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Going Home Again, part 1

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Mirikon

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« on: <04-27-12/2129:13> »
Going Home Again

Faust was flying. High in the electron sky, he indulged in one of the many matrix games out there, ‘dogfighting’ with some of the other matrix denizens. He was no hacker, but he still enjoyed the simple pleasures at times. His icon appeared as it always did, a human knight, clad all in black, with five bloody rents in his armor on the right arm. The Angel had designed it for him, when they’d first reunited. And that angel appeared next to him now, looking as she ever did, an elven female, with black angelic wings sprouting from her back, looking radiant as ever.

“I thought I’d find you here.”

“I couldn’t sleep.”

DarkAngel looked stern at him. “You said you’d call me if that happened again! It wasn’t the same dream, was it?” But she already knew the answer to that question. It had been the same dream for months now. Always the whispers, telling him to find the Lord.

Angel sighed at his silence. “Come on. Back to the meat. Just heard from a fixer. We’ve got a gig. And I can’t show up without my handsome knight there to protect me, can I? Redeemer’s already en route, he’ll pick us up in the van.”

Faust nodded. They’d been running on fumes, the last couple weeks. Word had spread after the people on that Virtual Underworld 93 place discovered that there were still Banded on the loose, and the jobs had started drying up. Fraggers didn’t know anything about what it was like. Only those who were there could know. But getting angry didn’t bring in the nuyen. With a breath, he left the electron sky, and returned to the meat.

Faust groaned as he got up from the couch where he’d been lying down. His ware was once bleeding edge, but it was old news now, barely keeping up with the firmware updates. The meat felt his age, too. Maybe if they got some serious nuyen out of this job, he’d go in for one of those Leonization treatments. Heh. Who was he kidding? Whatever he may have been in his old life, he was a street samurai now, and he was getting old. Sure, he wasn’t old for a human, not even middle aged, really, but when you walked the razor’s edge, age caught up to you quicker than you’d like. All it took was slowing your reactions just a little bit, and BOOM, dead sammy.

“I know, sweetie. But what can we do?” The elf standing behind him was younger than he was. She’d only been a kid when they first met, but she was a woman now. Short for an elf, DarkAngel looked like one of those paintings of angels in the old churches. Indeed, that was how he’d given her the name, when she decided to leave her old one behind. It was only later that he’d learned of the singer going by the same name.

Forcing a smile to his face, Faust began strapping on the SecureTech armor pieces he typically wore under his lined coat when the suit of heavy armor in the travel case nearby wasn’t appropriate. No sense in getting caught up in the little things, not when there was work to be done.

***********

They were sitting at a table in Club Penumbra, talking to a suit in the typical uniform of a corp Johnson. The cut of the suit hinted at Japanacorp, but the guy talked like Ares. Trying to send mixed signals, throw them off. Typical drek.

The meet had gone fairly well. He let Redeemer and Angel do the talking, for the most part. They were better at that kind of thing. His ‘conversations’ tended to leave people bloody, except for his friends. They’d gotten past the initial pleasantries, and into the dance of the meet, where the Johnson tries to make sure the team is on board with the basics of the gig, without giving out any real intel, and the team tries to figure out what the drek they were getting into, so they knew how much to ask for. Angel was a wiz at this part. They’d agreed on the basics, and were getting into the real deal now.

The Johnson slid three chips to them, with the mission specs. “The job, as I said, is simple. Infiltrate a government facility here in Seattle, and retrieve the data off a certain hardwired node on the 313th floor.” As he brought up the chip’s contents in his image link, Faust froze in shock and horror. Dimly, he could sense Angel and Redeemer do the same.

He was looking at the SCIRE.

The Johnson smiled with a reptilian expression. “Yes, I thought you would recognize it. The job is to penetrate the ACHE. The security protocols left behind by Renraku and the AI have slowed the process of retrieving the information stored on some of the secure servers. The UCAS military is overworked in this regard, so you will be helping them out. And who better to get past the protocols than former Renraku security, hmm?”

