Alan Midnight, Matrix Investigator

Alan Midnight, Matrix Investigator in:


The Jamison Door


Chapter 3

Alan slipped into the records room, following a trail of electronic pulses. They traced a path to a repository on the far side of the room, a row of bright, neon green cubes. The pulses of light came in many different colors, and moved in unison, forming streams of glowing light. The streams entered as parallel lines, which forked off at ninety degree angles as they separated, to flow into and out of the cubic forms at the back of the room.

In the Matrix, all objects were visual representations of their electronic counterparts. Although many companies rendered systems in a very realistic fashion, trying to model the Matrix on Realspace, Morgan Excess seemed to prefer the Geometric Analogue approach. Even so, Alan had no trouble identifying the structures in front of him. The glowing streams of light were data streams, while the neon cubes were storage databases.

"Rachel, watch the door." Alan walked over to the file system, quickly locating the shipping records database. He pressed the cube's forward face to open it. Inside was a grid of hexagonal tubes, each containing a rolled up sheet that represented a file.

Alan began to pull the various files out of the archive, looking them over. When he found the one he was looking for, he spread it out on the cube, then traced around it with his finger. There was a flash of light as the motion triggered his Recall Module, and a second sheet of "paper" appeared on top of the first. Alan rolled the copy up, putting it into his coat. He then slipped the original file back into its tube, and closed the archive.

"Okay," Alan said, as he came up behind Rachel. "I've got the information on the companies Morgan shipped those disks to. But backtracking is proving to be more difficult. We're going to have to try the secured records."

Rachel nodded. "They should be right down this hall and through a Gateway to the right."

Alan followed the AI as she led him to a hexagonal door. The door was equipped with a keypad, and a brainprint scanner. Alan studied it for a moment, then reached into his pocket and pulled out a flat blade, which he used to pry open the keypad. He traced the data lines flowing out of the back of the lock, then pressed it back into place.

"There's no way to get into that without breaking out the heavy artillery. Think you can find a back way in?"

Rachel studied the ceiling and the floor for a moment, then walked down the hallway a short distance. Alan followed as she ducked into a small room, following a low, pulsing sound behind the wall. He found her examining a small panel set near the floor. "I think this is where the clock signal passes through to the secured area. I should be able to slip in this way."

"Okay. You go pop the lock, and I'll wait by the door."

As Alan turned and left the room, Rachel underwent a startling transformation. She shrank dramatically, becoming a fraction of her original size in a matter of seconds. And she changed shape as well, turning into a small, blue furred raccoon, with a brown striped tail. After prying open the panel with her clawed feet, the little animal slipped into the duct, and vanished.

A few moments later, the lock on the hexagonal door bleeped, and the door swung open. Alan walked in, to find Rachel, once again human, on the other side. She greeted him with a thumbs up gesture.

"Well done, Rache." Alan looked around. "All right, let's see if we can find the records on the incoming shipments."

He walked over to one of the file cubes sitting in the center of the room. He studied it for a moment, comparing the number of data flows going into it to the number being routed to the other cubes. Nodding to himself, he pressed on the top of the cube. The front face opened, and Alan studied the index which appeared on top of the cube.

"Let's see... that batch number was..." Alan traced along the rows of hexagonal cells with his finger, coming to rest on one of the rolled up files. He pulled it out, and spread it out on the cube. "Hm. Classified?"

Rachel looked back at him. "The information's classified, it says. It gives an address in the secured files..." Alan looked up at the other cubes in the room.

"Secured files? In a secured room?"

"You got me, Rache." Alan put the file back in its slot. "Trace." He said. A marker line of bright red dashes traced a line to one of the cubes in the room. Alan walked over to it, studied it a moment, then walked around to the back. He leaned a little closer, then moved back in front of the file.

"It's locked, all right." He pulled a slender, needle-like probe out of his pocket. Alan pushed the point of the probe into the top of the cube, and it slid through the solid-looking surface, coming to a halt with about half of the probe inside the cube. Alan released the probe, and a whirl of green light appeared from its tip. The light formed into a flat, square surface. Words scrolled across it.

"Standard Omnicom security lock." Alan smiled wickedly. "This is going to be easy."

