The red haired man replied, “Don’t frazz yourself, Lisa. I have confidence in the foam. It’s been tested before.”
Lisa typed furiously on the keyboard. “Here’s its target’s profile, Andy. That foam does good work. I think some of its base operation commands are still working.”
Lisa’s computer screen shifted from inchoate computer language to english script:
Birth name: Andrew Mathias Cambpell
Code name: Cuchulain
Primary Affiliation: Cuchulain Network
Secondary Affiliation: M.I.T. Economics Department
Tertiary Affiliations: Mossad, Xiao Third Circle, N.E.C., I.R.A., Wu Combine,
Wagner Engineering Institute
Threat Rating: A-4
Personal Combat Threat Rating: G-6
M.O. Personal: Long Range Gamma laser
M.O. Industrial: Insider trading, Brussels based munitions, Colaco, TriCon Securities & Exchange, Hong Kong Express Shipping
Base of Operations: Unknown
Primary Residence: Mobile
Present Location: 363 Tulip Lane, Teaneck, New Jersey
Lisa ran a hard copy. “That’s all of it. It has more on you than I would have thought Cerb would give a brute operative.”
Andrew said, “Brute? More like a machine, a walking gun with a tidbit of knowledge about me.”
Lisa turned her head from the console and looked up at Andrew. Her glasses reflected the computer’s profile in the dim light. “It’s more than that. I’ve run through the higher directives. They’re in a muddle, but I’m sure this thing had an artificial intelligence program, very sophisticated. Strange, though. The artificial intelligence was set to self destruct.”
“It was programmed to commit suicide?”
Lisa thought for a few moments. “No. More as if it were programmed for a massive cerebral hemorrhage. It’s probably a security maneuver for Cerberus’ classified A.I. programs. By the way, I think it’s still on line with another computer.”
Andrew grabbed her shoulder. “Can you trace it, send a virus through that line?”
“Sure, which virus do you want? Concordant? Spiral? Repeat–“
“All of ’em! Send all of ’em!”
Lisa stared at him for a moment. Then, she turned back to her computer. “All right. But I don’t know what it’ll do.”
Andrew grinned and rubbed his hands together. “We can but hope.”
The computer whirred for a few seconds. Then, Lisa flicked off the power.
Andrew asked, “What? Why’d you stop?”
“The other hacker found me.”
“Oh.” Andrew clenched his fist.
Lisa stood and stretched her legs. “What’s wrong?”
Andrew sighed, “Siccing those viruses on Cerberus’ datanet would have been sweet, would have made this operation worth the time and effort. Lisa, I had to reveal my knowledge of one of his double agents in my network to let him know where I was without letting him know that I was the one giving him the inside track on my whereabouts. Such opportunities are exceedingly rare.”
Lisa replied, “Stop bellyaching, Andrew. I got the viruses sent. They were compacted. It only took me point oh oh five of a second to punch ’em through. They’ll expand after they’re in his datanet. Makes ’em not only quick to send, but also harder to detect.”
“Lisa, such a feat earns you a raise.”
“Thank you, Cuchulain of the Red Branch.” She giggled.
“Hey! Don’t laugh at my name. C’mon, let me have your seat. I need to make a few calls. Go tell Erik to stop at a Ho Jo’s. I’m starved for some fried clams.”
“Bleugh. You’re the boss. Sometimes, I have to wonder, though.”
Andrew picked up the receiver and hit key four.
“Fields here. Who is this?”
“Hey, Jane. It’s your partner in crime, Cuchulain. Cerb exposed himself in a big way after I let him take a shot at me.”
Jane’s breath caught in her throat. Her partnership with Cuchulain had been a gamble, but he was the best networker at making his opponent take a misstep. Only Cuchulain would risk his person in an operation. Jane asked, “What happened?”
“Cerberus sent some of his high tech to bury me, but I did the buryin’. Seems his metal man was still on line. My hacker slipped a few viruses into his computer’s datanet. Should keep the bean counter occupied for a while at least.”
“Which files did you hit?”
“Uhm. Gee, I don’t know diddly about ‘puters. Hold a sec. Let me ask my hacker.” Andrew put his hand over the receiver. “Lisa, what files did you hit?”
