Alan Midnight, Matrix Investigator

Alan Midnight, Matrix Investigator in:


The Jamison Door


Chapter 8

Alan crushed the program in his hand, activating it. He then grabbed his Launcher, and stood up, drawing a bead on the Boss's head henchman. Some of the thugs opened fire, but most were too stunned by Alan's brash attack to react in time. Even for those who fired, though, it was already too late.

As the grenades and missiles came at him, they impacted on a field of black energy. They exploded, outlining the sphere of protection that surrounded Alan, but doing him no damage. Under the sphere, tendrils of black wrapped around Alan's body, restoring his armor where they touched him.

Alan fired at the Underground leader, and the man was bathed in a blinding white light. Particles of different colors were drawn into the light, random messages, just passing through the system, being pulled to the Lure like moths to a flame. The gangster screamed, the flood of information too much for his mind to withstand. After a few seconds, he vanished.

The other gangsters began to back away, as they realized that their attacks were having no effect. "He's got an ASA armor program!" one of them yelled. "We'll never breach that!"

He was interrupted as a pile of jumbled metal crashed down on the gunmen to his left. The gansters scattered, as Rachel tossed the rest of the remains of the AI's in their direction. She crouched, her claws extended, ready to pounce.

"It's over," Alan growled. "I don't have time to waste on you. Logout now, and I won't have to take you down."

The gangsters derezzed. Alan loaded another grenade into his launcher, as Rachel ran up to him. "We've still got to stop the Boss!" she said.

Alan nodded his agreement. Then he whirled, at a sound from behind him. He brought his Launcher around, to point it at a young boy, crouching in the cover of some rubble. The kid didn't have any weapons, though, and his makeshift armor didn't look like it would take a full hit.

"Lurker?" Alan asked, glancing at Rachel.

She nodded. "He's probing us."

"Let him get a good look."

Alan turned back to the hacker. "Log off, kid. You don't want to be here."

The boy's eyes widened, obviously in response to the readouts his probe was giving him. "Yes sir, Mister Admin, sir!" The kid derezzed.

Alan and Rachel set off for the Door, Rachel leading as she followed the map from Jamison's disk. They made their way from node to node quickly, but cautiously. Up ahead, the nodes began to give way to more complex structures, walls and doorways, collonades framed by rows of columns, and virtual machinery intended to represent some function of the domain. All of it seemed ruined, falling apart, although much of it was still in running order.

Suddenly, there was the whine of a portal powering up. The nodes up ahead grew brighter, as power was diverted into the sector. Alan took off running in the direction of the sound, Rachel right behind him. And in the doorway of a small, empty room just behind them both, the Boss's henchman appeared, and fired a missile.

Alan's module shot him a warning, as the missile came at him. But it was too late to dodge. The missile imbedded itself in Alan's force field, and began injecting a virus. Again, this was an interpreted virus, and Alan shut down his interpreter, before any real damage could be done.

Unfortunately, Alan's stolen Amerigov Security shield also ran on the same interpreter. It derezzed, and the missile exploded. Alan gritted his teeth as a Shocker program sent electric shocks through his body. Before the pain could become unbearable, however, Rachel threw herself between Alan and the blast. She vanished, as the fuses in her system blew.

The impact threw Alan into a wall, bringing it down. He rolled back to his feet, firing a pyramidal shell at the Underground thug. It exploded on impact, surrounding the man in a mass of thick, sticky material. His avatar began to slow down, its interface slowed to a crawl by the jamming signals being sent into his deck.

"How. . ." The gangster fought to talk. "Can you still. . . be here. . . ? Your. . .deck. . ."

Alan tapped the side of his head. "I have a deck in my implant. I can connect to the Matrix even without Rachel."

Calmly, Alan fired a virus into the man, who vanished as his system was forced offline. He then looked around himself. "From the sound of it, the Boss has already found the Door. I don't have much time."

He raced the few yards towards the source of the sound. Behind a large doorway was a fenced-in area, enclosed by a high wall. In the center of the room was a console, an interface for entering account information. Against the back wall was the Portal, a shifting, shimmering field of light, framed by a large, ornate archway.

The Boss stood in front of the Door. "Too late, Mister Midnight!" He gloated. "I have already entered Jamison's password!"

Alan just stood, watching. The Boss stepped into the shimmering portal, and disappeared from view.

Only seconds passed before the portal shimmered again, and the Boss reappeared. He laughed, gesturing grandly as he stepped to the center of the room.

"Very foolish, Mister Midnight! You had your chance, but you let it go! I have the power of the Jamison Door now! Surrender, and I may let you live!"

Alan reached into his pocket, and pulled out a sphere. He shoved it into his Launcher.

"Maybe you just don't understand. While my henchman was keeping you busy, I had plenty of time to type in the code. I now have full Superuser Access. Your weapons aren't going to do anything to me."

Alan pointed the launcher at the Boss.

"You have no chance against me!" The Boss said. "I am invincible!!!"

"The Hell you are. . ."

Alan fired. The grenade struck the Boss, and he was enveloped in a field of electricity. He cried out in agony as the field flickered on and off, a hundred times a second, making the man's avatar jerk around like a puppet on a string.

In the Matrix, there were only three ways to kill an enemy. Viruses and Flatline programs were unreliable, they required time to work on the enemy. And high voltage rarely did anything but blow the deck's fuse. But a high frequency current, while not giving the deck's fuse enough time to blow, was more than enough to cause brain damage.

The Boss's avatar began to deform and distort, as his self image broke down. He was losing the power of conscious, rational thought, as the Zapper destroyed his mind. He fell to the ground, making gurgling, animal noises. Then he suddenly derezzed, as his henchmen pulled him out of the system.

