Chapter 4: Megacorp Raid
A swarm of bees passed by, following the stream of pollen. Birds were twittering in the distance. Claymore walked forward, the grass and leaves tickling under her bare feet. She was happy to have some peace and quiet, though she knew that this was the quiet before the storm. Arriving at the shore of the lake, she squatted and put her hands into the water-like sea of data. It felt like water, it looked like water, though she recognized tiny bits of code sparkling in the virtual liquid. Having made contact with the sea of data, Claymore suddenly knew about the meaning of the leaves: Each leaf reflected a node, newly connected nodes were represented as sprouts, active nodes as fully-grown leaves, and the leaves of disconnected nodes were withering and blowing away in the wind. Looking up again at the vast crown of the tree, Claymore thought about how to find the node she wanted to access.
»How am I supposed to find my target node?«
While thinking about an answer to her question, she recognized a little squirrel sitting next to her, looking up to her curiously. Claymore slowly reached out her hand towards the squirrel-like Sprite, which accepted the offer and hopped onto it.
"Are you my … pathfinder?"
The squirrel nodded and acknowledged her guess. It then jumped off her hand onto the water, not sinking down, and started running towards the big tree trunk. Claymore looked surprised, rose from her cowering position and moved one of her feet over the water. She touched the water with her toe and recognized a solid surface under her foot.
»Amazing.« Claymore stepped completely onto the solid water surface and crossed the lake, her pathfinder constantly ahead of her. After reaching the trunk's base and its roots, both Claymore and the squirrel started to climb. Hours of walking and climbing passed. The higher they came, the greater the panoramic view was. The plane of the Great Connection vanished with distance behind the pollen-filled air and the lake below started to look like a small pond. Claymore recognized that her body did not suffer from fatigue though she had been climbing for hours, or what at least felt like hours. Her internal clock had been screwed up the moment she passed the Resonance Realm's event horizon. Sometimes she lost track of her little pathfinder due to other squirrels running around, but the Sprite did a good job and brought her back on track every time.
They finally arrived at their target node, one of the uncountable green leaves on a branch which actually wasn't strong enough to carry Claymore's weight. However, while climbing through the tree crown, she recognized that gravity seemed to be adjusted so the thinning branches could support her. The squirrel moved directly to the leaf node, nudged it with its nose and the leaf started to project a holographic window displaying information about the Matrix node.
"Thank you sweetie." Claymore smiled at the squirrel.
The little Sprite nodded again, hopped onto her arm, moved over to her shoulder and jumped onto a nearby branch. Claymore giggled because of the sensation of tiny clawed feet and the soft furry tail of the squirrel tickling her bare skin. Her eyes followed the little animal while it rushed away and vanished behind some larger branch in the distance. The Technomancer turned her attention to the status window of her target node again. >>> Cross Applied Technologies Developer Mainframe, Denver
>>> Sculpting: Varies for each Lair, based on its purpose and admin preferences
>>> Hardware: Custom high-security nexus (Persona Limit 25, Processor Limit 110)
>>> Access ID: Changes every night
>>> Authentication: Node 1-4: Linked Passcode, Node 5+6: Nanotech Passkey
>>> Privileges: Standard
>>> Spiders: 1 Matrix Support Specialist, 1 Risk Management Engineer on duty at all times
>>> IC: 3 Renraku Oniwaban in each node (patrolling)
>>> Resident Programs: Analyze, Trace, Encrypt (military grade software)
>>> ARC: Scramble Security Hacker (Matrix Support Specialist)
>>> Topology: Onionskin layered successive node system
>>> Target Node ID: No.5 – Artificial Intelligence Development (administrative access)
>>> Target Node Information: Created September 26th, 2069, 06:23:14 PST
>>> Target Node Information: Active since September 26th, 2069, 06:25:03 PST
There was another piece of information which apparently wasn't part of the actual node status. >>> Touch to enter
The message was clear, as soon as Claymore touched the leaf, she would be … transported into the target node, no firewalls to pass, no time-consuming probing and hacking the target. There was just one thing which concerned her. The backdoor through which she would enter her target node in a few … would it stay open and accessible for her to get back to the Great Connection? Or would this be a one-way ticket? If it was a one-way ticket, getting out of the CATCo mainframe would be one hell of a task.
