"What?" he muttered, tying up the last loose ends.
"Nothing." I hid my smile by freeing the sleeves of my suit and getting ready to leave. ::He does nice work, don't you think?::
Zero didn't think there was anything particularly remarkable about the way Duo's fingers danced lightly across the keyboard.
We were standing in the airlock waiting for it to cycle when the room went dark for a second. When the lights came back on, they were red and strobing slowly. We exchanged quick glances before heading back toward the door to the control room. Through the small window, I looked hard at the consoles for some information, Zero compensating for distance and angle. It wasn't too difficult to find what we needed. It was flashing in large red letters. "Core meltdown," I announced.
"Shit. Did we set something off? That sucks." He glanced back to our exit. "How much time do we have?"
"Judging from the warning levels, we should have about ten minutes."
He immediately stopped bouncing on his toes. "Time enough to clear out of here, then."
"Emergency lockdown will probably commence in two or so. The alarm was probably delayed."
"Oh. Standard lockdown procedures, I hope?"
"I believe so." That meant the doors were designed as seals, not locks. If the doors closed before we got through them, it would just slow us down a little, not condemn us to our deaths.
"Cool." The airlock signaled its readiness, and Duo punched the button to open the door. "Let's get out of here, then."
We bounded down the hallways confidently, performing advanced maneuvers that we usually had little reason to exercise. Zero did not think there was anything particularly remarkable about the way Duo glided precisely to each waypoint, or the way he took each corner smoothly without losing much speed. I disagreed with Zero's bland assessment, and got him to admit at least that Duo was doing very well for the irrational human he was. I kept the more subjective adjectives for myself.
The doors started closing at around the halfway mark. One closed behind us with a safe margin. The next door also closed behind us, this time not so long after we passed through it. The door after that began its procedures just as we were crossing its threshold. And it was right about then that the things Zero and I had been thinking about -- things other than Duo -- resolved into a solid course of action.
I found myself turning at the next handhold and hurling myself back through the seal just as it was about to close. The realization that I was about to piss Duo off was, unfortunately, a bit belated. "Um, Duo..."
"Yeah?" I'd let Duo take a slight lead, so he wouldn't have noticed my abrupt departure.
"Don't get mad."
"What?" I assume he took the time to look around. "Shit, Yuy, where the hell did you go? Oh, fuck no! Tell me you did NOT just go back inside!"
I winced. "I have an idea."
"The words 'core meltdown' mean anything to you?!"
"I figured out how to stop it." Zero and I had reviewed the specs and the methods available to the hackers. There were only one or two ways they could have triggered a meltdown. It wouldn't be that difficult to stop the sequence and stabilize the core.
"There are still explosives attached to this bucket, you know!"
They weren't intended to go off until the communications array got closer to its target, but it wouldn't be unreasonable for the rebels to detonate them once they found their plans had gone awry. "You're going to need to get rid of those. So keep moving."
"Arrgh!!" The feedback that came through the comm was unpleasant, but I could only guess that he did as he was told. "There are days I really fucking hate you, Yuy."
"Sorry," I said, trying to make it sound as heartfelt as possible. I really meant it. I got to the first door that had closed behind us, opened up a panel, and started bypassing. "I really didn't think. I just reacted. I had an idea. They're taking advantage of this comsat's destruction to use it as a cost-free relay. After we stop this thing from exploding, I can ride the signals out of here and locate a lot of sources, I think."
"What, like one? Two? It won't help, Yuy! Get out of there."
It was probably too late for that now. The door opened and I flew through it. "More than that. A lot more. And this is a communications satellite. XG-9900 series. It's old, and it's unstable, but it's also overpowered. Typical L2 construction."
"Compensators," he muttered, completing the old joke. "So, what, you're going to mount some sort of counterhack campaign? All by yourself? Just you and this damn comsat?"
"And Zero, too," I reminded him. "I can do a lot more good in here than I can out there."
"Zero? Come on, Heero! You can only type so fast. Unless you can download it onto the computer or something. In which case, feel more than free to leave it behind and get the hell out of there!"
