A Braeden Wolf Short Story

One world dissolved into the other, in a cascade of electrons that shot through Random’s interfaces direct into her mind, the drab, grey and rainy world that most called reality giving way to the bright lights and shimmering expanses that was the virtual construct of the ‘net.

For Random, each was just as real as the other, though it was the virtual she preferred.

There she could be free from the confines of the flesh, her digital soul able to soar among the glittering constructs that marked each system that was hooked up to the ‘net in The City, all far cleaner, clearer and brighter than the real one could ever be.

Every device, every system, every site that formed the ‘net was represented here in the virtual world of the datasphere, whether it be the heavily protected databanks and servers of the mega-corps, or the mere blog of a casual user.  If they were online, they could be accessed through the virtual interface pumped direct into the mind.  They could also be broken in to.

Other avatars were aloft as Random connected, off doing their own thing; the ‘net was always a busy place.  Tourists for the most, come to the datasphere via virtual interface for business or pleasure.  They were mere visitors in her realm; the ‘sphere belonged to the likes of her, who jacked in direct, the virtual pumped straight into the brain so as to appear, to feel, to sound as if it were as real as the mundane world, but a reality more vibrant.

Random took off, the silvered metal angel that formed her avatar soaring as the lights flickered beneath her.  The tightly clustered towers at the heart of The City, upon which blazed like neon lights the icons of mega-corps, fell away as she sped south, into the darkened margins that marked Southbrook, the slums of the real world city.  It was a place where few connections to the datasphere existed; for the most limited to personal devices and emergency services.

Of late the buzz was that a new databank was boiling up in the centre of Southbrook, only staying online long enough for data transfers before being ripped offline again.  Word had it that a couple of runners of an inquisitive nature had made a play at it, and been burned.

Now Random was making her run at it, her ‘deck stuffed with cutting edge apps and her mind arrowed in on the task.

The grid beneath her remained dark and silent as she circled, eagre anticipation awash within.  A pair of flashes marked two digital avatars streaking by, headed elsewhere.  One she knew by his avatar, a demonic cowboy; D-Tex was what he was known as.  The other, an elfin woman in flowing digital robes that faded into sparks that trailed behind, was unknown to her.

Then the databank boiled up, a blackened fort covered in iron spikes that screamed that it was a place to be avoided.  Random dove down on it, bringing online a Spider program, the crystalline critter swimming ahead towards the databank.  It was simple app, coded with one intent; detection.

A wall of fire flared up around the databank as the Spider reached it, standard fare in any defences, though this was shot through with darker flames than most.  Not a standard issue firewall then, but high end coding.  Whoever ran the databank had some righteous desire to keep anyone out.  Such matters only made her all the more curious to tress on in.

Random called up her menu interface and selected a Fireman, intrusion software specifically designed to probe firewalls looking for any holes in them.  A virtual beefcake wearing a fireman’s hat and little else, and carrying a firehose boiled into existence, spraying digital water across the firewalls; it was a mere visible representation of the underlying code at work.

The firewall dropped, a flaw in its security found and the Fireman flickered out of sight.

Tendrils of code slithered forth towards the drawbridge leading into the databank.  It took but a moment for the bridge to drop as the intrusion software cracked the code and Random was in.

The Spider skittered across the bridge, leading the way.  Random brought up a new subroutine, evasion software designed to mask her signal and virtual presence, a cloak of invisibility for the digital world of the datasphere.

A growl came from across the bridge and a program boiled into view, a triple headed dog with fiery red eyes; a Cerberus, a watchdog app designed to detect intrusions such as hers.  This was worse than most watchdogs, designed not just to detect but to attack as well.

She had to deal with it quickly before it could raise an alarm.  Skipping through her suite of apps, she called up a piece specifically designed with watchdogs in mind.  A bone made an appearance, and the watchdog took the bait as expected, moving to investigate the decoy.  The decoy bone flared in bright sparks in a rapid attack on the code of the Cerberus, overloading it with a numerous inserted errors.

The Cerberus blinked out, leaving the way clear.

Random crossed over the bridge into the databank.

Not surprisingly, the Cerberus had not been all that lay within the interior.  A figure encased in black armour drifted through the halls; it was no program but the avatar of another runner, obviously one in the employ of whoever ran the databank and whose job it was to burn those like her trying to get in.

Random paused, letting the searching runner drift on by, before sliding on further into the system, searching for anything of interest.

It didn’t take long for her to discover a node within, though a brief interface with it showed that all it controlled was various peripherals; a printer, security cameras and security systems.  The security for the meat world location that housed the server was top notch, far higher than any would expect in Southbrook.

Ignoring it, she pressed on.  A door further in the databank caught her attention, a virtual representation of internal security within the server.  It fell defeated to a silent attack and she was through, into a room filled with folders; the files stored on the server.  Two stood out as they were locked; security within security.  One bore the label Project Acheron, the other a simple string of alphanumeric symbols that had no meaning.  The second one was much larger in size, indicating most likely the presence of code or vid footage within.

Quickly initiating a download with the first file, she started to save it.  It was best, she felt, to grab it quick, and then move onto the larger, slower file; her intrusion would not remain undetected for long.  Better to have something than half of nothing.

The first one was soon saved away and she began to work on the second.

The sudden fall of sparks about her alerted her to trouble; that came from anti-evasion software in operation that burned through her cloak and revealed her avatar to view.

The black armoured runner was there and with one swift motion he threw a sword at her; that was bad, very bad.  It was an anti-personal app, the exact nature of which would cause a massive surge to pass through her interface.  At best it would merely knock her out; at worst it could fry the mind, cause strokes or even heart attacks.

In an instant she cut the run, only fractions of a second before the attack hit, wrenched back brutally into the flesh world, breathing heavily.  That had been close, far too close.  She had to hope that she hadn’t been recognised, or worse, had her link traced.  Whoever had been responsible for the databank seemed the type that would most like send thugs to deal with her in the flesh world should they discover who had hacked their system.

The time had come, she decided, to go to ground for a while.  That would take bark.  Maybe the data she had liberated would be worth something.  One file she had gotten clean, though it was still locked, but the second she had been forced to cut off halfway through the transfer.  There was a chance that something useful could still be recovered from it, enough to figure out what it was about, but the full picture would be missing.

The security on the files didn’t worry her; she could bust through them without much of a concern.  If what was within proved of value, then there was one person who would know what to do with it; Haphazard the information broker.

Random set to work; time was of the essence.  The sooner she had it cracked, the sooner she could be away, and safe, and that was the most important thing.  Only when her safety was assured would she be able to risk venturing back into the world that had become her home.


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