Trials of the Cybermancer! – Chapter 14: Let’s Go Down to the Data Farm

“Hurry it up,” Karina says.

We’re walking to the Data Farm. My legs are all still wobbly from the experience of travelling on the rocket highway lane, and partially from the terror of one of my skates nearly giving out inexplicably.

“I’ll go as fast as I damn please,” I answer.

“Oh come on,” Karina says. “What’s got you in a mood?”

“Other than having to zip back and forth across town because someone is stealing my identity just to screw with me?” I ask. “Not much, I guess.”

“We’ll solve this case,” Karina says. “We always do. Just like the Case of the Lonely Beater. Hehehe.”

“For the last time, ‘Beater’ does not mean what you think it does. It’s an amalgam of ‘beta tester’ and ‘cheater’ and it has nothing to do with… you know.” My blush is as strong as ever. “Also that case was really easy.”

“Yeah, we sure caught him… with his pants down!”

“Karina, let’s go inside before any robots show up.”

We enter the Data Farm.

Immediately, I notice a chill in the air. It is no longer early May in Atlanta, but late November in Virginia. Now I’m glad for bringing the scarf. You see, this place at its core is simply a massive server, so temperatures have to be low to keep it cool. It’ll only get colder as we venture down.

A robot with half-circle eyes greets us at the counter. It has a little magnet that reads, “Hi, my name is DODF.”

“Data Farm passes, please,” DODF says.

“What?” I ask.

“Is this your first time here?” the robot asks.

“Yes. I’ve never–”

“To access the Data Farm you must pay for a pass. You can either purchase a one-day pass or look at one of our weekly or monthly options. The annual pass is the most affordable, but it appears to be out of your price range.”

Yeah, that’s the thing about this place.

Normally, the Data Farm is pretty pricey, but luckily we got some help from the outside.

“Oh, we’re here on business from, uh, Chuck,” I say. “He was supposed to call.”

The robot pauses, as if to recalculate. “Ah, I did receive a call from one Chuck Araragi concerning a guest that would soon arrive. However, he only mentioned one guest.”

I look at Karina. Whoops.

“There was a mistake,” I say. “I forgot to tell him that my friend would be joining–”

“I don’t care,” the robot interrupts. “Nobody visits the Data Farm these days so it doesn’t matter if you pay or not. I certainly won’t tell anyone. Just sign in on the transparency sheets and I’ll guide you in.”

DODF is already a far cry from the service robots I typically have to deal with. Maybe the type of people it interacts with have soured its once-personable nature. I can’t imagine why.

We write down our names and contact info, including addresses and cellular numbers, on the transparency sheets, which automatically upload to the Data Farm servers to keep track of anyone who goes in and out of the Data Farm and what they access. It runs our info through one of its databases to make sure it isn’t falsified, and then spits out some plastic cards for us to use when we access the data terminals.

That’s the whole gimmick here: absolute knowledge, in all respects.

If anyone wanted to search us up, all they have to do is find something else we searched, and then they can find all our information immediately.

My data already got leaked online, and I guess every thug in Atlanta already knows where I live anyway, so it doesn’t matter to me. But… I hope that Karina’s address entering the Data Farm doesn’t eventually come back to bite us in our butts some time in the far future.

DODF steps out from the counter and walks down the hall to guide us through the place. I’ve heard lots of stories about here, but I’ve never gone, even in the year since I met R8PR. That guy LOVES to talk this place up, but he is never able to visit for himself for the obvious I’m-a-robot-fugitive reasons that prevent him from doing most things in Atlanta.

As we step into the main hall, it gets much colder. I’m almost shivering now. I should have kept the scarf disguise on.

Like DODF said, there’s practically nobody here. Just a couple odd-types huddled over computer terminals while wearing huge backpacks presumably full of like, hard drives I guess.

“This place would not be possible if it were not for our generous donors,” DODF says, its hands behind its back as if it were a museum tour guide, but noticeably less interested than that. “Those who supply us with the data we need are the only ones keeping us in business.”

Those “donors” of course being data hoarders. The kinds of people that collect files and information numbering in the petabytes and then dump it all on the Data Farm once their hoarding has piled up too much. This means the vast, vast majority of the data here you can research is fragmented, redundant, and useless. There may be hundreds of databases and archives to search through, but they’re mostly all from the same group of a few dozen. None of it is connected to the internet, though, and no robots are allowed to enter, so there’s no efficient means to analyze it in a short amount of time. That’s how this place is designed to turn a profit.

