Friday, February 29, 2008

"Continuity Core," CTC, pt. 3, 400 words

A tinny little whirring noise drew the team’s attention down the right hall. Mudry flashed his light around, looking for the source.

A small, streamlined ceramic and metal discus shot up the hall at them, its wheels hidden under the skirt of its body so it looked like it skimmed less than a quarter inch off the floor. The drone crossed fifty feet in a few seconds, and Mudry brought his pistol up to track its movements.

“Cool down,” Rijn ordered. She stepped forward to meet the drone in its whirring approach, and swept her foot out at it. The drone angled sideways at the last moment, almost running into her other foot as it skidded under and beyond her.

A quick squeeze of the trigger, and with a loud crack Mudry’s pistol spat out a single round. Damaged but still operable, the drone knocked itself sideways into a wall. It sat there, bumping insistently against the plaster as it tried to turn against the solid surface. Mike crouched down beside the drone and picked it up.

“How’s it look,” Mudry asked.

Turning the drone over revealed that the shot had passed at an angle through the body and broken apart one of the two treads that made up the drone’s only means of locomotion. The other was still whirring along efficiently, but without its mate the drone wouldn’t go anywhere but in circles.

“Clean disable, no extra damage aside from cosmetic,” Mike answered, and extracted a few tools from his uniform pockets. He unceremoniously broke the other tread with a screwdriver jammed into its works, and then worked the drone’s body off its chassis.

The circuit sticks inside looked positively prehistoric, but there was no point in scaling down to microtronics when the thing already needed to be so huge for the waldo and tool package, necessary to the performance of its basic duties. Mike unwound the tap from his finger once again, then almost dropped the drone when it suddenly jabbed his hand with some kind of probe.

“Damn,” he muttered, shifting his grasp to the back of the drone, out of the waldo’s normal range of movement. A few drops of synthetic blood fell to the floor, turning black as it degraded in the open air. The blood welling directly from the wound began to degrade as well, turning into an ugly black scab in spare seconds.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

"Continuity Core," CTC, pt. 2, 398 words

“Grand,” Mudry muttered, straightening up. “Might as well just get it on our way out.”

Rijn nodded, drawing her sidearm. She gave it one last check, disabling the genelocked safeties. Mudry followed suit, with the pistol on his right hip and the cutting torch on his left. The torch was no bigger than his forearm in whole, including the fusion cell, and hung heavy on his belt. Mike was unarmed; no biod could legally bear firearms.

“Ladies first,” Mudry suggested with a wry grin.

Rijn dropped her pistol back into her holster. “Go right ahead.”

“Yeah, ha-hah, thanks,” Mudry said, but made for the arch of the personnel scanner anyway. The security station chirped its alarm as he went through, and repeated itself as Rijn followed after. Mike brought up the rear, and the three passed the checkpoint and into the inner complex.

All lights were disabled in the hall and the door snapped shut behind them, leaving the team in the dark. The faint luminescent patterns on Mike’s skin glowed in the darkness until Rijn and Mudry snapped on their lights. The lights were little flattened squares that would fit snugly in a person’s palm, the disc-shaped bulb taking up nearly a whole side. Rijn popped hers onto a pair of clips on her uniform breast, its light shining steady before her, while Mudry kept his in hand.

Mudry flashed his light up and down the length of the hall, skimming the ceiling and both walls. Nothing showed save sealed doors and a bevy of “motivational” posters. Like they had a chance in hell of motivating anyone to do more than the bare minimum. Ever since the DI had been brought in, most of Corridor Traffic Control’s staff consisted of janitorial and maintenance personnel. Even those were on their way out, with the increasing drone automation of menial labor.

The building was a good hundred times bigger than it needed to be anymore, a grossly outsized monument to the shrinking demand for human labor. Why pay human staff to run the system and keep the building up when a digital intelligence could manage everything necessary on its own for less? The staff who still worked there did more of importance by disappearing, and so warning Rijn and Mudry’s bosses of a rogue DI, than they probably had ever done or would ever do in their whole careers.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"Continuity Core," CTC, pt. 1, 1271 words

("Another Angel Down" will continue posting as normal. See the commentary blog for information about "Continuity Core.")

“Yeah, I think it’s safe to say we’re fucked.”

Jan Rijn shook her head at her partner’s choice of words, but his assessment was spot-on. She tapped the pistol in its holster at her side, momentarily comforted by its presence and solidity, and reexamined the room they were caught in.

The room had been a security checkpoint in the Corridor Traffic Control building, but its nature as a choke point had made it an excellent trap. One room, which stood between the inner complex and the public chambers on the north side of the building. There was one for each cardinal direction, but they were the only ways in or out, isolating the inner complex quite effectively. The room itself was cut in half by a reinforced partition, which was broken only by an archway-shaped personnel scanner, and a security station behind HV glass and a security screen.

No security officers, though. Normal protocol called for at least two, one to stand at the station and watch the scanner, and another to stand ready in case some whacko lowball with a gun or bomb came through. Word on the wire was that it happened more than CTC cared to admit.