Alan touched the top of the probe. A cylindrical section slid out of the top of the cube, centered on the probe, raising it above the level of the cube's surface. Inside, a number of cubic nodules, in different colors, were arranged in a latticework of neon lines. The lines pulsed with energy as data flowed through the lock, from one node to another.

Alan reached into his pocket, pulling out a cubic object much like the nodes inside the lock. He twisted the probe, and data stopped flowing through the lock. Alan pulled one of the nodes out of the apparatus, and replaced it with his own.

Alan turned the probe the other way, and the data once again began to flow through it. "Security override." Alan said. "Username, Sierra Madre. Password, we don't need no stinkin' badges."

"Security override accepted," a voice said. The front of the cube dilated open. Alan pulled out one of the files and looked it over.

"Damn," Alan said. Rachel looked over at him again, still at her post by the door. "It's encoded. It's a tough one, too... I've never seen a signature like this before."

Alan studied the sheet intently, the pulled out a second one. He shook his head. "This is bad... I can't begin to crack it."

"Should I give it a try, Alan?"

"No, Rache. You've got the same codebreaker software in your system that I have in mine. I don't see any way around it. I'm going to have to copy the whole file and decode it back at the office."

"Can you hold it all?"

Alan studied the data that the probe was reporting. "I think so. It looks to be about five G's. I should have just enough room for it."

"If it gets too heavy for you, pass some of it on to me..."

Alan smiled as he looked up at the AI. "I will, Rache. But your combat routines use a lot of memory. I want your system as clean as possible, just in case."

"I understand." Rachel looked back out the hexagonal door.

Alan put his hand on top of the cube. "Begin file download." There was a brief pause as his implants processed the command, and then the hexagonal tubes began to flash, in sequence, letting him know that the file had been copied. Alan replaced the files he'd removed, so that his Recall Module could copy them in the proper place in the sequence.

There was nothing to do now but wait. But as Alan stood back, to give his implant time to store the data, there was suddenly a flicker of light from the security lock. A green, triangular shape sprouted from the lock, and the download stopped. "Excessive download," the shape said. "Enter security code."

"What? Go away." Alan made a dismissive gesture. "Security override, Sierra Madre."

"Username not recognized." The green sentry spit out a tendril of energy, which Alan only barely ducked. "Brainscan required. Enter security code."

"Damn." Alan frowned at the little object. "They've got a second level of security in here."

"Somebody wants to protect that information," Rachel commented, from the door.

"Tell me about it." Alan ducked as the sentry again tried to read his brainprint, repeating its prompt to "Enter security code."

Alan walked over to one of the other cubes in the room, studied it, then moved to another. He then checked one more, finally finding what he was looking for. Pulling out a second probe, he popped the lock as he had done on the secured file, and switched out the password module. He then selected a file at random.

"This looks good." Alan placed a black, three-sided pyramid on the paper. It changed color, from bottom to top, as if soaking up data from the file. Alan put the file back, replaced the Omnicom password node, and closed the lock. He then walked back over to the secured file, and the waiting sentry unit.

"Here's your brainprint." Alan said. He held the pyramid up in front of the sentry, and it zapped it with its energy beam. There was a moment as it processed the information, then responded. "Brainprint not recognized. Enter security code."

"Shit!" Alan frowned as he studied the little object. "Trace!" A red, dotted line appeared, running across the top of the cube, down its face, across the floor, and out the door.

"It's coming from outside the room?"

"Alan, that trace is going outside this system!"

"Trace halt!" Alan yelled. The line vanished. Alan sighed. "Rachel, come over here and kill this bot..."

Rachel smiled. "Sure, Alan." She walked over to stand beside him. She stared at the triangular sentry for a moment, then gestured at it, enticingly. "Come on," she said sweetly. "Come on."

The sentry struck out at her with its tendril. As it struck Rachel, it suddenly snapped taught. Rachel grinned wickedly. "Gotcha." She snapped her wrist, and sharp claws sprouted from her fingertips. With a swipe of her hand, she slashed the sentry into pieces, and it disappeared.

"Thanks." Alan looked back down at the files as the download resumed. "Did you get an idea on where that sentry was coming from?"

