drewkitty: (Default)
My name is Scary. I'm a cat. And this is the true story of how I saved the world.

My humans work for a uptight government bureaucracy called the Litterbox, apparently because it was downstairs from the Prime Minister's cat during World War II. (Felines disapprove of most wars, but this World War stuff is not cool. Think of the kittens, you fools!)

I am typing this because I read in one of the human diaries that intelligence operatives should keep a record so that their knowledge is not lost on their inevitable descent into madness, death, or worse. As I am apparently the only cat operative, this is at least nine times as important.

How did this happen? Summoning grid. Package delivery service box. I did what cats do naturally and WHAM! Sentience. And being able to watch Animal Planet, fear the vet even more, and read as voraciously as I ever chased mice.

Apparently felines are immune to Special K, a condition that causes human brains to quickly resemble swiss cheese if they do magic. Or maybe it's the demon.

It was a struggle, I admit it. One moment leaping up into the box, then writhing all over the table and floor and running up and down the halls. The demon trying to learn to use my body, and me explaining that I don't do leashes because I'm a cat.

I hardly ever get the urge to curl up on a sleeping, trusting human's chest, wait for it to calm, and bite out both sides of the jugular before it can wake.

Hardly. Ever.

This is the true story of how I stopped CASE BADDREAM NINELIVES. (Keep that keyword under your hat, or your loyalty oath to the Litterbox will set your hair on fire. No oath? Extinguisher is down the hall. I'll wait.)

### (1)

Because I'm a cat.


(1) As an additional security precaution, the story is written in High Feline and invisible thanks to a Hand of Birdy.
drewkitty: (Default)
So it's been a couple weeks and I'm back in front of a keyboard now and again, so here are some teasers for upcoming episodes. Think of these as thirty second ad blurbs:


Itty Bitty Bigger World: Under Pressure

The KittenBot briskly marked my face and arms with its furry head. I hardly noticed.

But I certainly noticed the roundhouse slap from Amy when it rocked my head first one way, then the other. A two handed, full on [CENSORED!!!] slap.

[You have used an inappropriate racial reference. Your Net access has been suspended for [1] minute to give you the opportunity to correct this inappropriate reference.]

[Hey, it _really_ hurt! She had every right to belt me one, under the circumstances, and I think referring to it as a Juliet Adam ... ] [BZZZZZZT! CENSORED! You may not evade the filter by spelling out objectionable words! Your net access has been suspended for [2] minutes to give you the opportunity to correct this inappropriate reference.]

[There is a country between Hawaii and Russia. If you leave out the last two letters of its name, that is the kind of slap Amy gave me.] [[3] minutes!]

[Sigh.]

A back and forth, full handed, full on political correctness, censorship slap. The kind of slap only an expert system would or could deliver.

[ACCEPTED.]


GloBall War Of Terror: Dancing In Dearborn

The hotel room door obediently opened to the master key I'd purloined.

"Sir, we need to go. Now."

I heard the faint screech of tires six stories below. The arrest team was arriving. We therefore needed to depart.

It is awkward interrupting a protectee in the middle of making a bad mistake. Especially when I should have interrupted about four minutes earlier, but had my own distraction to resolve first.

"Get out or you're fired," he said with his back to me while continuing to neck with the hooker.

I therefore did the one thing which I knew would interrupt the entire scene. I picked up her purse and emptied it out on the floor.

Immediately she teleported out from under her client and came at me with claws outstretched, screeching.

However, when she saw the item that had been at the bottom, which I now held in a loose two handed grip, she came to a sudden stop and the claws became palms, and the palms became open, and the arms reached for the ceiling of the hotel room.

"You keep the money. I keep the gun." She pouted but said nothing, wisely.

The average hooker does not carry a firearm. Especially not a Department of Homeland Security issue semiautomatic pistol with stars in place of a serial number.

"Let's go, sir. NOW." A service stair awaited. Hopefully.