And then, over the last twenty-four hours, everyone who went into the inner complex didn’t come out. At first, nobody there had really noticed because they were still logged as checked out. Then some controller’s husband had called to ask if she’d been held over on another shift, and got nothing. No pick-up. He asked someone else whose husband had shared a shift with his wife, and found out that the other person’s husband hadn’t been home yet. A dozen more calls around followed by one to the police, and there was officially a Situation.

When the full depth of the Situation was determined, the police chief made his own call, and Jan Rijn was woken up on her day off. One trip into the station, one out to the CTC building, and a five minute walk in that ended with the one door out slamming shut and locking.

And so here we are, she thought. She stood, arms crossed, in the center of the room’s exterior half. Her partner, Josh Mudry, leaned against the security screen, and looked about as tired as she felt. He yawned, then ran his hand back through his messy black hair.

“How long’s it gonna be, Mike,” he asked of the team’s third member.

“Mike” was a short and slender figure, apparently male, and completely hairless. His skin was pale, almost alabaster, except for the intricate patterns of lines in luminous blue that crawled over his face in patterns reminiscent of bar codes. His irises were the same shade of blue, and glowed ever so faintly in complete dark. He wore the same uniform as Rijn and Mudry. He was crouched by the outside door, before an open wall panel that had hidden the security door’s personnel override. It was a small alphanumeric keypad that took a ten-digit input code. Mike had removed the keypad’s face plate, and run a tap from his left index finger to the wiring beneath. Without turning his head, he said calmly to the wall, “I require several more minutes before I have run through all possible combinations.”

“How’s your uplink, Mike,” Rijn asked.

“Stable,” he responded in the same monotone as before. “Signal strength is optimal given conditions, and my cogence core is operating within ideal parameters. I should have the full five hundred hours of safe independent operation if the uplink goes offline. I will notify you if either situation changes.”

Rijn nodded even though Mike wasn’t looking her way. Not that she expected to lose network access; the CTC building was new enough to have high signal transparency all the way to the deepest subbasement. During optimal conditions, anyway. Who knew what’d happen now.

“So,” Mudry asked, “whose bright idea was it to coordinate the whole of Corridor Traffic with a dig’? No offense, Mike—”

“None taken,” he interrupted.

“Yeah,” Mudry continued, “no offense, but sticking a dig’ into a job requiring this much contact and control of people is just begging for it to lose its marbles. Or has everyone just forgotten about Murphy?”

Rijn rolled her eyes. Mudry bitched like this on every job. “If this didn’t happen, we’d be out of work,” she pointed out.

“Fine by me,” he said. “I’d like the need for this job to dry up and disappear. I’d be back in the pols, or working corpsec. Something a lot safer than going into a dig’s playground every time one of them went crazy. A lot fewer bodies to run across, too.”

“Leaving the department is always an option,” Mike said.

“Shit no. No way I’m leaving someone else to this if I don’t have to,” Mudry responded. Rijn gave his complaints a grudging reappraisal at that. It was easy to forget that there was an actual reason he stayed on, other than to give her regular headaches.

“Josh,” Rijn said, “learn a little patience. Control estimates no more than five hours, for absolute worst case. The largest drones are a foot long, and there are no fabricators for more. And even if the drones could somehow wield them and defeat the genelocks, all the security force weapons are low-lethality. The worst we’re like to see from the DI is psych attack.”

“You say that like it’s a good thing,” he groused. “How many accidents do you think will happen with traffic control on automatic? Or what if it gets past the net barrier and gets to go playing? Should just drop an e-bomb on the place.”

“If the barrier fails and can’t be reestablished,” she said slowly, patiently, “then they will set off an e-bomb and we’ll be free to walk in, open the shielding, and collect the core at our leisure. That is what the cutting torch is for, after all.”

“I would rather we avoided the use of EMP,” Mike said. He still hadn’t moved an inch, aside from his mouth. “Incidental damage aside, I have… gotten used to this body. I finally got its systems optimized to my needs and preferences last night.”

Mudry raised an eyebrow. “Is there really that much customization to it? I thought it was one of the VAL line.”

“It is, but there are some things to change. Power balances. Operating system tweaks. File structure and organization.”

“File organization?”

Rijn could’ve sworn she saw Mike smile briefly before he answered, “An orderly mind is a healthy mind.”

“‘Cleanliness is next to godliness,’” Rijn quoted.

“Yes, I suppose that maxim is something akin to what I said,” Mike responded.

“Riiight,” Mudry muttered, and closed his eyes as he relaxed against the security screen. The force field opaqued a little as he put his weight against it, wavering and shifting lines cobwebbing out from the point of contact like breaking glass. “Let me know when you’re done.”

“Don’t worry, we will,” Rijn said offhandedly, not really paying attention to him.

A few minutes later, Mike calmly extracted the tap from behind the keypad and tucked it back into his finger. The fingernail folded closed and sealed without a mark to show where it had split up the middle, concealing the tap perfectly.

“As we assumed,” Mike said. “All secure doors can be controlled remotely, meaning that the DI here has assumed control and disabled personnel override. All possible codes have been locked out. Unless you decide to cut the door open first, the only real option is to proceed into the complex.”