Friday, December 12, 2008
Every year around Christmas, I do a rant. Not really a tradition I want to keep, or even something I do intentionally, but I can't help it -- just the way the time of year goes. Generally, it's tied to the season, and I bitch about something that's going on or things people do -- usually bad or stupid crap that just pops up. I always paint the season in a negative light. For all the cheer and happiness we're supposed to espouse during the festive season, there is a lot of negativity to be had. Tempers flare, patience is in short supply, and the so-called Grinch in all of us is happily flaunting its stuff. And while I will be jostled and screwed around by the machine that is the world and all it entails this season much like any other, I'm actually making strides to not let it get me down. The military managed to find a way to screw me out of a week of leave. It was either one week of leave or a year of severance pay. I chose to keep the money and drop the days off. A friend of mine might have cancer, he's going to be checked out, but I chose to believe he's fine and it'll all be nothing. I haven't heard ANY Christmas songs this year. That's a blessing in and of itself, and has made me happier. I also received my income tax cheque from the government today. I was surprised, expecting only two get a couple hundred dollars. Well, they gave me over a thousand. I was surprised that this happened, and count it too as another blessing. Things are looking up. But even for all the good that's been coming my way, there are the downers. I won't be able to spend as much time as I might like to with my family this year. I need to find a job and do some house hunting over the holidays because in the new year, with my time in the military expiring, I'll need to have some place else to go and a job to support myself with. It does make things hectic. But, all in all, it isn't the worst. I've managed to get around the line-ups and avoid the places where my patience might be put to an extreme test. It has made for a much simpler holiday season. I'm hoping it'll continue like this. Here's hoping. Happy Christmas and Merry New Years.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
The rustic swirls of red-brown glazed over the planet marked by dashes of blue water and a smattering of chilly white clouds painting abstract art on the spheroid. Little patches of green clung to the blue in a haze, the only plant-life that was stubborn enough not to be washed away by the drifting deserts. It was an old planet -- an ancient world without significance found in a system on the edge of the arm of a misty-colored galaxy. The only planet in a system full of blasted chunks of rock. Devoid of sentient life, it had lain unused and unwanted. No strategic value, no minerals, no reason to colonize. Nameless beyond a NAV tag. All...until now. Now it was different. The invaluable held value. The unsettled was going to be settled. After all, what better place to build the first intra-dimensional planetary gateway then on a place that could be defended at all costs? Bombarded without worry of loss to civilian life or infrastructure. Destroyed without casualties to the larger entity that was the Joint Alliance. The perfect staging point; the perfect bastion. Construction started slowly. Forward scouting parties had to find an appropriate location and then prepare it. Ground break happened, and it would be decades before the whole of it was completed. The Dalaquen Sovereignty was consulted for the construction and engineering of the gateway and surrounding buildings. Plans decided that a Plinth-like structure would be best based on planetary surveys. Hagasian Hegemony and Jyollenar Federation labor had been brought in with the Lyzrantii Dominion providing technical support. It was a joint affair by all the nations and peoples of the Aka'eehnLaa. The Joint Alliance had been formed. It was called it The Monolith. A massive structure with a radius of seventy kilometers filled with towering spires and various buildings. It was the military and political headquarters for the Joint Alliance and their Security Forces. An ash-tan monstrosity of a spaceport honeycombed with landing facilities, hangars, retrofitting and repair facilities, warehouses, import/export points, barracks and dry docks for atmospheric frigates. Joint species offices, embassies, intelligence offices and more. It was organized into three concentric rings with outstretching arms bristling with defensive platforms and hangar launch bays set at centrifugal points about the outer ring. The lowest ring held the warehouses, the middle the landing and hangar bays. The center-most was topped by disjointed towers of embassies, offices spires, towers and automatic weapons emplacements and shield generators. Surrounding the whole thing was a giant, slopped wall designed not to deflect high winds, but to keep things out...and other things in. The intra-dimensional gateway was much like The Monolith, requiring large amounts of engineering feats to produce. Two semi circles placed a hundred meters