I smiled mirthlessly. I couldn't download Zero, no, but I could download and upload a little something. "I'm wearing my jacket underneath this suit, Duo." EV suits were bulky, and it got cold out in space.
"Big fucking deal!" From the change in his breathing, I surmised he had gotten back to the Taurus and was strapping himself in. "I know where the hell you are, and I want you out of there."
A sweet sentiment, but not my point at the moment. "It's been busy these last few days. I haven't had time to clean out my pockets. Which means I still have my interface on me." I got back to the control room and waited impatiently for the airlock to cycle. Luckily, we hadn't bothered to depressurize the control room on our way out. That would save me some time.
"That thing couldn't possibly be compatible with this old thing!"
"I was working on a driver for the device that should make it very compatible, actually." I didn't guarantee full compatibility, but I could probably get enough out of it to finish the programming on the fly.
"Do you do this just to annoy me?"
"I'm hoping I can annoy some of the rebels, too."
He made another sound of utter frustration. "I'm out. Heading out to G Ring now. Tell me again why I ought to save your stupid ass?"
The airlock finally finished its routine and let me back into the control room. I wasted no time in stripping off the top of my suit and putting a stop to the meltdown. "I'm in. Because you can't punch me in the gut if I'm dead?"
I heard a puff of breath into the mic, but otherwise there was no response as I halted the overload. There was still a good minute and a half to go. I let Duo know my status immediately. "Clear."
He still didn't answer me. I checked the satellite's communications readiness with one hand while pulling the interface out of my pocket with the other. I'd never thought I'd have the opportunity to field test it. I found a port, plugged it in, and as I waited for it to gather the necessary data from the system, I tried the comm again. "Duo?"
"I see 'em," he muttered, referring to the explosives. "I'll take care of 'em."
I sighed and put the interface on, trying to clear my mind of doubts as I carefully put the electrodes in place. Zero spit out some user stats, and I adjusted the fit accordingly. ::Status?::
::Operating at ninety-four percent peak efficiency.::
Good enough for me.
I could ill afford distractions as I tested the interface, but as much of a distraction as Duo was, it was even more distracting to not be able to know what he was thinking. "Duo...."
"Yeah, yeah," he answered irritably. "You're just being your usual bastard of a self. I get it."
"Duo... I'm sorry. Can't help it." It wasn't much of an apology, but there it was.
"I know it," he sighed, some of the annoyance bled out of his tone. "Don't worry. No matter how much of an idiot you are, I'm still a bigger one for sticking with you."
::Connection complete. Adapting driver...::
I laughed, just audibly enough for Duo to hear. "You know... I didn't get around to telling you the other night. Telling you how lucky I am."
"Damn straight," he retorted. "Got another one. Shit, there's, what, four more of these things?"
"What are you doing with them?"
"Disarmed a few of them. I'll have to chuck the rest of them into space and hope there's nothing flying around out here."
::Operation complete. Sync ratio: sixty-eight percent.::
"I'm good to go," I told Duo.
"You're sure you stopped this thing from blowing its top off?"
"I'm sure." I even re-checked the core levels as a test run with the interface, just in case the hackers had left any other surprises. I didn't find anything. After familiarizing myself with my medium, I re-arranged things the way I liked them. I isolated my comms and my life support, in case someone tried to hack the satellite again, then locked its place in the network routing tables. I wouldn't give them the chance to write me out of the loop.
"They're going to figure it out, won't they? These hacker people. I know you're good, but they'll see you."
"And they'll fight me. That's fine. The more attention they turn toward me, the less damage they can deal against some other facility. You're done, right?"
"Yeah. No worries. Nothing's blowing you up on my watch."
"You need to update ops on our situation."
"In a second. They've got a shitload of weapons at their disposal, Heero. It would be nothing for them to just shoot a few of them this way to put a stop to you. And that satellite doesn't have crap in the way of defenses."
"I know. I was sort of hoping you'd stick around for a little while to watch my back."
