his home, heading north on 16th Street. When he was about two blocks away, he heard and felt the explosion as his apartment went up in a fireball of C-6 PlasmaFire plastique and thermite. The rest of the building was quickly consumed by the blaze and within minutes there would never be any indication that Trevor Korehammer had ever lived there.
As Korehammer walked down the street, he was certain of just one thing. He sure was going to miss that Mr. Coffee.
Korehammer used his NIIC to order an autocar, which picked him up minutes later as emergency vehicles sped past toward his old apartment building. Just as he had done before when he left the Omnicrom, he waved his NIIC over the reader in the back and said “Home.”
Now that he had the Stasis Cradle, he could go to one of his other safehouses in the city and not have to worry about anyone getting the drop on him. Once the NIICs had been reprogramed and then reactivated, they had the same security protocols of any other NIIC in the world. That is to say, they were completely unhackable and as secure as it got.
The autocar drove north on Broad until it got to Walnut Street and made a left, heading west toward City Center. The car came to a stop in front of a 32-story luxury complex at 22nd and Walnut called The Embassy. Korehammer got out and walked into the lobby of the building, which included a mix of retail stores and apartments as well as one of the best restaurants in the state. It was the type of commercial enterprise that catered to the rich and well-connected of Philadelphia and not the kind of place where you would normally find someone like Korehammer.
At the desk was a young kid who couldn’t be any more that 20, skinny and wearing glasses. Korehammer didn’t remember ever seeing him before but since it had been several months since his last visit here, that wasn’t all that surprising.
As Korehammer walked up to the desk, the kid looked up from whatever it was that he was using to pass the time and said “Can I help you sir?”
“Yes. I’d like to pick up whatever messages might have been left for me.” Korehammer said with just a hint of a Russian accent.
“Sure thing. Your name?”
“Chernova. Malcolm Chernova.”