Wednesday, 27 May 2015

#OVERRIDE: Wetware Part VII - A Short Story Finale

The images floated around Security Specialist Karus as she flicked from memory to memory. She had observed the interrogation up until the point she had interrupted and most of these memories were nothing new. First she saw Jinn’s first kill, she flicked through to his meeting with the Trydan, further still to his time in Freeport, and continued past his initiation into the Raiders, past several data heists he had taken part of all the way to the big one, the memory of his heist on the HMC data vault located in the Frozen North. Karus extended her left index finger and gently touched the image of the memory which moved and compressed before violently expanding and filling the digital room she currently occupied.

Karus was sat on what felt like a hard metal surface, her body wrapped in industrial thermal clothing, and all around her were a number of humans all wrapped in similar garments. From the vibrations and look of the environment she assumed they were in a UEF APC, but the clothing they wore clearly were not Force Issued. It was at that moment she realised what she was seeing. She was in Jinn’s head, seeing his memory as he saw it. It was not her body that was rapidly overheating in the thermal clothes, it was Jinn's. The others she shared the APC with were not UEF soldiers but Raiders which meant the vehicle itself has been stolen. With a sigh that only she could hear, Karus relaxed slightly and prepared to act as passenger to the events that she knew she would see in Jinn’s memory.

The APC came to a grinding, sudden stop and the doors slid open. Before her Karus could see the other Raiders launching themselves out of the vehicle, but she could see herself not moving. For a moment Karus wondered what was happening, why wasn't she moving? Then her vision turned and a hacking deck was brought into view. Furiously Jinn’s fingers darted across the keyboard while command prompts flashed across his augmented vision. Karus would have been lying if she had said she was not impressed with his obvious talent.

As the typing continued she allowed her focus to move from his hands and to her surroundings. She saw the outside world beyond the APC, sheer volumes of snow and ice and in the distance she could make out the ever diminishing shapes of the other Raiders as they ran straight towards the HMC Data Vault. Not content, Karus continued searching her environment before her eyes settled on what she was looking for. She wanted to kick herself for missing it. Almost sat at the far end of the APC she could see an right foot tall, hunched in a foetal position mechanical humanoid. She recognised the insignia embossed on it’s reinforced shoulders instantly, it was a war-bot from the AI war over thirty years ago back on Earth. It had since been patched up with various pieces of scrap metal and sprayed the distinct red of the Raiders, but it’s origins were unmistakable.

As Jinn’s fingers darted across his Deck the Mech began to move. Slight subtle movements at first before it finally fired a series of discreetly hidden jet-rockets mounted within it’s legs and ran at a sprint through the open door through the sub zero frozen wasteland ahead. Karus wrinkled her nose at the sight. She had hoped she would be seeing the inner workings of the Raiders, their secrets and hidden commands that allowed them to not only break into the HMC vault, but also escape with data in hand. But her she could see nothing more than a common hacker applying programs to a mech so it would do the hard work for them. She reached out with her thoughts and willed the memory into fast forward.

The images began to jitter and merge together, in a single instance she saw through Jinn’s eyes how the band of Raiders had made seize on the Data Vault, how the salvaged mech they kept calling ‘Big Bro’ had used it’s immense size and bulk to destroy an eight foot tall hole in one of the bulk head doors protecting the HMC bunker where the vault was housed. She saw how the HMC Security Officers stationed there had responded with automatic weapons and plasma cannons. How one of the Raider’s thermos clothing had been damaged and allowed the biting chill of the Frozen North into his clothes and how he has frozen instantly before his heart had pumped one last beat shattering his body in an instant.

Further forward she saw as a HMC technician had tried to override the mech, but how Jinn in close proximity behind has managed to intercept the hack and fed a blocking command to the mech’s CPU. Onwards the memory streamed before it reached the data room, it’s doors torn off it’s hinges by the mech’s immense crunching hands before it appeared to almost stop. Karus willed the memory to play out, but it appeared to be frozen, a twitching image of Akio’s hand typing on his Deck while interfacing with the HMC server. From behind Jinn’s eyes Karus banged on the walls of his mind, tried with everything ounce of will to continue the memory; this was it! This was the commands and secrets she needed to know! Her bosses within HMC wanted to know how Jinn had managed to bypass their server security codes, codes that she alone knew. The information was almost at her fingertips, glitching just out of reach.

In the corner of her vision a small symbol pulsed. No matter how she adjusted her focus it remained in her periphery. After a while the symbol began to grow in size. Karus had no idea how long it had been, maybe only seconds, but as the symbol grew she knew she recognised it, something about it was clearly familiar. And then after what had felt like an eternity of frozen images she saw the image. A skull and crossed bones, the symbol used by the Raider hackers to represent a virus. Large pixelated words spread across her own vision, but this time it was hers, not Jinn's. Appearing almost six feet high the words “OUTSIDE VIRUS DETECTED! Deploying Countermeasures”.

Karus felt a sudden pang of pain, digital tendrils wrapped themselves around her and were pulling her back through her Head Jack and into her own body, her own mind and brain. In what felt like no time at all, but hurt like an eternity of torture, she was looking through her own eyes at the previously drugged and catatonic Jinn. Now however he was stood over him, his dark eyes no longer white but crisp with vivid colour. There was something in those eyes that she couldn't understand, at first she had thought it anger or hatred, but no it was nothing like that. It pleasure, the smug smile of someone who had predicted all of this and made preparations and created countermeasures to ensure he remained in full control when it mattered. She wanted to scream out in rage but her body failed to respond, every inch of her refusing to move beyond the involuntary rise and fall of her lungs and beating of her heart. Karus had experienced this once before; Blackout. Some how this little shit of a hacker had let off an EMP and had temporarily fried her own neural patch and she was trapped, a victim in her own body, immobilised by the very nanotechnology that swam through her blood stream and reinforced her muscle fibres, now no better than dead metal.