That’s why it’s such a mess to search through here, as well.

DODF stops by a data terminal and accesses some information. “This collection was given to us by Bernard Chafee several years ago, and is focused around a forum dedicated to Drone Watchers. It also contains Chafee’s entire collection of over eight hundred films and over six thousand hours of pornography. However, I must caution against any acts of public indecency. There are cameras located in all areas of all sections of the Data Farm.”

That is not something I wanted to hear, and once again my face is bright red. Karina seems too tired to be paying any attention so the comment didn’t faze her one bit.

“You are free to access any data terminal you wish, but there are some private collections hosted by some of our benefactors that are behind a paywall. These collections and the data within are not property of Data Farm LLC, and Data Farm LLC cannot be held liable… you know the drill.”

I’ve heard there are some interesting folk that can spend a lifetime down here gathering data nobody ever knew even existed. Sometimes hackers bring down vulnerable financial services and this is how they sell that information to the highest bidder without it being traced back to them. The Data Farm truly is a peculiar place in Atlanta, even if it seems like nobody cares about it.

“Here are your complimentary data drives,” DODF says, handing Karina and me two drives. “They can hold one gigabyte each. If you wish to rent or purchase larger drives, see me at the desk. And if you wish to extend your stay, I can rent you out one of our bunkbeds as well, locker and shower included.” So the Data Farm is actually a hostel, too.

Looking at the people who are actually here, it does seem like they are the type to buy a week pass and then go crazy downloading and analyzing data without ever leaving the premises. One man has pale skin, paler even than Karina’s, and snow-white hair. He might actually be an albino now that I think about it.

I kind of wonder if a certain someone else ever frequented this place…

“If only you doubled as a chef, people could live here,” I tell DODF.

Without making any change in posture it replies, “Unfortunately my programming has far exceeded typical limits already. Some worry I may have become too ‘unsociable’ for general tastes and am driving away business. I can’t think of any reason why. Cooking would only add to my code and further risk my nature becoming ‘truly sardonic.’ Fortunately there is a Burger Box across the street.”

“Don’t worry, if you try hard you can achieve anything,” I say.

DODF says, “I don’t care about that.”

Geez.

Tough crowd.

“Hesitate to ask me any questions,” it says as it walks off and returns to the reception desk out front.

Now it’s just me, Karina, and several exabytes of data to sift through.

Though Karina doesn’t seem to be altogether here at the moment. She’s staring at a blank computer monitor.

“Hey, are you alright?” I ask her.

“Yeah… I’m just suddenly really tired,” she says. “It’s so cold I just want to bundle up and fall asleep.”

“Well, you did work a long shift,” I say. “You deserve a rest.”

“I deserve more than a rest…”

“Er… Well, just help me out with this a little bit, okay?”

“I will.” She takes a few steps and logs onto a nearby search terminal for one of the larger archives. “What was Moonslash’s name again?”

“It was ‘Edd Rockatansky’ apparently.”

“Alright…” Karina types in the name and what pops up is some archived forum posts that match ‘Rockatansky’ and then ‘Edd’ as a separate match elsewhere on the page. Nothing else. “So it was a pseudonym after all?”

“I think we can assume that.” Now I’m wondering how lax K-Store must be if they hired a manager with a name so fake it doesn’t even appear on internet records. Maybe he was hired under his real name and hacked the system afterwards to change it all? But that seems a little risky and I don’t know how we’d verify that with Data Farm files. “How about we try just ‘Moonslash?’”

“Already on it.”

A bunch of files pop up. News articles about his crimes, blog posts reflecting on the Cybermancers, a Netnect fan page with 6 followers… but it’s all really old. Mostly from the nineties, it’s that old. “This is all useless if it’s a billion years old,” I say. “Is Moonslash really that irrelevant?”

“What are you talking about? There’s a forum thread from last year.” Karina points to one result much more recent than the rest.

“You’re a lifesaver, Karina,” I say.

“I just pointed to a screen,” she says.

She pulls the web page up.

There is indeed a forum thread from last year on Gobbies Forums, where several internet users discussed Moonslash sightings. There were apparently several in recent years, but most of the topic was dedicated to trying to find him in plainclothes to find out his true identity. One user named “Chameleon Warrior” posts that they’ve figured out who Moonslash really is, but not telling because it could compromise his safety. And then everyone else commenting to say that that’s bullshit.