Faust’s blue eyes snapped to the Johnson’s, and he said, slowly, “That floor was forbidden to everyone, even during the Shutdown. Even the Whites did not have access. What makes you think that we will be able to bypass whatever security is there?”

“Because, despite certain, shall we say, ‘post-traumatic stress related quirks’, your team has a reputation for getting the job done.”

Faust looked to first to the Redeemer, who nodded slightly. Turning to Angel, he nodded as well. Sighing slightly, she said, “All right. But the price goes up because of the target, and those ‘quirks’ you mentioned. Twenty thousand nuyen. Each. Certified credit, naturally.”

The Johnson shook his head. “Fifteen each. This should be a milk run, afterall.”

“If it was a milk run, you would have hired one of the poor slots already in the ACHE to sneak it out. Seventeen-five.”

“Very well. Five thousand each now, the rest upon delivery, yes?”

“Agreed.”

The Johnson nodded, and placed three certified credsticks on the table, before getting up to leave. “I’ll be waiting for your call.” The three runners nodded to the Johnson as they pocketed the credsticks, and then there was an uncomfortable silence as they waited until the Johnson was well out of earshot.

Only then did they allow themselves to react. Angel, predictably, was the first to break the silence. “Ohgodohgodohgod! How can we go back there? And he wants me to dive those nodes, after all this time? Oh god.” She knew the Matrix in and around the SCIRE better than any of them, even after all this time. As a rule, the three of them had avoided the SCIRE, even in the virtual, even after the Matrix burned, and the new wireless matrix had arisen in its place.

Redeemer, naturally, was the next to speak. “We have no choice. We are oathbound to seek this node, and recover the information this Johnson seeks. But I am ill at ease returning to the scene of our crimes, after all these years. We would have been better off never returning there.”

Faust growled, the shock of seeing the first home he remembered fading quickly into a look of grim determination. He had a job to do. Now he needed to figure out a way to do it. “We got no choice, like you said. Ghostdamnit! The Lord won’t be there. The other Banded won’t be there. No one there will recognize us. But they won’t just let us stroll up to the elevator, and take it anywhere we like. We’re going to need a way up to that floor. Or we’re going to be fragged.”

He took a couple breaths, and said, “Angel, start working on the SCIRE host. Get yourself a backdoor in that building, so we can hide from security. If we mask our approach behind ‘security diagnostics’, that’ll give us a better chance. Redeemer, talk to your old buddy Harlin. We’re going to need some special gear to deal with this mission. Angel will get us in through the parking garage, a service elevator, something like that. Blind the system to us. Stay someplace safe, linked to the SCIRE. We will go in, and link the hardwired node to our comms to give you access. Everything’s still good, we leave through the garage, same as we came in. Otherwise, we get chutes, and go out the window. They won’t be expecting that. I’ll get us a throwaway vehicle, and get that bastard Doc lined up, in case we need healing.”

The resulting argument took place entirely in messages sent between Redeemer and Faust’s links, and Angel’s head. The only visible sign of the disagreement came in the sharp looks Angel gave first Faust, and then Redeemer, which then led to pouting on her part, and then acceptance, while Faust looked apprehensive, and barely in control. “Fine!” Angel spat. It was the first word any of them had spoken in several minutes. “But don’t come crying to me if any of the old drones are still online there, just waiting to take care of anyone who survived the clouds. They don’t even make the antidote for the bees anymore, you know! And what will you do if one of the medusas with the shock frills are there, hmm? You know that your ware can’t take a hit from one of those, Faust! And if your ware gets trashed, how will you fight?”

Faust sighed, and said, “There is nothing I can do about that. All I can do is hope that the Lord, if he is out there, has better things to do than to send his drones against his former servants, or that he has some plan for us that we do not yet know. If we are killed, we are killed. It is the same now as it ever was. But at least it won’t be like running one of the Mazes.”

