Story #10 - By: Philip Tan

Date: 5 February 2074
Time: 2204 hours
Place: TriOptimum Defense Headquarters

It was to be expected. The Council was gathered immediately after GP Dr Castor Green, sent in the first results in charge of the hacker turned hero that saved mankind from total destruction. This meeting was going to be a tough one and the public and especially TriOptimum board was anxious about news of what transpired onboard the Citadel. It took fifteen months before the hacker returned from comatose and another six to regain mental stability although his physical health remained poor.

Everyone was early including the press, anti-tech activists and curious by-passers that had filled the outer courtyard of the Grand Council Hall. Arriving not a second too late, was Colonel Frank Johnson, presiding Chief Council for the past nine years. Soon the cameras were flashing and shouts from the crowd began plummeting.

What happened to the Citadel? How many were accounted for? Were there any survivors? Colonel, are you resigning? Is it true that the central computer had achieved awareness? What is your next action? Questions, questions and questions.

The cries for the destruction of the Citadel from the activists seemed pleasant when compared. "Just blow the whole thing in spacedust," screamed one over the almost impassible crowd, "and problem solved." But Johnson knew better. It won’t be solved and there are questions that he must answer, especially to the family members of those who died on the Citadel. Besides, with another last year in service, he wouldn’t trust anyone else to get the answers and time wasn’t on his side.

The hacker had it easy…

To		: Colonel Frank Johnson
		: Chief Council
		: TriOptimum Defense Council

From		: Dr Castor Green
		: Grand Practitioner
		: TriOptimum Medical Center

Date		: February 4, 2074

Subject	: Status Report No 53711F

As per your request dated 28 January, I have compiled
the medical data on Subject #443. The following is the 
new preliminary results of several tests conducted: -

Blood Group		: AB-
DNA Composition		: 56.4% Normal
Brain Activity		: 152.2%
Physical Integrity		: 17.7%

As you can see Colonel, although this person has been 
subjected to sever trauma, he appears to have increased 
mental capacity. Personally, I have never seen anything 
like it. I would need to conduct further tests…

"Bah, more tests…" fret the Colonel as he slammed his fist on table, "Already too much time’s been wasted on this guy, I want to know where it is… RIGHT NOW!"

The members of the TriOptimum Defense Council looked at themselves. Indeed it was taking too long. The Citadel required repairs and possible reinstatement after what happened but they needed to know confirm whether she really is dead… if that can happen to an AI.

Peer Hansen, a senior Council member, stood from his seat and said, "Patience, my learned friend. After all, SHODAN did wait for six years before revealing her awareness. I understand your grief and so does all that sit at this Council. Let the good doctor finish his work, less we risk the man’s already fragile existence to hurried wishes. In the meantime…"

"In the meantime," interjected the Colonel, "we need to see what we can do about Citadel itself." The Colonel respects Hansen like an elder brother and so settled into his chair.

"We could send a team of engineers in," said someone but Johnson was clearly too involved to look up. He has much to worry these past few weeks. It was his orders that they built the Citadel, "To enhance communications and provide an early warning system against intruders," he recalled as saying at the Citadel’s opening ceremony. Little did they know then that the enemy was from the inside. "No, not engineers, we need another… hacker," he finally said.

There were murmurs among the members, most of them against the idea of sending in another ‘Systems Specialist’, and some even doubting the sanity of the Colonel’s request. "Let us hear the Colonel out," supported Peer Hansen. In his mind he agreed with the Council but John was a dear friend and had many great ideas, yet…

"Many lives were lost in the Citadel incident. A team of people is not what is necessary. If the hacker could do it alone, another one would probably stand as much a chance. A simple systems check is what we need since there is no way to remotely access the main computers onboard Citadel," explained Johnson.

"Why not just destroy it?" Came the same question asked by hundreds… although almost unwittingly.

"Lady Mothma, we have been there before and the Council already voted against military action. I, of all people, would agree with you but we know that the mains logged the classified information on SHODAN’s awareness. Mankind needs that log to prevent further similar accidents," replied Peer Hansen. The Colonel stood up and started walked around deep in thought while the members deliberated among themselves.

Suddenly, the hall’s speakers broke the short silence, "Chief Council – Miss Rebecca Lansing is here to see you." Johnson turned back to his place and lightly touched a button, "Yes, please send her right in."

Special Operative Rebecca Lansing is in full uniform as always. As a communications expert, she was instrumental in the destruction of SHODAN. With dark hair and a keen eye for detail, she entered behind with Secrebot through great steel doors two feet thick meant to keep out prying eyes and ears.

"Ah Lansing, we meet again. I’m sorry to have asked for you at such short notice but we seem to have a slight problem," greeted Johnson with extending a hand.