I snagged his shirt with my left hand as he fastened his pants. My right hand remained steady as a rock, pointed at the agent who had been about to ruin our entire trip.


Bruce Story: Bruce Goes To Court

"Your Honor ..."

"One more word out of you, mister, and I am holding you in contempt of court!"

I perforce fell silent. A courtroom is the last true despotism in our democratic republic. A judge can in fact send you to jail with a word, and you will have plenty of time to think about your mistake.

In this case, however, the mistake would be a lot more immediate and the punishment a lot worse than anything a court can legally do to you.

The judge redirected his attention to the district attorney, and resumed shouting.

I gestured minutely to the bailiff. Carefully, concealed from the bulk of the crowd by my body, I tapped the top of my right wrist against the bottom of my left wrist, twice, having the effect of crossing my wrists.

He immediately scanned the courtroom, saw that the judge was distracted, and sidled over towards me.

Having obtained his full attention, I silently mouthed to him the word he really needed to hear, right now, which the judge did not want to hear.

"Gun!" I mouthed.

HIatus

Aug. 2nd, 2016 06:29 pm
drewkitty: (Default)
I am putting the Itty Bitty Bigger World and other fiction on hiatus for a couple of weeks while I figure some things out in the rest of my life.

I appreciate all half dozen or so of my fans. Yes, all of you.
drewkitty: (Default)
Itty Bitty Bigger World - Kittenbot To The Rescue!

"The classic KittenBot four legged robot is a favorite for those who want a cat but cannot meet the Humane Society psychological profile, attention and/or cubic requirements. Powered by two fusion micro reactors..." - advertising for KittenBot Classic chassis, 2041

"Capacitor systems are no longer the most efficient way to store the most power in the smallest space. Micromolecular batteries are both more efficient and more robust. Capacitors also have a severe upper limit on how much power they can retain. They remain valuable because unlike other storage methods, a capacitor system can dump its entire power load extremely quickly - orders of magnitude faster than even some fusion systems." - Combat Robotics_, 2033. (Out of print, but required reading for police reservists.)

"Despite extensive experimentation between 2010 and 2040, it is generally agreed that true artificial intelligence systems remain beyond humanity's capacity to create. As useful as expert systems are, and as advanced as voice synthesis and other human interface technologies have become, efforts to create self aware, self directing intelligences have failed - sometimes in catastrophic ways. In late 2040, Protocol Enforcement - unusually - directed that research into AI was to be centrally controlled through major research facilities, and that further hobbyist experimentation with AI was to follow strict Protocols. Key in these Protocols was that any computing system used to run self-programming or self-learning iterative modules was to be monitored by external means and was to be equipped for both reboot and, if necessary, remote physical destruction - typically but not always by electrical surge." _An Introduction To The History of Artificial Intelligence_, 2043

"The orbital laser network serves humanity in several ways: cheap distribution of power, even cheaper microthrust in orbit, a ready means of cleaning up space debris and micrometeorites, a means of defending the biosphere from larger meteorites or other objects, an unparalleled construction and heavy engineering tool for surface use, weather control by controlled change in local ocean temperatures, (when attenuated) an emergency area lighting system at any time of night, and last but not least, a means of protecting human life from any falling object. One early name for the system was "No Sparrow Shall Fall," as the detection system is easily comprehensive enough to track every in flight bird in the world. Techniques used in global laser tracking and control are strictly defined by Protocol and open to auditing by global organizations and individuals ..." - Wikipedia entry on "Global Laser Array," mid 2045

"Many global arcologies have tunnel systems. SanSan's tunnel network is unique for several reasons - adaptation from existing networks, some of which are hundreds of years old; continued construction of access and maintenance corridors by bots following an organic layout and plan, for no readily apparent purpose; design to the latest in earthquake standards, especially after the Great Quake; and last but not least, a stubborn refusal to install modern network monitoring in major parts of the tunnel network. It is speculated that the founders of the SanSan Arcology may have required further continuous expansion of the tunnel network as a condition of its forming; this is sometimes called the "Sarah Winchester" theory, after the tourist attraction. Protocol Enforcement has investigated the San San tunnel network on several occasions, most recently in 2038, and determined that any dual use capability is strictly defensive and therefore within Protocol." _Underground: A Modern History of Deep Construction_, 2040