♦ ♦ ♦
»Time to start.« Claymore mentally browsed through her check list. Though not visually present at the moment, she knew that her threaded Stealth Complex Form, her Sprites and her Agent were available. She felt her heartbeat rise as she reached out for the green leaf. The moment she touched it, she found herself within the CATCo Developer Mainframe. Her Icon was restored to normal, her Sprites and the Agent were at her side. The Tank Sprite which had been tasked to fight with her had attached itself to her machine body like a personal robot power armor. The sculpting of the system was strange. Parts of it looked like a fantasy dungeon with holding cells. Other parts of the node resembled a large factory hall with tons of computer-like devices. The CATCo company logo was ever present.
»Ready to go.« Time was of importance now. The longer she needed to find the data package, the more likely it would be that the system detected her. Claymore spotted one of the three Black ICs, a nasty looking bastard. The other two wouldn't be far away. She started to browse the node, one of her Sprites assisting her. Opening the cells in the dungeon sector was easy, their encryption was comparatively weak. Touchdown! One of the cells contained the target data package. It was huge. Claymore started the data transfer. Her curiosity made her think about sneaking a peek, when suddenly she was interrupted. >>> Intrusion Alert!
»Fuck! They're fast.« Claymore recognized more alert signals emerging at the edge of her vision. >>> Warning! Gira-Gira software detected
>>> Launching G²Breaker countermeasures
>>> Brainwave pattern scan in progress
She traced the way back to the location of her Resonance Realm backdoor in a hurry. >>> Data transfer complete
>>> Brainwave pattern scan completed, no anomalies registered
The malware suite Claymore had developed some years ago with the help of some friends worked perfectly. It would infect the Gira-Gira
source code and render it useless. Claymore rushed around another corner, one of the Black IC in pursuit. She couldn't afford to get trapped because of the Black IC and decided to fight it. She turned around, drew her Claymore combat blade and initiated cybercombat. She was sure that she would triumph over the IC, but what concerned her was the time she needed to accomplish her goal. The Black IC was a tough opponent, but in the end, the Technomancer and her Tank Sprite thundered the combat blade into the ICs body and ripped it into several nasty-looking fragments. Knowing the location of her back door, Claymore had lured the Black IC towards the exit point in order to quickly leave the CATCo mainframe after her victory. She was surprised that the moment she turned around to access her backdoor, she faced an Icon which resembled an amorphous crystalline bluish structure.
"Stop now and surrender!" The voice was loud and sounding and seemed to fill the complete area.
"You must be the resident Spider … sorry pal, I have no time to play with you. ATTACK!"
Claymore did exactly what her last word indicated and engaged with the Security Hacker. She just needed to access her backdoor, she just needed one combat phase of distance. As the fight went on between the equally skilled opponents, Claymore saw the other two Black IC rushing towards them. If one of them were be able to trap her, she would be doomed. In an act of desperation, she commanded her Fault Sprite to skip sustaining her Stealth Complex Form – she had been detected anyway – and commanded it to fight with her. The partially scattered crystalline structure of the Spider's Icon moved back in surprise as the new Sprite attached itself to Claymore's left arm and transformed itself into some sort of a hydraulic ram. The Technomancer, already feeling weak and wounded, lifted her left arm and struck a blow at her opponent. The Spider parried the incoming attack with some sort of energy field, but was thrown backward by the impact.
»This is it.« Before the two approaching Black IC could engage her, Claymore threw herself through the hidden backdoor, back into the depths of the Resonance Realm she had come from. From the perspective of the Spider, the intruder just vanished without a trace.