Rachel shook her head. "It could have been anywhere."

"You know what this means..."

She stepped back, folding her arms. "This company's a front. For the Underground, you think?"

"Or the ASA. Or some foreign power. In any case, this is getting deep. Real deep."

Rachel looked up at the door. "Alan, we're being traced!"

"I need more time, Rache."

"I'm on it." Rachel hurried to the door, meeting a tendril of light which snaked into the room from outside. Rachel beckoned to it, and it tried to strike at her, but she dodged aside. She dodged a few more attacks, but the tendril feinted, then caught her as she tried to leap aside. Rachel screamed as the energy penetrated her body.

"Re-route!" Alan's vision wavered. The path of their signal through the Matrix was being altered, so the trace would be unable to find their source. Rachel vanished, and reappeared a few feet away from the trace.

"Thanks," she told him. Then she leaped out of the way as the tendril struck again. Alan looked down at the cube. Only a few more files to go...

Alan jumped as the sound of an alarm cut through the system. "Oh, Hell, we've been made."

"Alan!" Rachel shouted, as a field of blue energy blocked off the open door to the room. It sliced the tendril in half, and the trace disintegrated. Rachel rushed back to the doorway, looking through the force field into the corridor beyond. "Security programs are on the way, Alan! Hurry!"

"Just a few more seconds." The last file flashed, and Alan grabbed his probe. The cube closed with a bang, and the lock quickly retracted. The cracked password module would self destruct in about an hour. "All right, let's go!"

Alan reached under his coat, pulling out what looked like a black grenade launcher. Shoving a sphere into the barrel of the weapon, Alan pointed it at the force field. Rachel stepped back. Alan fired, and the icebreaker smashed through the field's security, shattering it into thousands of small pieces.

Alan and Rachel ran out of the room, and down the hallway. They reached an intersection, and took the path to the right, only to be drawn up short by a flurry of triangular objects headed towards them from the passage ahead.

"Battle mode?" Rachel asked him.

"No, we don't want to attract any more attention than we already have. Scout mode, Rachel, let's see if we can lose them."

Rachel transformed back into her raccoon form, leading Alan down the passage to the left. The security programs followed, issuing predefined instructions for the intruder to stop and identify itself. Alan stayed well ahead of them.

They turned a corner, only to see a second group of programs bearing down on them from ahead. With them was a human figure, either an AI or a real person. Rachel skidded to a halt, then ran back and leaped up onto Alan's shoulder.

Without hesitating a moment, Alan pulled a pyramid-shaped object from his pocket and slammed it into the ground. The program activated as the node burst, sending a cloud of light and particles into the air. Shadowy forms, exactly like Alan's Matrix form, shot out of the cloud in all directions, along with several dozen false data traces. Alarms began going off in other parts of the system as Alan's decoys set them off.

Under the cover of the smokescreen, Alan popped another nodule. He felt his body tingle slightly as the Mimic transformed him into a security program. As the other programs swept through the cloud, giving chase to one or another of his decoys, Alan joined the group, following along until the securitybots had led him well away from the secured records room.

Once the programs realized they had lost their quarry, they began to deactivate. After a few moments, Alan was alone, and switched off the Mimic. He backtracked past a few more intersections, and finally came to a corridor that lead back to the outside. It ended in a shifting field of red, that blocked off the passage completely. The Gateway back to the Matrix was just behind the field.

Alan stepped up to the firewall. At its very center was a black, donut-shaped object, with a hole in its center that went right through the field. When he touched it, the opening grew in size, becoming big enough for him to step through. Alan did so, then restored the proxy module to its normal size, and removed it from the firewall.

Rachel jumped down off of Alan's shoulder, transforming back into a human, as she returned to Interaction Mode. She watched as Alan turned to the Gateway behind them, typing in the access code to open it. The door dilated open, revealing the glowing chaos of the Matrix on the other side.

Before stepping through the portal, Alan glanced back over his shoulder at Rachel. "Remind me to drop Morgan a line letting them know how easy it was to break into their system," he said. "After all this business is over, they may want to know how to keep intruders like our sentry friend out of their data..."

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