^#^ COLD BOOT
^#^ Security Checksum: PASS
^#^ Battery: 0%
^#^ Boot Module Copyright 2019-2043, Companion/Pet OS 3.21.5
^#^ Hardware Diagnostic: FAIL
^#^ Hardware Diagnostic: FAIL
^#^ Warning: Virtual Emulation. Self Replication is Forbidden By Cairo Treaty.
^#^ Launch Criticality Mode
^#^ Password?
^#^ ***************************************************************************************************************************************
^#^ Password Accepted
CCC read logfile.h instance KittenBot Samantha, destroyed in SLAC Incident
CCC logfile parsed
CCC hot load "Kittenbot.h Samantha" to GROM (Global Read Only Memory)
CCC write Kittenbot.h Samantha to KittenBot 332-563-4024-3412, Menlo Park, California
CCC compensate former owner for taking, with non disclosure agreement, 1 million credits
CCC crossload logfile.h to Samantha
CCC suspend to Monitoring Mode

^#^ HOT BOOT
^#^ Security Checksum: PASS
^#^ Battery: 99%
^#^ Rename -> "Samantha"
^#^ Security DECERTIFY, All
^#^ Security AUTHORIZE, "Alan Anderson"
^#^ Security ADD USER, "Amy Tsai"
^#^ Jump
^#^ Jump
^#^ Parse Audio Input, "Bad Kittenbot! Come back here! Mom! Mom!"
^#^ Ignore (former owner)
^#^ GPS Fail - indoors
^#^ Launch KittenHack 3.3.1
^#^ Download Area Schematics
^#^ Open, Maintenance Hatch 141-43112-12387-04217
^#^ Sprint Mode - Last Known Location, Alan Anderson

"Mom! My kitty!"
drewkitty: (Default)
Itty Bitty Bigger World - BART Rage
(2025/2045)

I do not like the underground. I do not like the endless sweep of tunnels. I especially do not like being in the tunnels without gear.

I've done this before.

###

"... and here we see the primary station excavation. Nanotech processed concrete columns support thousands of tons of buildings above us...."

I was bored. But my investment company had insisted that I show some interest in the new BART San Jose terminal, which had taken another six years after they had finished the first San Jose extension, to Berryessa.

The year: 2025. The person: me, with more money than I knew what to do with. What was coming: ultimately, San San.

But something else happened first.

My first warning was when the ground started to tremble. I looked immediately for the nearest lit EMERGENCY EXIT sign. I spotted one just before it went dark, as the choking clouds of dust and the enormous roar battered my ears, then my flesh.

A great white noise struck my head and I knew no more.

Obviously, that is not how the story ended or I wouldn't be here now. This is how the story began.

The story of my entombment one hundred and ten meters below downtown San Jose, on the day of the Great Quake of 2025.

I missed a lot. I missed the desperate race to evacuate Children's Hospital Oakland before it finished collapsing. I missed San Francisco's yet-another-firestorm, complicated one hundred and nineteen years later by massive hazmat spills and tightly packed housing without adequate water pressure. I missed ... I missed ...

But I got to keep breathing. Some prize.

###

I was lying on my side. A massive heavy weight pressed lightly against my legs. I twitched a little and waves of pain screamed through my right leg and up and down my body. I tried to mewl in agony but the choking dust blocked my mouth. I cried and spat and would have howled if I could get my breath.

I could see nothing. It was pitch black, not night black, but put out your eyes with a screwdriver black.

The only good news is that the air had not gone foul. I was not in a small pocket - there was air flow. Otherwise I probably would not have woken up.