“This still seems pretty useless,” I say. “But at least we know that there are people actively following the Cybermancers, which is pretty weird.”

“We might be onto something. Maybe we can check another database later.”

“As long as we’re not here for six hours, I’m okay. What’s next to search?”

Karina narrows her eyes. “Hmmm, I’m thinking, ‘Morgan Harding, total loser baby.’ Let’s see what pops up.”

“What? What did I do to warrant that kind of insult?!”

She mumbles something I can’t make out. “Looks like my search popped up with no results,” Karina said. “Oh well. Time to go home.”

“Maybe you can search my name WITHOUT adding ‘total loser baby’ to the end of it?”

Karina shrugs. “It’s worth a shot.” She types away and then her smug-tired grin is wiped out. “Oh hey, there’s a match. A LOT of matches, actually.”

“Huh?” I look at the terminal. My name pops up many times, on websites as varied as NintendoFreaks.freak, to a long-deleted NetNect discussion on the disappearance of celebrity Jane Crawford, to what appears to be a photo gallery on a doomsday prepper website.

…Oh. I wonder if…

It couldn’t be.

I’ll forget about it.

“That’s so weird. I thought you weren’t a big internet user,” Karina says.

“I’m not. Even in my teenage years I typically only visited fan fiction websites… Oh God I hope nobody has archives of that on here.”

Karina snickers. “I’ll hire a professional to track it down.”

Speaking of professionals, this is usually the kind of moment when my dear sister Marge Eisenhower tends to ambush me and try to milk information out of me. I wonder if she’s bound to pop out at any moment, or if she’s dissuaded by Karina’s presence since she seems to only find me when I’m alone? She’s certainly not NOT working on a case relevant to me. That never happens.

“Oh, wait, what about this?” Karina scrolls down a little bit to a data entry that has been deleted. It says, “[Redacted on behest of Dr. Gonzales.]”

“Who is Dr. Gonzales?” I ask.

Karina shrugs.

Maybe that’s one of the data collection people DODF mentioned.

I search Dr. Gonzales.

A huge number of the following results are, indeed, [redacted] by the person in question.

Odd.

“I’m going to go check on that with DODF,” I say. “You can uhh…”

“Sleep?”

“Actually, could you search on a couple of these servers about Jones Burrow? I feel like she may have accessed this place in the past, and since everything is so transparent, well, you know.”

Karina’s eyes light up. “Oh! That’s actually a really good idea.”

“Of course it is.” I smile.

I walk a ways back and reach DODF again. It is simply standing staring at the entrance motionlessly. Kinda creepy. Is it a robot or an animatronic?

“Hey, uh, are you awake?”

“I’m always awake,” it immediately responds. “Even when I am in my charging dock at this desk, there is never a moment when I am turned off.”

“Waste of power, huh?”

“I do not waste power. I am useful to anyone who enters the Data Farm.”

“Oh, it was– it was a joke.”

“I don’t care.”

Geez.

Tough crowd.

“Well anyway,” I say to DODF. “I came across a name in my searches that interested me.”

“I do not possess any archival databases of my own. I cannot help you in that regard.”

“No, I mean someone who might own a ‘private collection’ thing. Does the name Dr. Gonzales ring a bell?”

Without a hitch, it responds, “Dr. Gonzales, also known as the Data Broker, is one of the primary clients of the Data Farm and a valuable asset to our enterprise. He is one of our most esteemed private curators, giving those who pay access to valuable, pre-compiled data on a wide variety of subjects and individuals. His services are unparalleled in the data industry and he has advanced data mining technology further than anyone else in modern history. Do you wish to view his collections?”

The Data Broker.

I have never come across this name before.

That’s… odd.

With R8PR for an ally and Marge as a sister, I’m more connected to the world of investigation and technological madness than I ever wish to be. But someone as apparently important as this, and I’ve never heard of him?

Hm.

Just before I respond, Karina comes running up to the desk, and it looks like she was in a hurry. “Hey, uh, Morgan? I checked three different archives, and every single entry relating to Jones is redacted.”

Shit.

“Oh yeah, DODF, why are there certain data entries that have been removed?”

“Anyone can request a removal of certain data based on violation of our terms of service, and each item will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Financial compensation, of course, is an easy way to speed that process up.”

“And… there’s a message from the person who got it removed afterwards?”