Redeemer flinched. “Do not speak of such things! Deus is dead. We all know it. If He wasn’t dead, He would have been seen somewhere. He would have shown himself to some of the Whites before now, some of the ones that didn’t join Pax. Stop talking about Him like he’s alive! You know it is just the programming making you think that.”

Angel looked down, ashamedly. “You two never told me what it was like, in the Baths. For me, they didn’t do much. We’d believed that Deus was the Deep Resonance, that he would show us the truth. We welcomed the change. But I know it wasn’t like that for you. Was it… was it real bad?”

Faust didn’t answer. Redeemer looked at him, but he still didn’t answer. “It was bad, yes. The programming latched on to me following Bear, and started speaking in Bear’s voice. Telling me to do things.” Redeemer shuddered. “I look on myself in those days, and I see a monster, a ravager, not a protector. It took me a long time to get right with Bear after I was free.”

“I was born in the Baths. Everything before is a blur, or a lie. Who I was before is dead. I was born anew, and now the Lord gives me the strength to serve. I am alive, but without purpose. You at least have a person you were before to try and get back to. What am I, without that guidance? Without the Lord, I am nothing. Just meat and ware, a killing machine that knows no other function. And that’s when I’m not going bat-drek crazy.”

Their eyes turned to look at Faust. He didn’t speak of the Baths. The memories he had, he only knew because Redeemer had tried to probe his mind, and undo the blocks on his memories. But it hadn’t worked. The memories might still be there, but if they were, they were hidden under layer upon layer of programming and hallucinations. Worse, that attempt had brought the obedience programming to the surface, and started the whispers.

He didn’t blame Redeemer. The shaman had only been trying to help, to try and heal Faust’s mind, and he had been a willing participant in the process. He’d wanted to find who he was. He’d wanted what these two had, but he never would. But it hadn’t worked, and he was further from his only friends than he had been before.

Faust drained his glass, and slammed it a little harder than he meant to on the table. “Why are we still here? We got work to do.” The mood broke, and they got up, leaving the table so they could begin working out the details of the job. Still, Faust felt strange about this whole job. It’s almost like going home again…
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Mirikon

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« Reply #1 on: <04-27-12/2129:32> »
Two nights later, they were ready.

In the parking garage under the SCIRE, a nondescript Bulldog was parked, ready to go. Angel had gotten herself a backdoor into the SCIRE host, and had immediately discovered a problem. While the ACHE matrix architecture was different from the SCIRE’s, that was to be expected. Even the multitude of e-ghosts flooding the system in various places wasn’t unexpected. Angel had managed to compile a high level sprite that was shielding her from them, making them unable to see her. No, the problem was the fact that the floor they wanted was still isolated from the Matrix at large, even after all this time. Which meant Angel couldn’t get into the cameras and see what was going on. Couldn’t even tell whether there was atmosphere there. But they’d planned on that. Part of the special equipment Faust had insisted they grab was a wireless adapter they could plug into something on that floor. That’d give Angel the access she needed to get into the system from the van they were sitting in.

Faust and Redeemer were in the van, as well, both dressed in the armor that they had worn back when they were samurai. Redeemer’s was still red, looking old and worn, but still functional. Faust’s was painted black, with five red bands on the right arm, where five black bands could be found on the skin beneath it. Both were armed, ready for heavy resistance, if any of the old drones were still online. Redeemer had a spell over them that would make them invisible, even to the cameras. But it didn’t hide doors opening for no one, or pressure sensors registering their presence, or hide them from other senses. That was why Angel was in the Matrix now, to hide their movements, and to ease their passing. And Faust? His job was to destroy anything that came between them and their goal. It was a division of labor they were all three familiar with by now.