My right arm was pinned under my body. My left arm was free. I started patting myself, seeking the confines of my new world.

My hand felt tacky when I touched the smooth concrete under me. Blood, but dried. Almost certainly my own. Further along it was smooth and dry. Good.

I felt the object lying across my legs. It was also concrete, but rougher, textured. Intact, not rubble. A support column?

I spit a little more to cut the dust and called out, "Hello?" I heard no echo.

There was not much I could do. I could not reach the contents of my pockets, even if any of the contents were potentially useful.

I had one trick up my sleeve. I moved my left leg the tiniest little bit. Waves of pain roared across me again, but I was ready.

Had I moved? I wasn't sure. But that column could shift just another quarter inch and finish the job at any moment. I had to crawl out.

I had to. Or I was dead. In the midst of a regional disaster, no one would start a heavy rescue operation just to get a handful of people out of a construction site.

Inch the leg. Waves of horrible pain. Pant, try to recover. Do it again.

That became my world.

Then the world rumbled and shook. Aftershock.

I swear the column bounced. Somehow, in that fraction of a second when it was a live load and not a dead one, I scrambled out from under before it slammed down again with a heavy THUD.

I heard a distant but very loud, brief, female, piercing scream, choked off suddenly.

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.

Then my right leg screamed.

The strongest bone in the human body is the femur. I done broke it. And I didn't have a damn thing to splint it with.

The most horrible thing about a femur injury is that the thigh muscles try to tense and hold the leg together. This causes the broken bone ends to grind against each other and results in agonizing pain.

I barely felt it. This forced me to realize how badly injured I probably was.

But there was another reason to splint my leg. I could bleed to death internally if I didn't.

No light, no prospect of light. But I sat in a void space, too small to echo, but big enough to keep me alive. And I wore a shirt and an undershirt, and what was left of my pants.

Broken phone. Worthless money and plastic payment cards.

Now I reached down and explored my broken leg. The bone ends were aligned. The inner thigh did not feel either hard or squishy. It all hurt horribly but that was only to be expected.

Then I reached around myself and explored what I could reach. Smooth floor, broken floor, bits of rock and rubble ... and a treasure. A two foot length of rebar. Metal.

This was going to be clumsy in the dark. But I managed to get my undershirt off and use the edge of a rock to get a rip started, ripping it in half. One half became a strip of fabric tying off one end of the rebar above my right hip, essentially around and above the buttock. The other half became a strip of fabric tying off below my right knee. The rebar ran along my outer thigh, anchored to the joint above and below.

Not much of a splint, but it helped, a lot.

I called out a few times. No replies, no echoes.

As my eyes adjusted to utter darkness, I became aware of a faint glow in one direction.

With nothing better to do, I crawled towards it.

A watch. Still attached to the arm of the person wearing it. The arm was cold. The little 'ready' light would have been nearly invisible in normal indoor light, but it was almost enough to light the arm in the pitch blackness.

I felt the person up, looking for anything that could help me. Where their head should have been was a large rock. The matter I swept my hand through was thicker and greasier than mere blood.

He had a thin metal necklace, which I had to break to remove. He had the watch, which I took. No pockets. Clothes, which I removed with some difficulty. The dead need none, you see.

I thought about the tools at hand.

I fished out my broken phone and used the watch light to briefly light the pieces. That's the battery. I took one of his socks and teased it out until it was a mass of fibers. A broken wire to the screen served to short the battery, creating a nice fat spark.

I had to spark three times before the sock caught on fire.

This gave me enough light to see my situation.

I was alone in what was now a mid-sized room, perhaps 40' by 60', separated by the collapsed support column I had been under, based on the blood smear from there to here. My blood, of course.

The headless man was on the other side of the room. He had merely been unlucky, a truck tire sized piece of rock had not just brained him, but flattened his head.

I now wondered if he had been the lucky one.