Back in the Realm of the Great Connection, Claymore found herself in an odd situation. She found herself materialized in the direct vicinity of the node leaf she had accessed a short while ago. The only thing which was not right was the fact that she did not appear to be sitting on the node's adjacent branch, but in midst of thin air besides the leaf. Naked as she was again, Claymore fell. She screamed in surprise as she realized what was happening. While falling through the tree crown, she got hit by a number of branches, but was not hurt. The way down seemed to last for an eternity, even though she was falling. Claymore panicked and continued screaming. She saw the lake below coming closer, she was terrified and not sure if the water could absorb the impact of her body. Any further thought was obsolete, a big splash caused by a screaming naked girl indicated the end of the descent. Claymore sunk down into the water for several meters without orientation, trying to hold her breath as well as possible. She managed to turn in an upright position, feeling the bottom of the lake below her feet. She pushed herself off the ground and moments later, she was able to gasp for air. At this moment, Claymore was happy to be able to swim. She looked around for the outer shore of the lake. She recognized a cubic object floating in the water. It looked like a small brownish paper crate wrapped with a thin cord.
»My data package!« Claymore picked up the floating parcel and swam to the water's edge. She got out of the lake, drops of water and pieces of code fragments glittering on her skin. The naked woman clutched the package to her as she traced back her steps, finding the exit. Compared to getting into the Resonance Realms, the way out was so much easier.Chapter 5: All's well that ends well?
Claymore left the Great Connection and went back to the virtual reality of the Matrix. The moment she was back, a load of alarm signals and security warnings opened up in her field of view. In horror, she realized what was happening. They had found her physical location.
»But … how?« Claymore had accurately erased her data trail and her way through the Resonance Realm was impossible to trace, even for other Technomancers. Suddenly, a foreign voice in her head gave the answer:
»Because they can pinpoint my location.«
Claymore's breath caught. »What the hell is happening here?«
»Simple. You removed me from my prison and they want me back.« the voice replied.
»What? Fuck … who … what are
»I am … aware … and you are in danger.«
Claymore checked the sensors and defense systems of the mobile home. Five unidentified vehicles were in pursuit, two of them were airborne, all of them armed. She recognized an incoming emergency call from her husband Raki. Relieved that he seemed to be OK so far, she quickly answered the call:
"Dear, what's up out there?"
"They showed up some minutes ago, they're trying to stop the truck. We are en route out of Denver territory, but they have built a blockade. The autopilot can handle the situation so far, but …"
Claymore interrupted. "Autopilot? Where the hell are you?"
"Helicopter, but still in preparation of starting … and trust me, that ain't easy sitting on top of a fast moving helicopter platform."
Raki's voice was stressed out. In the background, Claymore was able to hear the turbines of her helicopter speeding up, as well as weapons firing in distance.
"Helicopter! But your signal's still routed through our Nexus."
"How long have I been …"
Raki cut his wife off, his voice raised. "Quit the chat, honey, and DO something!"
Claymore accessed her home node and activated the Mobile Nexus's system destruction procedure. The explosives inside the hardware casing would destroy everything inside. As soon as she gave the command, or was disconnected by force, the Mobile Matrix Nexus would be destroyed. Suddenly, the autopilot of the truck started slowing down the road train. >>> Collision alert!
The moment Claymore started to jump into the truck's Node, the voice in her head announced:
»Backup has arrived. Time to leave.«
"Shut up!" She jumped into the truck's system and encountered another hacker as expected.
"My truck, asshole!"
The fight was short and efficient, at least for Claymore. The intruder was blown out of the system in no-time. The moment she gained control over the truck and its sensors, she saw the street blockade come closer. >>> Helicopter docking clamps released
»Perfect!« The 3650 HP multi-fuel engine of the truck accelerated the road train to its maximum speed of nearly 100 km/h, the pursuing vehicles constantly staying at the same distance. >>> Gridlink override active
>>> Ram plate positioned and locked
>>> Smart Tires stress level 67%
>>> Stabilization system on standby
>>> Vehicle armor 86%
>>> System emergency protocol active
♦ ♦ ♦
Raki managed to lift off with the helicopter without problems. He registered an incoming radio message from one of the two enemy helicopters, threatening to blast him out of the air if he didn't land the aircraft. Raki looked back at the unconscious body of his wife lying on the floor of the compartment behind the cockpit. He was at a loss.