Not for the first time, I wished I had a visual feed into his cockpit. I couldn't tell if his silences were motivated by some business he was taking care of, or if he was just brooding over my words. "So... that means you weren't planning on martyring yourself, or anything else stupid like that?"
"No, I wasn't. We... still have a lot of things we need to say to each other, Duo. I intend to stick around until I've said them all. If you're willing to listen," I added, my voice betraying my hesitance with that last bit.
"I intend to stick around, too," he assured me. "Whether or not you're interested in listening."
I settled more comfortably into my chair, preparing for a long battle. I needed to wait for them to make the first move before I could do anything. "I know, Duo. There are some things that I need to work on, too."
"You should update ops, now." I formatted the network addresses we had pulled from the data attachment into a standard file layout to send along. "I'm passing you the intel we found onboard."
"We're not done," he growled irritably. He recognized where our duty lay, though. "I'll be right back. Don't do anything stupid while I'm gone."
I smiled. "I'll be here." I closed my eyes and double-checked all the items on my to-do list.
He came back sooner than I expected. "So spill."
"No one started running around in circles?"
"Nah, I got a hold of Quatre. We're covered. He'll get back to me after he issues his preliminary orders, so start talking. I want to hear about this thing you need to work on."
It was good that we had our priorities straight. "I've decided that I need to stop being so willing to let you go."
"Huh? Really. What does that mean?"
There was a nervous feeling inside my chest, but at the same time, it felt really good. I decided that meant I was taking a positive step. "You know me. I'm pretty damn accepting of whatever happens to me. If circumstances dictate that we should be parted, well, I've always been willing to accept that. If I had to leave you to make sure you could be happy, then I was willing to accept that. Maybe it's the noble thing to do, but... I think you deserve someone that's willing to fight for you. Someone that won't accept our separation as an answer. Someone who's not willing to accept that maybe this is just the way things were meant to be. No. I think I don't want to leave you. I think you can be perfectly happy with me. And I'm going to make sure it happens."
I heard a strained chuckle on the other end of the line. "Dammit, Yuy. You've just shot my theories all to hell, then."
"Yeah. See, I've never really known you. Not because you've been hiding stuff from me, but because I've been hiding stuff from me. But I really don't like that notion. You're... I can count on you to be you, you know? You're reliable like that. I know I can lean on you and you're not just gonna fall over. But I can't do that if I don't know a damn thing about you. How can you be reliable to me when I don't even get what motivates you? But that's not true, 'cuz I do know some stuff about you. I've boiled it down to a couple of simple, basic little things that I know for a fact are you, just you, and have always been you. Helps me sleep at night. Number one was the fact that you're a self-sacrificing son of a bitch."
Ah. I chuckled. "Oh, don't worry. I'm still that person. After all, I just want you to be happy, right? And as I said, I think you deserve someone that's willing to fight for you, and that's all about your happiness in the end. I'm sacrificing my martyr complex to you, Duo."
He let out a low whistle. "Whoa. That's a really, really big thing, Heero. You sure?"
"Well, it's really more like just a corner of it."
"Heh, yeah, 'cuz you've got plenty to spread around, that's for sure. Yeah, okay, I'll buy that." He fell silent for a moment. "So... that's who you are. I get that. Well, I don't understand it, really, but I know it. So... don't go not doing this stupid stuff anymore, Yuy. Then I'd be wrong, and that would make me pissy."
I smiled where there was no one to witness it. "Will do." I'd still apologize for it after, though. "So... what was number two?"
"You need to ask? That you're a stubborn bastard." He was right. I should have known.
"Hang on," I told him, putting our conversation on hold. "A ping's just come through."
"Is it them?"
I pulled myself back out of the network. "It came from the L4 cluster, I think. It..." A second ping came back, looking for information. I fed it what it wanted, with some judicious editing to hide our activities out here. "L4, subnet twenty-two-charlie. Checking up on the comsat's fall. If they're smart, they'll confirm the data independently with external satellite scans and figure out this comsat's been compromised."
"So we've got a few minutes, maybe. I'll inform Winner."