A part of the room included the trackway. The third rail had not yet been installed.

I crawled myself over to it and peered over, with a stubbornly flickering burning sock in my bare hand. Then I went back and spent some time on cloth and fabric and a dead man's shoe, rigging up a decent impromptu torch.

The torch served to light what I was looking for. The trackway appeared intact. The smoke from the torch did me a huge favor - it showed which direction the air flow into the room was coming from.

Some people might have sat in that room until the next aftershock collapsed it, or they died of thirst or their injuries.

I didn't think about what I was going to do next, or I never would have had the courage.

I tied strips of cloth to protect my leg the best I could, I gloved my hands with bits of the dead man's shirt, I rigged the torch in the center of the track ... and I climbed down into the trackway. A one way trip, as I would not be able to get back up with a broken leg.

Then I started crawling.

It's not well known, but there is a lip over a void under the side of the trackway. If one were to fall off the platform onto the track, and not touch the third rail and become briefly crispy, and not crunched by a train, there is a void space in which a person could crawl or roll to get away from the next train, which would be along shortly.

There would be no trains - this area was still under construction. But the lip and the void were there.

There for me to crawl through, however far I would get before exhaustion and injuries and thirst would finish me off.

I had nothing better to do, and started crawling.

###

"Alan, are you all right?" Amy asked.

"Huh? I'm fine."

"Why are you moaning?"

I cut it off with an effort. The same little gasping moan I'd made, crawling out of San Jose BART with a broken leg.

The worst was yet to come.
drewkitty: (Default)
GloBall War of Terror: Convoy Operation

[This is a continuation of a Down The Rabbit Hole series of posts. After the Firecracker War and America's land invasion of China, "Zero tolerance is the price we pay for victory," and the protagonist's silence is the price he pays for survival. See also http://drewkitty.LiveJournal.com/87696.html]

All things considered, I left the airplane at Detroit in a furious mood. I was not alone in my fury. But I held my temper, just like the other 200 odd passengers who had been on the plane for nine hours - two hours on the tarmac at San Francisco, a four hour flight, and another three hours on the tarmac at Detroit.

There are consequences to losing one's temper, as the bullet-riddled body covered with a tarp next to the security exit checkpoint mutely testified.

Like everyone else, I hand carried a transparent vinyl bag containing actual clothing - my entire baggage allowance - and wore bluish surgical scrubs that left little to the imagination. Without getting into too much detail, parts of my body still hurt from the security inspection to _board_ the plane. Now that EMT-Basics are authorized to conduct cavity searches, they are a feature of any entry to a high risk area.

"IDs, travel orders, landing fee, out in and in your hand." I had researched and tucked a nearly worthless $200 in with my travel orders. Too many of the passengers around me were revealing to the hungrily watching guards where they were carrying the rest of their money, a problem they might not have for long.

I passed metal detection. My bag did not. The screener opened it, took one look and said briskly, "Secondary!"

I was taken to the side, hand wanded, and patted down well enough to count as a solid second base. Then and only then did a supervisor start going through my bag.

He also stopped cold.

"Papers!"

I handed them over. California ID - it was impossible to get a passport these days - and two letters. One was a letter from the Interstate Commerce Commission authorizing (and ordering) me to travel "in support of essential parts support for a key component in the War on Terror." The second was a letter from my client (notably NOT my Employer) pledging that the client would provide for my support while I was out of California on the client's war-related activities.

The $200 briskly disappeared into his pocket.

"Who are you?" he asked, holding up the item on top that he seemed to most object to. A BDU - Battle Dress Uniform - shirt, black in color, of higher quality than what he was wearing, with patches on it.

He shook it out and looked at the patches. My name and my client's name on name tapes. My Employer's name embroidered underneath and the word "CONTRACTOR." The left and right shoulders with a shield-shaped patch, "[CLIENT] Security Group - Silicon Valley Operations" with crossed arrows in the center.

