Blue Roses Part 3
by Blaine L Winston
“Deckar, how far until we reach the loft?” Kevin inquired.
“Fourteen minutes thirty-nine seconds to our destination, Mr. Hannigan,” the Deckar replied.
He closed his eyes and leaned back in the seat expelling any weight that held him with a soured sigh. Clouded thoughts racing through his brain, he could feel the scarring of its trails. Eighteen years of this was like sticking with a nine to five for a thousand years. The aging in his face would be exponentially more wrinkled like the most worn leather imaginable if it were even possible anymore. Kevin had seen too many good people maimed, disassembled, assimilated or worse in countless ways and with the most advanced and terrible weapons to date. Yes it was a cold, shitty, filthy world, full of rancid thieves that would rather poke your lungs out when you weren’t paying attention than provide the Heimlich if you were choking. Some days he even doubted Yuan and her true intentions or motivations so he reined her in and gave her a tighter, shorter leash. No one could be trusted anymore. Truth and prosaicness were his suits; an adder can be born without a slivered tongue.
They arrived at the loft within milliseconds of the time stated by the Deck. He woke Yuan, her sleepy eyes in a strange state of discombobulation and displacement. He knew she took an extra gel but she always kept her silent eye scanning everything. This time though she was a little thrown-off. Her pain was more than she let on; he knew this and proceeded carefully with how he dealt with her. She wasn’t one to lie back idly, Kevin cracking a smile at the thought of her protesting a few weeks of laying low.
“Yuan we’re home. Come on now, let’s get you into a medi-chamber and fix you up. Can't have you dying on me just yet.” Kevin winced slightly at the thought of ever losing her.
The faintest wince burst through her lips as she neared the vehicle’s exit, the only indication of the gnawing, relentless pain she was experiencing.
“You know Kev, if we keep coming home like this the neighbors are going to start to think we’re in one of those fight circuits you read about.” Yuan paused. “I’ve never been good at explaining myself Kev, you know that.”
Her laugh was shallow, eyes glazed like polished stones, looking for an exit that didn’t exist. Shrugging off help in advance she slowly made her way into the loft. Kevin let her climb into the chamber alone and activated the sequence, something he had done mechanically over countless times; the sedation was almost immediate and Yuan’s tired, searching eyes shut off again. The screen claimed thirty-six hours were necessary with a small margin for risk. Forty-eight hours being the recommended time for complete reconstruction and regeneration yet again as always they didn’t have the time. They had the credits but no one sold the kind of time they needed. He looked at her through the glass as she slept, her delicate features observable even through the dimmed glass of the chamber; elfin, wispy and deceptive. Behind that fragile appearance was a hungry, calculating, and fierce lion capable of the most devastating acts of destruction Kevin had seen from a single soldier. What impressed him further was the lack of mods she had in her body.
Aside from standard issue reflex motivators and NodePort, her acrobatics and combat skill were comparable to a fully decked infiltration specialist and he trusted her aim far more than his own. He walked away to scan through the Deck to see what almost ended Yuan’s and possibly his own life. He poured a drink from the stout crystal decanter, the amber liquid gurgling through its neck into the glass, an amber tongue lapping at the ice inside. He took a deep drink feeling the haze pooling behind his eyes.
"Deckar, feed the report to me directly, I’m going to my chambers if you need me. Be sure to let Yuan sleep this off and do not let her start running around, sedate her if necessary."
He was only half serious and the Deck would be a mangled heap if Deck had to follow Kevin's order. He finished his drink and set the glass on the bar. The loft was his small respite fof himself and his team after a long service history. Downstairs were his operations and datamine specialists. They would combat even more fearsome foes than those outside of the ether. The holographic interface allows users to project their Replite, a custom persona that individualizes each user, into the ether but to many this was found to be risky.The user was in stasis, naked in a sense, as they are prone to attack by leaving their minds wide open for all to see. The ether quickly became a congested nightmare, clogged with useless trace data, marketing schemes, and other vulnerabilities Kevin wasn’t very sure of but knew were a determent to any unseasoned user.
Most data is forced through the arteries of the ether and filtered through to sub-ether groups in their respective territory. Killing the ether cloud was once on the table but after J-4 the risk of losing even more lives was not in the world’s best interest. The ether remained wild but was not without its own security measures. Much of the encrypted data that passes through is done so by amateurs, backlog tracing usually leading to their locale and being poorly coded, it is easily deciphered. You could catch a big fish now and again but most of it was seedy pornography sometimes leading to blackmail. It all could be twisted into a form of cash generation as data became a powerful weapon in the new age of communication and no bombs could match its potential devastation.
Kevin closed the doors to his chambers with a firm echoed force. He called for lights and the room illuminated showing his various trophies, a sleek work desk and a fireplace that began to roar flames. He added the fireplace to make it seem a little less mechanical, a touching effect and even though he could not appreciate its warmth he found himself lost in the flames. Calculations, strategy, worry, it all cindered away as he watched the flames snap and bite at the air that fed it. Many nights into dawn has he been in this room watching the flames as he contemplated strategies anew, his mind at ease for a time but his troubles began to creep from within the cracks. He sat motionless, waiting for something else to happen before he could settle in, nights like these making even the most seasoned veteran jumpy.