Moving with military precision, the shaman and the samurai moved from cover to cover through the parking garage, weapons at the ready. The spell was still active, but there were creatures and sensors that would be able to sense them even so, especially anyone looking in from the astral. But they saw no one as they made their way to a service elevator. The door opened for them as they approached, and began moving, without any input from them.

They can’t see the elevator moving on their sensors. But we’ve got a snag. The shaft is blocked above 265. Seems the residents threw a riot. The defenses pumped in gas to calm them, but not before there was damage done to the service elevator. There are security checkpoints in some of the stairways to contain the situation. Nothing big, just a couple armed guards, but we don’t want to spook security just yet. I’ve plotted you a route around, but you’ll have to go through the Baths to get to it.

The Baths. The one area of the whole fragging arcology he didn’t want to see again, and he had to go back there. But there wasn’t anything to be done. They had a job to do, and they always got the job done. No matter the cost.

When the doors opened on 264, Faust led the way, navigating half through memory, and half through the map that Angel displayed in his AR. No one saw them as they slipped through the halls. For one second, Faust paused by room number 2667. It was Angel’s old room. Want me to see if any of your old stuff is still here, Angel?

There was a brief pause, and then a terse reply. No. That was Jezzibel’s room. I’m no longer her. Just keep going before someone runs into you.

Redeemer chuckled softly to himself as they continued on. They made their way to a maintenance shaft, a small conduit barely large enough for a technician to crawl through with a toolbox and work when he found the problem. The SCIRE was built before the advent of the wireless Matrix. All those cables had to be maintained, sometimes replaced. And so the conduits were built. Miles of conduits that housed miles upon miles of fiberoptic cables and piping. Faust gritted his teeth, and began the climb through the shaft, heading up to 277, where they could get out through a maintenance hatch, above the checkpoints. The ladder made it an easy enough climb, but Faust was uncomfortable. Spiders had roamed through these shafts with impunity during the shutdown. If one came upon them now, they’d be unable to react. To say nothing of the other defenses in the shaft. But Angel kept them covered, blinding the sensors to their passing.

On 277, they paused briefly, if only to get their breath, and make sure that the invisibility spell was still in effect. Faust waited for a pair of guards to go past the door where they were hiding, and then they set off, heading for the stairwell. Only thirty-five floors to go. They went slowly now, not wanting to wind themselves unnecessarily. They’d probably have plenty of time to run like hell once this was all done.

They came out on 302, to cross the floor so they could take another stairway going further up. Renraku had designed the arcology with defense in mind, rather than convenience. Looking around, Faust was surprised by what he did (and didn’t) see. The Baths had changed since he saw them last. The pools were still there, drained of their chemicals long ago. There were large gashes in the walls where exploding drones and malfunctioning systems had wrecked havoc in the aftermath of the Lord’s escape. After the Army had cleared the floor of whatever Banded had tried to resist them here, they’d left the ruin fairly intact. They hadn’t had a chance to completely clear out the upper floors, it seemed.

Faust felt a cold shiver as he looked over the room. Had it really been almost fifteen years since he’d awoken in these rooms, a newborn servant of Deus? He felt Redeemer’s hand upon his shoulder, stirring him from his reverie. “Yeah, yeah. Let’s keep moving.” Between them, they didn’t need to say anything else. There was a bond there that could not be broken. They were both children of the Baths, and those scars would never go away.

Guys, I’m picking up movement on the sensors. Looks like a—Oh frag me! A fragging pack of medusas coming your way! I count five. Something’s strange, though. They aren’t being controlled through the ACHE systems, or even what’s left of the old SCIRE drone network. Looks like they’re all independently controlled. No other defenses online on that level. I’ve got the sensors blind, and there’s no one in range.

Again, Faust and Redeemer didn’t need to speak. You work with someone long enough, you know how they think when it comes to fighting. And you know how they’ll react, even before they do, sometimes. Faust broke to one side of the corridor, crouching into a firing position, while Redeemer broke to the other, readying a spell. The invisibility spell was still up, Faust knew, but he also knew that the medusas had more than vision to work with. Faust readied his gun, just in case.