apart stood next to one another. The radius of each was eight hundred meters alone, making the distance across seventeen hundred meters. Seven large support shafts fell away from each half circle to bury itself deep into the earth. They were studded with tightly-packed cylindrical, green-hued power-generators that were strung within in a helical fashion. A road led away from The Monolith down toward the center of the Gateway. The whole thing was monitored by the most powerful weapons systems conceived in case a break-out were to occur, to stop a beachhead from forming. This was especially so since the planet was meant to be a staging point for the Joint Alliance to begin wars beyond to mists of the dimensional convex... Eventually, when everything was finalized and up and running, the Joint Alliance took seat in their Intergalactic Senate Hall within their new capital and began their first order of business, to name this place they had claimed as the heart of their new empire. In the end, after much arguing and bickering and deliberations they arrived at a name: Byorentu, 'The Place of Oneness.' It was the most apt name, striking a balance between all races and their goal of working together for a common order. When it was settled upon, they deliberated on the second. The second order was for advance scout parties from the Joint Alliance Security Forces to depart at once. Intelligence, after all, was power, and it would lead to victory... --- She moved through the massive crowds in the city of Argul. A mixture of humans and aliens of all shapes and kinds. It allowed Stent to move about freely, tracking her foe. Intel said he was dangerous, very dangerous. Fleet Commander Visarett had said something about not directly initiating contact with him. Oh, sure, she could take him if necessary, he had said, but it would cost her far too much. And the collateral damage would cause problems for the Joint Alliance, something she was to avoid. It would bring attention to a number of things that both parties (the Joint Alliance and Valorian himself) wanted to keep under the radar. The street she found herself on was a ruler-straight affair angling somewhere into the horizon. It was lined on either side by tall trees spaced every so often, and those flanked by even taller skyscrapers as was the wont of the business district. Giant gray edifices that reached up into the sky like claws; giant money hungry hands. The industrial mega-corporation office buildings and banking institutions owned this street. The skylanes were a crowded affair of hover cars and loaders flashing past at speed. Holographic logos and ads floated in the air above streetside boutiques and luxury stores that hoped to ply their wares on the lunch rush crowd that spilled out of those self-same buildings. Everyone was well dressed. Except Stent. She wore a form-fitting bodysuit of black and orange with a set of baggy utilitarian pants that featured a hole in the seat for her tail. An orange tank-top, dark-hued shoulder bag and goggles finished off the ensemble. Most ignored her. Sure, she didn't appear to be like the other aliens about, but she was alien -- nothing special. Not with black scales intermingled with orange and yellow scales that could alternate color between green and red respectively. She was working hard to keep the pattern colors from shifting, if at all. Last thing she needed was for some idiot to think she was a decoration of some kind and pin her up on the wall amid Technicolor flashes of annoyance. Insertion had been easy. Meteor strikes along the southern hemisphere of a planet several lightyears away provided the initial access jump point. From there it had been easy to procure transport. Her ID docs were up to snuff, no doubt. Customs was a pain -- seven checkpoints to get through in all -- but even then she was moving with impunity. She visited every dive, every cesspool and pisshole imaginable. Bars, taverns, pubs, cantinas. Stiff drinks and stiffer people with smug looks and cocky attitudes. Smugglers, traders, gun runners, slavers -- she met them all. No person was too low for her to talk to. A few drinks to loosen a tongue and gain information, that was the plan, unless it was to be drugs and a few beatings. The latter being only if absolutely necessary. It all worked wonderfully in the end. Stent had traced Valorian from several systems away and over a half dozen planets. Oh, she might be near him now, if her lead panned out, but if not -- then it'd be back to square one and the dives to ask more questions. She was looking for the Naruda Argul. A giant thousand story building done in concrete with blue-tinted windows. It was a javelin point towering above all the other buildings in the area. Local directories didn't say what it was, let alone what was in it, or even who owned it, but anyone with any know said it would be the most likely place to find Valorian. Why this was? Well, nobody knew, just that it was the place to look. The sign out front of the projects styled office building was a purple logo with flickering wings on one side. Stent