Kevin pulled back the hair covering his left temple and exposed his NodePort as he inserted a small dongle which seemed to be custom fit to his own specs. He sifted through the data in his custom environment. Matrices such as these were often personalized with custom data streams, virtualization game portals, but Hannigan’s custom modifications made it unique and not entirely within the legalities that attempt to govern the ether. His world was teaming with data streams from all over the globe at once. Watching him work in his own space was mesmerizing, flows of virtualized data being absorbed into his Replite, his enhancements doing their part in strengthening his mind while he sieved the world’s quiet chatter. He began to process the data from the hit, everything moving according to plan smoothly with little distraction. Until the main security line detected a trace from someone.
Moments went by until it was revealed to be from the inside but not within their hub. The trace went out moments after they spoke with the receptionist but not from her. He tried to pinpoint the location but the feeds were corrupted and encrypted to a degree that Hannigan couldn’t track it. News of Durant’s assassination was already flowing over throughout the world. He did market many products that were staples in households, from viewing stations to ammunition; Durant had little boundaries other than Malcolm. As former partner to Malcolm, Durant’s departure was subject to many disputes over patent rights, espionage, and attempts to sabotage production sites directly. It didn’t matter now, the contract was fulfilled and what happened next wasn’t his problem. The account’s funding was showing a full payment, so he severed the link between him and the client, destroying any trace of a communique.
The money market also surged with life at the news, money on top of money shaking hands at incomprehensible speeds. This was not his focus as he attempted to pinpoint the location of the saboteur with little result, yet something caught his briefest attention; the Alta Mira corporation had named a new security head. The name was familiar but the face was far from true. Pieter Romanov had come out of hiding once again but this time he was taking over Kelvin Winter's positions as CEO granting him access to some of the most valuable assets in the hemisphere. Hannigan saved the feed for later, the scan complete and the target visible through Vibratitive imaging. He deducted that the twenty-third floor held their uninvited guest. The frequency burst that they used was just enough to penetrate Yuan's shielding but how did the cipher break down the encryption applied to each device?
"Deckar, save all feeds I've processed from this entire jump. Run metrics on the entire building and any other employees of the firm that may have tried to rogue jump our job."
“Yes sir, Yuan's healing at fifteen percent beyond calculated rated but her opioid levels are elevated..”
"Enough Deckar, Yuan will be fine. Once those feeds are loaded alert me at once. This is a sensitive one Deck so pray that it doesn't get any more agitated."
Hannigan’s disconnection felt labored, the feeds more intense this time, the job proving it’s worth and the toll wasn’t nearly beginning to show. He sat at his desk facing the window. His eyes beheld a living city, dark and buzzing with light streaking across most of its open air space. The noise was dampened well in his office, as was the natural sun to the city. It had been seen by few in almost a century. Those who braved the surface rarely ever returned. It was a harsh climate in this region but the entire planet was not dead yet. There remained lush areas that were under heavy control and word was it was all decaying faster than previously thought.
Hannigan’s drink was numb in his mouth but his mind could feel it’s wash over his senses. He peered past the traffic and got a glimpse of the city. Moments fleeting by as the breathing of the city were constant and unending Kevin thought back to the days when Romanus was in the corp with him. The war took many lives, innocent guilty young old it didn’t matter, one side was against the other and they had little choice. They proved themselves valuable quickly, working well in a pair and in squads. They were efficient even with minor augmentations and quickly rose in ranks. Kevin looked up to Romanus, he was a model solider, brilliant and fair to his men. It wasn’t until the east began to wind down that he revealed his hand to them.
Hannigan remembered the mission like it happened yesterday.They were to raid a supply depot that was loaded with highly prized and securely encrypted data hidden within a refugee compound. The team did not have the tools to decrypt it fully, more of a grab and run mission. There was no verification from command, a black ops missions so to speak and no suspicious movement on the compound other than those who lived within. Hannigan's team infiltrated with ease, too easy, which made him nervous. He waited on as the team siphoned the data feed when Romanus called for an open fire. The data was nearly transferred, Kevin knew better than to question orders, even if this assignment was bad from the get go and was forced into slaughtering an entire refugee camp. Romanus had no problems with the order issued, had the area burned down and sealed the data within his on Nanoport. Kevin watched as the bodies charred and metal twisted in the heat, his eyes blinded from the flames of war. The event was nothing but a faint memory between Romanus, Kevin and the team. After Hannigan left the service he had heard that Romanus was promoted highly and had been on a slick career track, gears continually spinning with gallons of blood lubricating them, keeping them in their perpetual cycle.
Hannigan sank deeply into his chair as his feed lines recessed away. This news meant less business and more firefights for the crew. Profit margins across the board for Alta Mira. He poured the glass full, gulped it half away. The tingle he needed was there, all he needed now was motive and Romanus wasn’t one to let loose ends stay untrimmed. He finished the drink, unconsciously shattering the glass as he set it down. He gazed at the shards knowing what lay ahead of them was almost as fractured.
"Deckar, I need all the data you can gather before Yuan wakes on Peter Romanus the new Securities Officer at Alta Mira. Use dull traces and don't hammer the feeds, we don’t need to raise another alarm like that job with Governor Stewart."
"Yes sir, I will begin the traces while monitoring Ms. Yuan. She is stable and resting comfortably."
"Hannigan out." He signed off the secure feeds.
The malfunction had to be there from the beginning but his supplier was clean and watched thoroughly, so how did this slip by? He scanned the data over and over but never once saw where it actually malfunctioned, it was more like the shield changed telemetry on purpose, And that thought worried him more than any glitch. He poured a new glass full as the decanter’s amber glow dimmed to a shallow layer and he raised the glass to his lips.
His hand along with the glass burst with an instantaneous moment and with the particulates of his fluids still in view Hannigan swiftly moved towards the door and stumbled into the hallway as a precise line of shots flowed behind him.
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