Dark Markets: A Day in the Life of a Runner

Information is at the heart of day to day life for the majority of people in the Cluster. Shop owners rely on banking services to keep their customer’s information safe, as well as their own. CEO’s move billions in credits every day. Even in the home, people rely on the security of various systems to lock the doors, set alarms, and assist with basic household tasks.

When that information is compromised, it can have repercussions that ripple outwards, affecting your family, your business, or, in the case of the Senate hacks, the populace at large. Security is key, but given enough time, any system can be compromised, which is why many businesses, legal and otherwise, have resorted to runners.

Runners are ordinary people who move information from Point A to Point B, but it allows delicate information to avoid potentially insecure digital channels. We’ve heard about their popularity for transporting drugs, or illegal tech, but there has been an uptick in large corporations having runners on retainer for delivering everything from intrigue, and insider information, to latest data analysis that could be beneficial to rival businesses.

A few weeks ago, I reached out to a friend of a friend of a friend who has worked on both sides of the law in order to get his take on the job. Secrecy is obviously an important aspect of what he does. With the rise of analog Runners, there has been a matching surge in efforts to figure out how to crack the system. I will be calling my guest Charan to protect their identity.

Charan had me prepare a list of questions and leave them on a flash drive at an agreed upon location. Two days later, I went back and I had my answers. This went back and forth for a few days and I have done my best to piece the responses into a coherent interview. Enjoy.

So give me a rundown of the job description. Pitch it to me like a job interview.

I am essentially an analog message. If you send a message through the net, it travels through the pipes and arrives at its destination. I’m doing the same thing but without the potential risk of hacking.

Sure, you avoid hacking, but people can be compromised in other ways, yes?

Of course. I’ve got some self-defense training, but it’s certainly a concern. The biggest advantage is that it’s harder to single out the one runner in a crowded city than it is to single out a single message on the net. The net has fixed lanes from one place to another, but I can adjust my route if necessary and work to blend into the masses if I think that I may be compromised.

So you mentioned self-defence. How do you assure your clients that you can keep their data safe?

Well, aside from years of physical self-defence classes I’ve got three backups. First are the implants. I have several data safes implanted on my person that do not connect to the net. The only way to get in or out is by physically connecting to the port. Any entry while I’m distressed triggers a format of the drives. Second, I keep my physical appearance very plain, and I maintain a very unassuming social network presence just incase anyone is looking at my life to try and find discrepancies in my behavior. We probably shared a train at some point, and I may have been carrying corporate information at the time. Third, I make liberal use of a custom illusory implant that can alter basic features of my appearance if necessary. It essentially manipulates light and hormones in order to alter other’s image of me. That way, I can be one person when I pick up the data, and another in transport. It doesn’t work quite so well for security cameras, but I have other ways of deal with those.

Such as?

Well, I can’t give up all of my trade secrets.

Fair enough. So how did you get started in this business?

How does anyone get into any business? I knew someone. I had the data safe implants from prior occupations and someone asked if I wanted to make some money in my free time. It started out with credits from one side of the city to the other. I was working with my friend, but eventually, she got caught. I learned from her mistakes and began investing in more security related mods. About that time, more legal trades were trying to get my attention.

Were you concerned about working for legal companies with your illegal background?

Short answer, sort of. I could have been brought in on my mods alone if I was caught. But the legal jobs were willing to pay more. One thing I didn’t anticipate was the suits trying to figure out my identity. They figured if they knew who I was, they would be able to haggle down my rates. With the criminals, they had just as much of an incentive to keep the whole transaction a secret as I did. Even though I have working for some big firms in the last couple of years, I generally prefer my older customers who are happier with no names.

Got it. So can you walk me through the pickup process? How do you stay anonymous during the whole thing?

Well, things work a little different based on how illegal the cargo is. For corporate work, we set up a pickup location. They arrive and leave a drive there for me which I pick up when the coast is clear. Obviously, I’m disguised the entire time. I scan the drive via a personal terminal to ensure that it’s clean of bugs, or attackware.

Is that something that happens?

Oh sure. If a company suspects you of running for their competition, it’s not unheard of for them to try and fry your system. I try not to take it personally, but I’m not above being cautious.

Wow.

So, once the drive is scanned, I download the info into my safes and wipe the drive. At that point, it’s just a matter of getting it to its destination. There, I reupload it and the pickup process happens in reverse.

So what about for the not so legal cargo?

That’s actually way easier. That entails a meeting at some dive. I’ll let the client get there first and case the place to make sure it’s not a setup. I have someone else do the pickup and then they throw the cargo away with the trash. All of which I watch as a disguised customer. Then it’s as simple as picking it up, confirming its legitimacy, and making the drop in a similar fashion to what I described before. So far, none of my illicit customers have ever tried to frag me. Although one group tried to get me to run a virus to a rival’s base of operations. They had hidden it in a supposed good will payment. I wiped it. I’m not looking to be caught up in someone else’s drama.

What would you say is the most interesting thing that you’ve ever had to run?

*Laughter* Come on, I can’t out myself like that.

Fair enough.

Although I once had to transport some live insects. That was completely safe, but an enormous pain in the ass.

Insects?

Yeah, it’s actually not that uncommon. It’s something of a rite of passage for runners. The body mod surgeons derive drugs from their bodies, and they are illegal to import. Any self-respecting runner has done the spaceport-to-underground run before. Probably more than once.

Interesting. We actually did a similar interview with a surgeon this past year. I wish I had known to ask him about insects.

Oh, I’m sure he could have given you quite the education. Most of these guys are essentially biologists as well as doctors.

I’ll have to keep that in the vault in case we ever do a follow-up. Ok, last question. Do you ever think about quitting? Maybe doing something safer?

I’ve asked myself that before, and I’m not sure. The money is good, and demand is always there. I don’t think I could leave unless something better was actually waiting for me. My life was pretty grim before all of this, and now I’m in control. I decide what jobs to take, and what I get paid. Don’t get me wrong, looking over my shoulder all the time is exhausting, but last I can take a vacation whenever I want. I’m my own boss, and I think that’s just too valuable to give up.

Thank you for your time.

Charan never responded to that last goodbye, but I appreciate her going out on a limb to talk to me. Once again, I’m Birt, and this has been “Dark Markets”.

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