“Wuhell, you didn’t tell me we were going to do computer sabotage. But I made up some viruses a while back to go after things I thought you’d want taken out of a competitor’s computer. One’s set to skrag anything about your Brussels operations. That was for Demian’s computers. Uhm . . . One’s a general search and destroy on any file with your name or–” Lisa laughed. “–or anyone named Andrew. One’s a companion isolation breaker for the general logic scrambler. Easy to take down, but it’s fast and multiplies by itself, eating memory as it goes.”
Andrew talked into the receiver, “Jane?”
“I’m still here.”
“Well, my hacker tells me they were sorta search and destroy, advanced stuff by what she’s telling me. It should hold even a hacker like Cerb for a few hours. That enough of a window for you?”
Jane said, “Thanks, Cuchulain. How can I repay you?”
“You already have. Cerb’s a major thorn in my side. Just keep hurting him. Besides, independent citizen–what a move!–Hah, you’re a genius, Janey girl.”
At seventy only someone as deranged as Cuchulain would consider her a girl. Jane smiled. There was some truth in it: independent citizen on a sea platform, faerie princess in an ivory tower. “Listen, Cuchulain. We’ve got to make use of this window of instability. I’ve got a warehouse full of I.R.I.S. stylized tech gear: guns, prostheses, and such.”
“A frame up?”
“Yes. But I need someone strong enough to take Cerb’s attention away from me. I figure after a week the damage from my independent citizen move will be done, and Cerb’ll stop attacking on grounds of futility. He is very logical.”
“Uh-huh. Why a week?”
Jane paused. She wasn’t sure if it was wise to tell Cuchulain that Cerb wanted independent citizens, that her interests were probably closer to Cerb’s than any other network’s interests. Cuchulain had just proved how dangerous an enemy he could be. She was on short term time, anyway. Might as well deal with the future problems after–if she survived. “Listen, Cuchulain.” She pressed the voice analyzer on her phone console; then, flipped it off again. Hell, he risked his neck for me.
“Jane, you still there?”
“Yeah. Listen, the independent citizen idea, well, Cerberus had it, too. He just wanted to institute it forty years from now.”
“Whew, talk about a long range plan.”
Jane sighed. “Yes. I think he wants independence from whatever country he calls home without impairing his access to the United Nation’s diplomatic ties and militia, or he may even be reaching for some sort of autononmy within the U.N. as an independent citizen. Anyway, my upstaging his plans will make it harder for him if I don’t fail quickly so that the public just thinks I’m an eccentric, rich, old lady. If I’m successful enough to actually make some power waves as an independent citizen and then fall, the resultant success for nationalism will make it harder for Cerb to institute his bid forty years from now.”
“Geez, Janey, don’t be so negative. What if you succeed and stay independent?”
Jane laughed, bitter and coarse. “I don’t think Cerb’s projected wave for me had that as a realistic percentage. I’m sure he did a calculation on the success rate if he joined me. It still must have been too low for him to risk. Better to use his I.R.I.S. agents to take me out quickly and make himself an independent citizen in forty years, without me as a variable.”
Cuchulain exhaled into the receiver and said, “Ok. You need to frame Cerberus against somebody big and then come to the rescue of your mark. Your mark has to be a big fish, big enough so that his rescue will cause a power wave.”
“You’ve got the idea, Cuchulain.”
“How about Demian?”
Jane felt as if she could see Cuchulain’s predatory smile of anticipation. Demian had the Euro arms market strangled in a vice of supply lines and manufacturing facilities. A disorientation of Demian’s Euro-network, even for a few hours, would let Cuchulain mobilize his Brussels raiding teams to scare off Demian’s clientele. But Jane said, “Sorry, Cuchulain. Too dangerous. Besides, even I don’t want that much weapons grade fissionable material on the open black market. You know he’d dump as a retaliation to a kidnap. Add to that his mercs with tact nukes, and he’s just too dangerous.”
“Yeah, Demian is a cold fish. He’d push the button and pop a valium to forget about it. Ok, not Demian, then who? Mariko?”
