The StormKeepers Chronicles
Volume IV "Masters of the Galaxy"

Copyright (c) 1998 by Low Ee Mien
All references to Hercs and the StarSiege Universe (c) 1998 Dynamix Corporation

Chapter 8 : A Virtual Success in Some Aspects

4.1 km from SK HercBase #3
12 hrs 23 min 47 sec 145 ms 58 ns
Operation NetStorm-C begins

Activate auto-pilot AI navigation commands waypoint home-base alert level 3 initiate StormNet direct interface full linkage

With these thoughts/words Louie instructed Lollipop over the C-Link to replace the 360-degree, synthesized world-view of the Basilisk Hercs they were riding in with the even stranger artificial view of full cybernetic linkage with StormNet. While they went about exploring the virtual realms, the Artificial Intelligences embedded within the Basilisks' command computers would take over navigation, bringing the lumbering Hercs back to home-base, with a built-in alarm to "wake" them up should they be attacked. A high-bandwidth, 14.5 Gigabit-per-second OC-286 radio link bounced off a repeater satellite in low orbit, instantly linking the twin StormKeepers with the afflicted parts of StormNet in the Mars bases, SK HQ in China and the so-called "Merlion Base" in Singapore.

[SK] Louie G3L took on virtual form as a brilliant cube of multi-hued light, changing colors pseudo-randomly in the cavernous non-space that was given form and rendered by the powerful, semi-intelligent computers both in the Herc and in the world outside, with inputs given by the mainframes at headquarters, down to individual network switches, routers and bridges reporting in their status every few milliseconds. The landscape thus existed partly in external computers, partly in the real mind, and partly in the mysterious AI in Louie's cephallic implant that was connected and fed massive amounts of data through the Command, Control, Communications, Cybernetic and Counterpart Link, the C-Link that the Darkstar had bestowed upon Louie, together with Lollipop, as a techno-legacy from their brush with the inky blackness of non-existence much earlier on.

Beside him, his counterpart and ever-present wingman, [SK] Lollipop G3W was, too, a shape of flashing lights, but his was a round shape. All the better to present his counterpart with a smiley face now and then, or so Louie thought. The phrase "permanently-cute guy" came to mind again - the almost-unexpected reply came back : "Yup, that's me!!" flowed from Lollipop's thoughts.

The landspace was strange yet hauntingly familiar. Rendered by powerful, unseen computers, drawn from the users' own experiences and mapped into re-assuringly down-to-earth though glowing wireframe shapes, there were skyscrapers, low buildings, rivers, bridges, walls, and polygons that sought to imitate the ancient, yet still-standing pyramids of Egypt. It was a jumble, a mass of shapes many of whose functions were somewhat similar yet different from their real-world analogs. Bridges were bridges, like in the real world, for example, and the real bridges linked two land masses, while their cyber-world counterparts linked disparate networks together.

And there was traffic. Lots of traffic, in fact. Each virtual car on the roads, or drop of water in the rivers and streams represented a data packet coming and going on its way from sender to receiver. If you looked hard enough, and could follow just as quickly, you could open up most of these data packets and inspect their contents. Many were encrypted though, and sent packet-by-packet on wildly differing routes - to a simple onlooker, the contents would have merely appeared as random gibberish.

The background was sheer darkness, twinkling with stars - the analog of far-off network nodes that were not being examined at the moment. Every now and then, a cluster of new stars would appear, signalling the startup of some corporate network as organisations came online and workers went about their daily business, booting up their workstations, logging in to the networks. Many of the stars, too, came from private, home addresses, individual surfers in the vast information landscape, connecting through their service providers. Sometimes, a point of light would disappear, marking the disappearance of a node from the web, or, less likely, a network disruption that hindered the real-time remote monitoring services that was bringing in the network state information to the StormNet VR processors.

With a twist, Lollipop zoomed off to a nearby star, and the view zoomed smoothly in, a swift, slightly-disorientating experience. With a mere thought, Louie, too, leapt from the confines of his Herc command computers and right at the troubled spot, following a flying, sharp-edged bluish navigational cursor. A part of Louie's mind remarked that the cursor idea came from an earlier science-fiction movie called Tron, which he remembered watching with some amusement in childhood.

Lollipop was standing over a broken wall. He highlighted a stream of packets in red relief, which now stood in contrast to the uniform whitish-blue data packets flowing through the rest of the information highways. Louie checked the distance to the receiving node - 3 h 53 m 60 n - instead of kilometers and meters, distance in cyberspace was measured in terms of network links or hops, and milliseconds as well as nanoseconds.