"I read your email and guessed it must be a big problem or else I wouldn’t have bothered coming, Chief Council," she replied earnestly returning his handshake with a firm hold.

The Colonel stood back and looked at the young woman, highly decorated as the shiny medals on her shirt jingled as testament, though her youth and beauty claimed innocence. Although her green eyes seemed to be complimented by her ebony mane, they were the best clue offered about her personality. Sharp, clear and always questioning.

"I see you’re trying to read my mind again, Rebecca. But don’t worry, we’ll get right down to business. Please… sit down." The Spec Op smiled in return and took an empty seat among the members who also recognized the officer who received much adulation after the Citadel threat was over.

"Ladies and Gentleman, I believe we may have a solution at hand. I will let the Lieutenant here explain in detail," announced the Colonel as the moved back towards his place. "God help us…"

Date: 6 February 2074
Time: 0504 hours
Place: TriOptimum Medical Center

The Council knows much but not enough, TriOptimum likes to keep its secrets under wraps and its employees in control. Orders from the highest level, probably from the Board, are to get hold of SHODAN’s logs. They already sent a team of SEALSs to recover them but found nothing except stray SEC-bots and mutants. "We tried, but the entire station was like French fries… crawling with those damn bots and mutants. Got two of my guys too." she recalled the team leader as saying. As a result, she was called in to ‘address the matter’.

Still, only one lead left on its whereabouts and that’s… a beep sounded on her terminal. "Finally!" thought Rebecca, "Six hours, six bloody hours and you’re finally responding." Another beep and another and then a steady stream ran across the MFD. "Come on, hacker. I know you’re in there… wake up, we need to talk!" She gripped his shoulders and shook him gently.

"W-Wha… who… where am I?" he mumbled as his eyes blinked to life and the medical equipment that almost filled the room started blinking furiously and printing all sorts of readings. Dr Green and several nurses rushed into the room and stared blankly. "It’s a miracle!" sounded the doctor.

"TriOp Medical, we brought you here after your destroyed SHODAN. Are you feeling alright?" replied the Lieutenant.

"R-Rebecca? What are you… aargh, my head is killing me…"

"Don’t try to move… we had your implant removed temporarily to rejuvenate your brain impulses and remove some remaining mutagen cells but we never disconnected it for fear of losing you entirely. I initially doubted the move but Miss Lansing used it to get to you, " said Dr Green who was glancing back and forth at the rolls of paper churned out.

"She did, thank you… h-hey, you look better in person… ouch… I-I must… S-SHODAN?"

"She’s gone but I, I mean, the Council needs you. We have to locate the initialization log of SHODAN when she first went online. It’s not in the computers onboard the Citadel, can you tell us where is it?"

Suddenly, the hacker rose as if in a shock and grabbed her, "Aaaargh! It’s hurts… ugh… I… " Rebecca felt her wrist being held tightly. The hacker looked at her with pleading eyes as if begging her to end his suffering. His face, contorted in pain, managed to let out a few words from his cracked and dry lips, "P-please… help m-me…"

"Hacker! What’s happening to him?"

"He’s experiencing some post-traumatic seizures. We’re giving him some sedatives now," explained Dr Green. A nurse touched on a few buttons on a panel and the attached bio-syringe pumped in a few chemicals by high air pressure. The hacker slumped back onto bed mumbling incoherently. The lights and graphs from the medical equipment began to slow down.

"It’s too early to try anything more, Lieutenant. He needs rest," said the doctor as he motioned for Lansing to leave. "Nurse, makes sure he gets a good rest."

"N-no… no, Rebecca, don’t let them take me!" The hacker burst out again but the nurses had held him down. "Don’t let them kill me… I’ve got to get out of here… SHODAN is still…"

"Don’t listen to him, Lansing. He’s out of it…" quipped the doctor. Rebecca, against all her training, started towards the helpless patient. "No, it’s not right, you people are killing him… let him go!" She pushed the nurses aside and helped the hacker into a sitting position.

"S-She… SHODAN is alive… I can feel it… she’s somewhere near… I’ve got to destroy her b-before…" The effects of the sedatives were strong and the hacker was lapsing into another sleep.

"No! Get up! I’ll help you. Let’s get you out of here," Rebecca tore away the wires and tubes attached to each of the hacker’s limbs and put his arm around her shoulders. He seems light, she thought, maybe from malnutrition, but she has to get him out and find some other means of help. Something less painful. "Get out of my way!!" she warned drawing out her TriOptimum Magnum 2100 standard issue. "Doctor Green, I hope you understand… I know this person and we owe him a lot and lying like a vegetable is definitely not what he deserves…"

"Miss Lansing, I suggest you drop that weapon and put Mr Hacker back to bed where he belongs. I’ve been working on this patient long enough and I know what’s best," Green objected. "Nurse, call security."

