Written by Diane Piron-Gelman and Robert Cruz, based on stories by Jonathan Szeto
> Sysop: You are in the War Stories room.
> Sounds like one helluva run, Jo.
> Buy me a beer and I'll tell you about an even better one.
> Josie Cruise
> (pop/fwsshhh/gluglugluglug) Bought and poured, Jo-girl. Spill.
> I'll trust you for one in the meatworld (fool that I am... ). Okay. I was in Calfree last spring, part of a team pulling a job on Yamatetsu. The corp had a hush-hush R&D; compound up in the Northern Crescent, not far from Blue Lake. Our Johnson thought they were up to something biogenetically questionable (to put it nicely), and wanted us to get two kinds of proof: data and a sample. Get in, snatch the goodies and get out again—my specialty.
So we headed out from Redding, got as near to the compound as we could by off-roader, then bailed and started hoofing. I'm not going to bore you with the rigger's-eye-view of the ride up; half the folks on this board know what that's like, and anyways nothing happened. The fun stuff all came later.
Our Johnson was amazingly well-informed about the place she'd sent us to hit, so we had a pretty fair idea of where its defensive perimeter was. Yamatetsu had built the place in a little hollow between two hills—half inside the northernmost hill, to be exact. So we hunkered down just shy of the top of the southmost hill, and I called up a couple of Condors to go have a look-see.
You gotta love a Condor LDSD-23. Especially when it answers to a cranial remote deck. I got to try out almost all my new toys on this run... but I'm getting ahead of myself. Anyways, for those few of you who don't know, the Condor's damned near the ultimate stealth drone. It soars up on its little balloon and sleazes right by a whole mess of sensors and radar, and not one of them sniffs a thing. My remote deck let me see the world through the drone's eyes, giving me as clear a picture of the compound's perimeter defenses as if I'd walked straight up to the fence and stuck my nose through it. Better, actually. The naked meat eye doesn't give you thermo or infrared unless you're the right metatype, and the metahuman nose can't chemsniff half as well as the chemical sensors my Condor was packing.
The Condor showed me about what I'd've expected from a hush-hush R&D; compound-security was tight enough to safeguard the important drek inside, but nowhere near impossible. In a place like the Northern Crescent, if you're setting up secret shop and don't want to attract attention, you really can't afford to dress up the outside of your research playground with every single bell and whistle ever thunk up by Ares Macrotech and Knight-Errant and other purveyors of paranoiac pacifiers. You have to pick and choose, and layer your defenses. So I knew that getting the team through the perimeter was only going to be half the battle. Once I'd managed that, I'd have to take over the building's systems if I could—which meant going head-to-head with the security rigger we'd been told was there, probably. I was looking forward to it; things'd been kind of slow lately.
But first things first. The compound had a fence around the three sides that weren't under the hill, with tall skinny pillars spaced intermittently across it that I recognized as sensor posts. Motion and infrared, most likely. Through the fence I could also see Ferrets and Dobermans and even a couple of Guardians crawling along, patroling the perimeter a lot more tirelessly and efficiently than meat guards would've done. (Cheaper, too; a drone doesn't need pay or health benefits and never takes personal time.) There were also gun emplacements, on the two fence corners and lined up across the roofline of the building. Sentry guns; I could tell by the shape. Not the mobile kind on a track, though. Likely they'd reserved those and the Sentry IIs for inside.
So I had my work cut out for me. I had to take out the sensor posts, drones and Sentries all in one shot, so the rest of the team could get up to the fence and through it without getting cut down by a hail of lead. Also without being spotted. The sec-rigger would know something was going down the minute I started to muck with his system, especially considering the level of mucking that was clearly going to be necessary—but the longer we could keep the opposition from knowing exactly what they were up against, the more time we'd buy for ourselves. And our job wouldn't take us that long.
I called my eye-in-the-sky back and whistled up three more drones. These had special jobs to do. Two of them were remote-adapted Artemises loaded with Jabberwockies, primed and ready to fire. The third drone, which I sent in first, was my favorite new toy: a Hedgehog signal interceptor, the very latest in seeing-eye techno-beasts.
> Where in the name of the Great Ghost did you get a Hedgehog?! I thought the Azzies put a tight lock on distribution. They went to a lot of trouble to develop that puppy; they sure as drek don't want street scum like us getting ahold of them. What'd you do, sell your soul to Old Scratch or something?
> Nissan Barb
> Fell off the back of a t-bird, my fixer said. When somebody I trust offers me a new piece of wizbang tech, I don't ask too many questions. The important thing is, I got it, and I used it when I needed it. Now don't interrupt my story; I'm on a roll here, 'kay?
