Alan Midnight, Matrix Investigator in:
The Jamison Door
Cyberspace flashed past, a maelstrom of silvery lines, glowing particles, and formless shapes, a kaliedoscope of color against infinite blackness. The Matrix was not a grid, there was no up, no down, no left or right, no directions or right angles. There was no stillness, either, everything was in motion, whirling and spiraling towards its destination.
It felt like falling, and there was a dizzying sensation to it, too, kind of like dreaming. To enter the Matrix, you went into a sort of Alpha state, the images formed by the inputs from the network interpreted by the unconscious portion of the brain. Movement was accomplished by concentration, but you could never really sit still. It took practice just to overcome the mind's natural tendency to wander, and force your mind to keep to the path.
The path was taking Alan into the oldest portion of the Matrix, the old Internet, the birthplace from which this entire universe had sprung into being. He could see the reddish glow of Parker's firewall ahead of him, cutting off the domain from outside access. Around it, figures floated, their appearance vague, as if he somehow couldn't look right at them without them slipping away.
He knew who they were, though. He could have directed Rachel to launch a probe, but there was no need.
"A firewall, Mister Midnight?" the Boss said, as Alan approached. "Please. We will break through this in a few moments."
The firewall was the most solid thing in his field of view, but it still pulsed and undulated, as if viewed through a moving, warped mirror. Several of the formless figures were directing icebreakers at it, which appeared as flares of white light.
"I just wanted to make sure you didn't start the party without me."
"I warned you to stay out of this, Mister Midnight. You should have taken my advice."
"I don't take advice very well. One of my many flaws."
"Shall I take him out, Boss?" One of the Boss's henchman said, although the voice was not associated with any specific figure.
"No. I prefer to see who I'm fighting. Besides, I get the feeling that Mister Midnight has all the advantages in this environment."
He paused a moment. "And that doesn't even count his AI. . ."
Rachel sent Alan a quiet message, but Alan shook his head. She moved back, her formless shape guarding him, but not blocking the path. The Boss's voice again spoke in his head. "Am I right, Mister Midnight?"
"Close enough. Besides, I like to see who I'm fighting, too."
"So, we will wait until we have breached the firewall, and materialized in the domain. I will be looking forward to it, Mister Midnight."
Alan said nothing. The Boss's icebreaker software seemed to be doing its job, because a hole opened up in the field of shifting red. The Boss and his men swirled through it, as if drawn down a whirlpool. Alan let himself be caught in the pull, and followed.
There was a flash of brilliant white, which faded as the domain's software began to put reason to the images of Cyberspace. It seemed to grow up around the observers, a flat plain, dotted with rectangular objects. It was one of the earliest visual styles, geometric, but without the complexity of older architectures, like that of Morgan. And it showed signs of disuse, some of the nodes had crumbled and fallen into chunks, as a sort of primitively rendered rubble.
"Welcome to Sector Zero!" The Boss gestured around himself, grandly. "The domain of Matt Jamison and the other geniuses who created the Matrix. Somewhere on this mainframe was written the code that makes all of this possible. . ."
"It does boggle the mind. Programmers have been arguing for years over where this all started."
"The company that he was working for has long since faded into obscurity. But his code lives on. . .and so does his Door. . ."
Now that they had materialized in the "reality" of a domain, Alan could see what he was up against. The Boss himself and a handful of his henchmen were jackheads, hooked directly into the Matrix through implants that fed information directly into their brains. The rest, arranged in a circle around their bosses, were goggle puppets. Their connection to the Matrix wasn't direct, they were back in Realspace, viewing what was going on via hologram, and directing their actions with gestures.
Lined up in front of the goggle puppets, however, were the real threat. Six AI's, rendered in the form of silvery robots, with sharp metal claws and cannons mounted on their shoulders. Alan spared a glance at Rachel, and she winked at him. In the Matrix, of course, she was as real and solid as those AI's were, and as they were about to discover, considerably more dangerous.
"Any last words, Mister Midnight?"
Alan looked at Rachel. "Battle Mode."
Rachel threw back her head, and let out a scream, an animal sound that grew from a growl to a roar. Her dress exploded, shredding itself instantly, into a cloud of tiny blue hairs. The cloud of fur whirled around her, offering tantilizing glimpses of her body, but no more. Enough could be seen, however, to tell that she was growing lean, and muscular, her skin becoming leathery and hard.
She snapped her arms outward, and long, sharp claws sprouted from her fingertips. Equally sharp claws appeared from her toes. A tail grew from the base of her spine, and her ears moved up on her head, becoming pointed. Her face lengthed into a muzzle, her fangs becoming visible as she snarled.
The fur slammed into her body, contracting in a wave from her head to her feet. Her eyeglasses melted into her face, becoming a brown mask, over the blue fur of her face. And, as her transformation completed, the fur came together down the length of her tail, in alternating rings of blue and brown.
Rachel leaped at the AI's with the fury of a wild animal. She ripped into their metal shells with her claws, tearing through the virtual steel as if it were paper. Wires and bits of machinery were scattered everywhere, as Rachel tore through the code of her victims, overwriting their algorithms, and ripping their interfaces apart.