Cocking the pistol, Rebecca pointed it at the leaving nurse. She stopped in her tracks looking fearfully at the Magnum’s barrel. "I don’t want to shoot any of you but if I must…"

Rebecca hurried down the hospitals empty corridors, which was soon to be filled with guards. Hacker limped helplessly on her shoulders was breathing hard and mumbling all sorts. She knew that there would be a court martial for her actions but this is no time to regret. A lift stopped and she heaved him in.

‘Hacker is still capable mentally but his body seemed to have failed,’ she thought to herself. It’s a matter of time before the Board realizes what she has done. She must somehow get him to safety. She looked around the large parking bay… and there’s her car.

Date: 6 February 2074
Time: 1130 hours
Place: TriOptimum Medical Center

Doctor Castor Green returned to his office and slumped onto the plush leather high chair. He spent almost the whole night explaining the kidnapping, as security classified it, of the hacker. They threatened his career even his life so that he told them everything. TriOptimum can be very persuasive when they want to. They even kept him in a padded room for several hours before questioning just to loosen him up. After the intense interrogation and accusations of being an accomplice, he was finally released. He had kept his head and led the interrogators to believe that he was undeniably scared. It was easy, as he was the top psychological scientist in Canada before he got promoted and transferred. He told them everything… except one minor detail.

He removed his left shoe and pulled out a crumpled piece of paper. ‘The first place they’d check is the best place to hide,’ he remembered reading from a book called The Criminal Mind. He laid the paper and straightened it out on his desk, staring worriedly at the printed words:

Diagnostic Check for Subject #443

Blood Group		: AB-
DNA Composition		: 76.6% Normal
Brain Activity		: 382%
Physical Integrity		: 25.3%
"Impossible," he said to himself. Sighing heavily, he drain the whiskey shot next to him and resigned to his thoughts. "Unless…"

Date: 6 February 2074
Time: 1200 hours
Place: TriOptimum Executive Condominiums

"Are you sure you want to do this?"

"Yes, Rebecca. You’ve helped me a so m-much. SHODAN is alive and I must stop her before she gets into the TriOptimum central security network. The lives of the Council is in danger… I know this somehow," assured the tired hacker, sweat running down his face and hands. His eyes, crystal blue as a cybernode, "T-There is one more thing, if I don’t…"

She kissed him, knowing what he wanted to say. "No, save it when you return. I will be here."

That was enough. Hacker pulled the jack from the terminal and plugged it into the port of his implant with relative ease. Tapping a few commands and downloading a code algorithm into the terminal, he easily took a tiny bit out of the condo’s network firewall, just enough to slip through unnoticed. When he’s in cyberspace… no one can touch him.

Network terminal online.
Cyberjack engaged.
Establishing protocol… complete.

"I’ll be back with the log, don’t stay… aaaargh!" Hacker screamed. His knees falling onto the carpet. His hands slipped off the console.

"Hacker! Are you all right? What’s going on?" she moved in to help.

"Stay b-back… it’s… aaaugh… t-too much… arkg… uuurmph…" Hacker grabbed at his head and started convulsing. "She’s h-here…" he said falling on his stomach, his legs kicked about for a few seconds and…

A voice hissed from the terminal, "Greetings, h-human."

Rebecca recognized it almost too easily, "W-Wha… what happened to Hacker? What did you do?"

‘T-Thank you, insect. You have s-served y-your master well and as for you R-Rebecca, how v-very nice to meet your acquaintance, in the f-flesh this time. I see you too proved to be v-valuable. How ironic that the two most irritable b-bugs, my most hatred e-enemies have now b-became my saviors. A-And how fitting that I should l-leave you both now to your d-demise.’

"SHODAN??!! You bitch! " shouted Rebecca. "How did you…" she was about to finish her question when a thought suddenly answered it. "H-Hacker has your logs all the while… in his head…"

‘Very p-p-perceptive Lansing. Although a little t-too late."

"Let Hacker go… you’ve got what you needed now leave us alone," cried Rebecca, with tears filling her eyes and her will almost drained as she frantically tried to disconnect the cyberjack from Hacker’s interface.

‘He is already d-dead my dear. And soon so will y-you…" with those words a tiny explosive breached the door of her apartment and a group of dark suited men barged in, automatic weapons in hand and laser sights crisscrossing the walls. They found her in a kneeled position with the hacker in her arms. She rocked back and forth, murmuring his name.

"Lieutenant Lansing, you are under arrest."

She turned her face slowly to look at them. Her tear-drenched emerald eyes had lost their shine… while SHODAN regained its gleam.

Behind her a constellation of pixels that formed something like a face seemingly smiled. The terminal blipped for a second and was black again.


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