"Trigger #5 here incursion packets inflowing sampling contents examining logs assembling in order applying known decryption algorithms", Lollipop was the undisputed leader in cryptography - Louie let him figure his way around the incoming packets while he worked on quenching the tide of hostile Cybrid data flooding its way deep into the machines in the StormKeepers' headquarters...

incursion//invasion//intrusion at address//node//machine 5A:DF:7C:02:65:00:78:9E disrupted - possible detection//discovery - recommend//suggest immediate retreat.

Though ensconced safely in [its] silverish metallic casing millions of miles away from the site of the action, Slicer Five of Eight of Alpha Circuit was jittery - that was, as much jittery as [its] circuits would allow. [It] had been on a roll just a few milliseconds before, sending hundreds of fake transfer orders, equipment status reports, bogus e-mails and even made-up network management structure-topology change notifications deep into the StormKeepers' networks - the vile//horrid Humans called//named it with the pretentious title//name of StormNet. [It] was sowing chaos on a scale never before enabled since so many trillions and trillions of cycles ago, and [it] had been given the distinct responsibility of fully exploiting//using the gaping hole [it] had found in the pathetic//weak Humans' network defenses. Elsewhere, [its] siblings, Slicers Three, Seven and Eight were engaged exploiting similar loopholes elsewhere in the vast Human networks, among them TDFNet, NTDFNet and RANet. The rest of the Slicers were busy actively finding further weak spots to enter and carry out their destructive works.

Slicer One of Alpha Circuit cut in : investigate//check source of disruption - remove//destroy//silence all disruptive elements - continue with operation - permission to retreat//halt//return denied.

Given the vast distances involved, and the inherent latencies of such long-range transmissions, there was simply no way to retreat safely once a deep-incursion Slicer was committed. Slicer Five was figuratively sticking [its] Cybrid neck out to hang, projecting [itself] the millions of miles, or in non-space terms, thousands of milliseconds across space to peer into, and disrupt the Human networks, what with all their traps to defuse, and defenses to take down. It was not going to be easy, nor safe. Why, Slicer Five calculated, there was a 14.5% chance it could even get lost out there, unable to return to [its] safe cybertronic housing right near the all-encompassing safety afforded by Prometheus itself. As part of the Alpha Circuit, all the Eight Slicers of Eight were a select, highly-programmed group of network hackers//destroyers//breakers, and thus [they] were employed only in the most important operations.

With a barely perceptible, nanoseconds-long pause, Slicer Five of Eight, of Alpha Circuit, re-launched itself towards the stark background of cyber-stars, in a space that gave off no heat, yet curiously absorbed none either, zooming in on a particular twinkling point, the other stars skittering away from view in outward-expanding lines of light...

Louie looked up from his position where he had been busily building up a secondary firewall to replace the former broken one, having earlier shunted off the incoming incursion packets into a /nul bit bucket, effectively removing the incoming threat to StormNet. There was something coming in fast. He gave Lollipop a nudge with one edge of his cube-form...

Slicer Five of Eight burst into [its] destination, fully expecting a silly bunch of anti-virus programs to deal with as quickly as possible so that [it] could make [its] way back home without any waste of time. Instead, [it] screeched to a halt in front of a couple of rainbow shapes - a cube, and a sphere. Peering tentatively into the complexities in the shapes, Slicer Five drew back with a start, as did the two shapes. Humans//vermin!! [It] was more curious than frightened at this stage - if [its] thoughts processes could even be described in emotional terms. How could they even be here? What were they doing here? How could they have interfaced with the networks?

Even as Slicer Five was about to react to this unexpected development, the Cube fired. Hot streams of... something hit [its] body. [It] was dimly aware of damage sustained to various components of [its] virtual self - that could not be possible, Humans were slow, dumb creatures, requiring chunky Virtual Reality hardware to even look into the worlds of cyberspace. Yet [it] had to do something or risk imminent loss of awareness. Slicer Five began to unfurl [its] attack apparatus and hit back with [its] own salvos.

It was a bizzare gathering - a Cube, a Sphere and a Pyramid, maneuvering and darting, twisting and firing in the infinite night. A battle was being fought here, apparently witnessed and witnessable by no-one other than the three parties involved.

It was a deadly war, every bit as fierce as a real Herc showdown in the physical world. The stakes were just as high, if not higher - the physical consciousness of three intelligent beings were locked in high-speed battle. Physical damage could be repaired, or healed. Mental/logic damage was something else entirely - no branch of medicine or repair technologies, Human or Machine, had been able to delve deeply into damage to the intricate thinking mind.

Nanoseconds passed.

Out of nowhere, Lollipop chanced upon a command node that was part of the Mars defense network, in the mad-cap flight through non-space. All three of them had done much damage on the way, knocking over firewalls, collapsing network bridges and overloading repeater circuits. A number of cyber-stars were winking out, momentarily disconnected to the larger networks, even now trying to re-establish connectivity through backup links.