Jinn leant towards the paralysed woman and stared into her eyes. With a single finger he strummed at the cable jack connecting both of their neural patches. Slowly he smiled.
“Now I'm going to take what I came here for” Jinn stated. It wasn't a boast or a declaration, more just a statement of fact as if to him what he was about to do was no different to breathing or eating; it was natural. “But when I do, I’ll leave you a gift” Jinn continued “so you know how and why we did this”.

Colours began to swim before Karus’ vision in a way that she could only describe as like tropical birds flocking together. They flocked and merged before exploding in vibrant fireworks leaving a scene playing out before her. Once again she was inside Jinn’s head, her own neural patch logged the date as only a few days before his capture, but something was not right. Karus didn't understand, what she was seeing was dated the exact same date and time as the raid on the HMC data vault, but where as before she was surrounded by the greasy interior of an APC or the crisp icey snow of the Frozen North, here she saw a digital Freeport. She looked again, certainly she was wrong, but no through Jinn’s eyes she could see the ramshackle metal buildings that lined the city streets and over in the distance the unmistakable dome of the Freeport Arena, all of which as they appeared through the Arena’s ‘Mantic based security system.

There was a man walking beside Jinn as they strode purposefully through the Freeport streets, in his hand he held out a stick; Karus recognised it’s model instantly, a Neuro-Stick that allowed the transfer of information into or out of a Neuro-Patch.

“You’re sure this will work?” Jinn asked.

“Of course it will!” The man replied. Karus knew that she recognised this man. She thought as hard as she could; yes! The man from Jinn’s own memories! Tangle!

“So I won’t remember any of this?”

“Nope, at least not until the Anti-Hack kicks in”

Jinn’s voice was clearly worried “So this new memory, this raid on HMC? I'll think that was real?”

Karus was stunned, what was she hearing? No, she thought to herself, impossible!

“That’s right kiddo!” Tangle replied “as real as anything, plus we got some boys set up to collaborate everything that your memory will tell them happened”.

“And once this is done, once I have the code, we’re through right?”

“You gotcha man!” Tangle replied “then your debt to the boss is done with and you can go on your way”.

“Good!” Came the overly relieved reply from Jinn “I really want to make a go of it here, ta know? The Raiders have been good to me, but they knew about you guys. Maybe once this is over I can start getting some sort of a life back”

Tangle smiled wryly “Kiddo, you’ve been our agent here for years now, you’ve tasted the Trydan Popsicle, you really wanna go back to regular Human junk?”

Jinn shrugged “I guess I'll only know when I try”.

Back beyond her own dream birds Karus felt a tug and a prong, she swore to herself as she visualised the hacker Jinn filtering through her memories, grasping at strands of data as he put it all together. How could she have been so stupid? So easily fooled. It was then lost amidst her own self loathing and bitterness that she felt the agony of being ripped back out of the neural jack and into the real world. This time she was looked up into the smiling face of Jinn. He had found what he wanted, the codes to the HMC data vault and no doubt was already transmitting them to another Raider right now.

In the periphery of her vision Karus was able to detect the sign of the interrogation room door buckling. No sooner had it begun were the metal reinforced plates holding the door in place torn off by humongous mechanical hands while equally large legs strode mechanically into the room and gently lifted Jinn away in an almost caress. She recognised it’s sound and imagery; the very same Big Bro mech she had seen in Jinn’s false memory, the same memory that had tricked her into lowering her guard and allowing his wetware countermeasures to release their paralysing Blackout.

As her body lay on the ground, wires still connected to her neural patch, Karus silently swore in bitterness at the hacker who had engineered what was now revealed to be a data heist of his own. She saw from her immovable eyes the confused and puzzled looks of HMC employees as they tried to assess her condition and apply Medi-Kits and Neuro-Dampeners across her patch. Her mind had been violated by the same hacker she was supposed to burn up from the inside but she no longer cared, her mind had drifted to the man Jinn had called Tangle, the man with dark hair and ridiculously thin moustache. She knew she had seen him before. Her own memories were wild as her neuro-patch attempted to calm down the erratic charge left behind from Jinn’s invasive hack. After no time at all however it recalled a single memory and played it for Karus’ own dream birds.

The Security Specialist was back at HMC head office, she had been given a data-chit from one of her bumbling Pas; the idiot had almost dropped it as he scampered about, knuckles dragging on the floor like the half-human reject he was, a man who by day wore a cheap suit and by night drank nothing but Second Best. Disgusting, like all the other dregs of society that HMC attempted to elevate from their squalid holes. The data-chit was luminous red demonstrating it had been encoded for high importance and without hesitation she plugged it into her work terminal.

The terminal’s holo projector spluttered into life and a series of briefing messages were displayed. The first detailing the ‘soon to be transmitted’ message as originating from the Honos Mining Corporation™ Data Vault in the Frozen North. The next detailed how the message was found, the death toll caused at the hands of Raider Rebels and that not a single survivor was found. The last briefing outlined a biography in the Raider Ghost Hacker known as Jinn who had been highlighted as the primary Ghost for the attack. Finally a title displayed that the video about to be played was all that was left intact at the Vault site and was made by the last survivor requesting backup from HMC Security Services. The message faded to black and a video of a short man with slick black hair and a pencil thin moustache came into view. It was then she remembered something that she had heard Jinn say before while being interrogated by Geutez, but the words had not been his own but those of the Trydan bastard who disguised himself as human.

“We are everywhere”.

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