The idea of syndicates such as Nine Lives intrigues me but I have a hard time picturing how they make their profits. The main book lists these activities:
run illegal infomorph-slave colonies
run pit fights
Smuggling egos out of hypercorp indentures
But to me the problem with these activities is that I can't see enough profit to justify the risk. One would have to imagine that Nine-Lives is despised, feared and hated. A lot of people especially the hypercorps would love to wipe them all out. So they have to make a LOT of money to justify the risk.
The core issue is the value of an ego/fork - how much is one worth on the open market and why would you want one versus a limited AI/muse? Obviously some egos are high value - CEOs with inside knowledge, celebrities, or technical savants. However, it sounds like Nine Lives deals in bulk egos - they just grab as many as they can and sell them cheap. Getting high value egos would require teams of specialists on missions that require time, effort and resources. Furthermore, high value egos often have ways to retaliate - allies and patrons etc.
Controlling/enslaving egos also sounds pretty daunting - psychosurgery for behavioral control and/or tasping (to make them addicts) is time consuming and dangerous (damaging the ego no matter what) what work would you have them do? Even with controls, you couldn't trust them. Unskilled labor (manual labor, prostitution, etc) could be done by AI.
The only way I can see this work is if nine lives limited their exposure to risk and squeezed as much profit as possible out of the egos they had - pit fights would be expensive as hell, for example. They would get bulk egos from hypercorp escapees - using smuggling methods to minimize their risk - losing some escapees would be ok as long as they didn't get caught. Then they would get a small number of other egos for specific clients/market needs - perhaps one celeb has her backup stolen and made into a delta fork to be placed in pleasure pods - an engineer is kidnapped and uploaded so they can create compliant slave beta fork technical support forks. In any case, they only take maybe one or a few people a month if that. Once they get someone, they always have them. But if they raise too much attention they get raided/harassed.
Anyway, that's my preliminary take on it. What do you think?