Jane swallowed slowly, savoring the bitter coffee. “Yes.”
“Her ninjutsu are tough.”
“That’s my choice, Cuchulain. Are you with me?”
“Sorry, but no. I’ve got some bamboo to stir fry. I just don’t have the operatives to spare in the Asian theatre.”
“Thanks for the help you did give me. I won’t forget it.”
“Jane, I hope you live long enough to pay me back. Goodbye, sweet thing.”
Jane cupped her hands around her coffee mug. They had gone cold. There was every possibility that Cuchulain was placing a call to Mariko at this very moment. She sipped. “Ah, well, if a variable could be predicted it wouldn’t be a variable; it wouldn’t be Cuchulain.”
Her network rested on one small military maneuver, sprinkled lightly with deception. Plans of raids had already been set up on all the networks. She only had to make the call. That was the way it always worked for Jane: Place a distant, quiet call; then, wait and watch for the wave.
She picked up the phone and slowly dialed, wanting to remember this moment. It felt personally apocalyptic. Jane steeled herself; she really did believe that personal independence was a fundamental right, tacitly stolen by the nations of the world. Responsibility belongs within the ivory tower, not from heavenly or secular manifestos. Jane sighed. She set the ceramic mug on the oak and saw the coffee ripple over the grinds in the bottom of the mug.
A soft voice answering the phone roused Jane from her thoughts: “Raiko speaking.”
Staccato and firm, Jane said, “Fields. M-four-k. Immediately and with publicity.”
“Thank you, ma’am. Your order will be delivered as per your specific request after fiscal verification.”
“Thank you.” Jane replaced the phone and left the computer running. No reason not to have a sip of Rhein wine before she placed the other call.
Tossing off her black silk bedsheets, Mariko Matsushita woke bolt upright at two in the morning to the sound of loud and rapid gunfire on her property. This close, it could not be a fluke from some Yakuza lord. Too much of her security had been bypassed. Faces, names, and profiles flipped through her mind. The satellite laser umbrella plans, she thought.
“Demian,” Mariko whispered.
There were screams, shouts that died swiftly; guards clutched bullet wounds; intruders grasped laser burns and moaned. Her waterbed jiggled as an explosion erupted downstairs. The door had been blown–so much for anti-personnel locks.
Heavy footsteps pounded on her stairs, raced to her bedroom. Weapons clashed again, quiet weapons. The footsteps were coming down the hall, marring, no doubt, her teak floor.
She leapt from the bed and grabbed an ornamental knife, an antique, used for ritual sepuku.
That thought never crossed her mind. She grabbed a black pebble from the hanging ivy. There were ten such pebbles, each a different color, nestled at the base of the little ivy plant. She dropped the pebble into the sheath and replaced the knife. Ken would know, would begin punitive actions until Demian found the cost of such a move too exorbitant, too painful.
Large silhouettes loomed behind the rice paper wall. Mariko chastised herself: Moving into armaments, even defensive ones, had been too risky, caught too many waves that others of the Six struggled to master. Still, Kentaro would lay all of Demian’s dark secrets out in the daylight, one by one, slowly.
The sliding door was pulled–ripped out from its hinges. Three bulky figures stood in the doorway, casting dust into her room, waving electronic instruments. They entered. One had a metallic arm. Their weapons were stock issue, I.R.I.S. issue.
It made no sense in Mariko’s mind. It wasn’t the fear of psychological abuse, torture, or death. Those, she kept away from her analytical thoughts, though her heart still raced. Of all who had the force to do this, Cerberus was the last she would have guessed. Their exchanges had been fruitful without conflicting interests. Cerberus was methodical, squeezed out every drop of usefulness before killing his adversary. He must have changed or expanded—-
The three had finished their preliminary checks. One rushed forward; a needle poked from his metallic finger and stabbed her precisely, with a computer’s accuracy, on the neck.
She heard sirens as her senses swirled to darkness.
It came over the Nipponese media, a kidnapping of an electronics industrialist. Jane Fields made her second call: “Fields. K-Mariko-JF&I! No lethal force whatsoever.”
The response, a computer voice: “None?”