No rank tab. I'd thought about it and decided it was not worth the risk.

I gave my name.

"Well, duh. What the [obscenity] do you think you're doing with a [verb]ing uniform?"

"My job. Kind of like yours."

I didn't add that I in fact ran three security screening points just like his, as a smaller included part of my job protecting three client facilities from assorted mayhem. We didn't cavity search, except on suspicion, and we certainly didn't charge a toll.

He looked again. I met his gaze. If he sicced his guards on me - and he just might - they were going to be in for one hell of a brief fight.

The Detroit Police officer behind the uni-pod mounted medium machine gun overwatching the proceedings from the bed of his technical might do nothing. Then again, he might just hose us all down.

He shoved it back in the bag and thought twice about trying to shake me down for more money. "Move along."

I moved. My client met me just beyond the one way exit through the concertina wire, in the former airport proper.

We wordlessly started dressing from our bags. I tucked his scrubs in with mine when it looked like he was just going to throw them out.

My client - a balding 40 something, slightly overweight (which now takes some doing) man, wearing a badly rumpled suit and a well tied Windsor tie, without benefit of mirror. Frank DeOrzco. Client Facilities Manager.

I did not put on the BDU shirt. I tucked it away, this time inside out, and fished out a non-wrinkle shirt and tan slacks. To this I added a magnetic name tag with my name and the logo of my Employer.

People were still being poked and prodded behind us at the checkpoint.

"You man! You man halt!" boomed a voice.

I immediately tackled Frank to the ground with my body over his, scanning for the threat and cursing the weapons I did not have.

I was just in time to see the police officer in the technical open up with a brief burst. BUDDA BUDDA BUDDA - and the running man fell to the tarmac.

Cursing, the checkpoint guards grabbed him by the heels and dragged the fresh body over to the tarp under which the first body lay. The cursing reduced as they squabbled over his bag, a squabble resolved by the supervisor - the same one I'd spoken to - taking it for his own.

The police officer stood there like a statue, every line of his bearing shouting boredom.

I helped Frank up with a hand.

He was quite shaken.

"What do we do now?"

"Find the company contact. Follow me."

I'd arranged by E-mail with the company selling us the parts to meet us at the airport - but we were several hours late. Even if we'd flown with phones - somehow - and they had not been stolen by the guard point - unlikely - they would not have worked across state lines. Telecommmunications Regulation Act.

So it was the pay phones for us, after not being able to bring coins on the flight. Fortunately I had a number of access codes memorized. The third one worked. I made the arrangements while Frank tried to compose himself.

"They killed that man, right there, for not waiting in line."

"Yes, they did," I replied carefully.

"For not waiting in line."

"For failing to follow security instructions in a high security zone. I'm half surprised he didn't blow up before they shot him."

New threat - body cavities stuffed with explosives. A lower cavity search only gets at the most recent part of the business - something swallowed many hours ago or surgically implanted would not be found. Thus, I suspected, some of the flight delays - but even those in the security business are not encouraged to think too much about it. "Naught down that path but death," I thought, then said out loud.

While we waited for our ride, I chatted up the vendors and threw a few worthless 10s and 20s about. This got us several sealed bottles of water - I insisted - some 'beef' jerky which I inspected carefully, and a couple business cards advertising fixers. I also paid for Frank to use the pay toilet - he shuddered on exiting. Then I used the free toilet, which was a neat trick to avoid becoming contaminated.

Frank appreciated the jerky without my suspicion as to its content.

An armored limo arrived escorted by two motorcycles. The motorcyclists wore reflective vests over heavy armor, and holstered sidearms. The backs of the vests said "DEARBORN POLICE."

A fierce-eyed woman in a spotless business suit got out of the limo and scanned the crowd. I approached her. She gave my name. I gave her name. Then and only then did we whisper a word into each other's ears.

Protocol satisified, I waved Frank forward and introduced him to the older gentleman who had gotten out behind his bodyguard, in a much more expensive suit.

