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Authors: Charles Stross

Halting State

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Halting State
Titles by Charles Stross

SINGULARITY SKY

IRON SUNRISE

ACCELERANDO

THE ATROCITY ARCHIVES

GLASSHOUSE

HALTING STATE

Halting State
CHARLES STROSS

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England Penguin Group Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.) Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.) Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi—110 017, India Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.) Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

This is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

Copyright © 2007 by Charles Stross.

All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
ACE is an imprint of The Berkley Publishing Group.
ACE and the “A” design are trademarks belonging to Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Stross, Charles.
      Halting state / Charles Stross.—1st ed.
         p. cm.
     ISBN: 1-4295-4716-2
     1. Bank robberies—Fiction. 2. Virtual reality—Fiction. 3. Computer games—Fiction. 4. Edinburgh (Scotland)—Fiction. I. Title.

     PR6119.T79H36 2007
      823'.92—dc22

2007015872

In memory of Datacash Ltd. and all who sailed in her, 1997–2000.

CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Books do not get written in majestic isolation, and this one is no exception. Certainly it wouldn’t exist in its current form without valuable feedback from a host of readers. I’d particularly like to single out for thanks Vernor Vinge, Hugh Hancock, Greg Costikyan, Ron Avitzur, Eric Raymond, Tony Quirke, Robert Sneddon, Paul Friday, Dave Bush, Alexander Chane Austin, Larry Colen, Harry Payne, Trey Palmer, Dave Clements, Andrew Veitch, Hannu Rajaniemi, Soon Lee, and Jarrod Russell. I’d also like to thank my other test readers, too numerous to name today. Finally, thanks to the publishing folks without whom the book wouldn’t have been written: my agent, Caitlin Blasdell, my editor at Ace, Ginjer Buchanan, and my copyeditors, Bob and Sara Schwager.

Halting State
PROLOGUE: We Know Where You Live, We Know Where Your Dog Goes to School

Mail-Allegedly-From:recruitment@DO_NOT_REPLY.round-peg-round-hole.com

Subject: Attn Nigel—job offer

Auto-Summary: A job offer, vaguely menacing.

Spam-Weighting: 70% probable, but worth a look.

Hello. We’re Round Peg/Round Hole Recruitment. We want to offer you a job on behalf of one of our clients.

You didn’t send us a résumé? Of course you didn’t—that’s our job! We know all about you, Nigel. You are an underpaid 29-year-old Maths and CS graduate from Edinburgh University. You’ve been employed by SprocketSource for one year and four months, and you’re three months overdue for a pay review. Your programming skills in Zone/Python 3000 and your expertise in distributed combat systems have generated an impressively high domain-specific reputation on WorldDEV Forums and HackSlashBurn, but does your line manager care? No. Bill does not care. He does not adequately appreciate you. And there’s a reason for this.

Here at Round Peg/Round Hole, we don’t just passively trawl a boring old database full of CVs for matches against our client’s boilerplate job descriptions. We install a Google box on their corporate network, build a Google Directed Semantic Map™ of their internal dialogue, then use our revolutionary new JobInformant™ distributed-agent technology to search the web for potential conscripts. And when we’ve found them we work out how to motivate them. Like this:

You’ve been wondering why your boss isn’t paying attention to you, and you’ve probably noticed your colleague, Sonia Grissom, putting in unusually long hours recently. She’s being a little bit distant towards you, too. And there’s a hiring freeze.

What you don’t know—because you don’t have access to our JobInformant™ distributed-agent technology—is that your lying shit of a boss is sleeping with his junior combat programmer, and he’s looking for an excuse to fire you and promote her into your shoes. Sonia is a workplace player, and you are not. You have no employment tenure because you have been in the job for less than two years, and nobody hires grunts who get themselves remaindered. You’ll be industry road-kill.

You might as well face it: You have no future with your current employer.

But there is an alternative.

You, my friend, are the exact person our client, a prestigious international gaming consultancy, has been looking for. (And if you’re not, we’ll pay you
2000 to spend a day with us helping us understand where our data analysis went wrong.)

Your obsession with reward feedback loop modulation and fractional reserve magic banking—which Bill does not understand—is music to our client’s ears. The rest of your skill portfolio is attractive, too. Our JobInformant™ SatisFactor™ package predicts a 72% probability that you will synergize effectively with their coevolutionary operations group, rising to 89% if you are allowed to indulge your preference for working from home and using an avatar for customer-facing situations. That’s cool with them, and on that basis they have authorized us to offer you a 25% pay rise, and a generous stock-option package. Not to mention the opportunity to stick it to Bill so hard he’ll be picking pieces out of his back teeth for years to come.

To claim your new job, or book your
2000 one-day head-hunting research consultancy, reply to this email…

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