Sensors indicated the explosions outside while Duo was reporting. I took that to mean that the rebels had given up the satellite. The array rocked from the impact, but they were far enough away that nothing was damaged. I automatically checked and adjusted the satellite's course to compensate. Another ping came into the system. I absorbed it without feedback to hide for a little while that the satellite had not been destroyed.
Duo's voice came back on the line. "You okay in there?"
"Prepped. They confirm a large, coordinated attack. Barton's hot on the trail of something, but we don't know how long it'll take to get wrapped up. That'll be the leader, maybe, but there's all these flunkies spread out doing most of the work that also need to be dealt with. The subnet you zoomed in on should help narrow things down for at least one pod. How many more you think you can get?"
"As many as they'll give me." Several more queries had entered the system as he spoke. I'd dealt with each of them, but because I wasn't sending anything back, I hadn't yet made any more progress. "I'll send what I get along to you as I get them."
"Okay. I'll take care of communicating that along to base."
"How's the minefield?" Though the explosives were not enough to devastate Moon Base, the rebels could still choose to bombard the facility and disrupt operations.
"They brought some stuff up with them that'll help, but it's slow going."
Traffic picked up on the network. They'd set themselves up to be routed through this gateway. With the comsat's supposed destruction, they would expect their signals to be re-directed to other ports. It would take them a little while to notice that that was not the case. "They're starting." I began tracking the ends, middles, and beginnings of each strand.
"Okay, then. I'll leave you to it." He hesitated briefly. "Keep me posted, yeah?"
"Will do. Yuy out."
The signals were scattered at first, but they quickly coalesced into a pattern of attacks against various government institutions. I listened in on the packets, intercepting some of the ones going to particularly sensitive locations and sending them back with bogus data while I attempted to ferret out their sources. The destinations were easy to determine. As each one made itself known, I sent it along to Duo for relay. There would be a slight delay with the middleman, but I didn't want to waste the resources to take care of it personally.
I had four minutes of undisturbed play before someone finally got suspicious. Inquiries were delivered to me, but eventually this data was also compared against sources outside of my control and discovered to be faked. Then there was a pause in the requests coming into my end. Planning their next move? I could do it for them. They would take a look at their options and initiate an alternate attack against Moon Base. That was their primary objective. After those events had been set in motion, they would come back to me, trying to figure out what had gone wrong. I had approximately one minute, twenty-two seconds before someone inevitably noticed my interference in the other hacks that were continuing against the secondary targets. Four minutes, eighteen seconds until they traced it back to my address. Six minutes, thirteen seconds until they figured out the source of the interference was the communications array they thought they'd sabotaged. Things would start getting interesting around the two minute mark.
I'd hunted down the addresses of five unique locations and nineteen computers. There were at least three others I had yet to track. I made the most of my time and got working on them, but decided I could spare a few seconds to check in with my partner. "Duo. Status?"
"Antsy. Other than that? They've got the physical addresses for three of your places. They're making the calls to the local guys now. It's gonna take time, though. Time to round up a posse, get out there, and shut them down. Quatre said he had us beat, though. Already found out that schools and public libraries and stuff were going to be the source of the attacks. Just didn't know which."
"Schools and public libraries, hm?" Easy access to computers that couldn't be traced back to the individuals. A convenient place where groups could meet up and work in the same room. Wasn't a bad idea. We had suspected as much from previous evidence, but hadn't had the opportunity to pursue the matter further. "That will help me pinpoint their locations better."
"Good. How are you holding up?"
"Not bad, considering." I sort of hoped HQ never really found out the details of this little adventure. I didn't want to spend the rest of my life hooked up to a computer, monitoring the world for any signs of trouble. Une had said that she had no interest in using my talents in that way, but given a choice, I would prefer to avoid the confrontation altogether rather than tempt fate.
Network traffic started up again. I ran after it, trying to see where it would go before it got there. "Cassandra Station," I muttered, tangling with their signals.
"Cassandra?" Duo echoed. "Passing it on."
It was a waystation between L1 and the Moon, used traditionally for refueling and restocking on armaments. Officially, it was out of commission, but the rumor had been for several months now that it had been taken over by smugglers. Nothing had ever been substantiated by the authorities.