Alan had chosen the form of a raccoon for his AI, because of the animal's reputation as a sneaky and cunning thief. He had chosen the form of a beautiful woman for her for another reason. Most of the denizens of the Matrix, whether Cybergang kids or Underground goons, were male. Rachel was designed to take advantage of that fact. Although she had a great deal of leeway in choosing the form and nature of her transformation, Alan had programmed one overriding factor into it -- it had to have the desired effect.
At the moment, it was working perfectly. The transformation had stunned the human observers into inaction. Alan fired a grenade into the midst of the goggle puppets, and it erupted in a bright flash of light. The goggle puppets derezzed, as their interfaces were overloaded by the flood of information, and the Matrix forced them offline.
"Get him!" The Boss ordered. His men opened fire, and Alan was enveloped in a blast of flame and energy. All the fireball did, however, was whip Alan's coat up into the air, revealing virtual armor covering the jet black form of his avatar. He leaped behind the cover of a rectangular node, and fired a second grenade from his Program Launcher.
In the Matrix, there were only a few ways to kill an enemy. The first, and easiest, was simply to direct enough voltage through the victim's brain. This was not really as easy as the public believed, however. Voltages on the network were usually rather low, and most Cyberdecks had circuit breakers to protect themselves from spike voltage. You were more likely to damage a jackhead's deck, and force him offline, than actually kill him.
The second way, far more insidious, was to force the victim's brainwaves to go flatline. This was the more serious threat to the jackhead, and the reason Alan never worked completely alone. In order to stop the victim's heart, and suffocate him through oxygen deprivation, the flatline had to be held for several minutes. It was up to Rachel to stop the attacker in the event that happened to him.
The final way, however, was the more terrible. A virus, properly introduced into the victim's deck, could begin to distort the user's sense of reality. Done slowly and carefully, so as not to alert the victim to the danger, it could result in brain damage, heart attack, or even insanity. Alan had a number of such weapons at his disposal, but of course he used them only as a last resort.
It was far easier to force an enemy offline, instead of killing him. Properly done, the victim would not be able to return, and if a few files on the victim's deck could be wiped at the same time, it could take him weeks just to get back on the network. Since Parker's firewall was still up, anyone he forced out would take several minutes to breach the wall again. By then, he expected, the battle would be over.
The grenade Alan had fired was a simple icebreaker, much like the ones the enemy had fired at him. His armor was much stronger than that of the Underground goons, however, and his cracker was able to break into a couple of the men's decks. They derezzed as his program locked up their systems.
The Boss and his two main henchmen fired three grenades at him, attempting to surround him with their effect. Alan darted back, escaping the leading edge of a greenish mist by only a few inches. As he thought, a virus. He skirted around the cloud, loading another shot into his launcher and firing it point blank into another of the jackheads. He vanished, looking somewhat startled as he did.
Alan dropped back behind another outcropping, this one just a grid of unrendered lines. Probably a bad block of memory. He had a moment to reload. The Boss called out to him. "You've done well, Mister Midnight. Half of my men are offline already. I do wish you'd chosen to work for me. . ."
Alan leaped out of the way as another grenade came at him. It burst, releasing another virus, but as Alan dodged, one of the Boss's two henchmen launched another just in front of him. He realized, too late, that he was being herded, and a third grenade met him as he tried to escape to the side.
As the green mist enveloped him, however, Rachel automatically anaylzed the virus. It was a standard cracker virus, written for the base Operating System that all computer systems used these days. Rachel, however, was a unique system, running an OS Alan had written himself. The virus died out in her foreign system, unable to take hold.
Alan used the opportunity to fire a virus of his own straight at the Boss. The resulting cloud enveloped the Boss, as well as several of his men. They flickered, losing control of their avatars as the virus tried to take over. Several of the men derezzed, but the rest remained, their Virus Protection managing to shut down the virus before it did too much damage.
The Boss stared at Alan, breathing hard. He then glanced over at his AI's. Three of the six were already down, hacked to pieces by Rachel, and one more was badly damaged. The other two were only barely holding off the raccoon-lady, although her fur was now burned with scorch marks, and her left arm was starting to flicker.
He pointed at one of his men. "You. . .with me. The rest of you, hold him off! I'll come back once I've got the power of the Jamison Door."
Alan leaped back under cover as the thugs opened fire. Again, the Boss's henchman managed to fire a virus directly into his path, as he tried to escape. This one was an Interpreted Virus, and Alan felt his connection failing as the virus tried to overload his system. He quickly shut down the Interpreter. A few of his programs vanished, and his armor started to dissolve, but he was able to shut the virus down before it damaged anything important.
Unfortunately, the distraction was enough to allow the Boss's men to draw a bead on him. Alan was tossed about as their icebreakers slammed into him, ripping through his armor. The energy seemed to tear through his body, as well, the pain intense. His real body, of course, was safe, sitting behind his desk in his office. But in the Matrix, reality was what your brain said it was.
Somehow, Alan managed to get back behind the unrendered node. The thugs ceased fire, but the Boss and his men had made their escape. Alan struggled to catch his breath. If the Boss managed to get to the Door before he got free of these goons, all would be lost.
Alan reached into a pocket in his coat, and pulled out an eight-sided, diamond shaped object. "All right. . ." he muttered. "Time to take off the gloves."
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