»Oh dear, this is bad.« Suddenly, the Missile Approach Warning System of the helicopter indicated a volley of five incoming missiles. Raki's heartbeat seemed to stop for a moment. He gazed at the display of the sensor array. No lock detection. The moment he realized that the incoming missiles were not targeting his helicopter, the five missiles struck their targets.
Meanwhile, the massive truck approached the blockade. It consisted of two military standard-sized trucks with trailers, as well as six black cars and a bunch of people holding weapons in their hands. The crowd quickly realized that the large truck wouldn't stop and started to jump to the side. Impact! 400 tons of metal and machine hammered into the blockade, crushing the cars to like toys, ripping apart the two standard-sized trucks. Waves of metal, oil and plastic busted into the air. The front of the giant truck smashed badly, the ram plate holding back most of the destructive kinetic energy. The barrier was not able to stop or even slow down the Mobile Home.
As the truck broke through the road block, the missiles destroyed the three pursuing cars and the two enemy helicopters. Seconds after the airstrike, another volley of missiles erased the remains of the street block and a large part of the street itself. An instant after the second strike, two jet fighters without identification rushed through the scene and left as fast as the had appeared.
After checking the status of her partially damaged truck, Claymore programmed its autopilot to drive to Seattle. After what just had happened, they needed to get some distance to Denver.
Claymore snapped out of VR and found herself lying in the back of her helicopter. She successfully managed to resist the urge to laugh hysterically, one of the many AIPS effects she was cursed to suffer when logging out of the Matrix. She checked the actual date: Sunday, January 15th, 2073.
"Welcome back, honey." Raki smiled as he realized that his beloved Clare was back in her body.
Claymore felt limited and somehow weak again within her own flesh. The world around her had shrunk back down to that tiny bit of perspective she was able to experience through the mundane senses of her body. She sat up, her head ached. Her left arm was smeared with blood, which apparently came from the two untreated punctures were two IV had been taken off.
»Time to leave.
This is what the voice had said.« The thought rushed through her mind and Claymore was instantly stressed again. In AR she reached out for her data package and checked its stats. >>> Memory used: 0
Empty! The Technomancer squeezed her eyes shut and fought against the urge to scream out loud.
»Can't be. Where's the frigging content?« Claymore felt like her back was against a wall. She climbed into the cockpit and sat in the co-pilots chair, her face speaking volumes.
"Are you OK?" Raki knew that something was wrong.
"I got the data and now it's vanished … and I can't explain how and why. The only thing I know is that it talked to me."
Raki raised an eyebrow. "It talked to you? Hm … are you sure the data was AI-research related? Maybe you transported an actual AI."
Claymore looked at her husband: "Whatever it was, it's gone and that was not part of the plan."
She sighed. "Need to contact the Johnson."
With the blink of an eye, she opened up her mailbox in AR and browsed through the content. The sender of the latest incoming message was the Ares-Johnson. >>> MESBASE: 183/c
>>> DATE/TIME: Sunday, January 15th, 2073 / 15:42:05 PST
>>> AUTHOR: >>STRUCTURE ERROR 0308<<
>>> ROUTING: >>ROUTING ERROR B042<<
>>> SUBJECT: CATCo job
>>> MESSAGE: We have received the data, thank you very much. We knew that relying on your extraordinary abilities was the right choice. We assume that the provided backup was useful. You do not need to go underground, we have taken care of all issues connected to your job. The remaining 750,000 Nuyen have been transferred to your account, plus a bonus of 100,000 Nuyen for repairing your gear.
Claymore sunk down in the chair, smiling satisfied. Raki was surprised to see his wife cheering up so suddenly. He caressed her hand questioningly:
"What's up, dear? Has the situation cleared up?"
"Yep, all is good. The Johnson is satisfied and we have earned decent cash."
Claymore leaned over to her husband and kissed him on the cheek. Raki smiled, turned his head and returned the kiss. She sat back in her chair and proposed:
"Let's go on vacation."
Raki liked the idea. "Sure, why not."
"I'd like to go for a swim, but not in the ocean."
"A lake would be nice, where the air is warm and the trees are green."
"Do you have something specific in mind?" Raki replied curiously.
"Not really. I just remembered a place I visited some time ago."