“Oh, no,” DODF says. “That is Dr. Gonzales’s doing. He is advertising.”

We should probably view his collection, then.

“I will show you to the Data Broker’s Room,” the robot says. “It is just down the main hall.”

We follow it, and now Karina doesn’t have a tired look at all. She’s actually a little worried.

“Do you know who this is?” she asks me.

I shake my head. “R8PR’s never mentioned him.”

“This is weird.”

“How weird?”

“Weirder than the time Larkins invited us out to dinner with him but kept calling me Korra.”

“That wasn’t weird at all,” I say. “That’s just normal Larkins.”

“Yeah but he kept… looking at me. You know?”

“In a creepy way?”

“Not really, but kinda. You know?”

“Uh, no.”

We enter through a door into a much smaller, much warmer room, complete with fancy plush chairs and ornate decorations. This has completely changed the mood from the rest of the darkened, blue-glowing Data Farm.

DODF stops and says, “Here it is. There are four terminals in this room, each with access to the same server. Each item will take an individual charge from your credit card or bank account after accessing it. I doubt you can afford what you are looking for, though.”

“What? Why?”

“You’re poor.”

“Hey now. Just because I’m wearing overalls doesn’t mean I’m poor. Overalls are fashionable again.”

“I don’t care.”

GEEZ.

TOUGH CROWD.

DODF leaves us two alone and we huddle around one of the computer terminals. “First, I want to see what Jones Burrow’s data might be,” I say. “If someone like Dr. Gonzales, whoever the hell that is, has a lot of data on her, that means there might be people searching for her at this very moment.”

“Well, I mean, she is sort of an international terrorist now,” Karina says. “It might just be the police looking for her.”

That is an optimistic assumption, but it is almost certainly not true.

We pull up Jones Burrow’s data file, and it is… extensive. Three terabytes, or big enough to hold over fifteen hundred half-hour porn videos. Uh, to make a reference to earlier, that is.

It also costs $200,000 to purchase the data file.

Shit.

“Your dad’s rich, right?” I ask.

“Rich in ideas, rich in innovation, if that’s what you mean,” Karina says.

“Okay, maybe I’m a little better…” I search myself. Morgan Harding. I wonder if they have my middle name on here. Or better yet, my– HOLY SHIT.

My data file is on sale, yeah. For $80,000! I get Jones Burrow, criminal of Atlanta and the Social Media Killer, but why me? What dirt do they have on me?

Surely they don’t have any proof of my secret past.

Surely it’s not my fan fiction…

“Well, we’re screwed,” I say. “Dead end.”

“Wait, I have an idea,” Karina says. “We can look up who accessed your data for free, right? So we can just narrow it down that way.”

“Huh. Pretty good idea.”

“Thanks.”

I pull up a list of people that have accessed these terminals recently, and then narrow it down to people that purchased the Morgan Harding data file. It’s an unsurprisingly small number of people. Someone named Lisa Robinson from Alpharetta, an Anna Da Costa from southwestern Atlanta, a few Mark Smiths in a row– obvious aliases that somehow got past the system– and then a man named Max Gibson. He lives downtown on 4th Street in an apartment complex, not in the best part of town. But he did somehow afford $80,000 for my data file.

I have a hunch.

That’s gotta be our guy.

I save this data onto my data drive and that’s the extent of my journey today.

I’d love to be doing some Social Media Killer research myself sometime, but I definitely want to stop Moonslash from invading my life first.

“Time to leave?” Karina asks.

“I guess,” I say. “Our passes are good for the rest of the day, though, so if you want to do some mindless browsing to see if they have any juicy gossip on your coworkers anywhere…”

“I don’t feel like standing around this blizzardy abyss for any longer than we have to.”

“You know, I gotta say I completely agree.”

We exit the Data Broker’s collection. I’ll have to ask R8PR about Dr. Gonzales later, but for now it’s time for us to go.

“I don’t trust this place, but I think we need to talk about some of it,” Karina said. “Some of this info seems a little…”

“Yeah, I know what you mean.”

We pass DODF on our way towards the exit door and I give a wave. “Bye, thanks for the–”

“Time’s up.”

Moonslash stands before us, Power Glove raised forwards.

 

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2 comments

  1. And ultimately this entire side venture proved to be for naught.

    I did get quite a few chuckles out of the robots saying that they constantly don’t care. Usually you’d expect them to be more polite, but their programmers clearly didn’t care themselves.

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