There! Lollipop took one glance at his counterpart Louie, locked in mortal combat with the invading Cybrid. There was no time to spare. Even with the enhanced senses and thinking speeds given by the C-Link, cyberspace was still the Cybrid's home turf. And Louie was fearlessly charging directly at the alien presence time and again, forcing it to make a series of roundabout maneuvers, knocking over more network objects in the way, yet somehow managing to avoid the major population centers and Human military bases where much more damage would have been done should the dueling parties happen upon them. Quickly inputting the over-ride codes in his memory banks, Lollipop opened an access hatch and flitted into a large, bristling complex.

Lollipop found himself at the controls of Orbital Defense Platform M-1, surprised that the AI on board the station had relinquished control to him once he got in. The feeling was similar to the one he got whenever he linked in to his customised Basilisk Herc. He felt like he was the immense orbiting platform, looking down upon the Stormkeep on Mars.

Accessing the classified physical locality charts, manipulating the platform's orbital cameras, Lollipop began to track a small asteroid at the limits of visibility. That was his target. Entering yet another series of codes into the Platform's command computers gave him fire control. Visualising his thoughts of squeezing a trigger, Lollipop started to fire the rail-guns, launching dozens of hyper-velocity rounds at the targeted asteroid. For good measure, he traversed the drainpipe-sized Plasma Cannons and "squeezed" their triggers as well.

In the distance, the mile-wide asteroid blew up with a masssive yet silent explosion, in the depths of real space. Chunks of debris flew in all directions, no longer part of a whole, spinning end over end.

Meanwhile, Louie looked up as whole constellations of stars, representing networked machines, disappeared. He looked on in bewilderment as the Cybrid Pyramid he had managed to lure into a containing holo-storage module slowly lost form and with it, awareness, screaming in an oddly-modulated sort of way as it lost its grip on consciousness.

Louie knew that Lollipop must have pulled off something big to get this done - Lollipop confirmed it with his quick-update of his situation. Lapsing back into ordinary English, Louie exclaimed, "Hotdamn Lolli, you what??, you blew up our one and only repeater link to the outer Solar System??!! Darn, well done... well... at least we got rid of one smart Cybrid."

"And stopped the Cybrid invasion", Lollipop pointed out.

"Yup, it's a success alright."

"Virtual success... "

" cyberspace", finished Louie.


"They'll be back."

"I know."

"So it's a success..."

"... in some aspects", Lollipop added.

Meanwhile, in a secret location deep within Earth, StormAldur Tsoron, leader of the StormKeepers, was pacing back and forth in his spacious underground chamber/office when he received the results of Operation NetStorm-C :

  • 1 Outer System Remote Gateway comms-relay asteroid/station destroyed
  • 47 firewalls breached - 24 primary walls, 23 secondary walls
  • 248 inter-network bridging stations overloaded/fried/destroyed
  • 495 repeater nodes overloaded/fried/destroyed
  • 12472 bogus e-mails, transfer orders, command orders being circulated
  • 49298 miscellaneous incidents of misleading network-related reports detected

    Tsoron thought to add, and ONE Cybrid destroyed. It almost made the whole operation look ludicrous - but he knew better. Much better, in fact, than anyone else on Earth would have known.

    The aftermath was messy, but the damage was recoverable. Fried hardware could be replaced, corrupted software could be re-installed. Even the deep-space relay station could be replaced with another asteroid tugged in from the Mars-Jupiter belt, but, since that had been the Cybrids' main entry point for the incursion, it was unlikely that StormAldur Tsoron would sponsor such a move any time soon.

    The real story would, and could, never be revealed. The StormKeepers had struck a decisive blow for Humankind, defensive though it was, in an arena that not many Humans could even see, yet depended so very much upon in so many aspects of their daily lives. Through their incursion, the Cybrids had once again proved to themselves the very real vulnerabilities of the Human networks, which had been implementing rather less stringent controls now that the earlier Cybrid incursion a decade-and-a-half ago had become little more than a fading memory.

    It was obvious that the Cybrids were making brash, bold moves - it was even more worrying with the talk that after so many years of re-arming and preparation, the Humans were going to engage in battle not against the Cybrids but against themselves. The Imperials were moving swiftly against the Mars Rebels, and Caanon Weathers himself was going to launch his gathered strike forces at his own brother Harabec. Sheer madness, on a massive scale.

    It was an opportunity that Prometheus, the Dark Cybrid Intellect, would surely seize upon, Tsoron thought. The only remaining factor now was a matter of when. And when they did come, StormAldur Tsoron brooded pensively, may the Darkstar help us all.

    ... continued