The Hedgehog's a terrific piece of equipment. No rigger who can afford one should be without it, I don't care who you have to frag over or go to bed with. What this pup does, it tells you the signal strength, protocols and encryption that a system is using. In other words, the Hedgehog gave me the key to the compound's entire electronic security system just by reading the kinds of signals flowing through those sensor posts. Giving me the shape and smell and taste of it, so to speak. (Not literally—but sometimes it's hard to put what a rigger gets from a drone into words that ordinary people can understand.) All this stuff was vital information that'd make the second half of my job—taking over the building system—that much quicker and easier.
Its job done, the Hedgehog crawled back. I shut it down and told the Artemises to fire their payload in ten seconds, then sent them soaring toward the fence. And braced myself against the hillside so I wouldn't fall over, because I knew I'd get it when the Jabberwockies hit. A Jabberwocky is a jammer missile, which disperses transponders instead of a warhead. The transponder signals frag up sensors, remote-control transmissions, you name it, for a fifty-yard or wider radius around the point of impact. So whatever disruption they caused, the Artemises they rode on would get nailed by it too. And since I was talking to the Artemises via remote deck, I knew I'd feel the backlash until I broke the link. But in the meantime, all those sensors and perimeter drones and even the seeing-eyes on the Sentry guns'd be blind and deaf and dumb. Which meant no security rigger was going to spot my team getting through the fence and inside.
> Jeez. Why not just walk up to the front gate and shout hello? You take out such a huge chunk of a rigged building's security systems, the rigger's gonna know the place is under attack. No way can you pass that off as a malfunction, or a hair-trigger sensor tripped by a high wind.
> Silent Running
> You missed a paragraph somewhere, didn't you? My team knew fragging well we were tipping corpsec off—but as long as they didn't know how big the threat was or exactly where it was coming from, all they could do was chase their tails. We figured to be in and gone before they twigged enough to matter. And we were right.
I counted down in my head, then watched the world turn black and go dizzy for a few seconds until I closed off the link with the Artemises. I felt the rest of the team run by me, over the hill and down. While the mage tended to the magical barriers and the sams chopped through the wire, I crawled backward just enough to be completely out of range of Jabberwocky spillover, then called up the rest of my drone network. Wandjinas with Vanquishers mounted on them, these were; fast and deadly, just the thing for taking out perimeter drones. And I had to do that, both to keep myself safe once I started monkeying with the sensor port's datalines and also to keep the drones from bothering my buds on their way back out. The Jabberwocky jamming'd only keep the drones blind and deaf for so long; once it started to wear off, all those Ferrets and Dobermans and Guardians with their little turret guns would pose quite the nasty problem. Unless my Wandjinas took care of them first.
It's a weird, weird feeling, seeing through the eyes of half a dozen drones at once. Kind of like what I imagine bug eyes must be like—all those facets showing you overlapping pictures. Except that in my case, the pictures were different instead of the same image from different angles. To run a network like that through a cranial remote deck-or any kind of wiring, for that matter—you've got to be good at multi-tasking. If you can't concentrate on a dozen things at one time before breakfast, then don't even try this stuff. You'll just make yourself sick trying to track everything, and somebody else'll have to risk her hoop bailing you out of trouble. I don't have a problem with it; but then, I was the kind of kid who liked looking at those crazy optical-illusion prints with the upside-down staircases and stuff. I sent my Wandjinas around the edges of the Jabberwockies' area of effect—couldn't send them through it, or they'd be as blind as the sec-drones they were hunting-and waited for a clear target.
Then came the first sign of trouble. A pair of Condors appeared, floating high and distant over the top of the compound. Nuyen to noodles they were outside Jabberwocky range. They weren't mine, so I knew they could only have come from one source. The sec-rigger'd figured out that Something Big was up, and had sent a couple of spies to find out what the frag was going on.
Well, I'd expected that. Not quite so soon, though; when I finally got to tangling mano a mano with this guy, he was going to be good. The enemy Condors weren't armed, so I ignored them and got on with the primary task: nailing the daylights out of the blinded perimeter drones, some of which were still spinning around in crazed circles. At first my Wandjinas made short work of them. After awhile, though, I saw some of the ones that'd stopped dead starting to move—sluggishly, but with purpose. They were getting out of the Wandjinas' line of fire, and a couple of Guardians were even starting to swing their turrets back and forth. Bad news for me—either the Jabberwocky effect was wearing off or the sec-rigger was using a little ECCM to overcome the Jabberwocky interference. Either way, it meant I didn't have much time. I had to take over the building system before the perimeter drones recovered, or I'd be their sitting duck.
I slung my duffel bag over my shoulder and ran up to the nearest sensor post. The access panel was easy to spot; I blew the lock on it with a short strip of acid solder, then pulled a decryption module out of the duffel. Tech-heads like me use this little hand-held meter doohickey to analyze and decrypt CCSS protocols. My Hedgehog had already told me the system was encrypted, which let me bypass the usual step of plugging in a protocol emulation module and using it to figure out what was there. Took lots less time this way, which was vital on this particular run.