Regardless of their intent, I did what I had to in order to cut off their signals and otherwise block them from their destination. Network communications through space weren't instantaneous. There was plenty of lag to be had, and my comsat wasn't in the most strategic of positions. It became a tricky game of trying to predict their moves ahead of time and counter them before they made them.
They would be trying something else right about now, but what? Three of the signals broke off from the pack, joined by five others. They went for the port at Moon Base, but I'd tightened up security a little since the last time they'd been there, and thrown out a couple of the bugs and backdoors they'd left as well. Apparently I missed one. They got in, I threw them out, and I had to wonder if I'd done it quickly enough to stop them from getting what they wanted.
My attention split back in the direction of the others. One more line had gotten sloppy, and I tracked them down, transmitted the source to Duo, and put a stop to their efforts to kill the connections between one of the databases on Earth that was linked with the L1 cluster's network. A chain of media satellites beaming Earth television signals in the direction of L5 went down. I let that one go. Lives didn't depend on it, even when they started to replace the broadcast with their own message. I didn't have the attention to spare, but it did put me on alert. What would happen if it didn't work out so nicely next time?
I wasn't alone in this battle. Zero could multitask far more efficiently than I could, so I slipped another notch further into sync with him to give him the access he needed to start working with partial autonomy.
::Sync ratio: seventy-eight percent.::
Signals started to come in, aimed at me this time. Someone had traced me. I bent my attention to keeping my lines open, noticed more users zinging by me while I was occupied to reach into systems beyond my current sphere of protection. That just wouldn't do.
::Sync ratio: seventy-nine percent.::
They figured out my physical location and started going after my satellite's systems, but I'd safeguarded them already. Upping the ante, they tried to mobilize the mines surrounding Moon Base. I had been prepared for that move and diverted their signals, but the escalation was worrisome. Could Trowa and the others cut the attacks off at their source before they became furious enough to try more terrible actions? The rebels didn't strike me as inherent killers, but it would be easy for them to fall into the trap of putting lives in danger. Their remote hacking removed them from the consequences as surely as OZ's mobile dolls did. If they had to learn lessons from history, why couldn't they learn any of the good stuff?
"Shit," Duo said into my comm, splitting my attention yet again. "There's an emergency signal coming from a shuttle full of agents heading back to Moon Base to report. They've lost control of their craft."
Against the insides of my eyelids, I saw the shuttle being pointed in entirely the wrong direction. With controls locked out, gravity would take its course, pulling it into the mine field. Did they see the agents onboard the shuttle as anything more than a number on a screen? "ID?"
"On it." There went another sliver of my attention. This one took first priority. Zero took up the rest.
::Warning. Sync ratio at eighty percent.::
I felt justified in ignoring the 'recommended' thresholds in a situation like this. "Duo."
The words came slowly to my mind. They were on the bottom of my list of things to do. "They pulled more tracking mines from MO-18 to target this comsat. Backup explosives, I guess. I'm letting them through. Deal with them."
He bit back a curse, his initial reaction probably being to demand I stop making life so difficult for him. His next reaction would have been realization of how stressed my resources were. The reaction after that would have been a smug 'I told you so,' no matter that I had been the one to request he stay and watch my back in the first place. He'd take the threat to me as if I had decided to play the stupid martyr. "You got it, babe," he answered, his focused game voice coming out to play.
I knew he would take care of it, so I went back to my own concerns. I unscrambled the shuttle's signals. It would be up to them to get it back on course. After that was the L2 outer self-defense circle. Their 'extra-terrestrial anti-invasion' net went on-line, but not for long. A reactor in L2 had its safeties disabled. I put them back on. Zero tracked down another two sources, twenty-one users. Total so far: fourteen sites, ninety-eight hackers. I passed the new information along to Duo and refrained from keeping score. I didn't know how many attacks I was missing, but I was doing what I could.
The satellite shuddered around me. Explosions, but not close enough to damage. Duo was doing his job.