shrugged, slowed her pace before ducking down into a side alley. She followed it up, dodging around the few loading vehicles there were. Checking to make sure she wasn't being watched and that her surveillance jammer had been activated long ago to glitch the cameras and sensors tracking her, she turned and made her way down a sloped entry into the depths of the Naruda Argul building. Another massive loading dock. There was security, but less than at the front door. Mostly because only sanctioned vehicles could get past the gate, and they were scanned upon entry for...vermin. Those vermin were incinerated by flamethrower devices set into the ground. It would explain why all the vehicles coming out of the building had black scorch marks on their underside -- and the guard that watched the whole process was behind a blast proof viewscreen. He looked bored. But his little office of sorts was the way in. Stent approached, making herself look annoyed, a little flustered. He sat up straighter, eyeing Stent as she walked up. "Can I help you?" he purred. He was some alien, bluish skin with what looked like gills on his neck that went down his back. He wore a bodysuit (green) with vertical piping of yellow in some spots. "Yeah, I, uh, I got a delivery," Stent began, attempting innocence in her voice. "They told me to take it to the back, though. I really don't know the process, though. First time." "Oh, well, just slide your ID and certificate of delivery through the scanner there, and we'll move it along." Stent nodded, grabbing at her bag. She fumbled a bit with it, before sliding something into the scanner, and while the guard looked at the scanner screen, she slammed a device onto the viewscreen. He looked up in surprise to see Stent making a feral, lipless smile at him as a high pitched whine started and ended with a shockwave on the inside of the viewscreen, hitting the guard and knocking him into the wall. She ripped the device off, pulled another from her bag and began to hack into the security for the door. The pad beeped and the door opened. Stent went over to the guard, propped him up in his seat after closing the door behind her and hit him in the back of the skull with a needle injecting him with a neurotoxin that targeted recent memories. He'd wake up feeling groggy, wondering what happened and think he'd probably fallen asleep from boredom. She moved to his computer and began to access it. Still unlocked since he'd just been there a moment ago. She understood that anything important would be in a discrete server somewhere, and wouldn't be a part of the main terminal mainframe. It would be separate, which was fine. There were always maintenance crawlspaces and hallways, and it was more than likely down in the basement. Stent pulled up a quick building map, including the maintenance schedule. Then tried the maintenance mainframe. Nope, secluded in a different part. She made a couple queries about where it was, just little innocuous stuff so her questions wouldn't be flagged as odd. Just the usual information anyone would ask. Once she had what she needed, she blew a kiss at the knocked-out guard before slipping through the back door into the main docking bay. She walked at a brisk pace. The few lifeforms working the area with loading bots ignored her. This wasn't unusual to them. Happened rarely, but often enough not to draw suspicion. She waved at a few workers, making a happy face. They smiled back at her, or nodded. She went past several of them, under a sliding door and into the main dock. She kept her pace going past row after row of packing crates, past numbered doors until she found the one she wanted and ducked into it when she was sure nobody was looking. She held her breath a moment, then slid into the room fully. The room had lockers along all the walls and some benches. Further inspection put a couple washrooms with showers further in back for employees. She rummaged a bit more, found a technician bodysuit, floppy, grubby, baggy. A bit too big, but she slipped into it anyway and tossed on the hardhat that went with it, the utility pouch and slung her bag. And then the human owner walked in. "Hey,...who are you?" Before Stent could answer, he asked an even more pointed question: "What're you doing in my work suit?" She lashed out at him, fast. A fist into his face, the crunch of his nose. We went to scream, but her body twisted and her leg came around in a kick knocking him back into a locker. He cried out in surprise from it as she charged in jamming an elbow to his throat caving it in. He died with eyes wide open. She pulled him out of the locker and stuffed him into his own before closing it. She waited a few moments, listening to see if anyone had noticed. When she was certain nobody had, she checked the dead mans maintenance schedule, then began to move on, her bag over her shoulder. --- Finding the maintenance server was easy. Hacking it was even easier. Apparently nobody had thought that that might be used against them. It gave her all the codes she would need this week to access all the mainframe servers in Sub-Basement