Alan holstered his launcher. The Boss was probably still alive, but it didn't matter. His cronies would be feeding him through a tube for the rest of his life.

Rachel rezzed up in the middle of the office, turning to face Alan as he worked at his desk. He looked up at her.

"I've finished decoding the file you got from Morgan," she told him. "As you suspected, Morgan was a front for the Underground."

"The Boss had been searching for this Jamison Door for years, and had agents working on a number of leads. One of them tracked down the disks, which had been passed around on the Black Market for a couple of years, although no one had been able to crack their secret. The agent was the first to piece together that there were actually two disks, and that both were needed to solve the riddle. Most people assumed that one or the other of them was a fake."

"Unfortunately, once the agent figured out the secret, he decided to betray the Underground. He set out to try and access the Gateway, but the Boss spotted him in the Matrix and realized what he was up to. Suspecting that the Boss would try and kill him, the agent hid the disk in with the Excess shipments he was handling for Morgan."

"I dug up the rest in some police records. Apparently, the Boss sent some hit men who took care of the agent, but they couldn't find the disk. By the time they figured out what had happened, the shipment had already been sent off to processing, split up, and sent on to Omnicom, Worldcom, and all the other companies Morgan does business with. They tracked where the shipments had been sent, and hired the local Cybergangs to find the disks. That's when you came in."

Alan nodded, and Rachel continued. "It was just coincidence. . . the one disk they needed was the only disk that was delivered to Omnicom. The lab didn't need more than one, and one was all they'd ordered." Rachel laughed. "It was just dumb luck."

"Murphy's Law," Alan said. "But a lucky break, for us."

"There's just one thing that bothers me, though. How on earth did you know that the disk was fake?"

Alan laughed. "That? Actually, there were a couple of clues. The first was the password. 'Gedanken'."

"It's German, isn't it? 'Thought'?"

"Right. A 'Thought Experiment' is sometimes called a 'Gedanken Experiment', in physics."

"But the use of the word in regard to computers comes from the early days of AI research. Back then, you know, most people weren't sure that it was possible to make a computer think like a human being. Some people even said that computers would never be able to talk, or see, or any of the other things humans do so easily, because it was just too complex a task."

"A 'Gedanken', in AI research, was something that had been mapped out, requirements had been written up, ideas had been put forth, it had been documented in excruciating detail -- but nothing had even been implemented. It was a project that was simply impossible. . .a pipe dream."

Rachel pushed her glasses up. "So. . .'Gedanken' was Jamison's way of saying that his door didn't work?"

Alan shook his head. "No. Jamison didn't make that disk. Probably some hoaxster did. Probably, it was made about a hundred years ago. Maybe it was meant as a joke, or some hacker made it to impress his friends. Or maybe it was a con, to make some quick money."

"No, that disk was no more than a hundred years old. That was the second clue. We were supposed to believe that disk had survived three hundred years, from Jamison's time to today. It was possible, certainly. As I told someone else yesterday, disks haven't changed, in their basic design, since the early days of computers. It was possible that the disk had been passed down, the storage media changing, but the case remaining intact for three hundred years."

"But just because something's possible doesn't mean its likely. For one thing, businesses back then weren't recycling disks like they do today. It was more likely that a disk would stop working, and just be thrown away. The old magnetic media didn't last very long, and no one was going to break open a disk to replace it when it went bad."

"The disk couldn't have been passed down, from owner to owner, just by accident. No one would have held onto the disk unless they knew what was on it, and if they knew what was on it, then why didn't they use the Jamison Door themselves?"

Alan sat back in his chair. "No. . .I had my suspicions right from the start. The real giveaway, though. . .the real giveaway was in the other disk. It was the IP address."

"As you know, modern Matrix addresses are 256 bits. . .one quad. Eight numbers, of 32 bits, which uniquely identify each system on the network. As the Boss said, Sector Zero is the name for the old Internet, sector, the prefix of any address that corresponds to the network from Jamison's time."

"But back then, IP addresses had only four numbers. And they were eight bits, not 32. When the Internet became the Matrix, the old system of four numbers was upgraded to eight, and the prefix was added to all the existing addresses."

"There was some talk about doing just that, back when Jamison was working on the interface. But Jamison couldn't have known for sure. At any rate, there was no reason for him to put the Sector Zero prefix on the address, when Sector Zero didn't even exist at that time."

"The hoaxster was smart -- he was smart enough not to put a number higher than 255 in his address, which would have been a dead giveaway. But he was careless, in that he forgot to leave off the Sector Zero prefix."

"And that's why you let him go through the Door. You knew it wouldn't work."

Alan nodded. "I knew he would drop his guard, thinking he was invulnerable to attack. It was my one chance to take him down, an Underground Boss, maybe disrupt their operations a little bit. . ."

"But you still took a big chance," Rachel said. "What if Jamison had made the disk later in his life, after the Matrix had been completed?"

"That's the reason I gave Parker that disk, in the car. It contained the activation code for a virus that I planted in Sector Zero. If it turned out that the Door was real, the disk contained instructions on how to activate the virus. It would cut off the links from Sector Zero to the rest of the Matrix, effectively trapping the Boss in his own little subnet. He would be stranded there until Parker's men or the ASA could figure out how to deal with him in Realspace."

"But there was no chance. . .no chance at all. . ."

Alan leaned back, folding his hands in front of him. "You remember I told you about the Maltese Falcon? How it was a fabulous gold treasure painted to look like lead? It turns out, it was nothing but lead after all. It was a fake."

"'The stuff that dreams are made of'. . ." Alan laughed, bitterly. "Nothing but a fake."


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