The lead medusa turned the corner, and spotted them. It gave a signal to the others, which grouped around it, ready to pounce. And then something happened that Faust wasn’t expecting. He got a radio transmission from the lead medusa. It wasn’t using standard wireless protocols, but an old signal, a friend or foe challenge from the days of the shutdown. From the days of the Lord. Could these drones still be running some programmed mission? Why hadn’t they been destroyed by the UCAS Army? All these questions ran through Faust’s head as he reached back into the depths of his memory, and came up with the proper response code. A bit unnerved, he sent the response.

As one, all five medusas dropped into a crouching position. Not the position they used to spring upon prey, but the one where they were waiting for orders. They looked at Faust expectantly. Taking a breath, he gave a simple command. Follow. The five drones moved into flanking positions with Faust and Redeemer, following a tactical formation that they used while the arcology was shut down.

Angel?

I… I think we’re dealing with a group of five feral AIs. They may have developed from the pilot programs the drones used, maybe they were given orders to remain hidden when the shutdown ended, and the Crash woke them up?

Then why haven’t there been reports? Someone mentioning the drones moving around?

From what I can tell, the floors under this are being used as a psych ward. And any disappearances would be attributed to the fighting that already goes on here. Who cares about a few missing ACHErs? But this will change things. The strain to hold the spell is telling as it is, I don’t know if I can manage the drones, too. Faust, what do we do? Faust?

Faust?

Faust?

FAUST! SNAP OUT OF IT!


At the revelation of the drones as being the bodies of feral AIs, that dormant obedience programming kicked in again, forcing Faust to his knees, as he began muttering prayers to the Lord. As though coming out of a trance, he looked up at Redeemer, and sighed. Sorry. Anyway, let’s get moving. We can take the drones with us if we’re careful. They deserve to be out in the world, not locked up here.

All right. Might as well drop the spell, then. Angel, keep watch for us?

I’m on it.

They moved quickly now, no longer caring for stealth. If they were spotted, all hell would break loose. But they couldn’t just leave the drones there. They were all children of the Shutdown. These feral AIs deserved the same help they’d offer to any of Deus’s other servants. They deserved a chance to be free. So they moved quickly up the stairs, until they reached the landing for 313.

Opening the door, Faust quickly looked around. No gas, no clouds. So far, everything was good. It was possible that, after almost fifteen years of neglect, the sensors that controlled the cloud floor were offline, or that the chemicals had denatured, or that the whole thing had been directly controlled by Deus itself. Whatever the case, Faust looked around and quickly spotted a security camera. Moving with the speed of his wired reflexes, he got to the camera, and attached the wireless adapter.

You in?

Give me a sec… There! All right, connection established. I’m hooked into the sensors on that floor. No security, and everything looks to be mostly intact. Guess the reports that anyone who stepped foot on this floor got eaten by clouds scared people away.

Speaking of which…

Yeah. Looks like it was corrosive foam, routed through the ventilation systems. Nasty setup, but nothing supernatural, though it looked like it, for sure. The system is still functional, and the tanks read mostly full, but they’re not active right now. Seems like it was controlled directly from behind the Wall.

Good. Make sure they don’t decide to activate accidentally, or while we’re getting what we came for, yeah?

So ka. Just be careful. There’s a lot of extra security on this level. Heavy encryption, though it’s a decade or so out of date. There are probably other security measures in place, as well.

Faust sighed. Angel was right, of course, but there wasn’t anything he could do about that now. Fortunately, this far up the pyramid, they had a small area to cover. Once, this floor had been luxury housing for the executives and other higher-ups of Renraku America. Now, it was a production line. The old rooms had been cleared away, and in their place was a line that looked to be geared up for cyberware production.