K. She made her way down there, using the stairs instead of the elevator to draw less attention. She kept a low profile, in case somebody threw a fit. After that first death, she really didn't feel like causing any more. Not necessary, and could prove costly if found when she needed to extract. Last thing she wanted was a security detail trailing her. That'd just make her day a whole lot worse. She made some edits, saying that some ducts needed a look at inside the mainframe server room. She also put in a fake report about a severe water leak and some flooding in the area. It was just a precaution, in case the guards wanted to do a double check of her work. She slowly made her way down to Sub-Basement K, and once there, had to work through the maze of pipes, electrical wiring, data cord, data crystal matrix interfaces and a whole host of other paraphernalia that kept Naruda Argul running. The corridor to the server room was a side one, out of the way. She made the turn, and found herself face to face with four guards chatting amiably amongst themselves. When she stepped up, they turned in unison. "Hey," one said. He was human, salt-and-pepper hair. Big grin, too. "What can we do for you?" "Just some regular maintenance," Stent said. "Shouldn't be until a month from now," a second said, eyeing Stent up. "Yeah, and only Smitty comes down to do it. Who're you?" "Smitty's replacement. He's sick, couldn't come in. Look, just pull up the report yourself. Water leak." So, a man pulled up the report. "Yeah, water leak." "Something's not right." "Huh? Wha'd'ya mean?" "I saw Smitty this morning, seemed all right to me." Oh...crap. Stent didn't even bother to think. She was already close enough to salt-and-pepper to be in his face. She stepped in, fast, driving an elbow into his windpipe, causing him to chock. He started to go down but Stent got one of his arms on her shoulder, supporting him with her weight as the first guard pulled a firearm. He let off a shot, it rippled through the air, coherent energy, slamming into his now-dead buddy as she threw a knife which took the shooter in the skull. The last two took cover. Bad move for them. Stent tossed in a concussion grenade and ducked back out the corridor. When they stood to pursue, it went off and they went flying. Stent came back in, looked down at them. One was dead, his head at an odd angle with an arm bent in a direction it shouldn't go. The other guy, definitely an alien with tan colored skin and four eyes spaced in a 'V' looked at her. His mouth was set in a scowl. Stent took her knife from the other fellow, walked up to the guard and stabbed him in the eye, ratcheting it back and forth a couple times to make certain he was dead as his body spasmed. She policed the guards for keycards, IDs and weapons. Once she had them all, she moved to the door, a giant industrial affair. Inserting a keycard, she smiled faintly as the door dropped into the floor. Behind was row upon row of crystal matrix servers. Oh, you gotta be kidding me! she thought. It would take a while to find what she needed. Angry, Stent went back to the bodies, grabbed them and pulled them into the server room. Cleaned up the area and closed the door before hacking into the door control and putting an override on it so nobody could walk in on her unannounced. Now all she had to do was find the right server and jack in. --- Five hours. It had taken five hours of searching before she had found the correct data matrix, and once she had it, she had to jack in and make her way past encryption. The massive crystal monstrosity that towered eight feet tall and was three feet wide in a square stood before her. She blanched as she plugged in a series of cables that attached to a composite case. The DSSF had promised her the best in quantum computing and decryption software to get past all the security blocks and firewalls. When the whole system had booted up, she scowled. A few system checks later and it began to chip away at the edges of the security. A progress bar flickered at the top of the holographic projection. It was a lie. It could actually go faster or slower than what was represented, but she didn't like wasting time. It meant that someone was going to come down to replace the guards and would wonder where the other four were. And the dried, congealed blood stains wouldn't help her out, either. Stent didn't bother to sit and watch. Instead, she moved to the door. She knew it was probably inevitable that someone would happen to come down here and find her. She began planting satchel charges around the interior of the frame, back far enough so that when they went off they'd kill whoever came through. She put the proximity sensor to scan for non-friendlies. Should do the trick. She moved back a bit to the first crystal stacks and set up another set of directional charges, these ones aimed at the door so that after the first charges went off, the second set would take out the reinforcements, if any. Satisfied, she began to move about the bunker-styled server room. There were a couple ventilation shafts moving out. Taking