Almost all malicious signals stopped coming out of the XRS975d routing satellite. It dealt with the signals of one of the first locations I'd traced. The local authorities must have gotten there. Deciding that any leftover packets were coming from automatic sources, I cut them off so I wouldn't have to think about them anymore, and redirected my attention elsewhere.
::Sync ratio: eighty-two percent.::
I was going to have a doozie of a headache when I disconnected from the system. But that was later. This was now. Not all of the threats were on the active network. Scanners detected a swarm of enthusiastic anti-missile drones heading toward a nearby penal asteroid. Their beams were relatively low-power, but more than enough to do some damage if applied creatively. Their source was seven hours away. The strike must have been planned ahead to coincide with the rest of the attacks. Kept on minimal power as they first set out, most sensors would have dismissed them as space debris. How many other plans had been set into motion before I had connected to the network? How many out there were slipping past my notice because they weren't generating the same kind of traffic that the others were? The asteroid was full of criminals shipped up from Earth to serve hard time. I recalled the propaganda saying something about ESUN littering space with trash, and it was sort of true, but people were people. I tried to disable the devices, but it didn't work. About half of them, I could alter their directives and make them attack each other. The other half consisted of a different model. I diverted those instead. "Duo."
"Yeah?" I heard his breathing coming out in little puffs. He was working hard, but he had things under control.
"Incoming ACMs. ETA, three minutes."
He made some comments about their parentage, then acknowledged the warning.
Duo had taken care of Mercurius and Vayeate when they'd been installed with advanced AIs. I settled back to other business, confident in the fact that these ACMs wouldn't last long, especially when he was feeling irritable.
The network of signals was getting larger. Was it more people joining the effort, or was I just locating more and more of them? Either way, we weren't shutting down enough of them to keep up with demand. When would this end? They could keep this up for as long as it took for the local authorities to find them all and arrest them. I might have problems holding out that long.
::Sync ratio: eighty-four percent.::
Couldn't stop now. We had too much work to do. They'd wised up, concentrating their efforts on a few of their primary objectives rather than trading them in for a collection of widespread, minor triumphs. A group of them concentrated on blockading me. The rest of them worked on accomplishing their goals. That wasn't any fun at all.
::I know. Enough already.:: What else could I do? My intimacy with their aims and techniques gave me the impression of familiarity with them. I followed their thought processes, watching them become less and less concerned with the consequences of their actions, more and more absorbed into the impersonal world of bitstreams and dataflows. Every action I blocked increased their anger with the government, and they found new ways to vent their frustration. Old ways, perhaps. Thanks to the wonders of globalization, of homogeneous, standardized systems, once they figured out how to gain access to one system, it didn't take long for them to gain access to the next.
I saw them trying to get their hands on access to reactor cores, self-destruct mechanisms, life support, and what else could I do? I let them sever computer systems, so long as they just wanted to break the exchange of information and not damage the information itself. They wanted to mess with the ports to stop the flow of people? I was willing to let them get a certain distance with that. Outright trashing of the data was somewhat alright. Sneaky manipulation of the details so that no one noticed things were bad until it was too late? Not so good. I didn't care too much if someone wasn't going to be home for dinner. I certainly wasn't going to be home for dinner. They could just deal with it.
Three more sources fell out of the connection. Twenty-eight fewer people to deal with. More impacts outside. Duo pinging me to make sure I was alright. I sent him a signal that was rather meaningless, I guess, except to say that I was still alive and conscious. I couldn't spare the processing power for anything more.
They gathered for a final push at a point riddled with vulnerabilities. One last hurrah before the authorities came for them, one last chance to get something big done before they had to flee.
One last push from me. One last attempt to be everywhere at once. One last time spreading myself thin, depending on Zero's speed and insight to help me protect the people that needed protecting. Depending on Duo to take care of protecting me.
And then it was over. Done. Defeated. Overcome. Time to go home.
If only I could figure out where home was.
::Well, shit. Duo's going to kill me, isn't he?::
Oh, well if Zero thought it was unlikely, then it had to be true, right?
last modified : 5/5/2007 02:55:49 PST