I found the junction box and carefully opened the cover plate, exposing the optic cables and electrical wires inside. Then I took out my microtronics kit and delicately spliced my own leads into the system. As I started to connect the free ends of the splice into the decrypt module, I felt a bullet punch me in the side and flatten itself against my armor. The sec-rigger had managed to get at least some of his toys working again. I had to take care of them before jacking into the building system, or they'd take care of me. Lucky thing I'd brought along a signal amplifier.
The output from the signal booster let me call the Wandjinas in closer, within the range of the fading Jabberwocky interference. Thank the Ghost in the Machine for those boosters, and for the Battletac IVIS system some bright tech so recently came up with. Makes a combat-drone network sooo much easier to deal with... and leaves part of a rigger's mind free to take on another job, like connecting illicit wiretaps and turning on a decrypt module. The 'jinas took out a Ferret and a Guardian that were far too close for comfort. Now, I thought, and jacked in.
Overriding a security rig is a tough job. Unlike decking, you can't rely on a clever bag of tricks to outwit any IC or other deckers you happen across. Instead, it's a pure battle of wills between you and the sec-rigger. The toughest mind wins; the loser usually ends up brain-fried or dead.
> Just for the record, decking into a system is NOT easy. And I resent any implication to the contrary.
> Didn't mean to rile you, E. I didn't say decking was easy. But it is different than the way a rigger taps into a system. I just wanted to get that point across.
And now back to our feature presentation...
A flood of images and voices surrounded me, as if I'd invaded someone else's brain (which, in a way, I had). I built a mental wall around myself as fast as I could, then formed a fist of pure willpower and struck out hard at the source of the flood. I felt an echo of dizzy pain as the blow connected—then a wallop, much more immediate and powerful enough to send my virtual self sprawling on my hoop. The sec-rigger was fighting back—and as I'd guessed, he was no slouch in the battle-of-wills department. I could feel the shape and weight of his virtual body, saw the two of us locked together in a wrestling hold. One or the other would have to give, and I was determined it wouldn't be me.
Distantly, as if my meat body belonged to someone else, I felt the impact of more bullets against my heavy armor. I ordered my Wandjinas to redouble their assault. A few seconds later I felt the sec-rigger reel away from me, and I knew that one of my drones had blown up one of his. Impressive that he'd managed to hang in; half the time, a direct hit on a drone you're controlling will dump you right out of the system. It isn't only deckers who have to worry about dump shock.
The next minute, that worry hit me over the head with all the subtlety of a tire iron. A Guardian got off a lucky shot that took out one of my Wandjinas, and the resulting nasty feedback damned near made me black out from pain. But I couldn't afford to black out. I had to win this fight or die trying.
My control of the rest of my drone network was hanging by a thread. Sick and dizzy, trying to ignore the red-and-black flashes that kept cutting across my vision, I pulled a sneaky tactic that had the added virtue of not demanding mental effort. I pushed a button on my decrypt module and sent a complicated encrypt protocol down the dataline. As I expected, the sec-drones that had been moving toward me slowed down, then stopped. None of them fired. My little encryption trick had slowed the sec-rigger's response time dramatically while he tried to sort out just what the frag I'd done. Now I had time to shake off the not-quite-dump-shock and sneak up on the fragger.
I focused inward, then made an even bigger mental fist and slammed it down on the ghostly outlines of the sec-rigger's virtual body. As his mind wavered under the impact, I wrapped my virtual arms around his middle and squeezed. Hard. His virtual shape began to collapse, curling into a fetal position and then melting into a shapeless mass.
Then his collapse speeded up. He was trying to wriggle out of my grip before I throttled him into a coma. A dark hole of nothing suddenly opened nearby, and the sec-rigger flowed toward it. Little fragger was trying to jack out. I stretched out a virtual leg and blocked the entrance to the hole, then wrapped around the sec-rigger again and squeezed some more until I couldn't sense his presence anywhere in the system.
I'd won. I was the building now; I could feel every square inch of it, plus all the perimeter drones that had been doing their level best to knock out my Wandjinas. First thing I did was order the sec-drones to back off. I kept them active, though, in case I might need them to help my buds on the way out. (That old martial-arts rule is dead on target; use your enemy's strength against him as much as you can. Saves you the trouble of doing all the work yourself, and surprises the hell out of the bad guys.) The next thing I did was find my team, just in time to open some convenient doors for them without tripping any alarms. I also kept track of the Yamatetsu security guards, alerted to trouble by the security rigger before I'd dealt with him. Thanks to my Jabberwockies, they had no idea who was attacking their facility or where the team was; they jogged up and down corridors at random, not knowing where to go. For the sheer fun of it, I set off a gaggle of motion sensors several hundred yards away from where my team was. The razorboys dashed off, each of them eager to be the first one to nail himself a real live intruder.
Needless to say, we pulled off the run and were well compensated for it. Which just goes to show what a talented rigger can do—especially if she spends her cred wisely.
> Josie Cruise