out a quick-affix rope, she moved up and cut out a section with a fusion cutter. Once the hole was large enough, she moved inside and looked around. She pulled up her maintenance information again and began to trace the vents to a point where they'd drop her out at a few levels above the streets in the alleyway she'd originally come through. Now she wished she still had access to the maintenance mainframe. Moving forward, she found a sensor in the vent itself. Jacking in, she hacked it quickly, disabling it. She left the device plugged in, and logged into the maintenance mainframe where the sensor reported to. She picked out her route, then created a program that would cause all the sensors along that route should be turned off when she sent her signal. Smiling, she dropped back down, leaving the rope in place for a quick exit. It had taken a good forty minutes for her to prepare her exit strategy. It was solid, but she knew how quickly things could change and go sour. A plan is great up until you actually have to use it, then it's time to improvise. She went back to the device plugged into the crystal stack and looked at it. It was nearly through, and then even then, it would have to search for the files and copy them. That might take a while. Who knew how many trillions of yottabytes it would have to sift through before finding the necessary stuff. Ankra Anris -- why'd this infiltration crap suck so much? Whatever happened to the point blank assassination missions? Oh, right, Joint Alliance formed. That's what. She made her way back to the decryption device, ditching the technician clothes and hardhat along the way. It had made it past security by now and was copying massive amounts of data at an astonishing pace. She checked the time. This thing was fast. Much faster than anything she would have realized. Quantum level computer, they had said. Capable of doing computations of several billion zettabytes a second. It added up after a while. Stent began to pace, walking back and forth. She got only so far before a boom echoed through and the change in air pressure caused her ears to pop before they started to ring from the blast. Oh, crap! She pulled up her firearm, a compact bullpop plasma rifle. The goggles began to pipe in target data from thermal vectors as the dust began to clear. She didn't see anything, but that didn't mean nothing was happening. Somebody had to have cut through. She was surprised she hadn't heard it at all. She continued watching, waiting, keeping an eye on the data-hacker behind her and the rope dangling from her vent exit. It took a while. Oh, somebody had to have heard the explosion. That was expected. "Holy crap!" "Yeah, man. I wonder what happened. Look at this! The guards are dead." "Damn. We should report this." "Yeah, you get to tha-" Stent shot the first one in the face, the plasma round drilling in and melting away his flesh. The second turned to stare at his buddy who was falling with a molten crater where his face had been before. Stent shot him, too, side of the head. Two idiots slagged with gushing piles of molten flesh with their brains should be, and she still had to wait for the information to finish copying. She checked her mission timer. Too much time had passed already. It wasn't until she had shot the third person who came and stumbled upon the scene that her decryption device beeped for attention. Finally. She made her way over, disconnected all the wires and dumped it into her bag. Shouldering the bag and her rifle, she moved to the quick-affix rope and clambered up it. She pulled it up after her, wound it into a coil and slipped it into her bag as well before moving through the vent system, following an inertial guidance system. At least the mission was nearly done. All she needed to do was make street level and she'd be good. --- A grate flew off the side of the building with a flash, crashed loudly against the ground when it hit and rebounded a couple times, massive dents having formed from the impacts. A rope snaked out the opening and a slim-feminine creature dropped out, repelling the three stories down. Feet touched down, and she waggled the line a moment before it loosened and fell as well. She glanced about. It was dark, night. Streetlights threw off ethereal glows at the alley mouth combined with the light hemorrhaging holo ads and displays. Coiling the length of rope, she dumped it into her bag, along with her plasma rifle. She wandered over to the vent grate, hunched over and picked it up before making her way to a trash bin and dumping it there. Mission accomplished. Sighing, she went to the street, made a left, and walked up the road. A waiting taxi was there. She flagged him down, hopped in, smiled politely and asked to be taken to some low rent corner of the city to lose herself in. She'd need to find passage off-planet soon, report in, get this info passed on. Wouldn't take long. Couple days, no more. She smiled, flicking out her serpentine tongue. The driver was taking about the rise in crime and how it was bad for the city. If he only knew what she'd been up to...