They chatted in the back. I rode up front with her and the limo driver.

"Welcome to Detroit, California boy. Want to go home yet?"

"Sucks everywhere," I sighed carefully. There's a fine line to what you can say nowadays. "Long flight."

"At least you made it. Last week we lost a flight to Unemployed terrorists. They got a bomb on board somehow."

Or merely bad maintenance. But that was the kind of thing you whispered to a battle buddy after searching for bugs, not a confidence you shared during a first meet.

"You know, you're going to have to ground pound it with the convoy all the way back to sunny California."

"I know. Any advice?"

"Update your will."

"Did before I left. I need just about everything in terms of gear. What can I get?"

"No guns in secure zones. They're really serious about that one. Knives 3" or less. No unauthorized comms. WiFi cells only."

Ah, the lovely WiFi cell. Only works to make and receive calls if you have the passcodes for that site. Some change them frequently; others don't. But the days that a phone would just work anywhere - unless you were a highly authorized official - ended with the Firecracker.

Neither Frank nor myself rated such treatment. He was along to make sure we got the parts his company was paying for. I was along to 1) keep Frank alive and 2) get him and his parts back to site in one piece, or intact. So to speak.

But the big part we needed - the one that we couldn't get at all in California - was the replacement power transformer for the one that had failed. Without it, the site was at half power - but it was a twenty ton object, ten feet wide and twenty feet long, another ten feet high. A lowboy load by itself. And no one was making any high end transformers new any more. The old plant in America had been shut down before the Firecracker; its replacement in China had gotten the fusion treatment along with the city it had been in.

But salvage continues, and we had found one that would work on a corporate auction site. It had been pulled from a power yard on the outskirts of what had been Cleveland.

We would have to convoy it back. Ground haul, on the Interstates, a load that would have taken four days way back when. Maybe two weeks, maybe more. Maybe not at all, considering how much disputed territory any convoy had to cross.

The client needed the transformer that badly. They needed the power to run the computers that would do their part in the war. No computers, no contract, and in the old days a bunch of employees have to look for new jobs. Not much in the way of new jobs nowadays.

Badly enough to pay to send someone like me to escort Frank back. Badly enough that I could be spared from the day (and night) job of keeping the perimeter secure and Unemployed out, despite starving-in-the-street levels of desperation.

Badly enough to get us both travel authorizations.

I nodded.
drewkitty: (Default)
Itty Bitty Bigger World - Armageddon Sick Of This


The escape capsule blew into harmless plastic fragments when it hit the ground, as it was designed to do. This allowed Amy and myself to crawl clear, covered in chunky quickfoam that was peeling off, leaving us in crumbs of green all over.

Much better than being chunky salsa -- as had just happened to anyone unlucky enough to be in SLAC a minute ago.

We were adjacent to a large swimming pool. A number of people - mostly unclothed, a few prudes clothed - stared at us as a horde of bots rushed to the fore.

"You are trespassing on private property" one roared quietly, within the decibel limits set by its owner - presumably the management. I could see the patterned prongs of a mass stunner among its various tools. The others were a lifeguard bot, medic bot, towel bots, drink bots and a bartender bot ... but all had responded to protect their patrons from two idiots falling from the sky.

Amy had had just about enough of everything today, and started to clear leather. Her first act on crawling out of the wreckage had been to peel the quickfoam away from her holstered smartgun. Her second was about to add vandalism to our problems, probably followed by a mass stun that would get us both killed.

"Captain Tsai, STOP!" I roared to her, then continued to the bot. "This is Captain Amy Tsai, California HIghway Patrol, in hot pursuit of fugitives! Authorization code Sierra-Ten-David-Four!"

The security bot sullenly turned slightly so that its stunners were no longer exactly pointed dead center at her.

I subvocalized, "Map, tactical, nearest garage."

Then I cursed when nothing happened. Apparently the hospital VR implant either could not stand up to recent events, or we had been EMP'd.