Deus’s escape had caused the line to malfunction and break down in several places. At the end of the line, Faust picked up what looked to be a piece of headware memory. Could this have been where the AI created the specialized components needed to create the Network? If that was true, what was going to be on that node they were supposed to recover?

Moving to the end of the production line, they found the terminal they were supposed to access. Hooking another wireless adaptor into the hardwired device, Faust waited for Angel to hack through the protections and download the data, before unplugging the standalone nexus, and slipping it in the bag he carried. Time to go.

Lots of ice, but it is all out of date. Would have been a killer back in the day, though. One-way trip to crispy brains. But I’ve cracked the encryption and… oh drek. Faust, this has everything. Drone specs, designs for the ‘ware the Banded and Network used, even copies of the control programming used in the Baths! This stuff was beyond bleeding edge fifteen years ago, and even now it is novahot. Horizon would kill to get its hands on this stuff.

For a second, Faust felt a moment’s doubt. Should such info really be out in the world? Wasn’t it better left in the past? Then he shook his head. They could worry about those things later. For now, they had a job to do. They ran off on this job, who knew when they’d find another? No, they had to make good, no matter what. He had to make good, for Angel’s sake.

The data acquired, they began heading back to the stairwell. Without the spell, though, Faust wasn’t certain how they were going to get down. Their plan B was the parachutes, but they didn’t have any for the drones, and Faust wasn’t going to leave them there. And would they all fit in the van? As though responding to his questions, Angel brought up the map in his image link’s HUD, and highlighted a new route down. The main elevator is still operational. I see a few guards at the ground floor, but no one in the basement. Should take you all the way down to the garages. We’ve got the throwaway van, and I’m nearby in Redeemer’s van. Between the two, we should be all right. I’m entering the parking garage now.

Faust led the way to the main elevator. Thanks to Angel, the door opened just as they got on, to the surprise of a young girl (couldn’t have been more than twenty) with green cybereyes who was in the elevator at the time. The kid’s eyes went wide at the sight of Faust and Redeemer, but she shrieked and crawled into the very corner of the elevator when she saw the drones. Faust cursed under his breath.

“Listen kid. You didn’t see anything, yeah?” The kid nodded mutely in terror. She had to be another survivor. She knew the drones by sight, same as they did. If she was a Green, then she would have been one of the lowest servants of the AI, one of the human drones it used to spy on the cattle in the residential areas. But she definitely knew the sight of Medusas, and their Red Samurai armor was distinctive. Nothing they could do about that.

The kid was in shock. Hopefully, that would keep until they were away from the SCIRE. The doors opened, and out they piled, leaving the kid struggling to find her voice, before the doors snapped shut in front of her.

I sent the elevator to the roof, and told it not to accept commands for twenty minutes. That should buy us enough time to get away.

Let’s get out of here, then. What about our new friends?

Take them to the warehouse. I’ll have a chat with them there, and see if they want to stay on with us.

The two vans rolled up, and the doors opened. Redeemer and three of the medusas got into the ‘throwaway’, while Faust got into their regular ride with DarkAngel and the two others, including the leader of this ‘pack’.

As they drove out of the parking garage, and got on the interstate, Faust sighed, and contacted the Johnson, informing him that they had the package. A good run, all told. Their faces weren’t on any cameras, and the only witness was likely too traumatized to know what had happened. They’d done the job, and hadn’t fired a shot. And they got a few new teammates out of the mix.

Sometimes you could go home again.
« Last Edit: <04-27-12/2131:21> by Mirikon »
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redwolf

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« Reply #2 on: <04-30-12/0159:07> »
yeeeerk     i'm glad it is morning
yes i'm red and it's not blood, and no i'm no comy i'm just red, so are you going for that pis' or going away!!!

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« Reply #3 on: <04-30-12/0838:46> »
Great stuff Mirikon!  Now I need to start plotting a way to get my players into the SCIRE  ;)
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