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
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
"And stopped the Cybrid invasion", Lollipop pointed out.
"Yup, it's a success alright."
"Virtual success... "
"...in cyberspace", finished Louie.
"They'll be back."
"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.