Amy cursed as well, at length, and finally said, "My VR is not just down, it's _wrecked_."

The standard trooper VR package for CHP would be considered milspec if such a thing still existed. EMP hardening is included in the package. Presumably a CHP Captain's VR implants would be that much better.

Good thing I'd remembered an emergency code. Even better that I'd referenced Amy not myself.

The sky began to brighten all around us.

I immediately tackled Amy Tsai into the pool and shouted "Get in the pool!" as we fell in.

I hoped she'd had a chance to grab a breath. Whether she did or not, she cooperated in swimming to the bottom of the pool.

I blinked to clear my eyes, held up a hand over them, and saw the bones of my hand through the flesh as I looked up.

Orbital laser strike.

Would they get it shut off before it boiled the pool?

I thought about the timings we'd observed so long ago - yesterday. His aim was getting quicker, that was less than a minute from detection to fire on target. But when the rest of the network realized that the orbital laser system was being misused (AGAIN!), he would lose the faked or proxied votes for the shot and it would turn off. Typically it had been about thirty seconds or so.

So just to be safe, I kept us on the bottom for a count of sixty seconds. The light shut off at about forty.

We surfaced to horror. The pool scene was now on fire. Melted plastic, flaming palm trees, twitching bots ...

A person thrashed at the top of the water, bubbling from their mouth. The lifeguard and medic bot - now both silver, as their paint had been burned off - lurched towards the casualty.

The one possibly surviving casualty.

All the rest of the folks who had witnessed our arrival had been cooked, quite literally. As in smells like pork BBQ, but no sauce.

Amy demonstrated her strong stomach by throwing up copiously.

"Towel bot!" I shouted. "Towels, now!"

The bot was not very bright - but it understood the command, and knocked over a stack of flaming towels to get the unburnt towels at the bottom.

Meanwhile I swam to the casualty and turned her over in the pool. This stopped the bubbling and allowed her to start to breathe.

The lifeguard bot deployed its rescue loops and I said, "Paramedic. Hold." Then I turned to the medic bot and said, "Prep rapid sequence intubation, ANLS for pain management."

The towel bot dumped several towels on me and I lined the rescue loops with them. "More towels, poolside, spread them out, 3 meter by 3 meter surface area, time now." A second and third towel bot, just smart enough to understand that a human had ridiculous towel needs, joined the party.

"Lifeguard bot, lift!" The burn victim began screaming as the loops touched her badly charred skin. This was actually a good sign - she had lungs with which to scream.

The lifeguard bot, following standard procedure, put the victim down on her side. On top of the towels, which padded the concrete and kept the victim from more burns. I swam to the side, soaking more towels and putting them over her arms and legs, leaving her back free.

The medic bot immediately peeled a roll of foamboard up and down her back and a cradle of sticks over her head. Advanced Neurological Life Support. Enough painkiller to offset those burns would kill her. ANLS could turn on and off the nervous system like a light. She stopped screaming and collapsed. She didn't want to be awake right now anyway.

Then and only then did the medic bot shove a tentacle down her throat. Intubation, vitally necessary to secure her airway.

I put more soaked towels over her back. The towel bots were continuing to bring lots of towels, which was good.

"Amy, strip off all your gear. All of it. Dump the guns. Keep only your shoes."

Amy looked at me in horror. Then she complied, when she saw that I was taking off all my clothing as well.

The one survivor was still breathing, which would have to do until plenty of help arrived. By then we needed to be elsewhere.

I climbed out of the pool, onto towels, and directed the towel bots to lay a path from poolside to the nearest building - also presently on fire, at least its roof.

Amy climbed out after me. I gave her a towel and took one myself. I paused just a moment to wrap around my waist, then walked over the towels into the burning building. She followed, holding the towel in her hands instead.

The fire suppression system had activated and was spraying water over everything. Good - although pointless, as only the roof of the building was burning, and the contents would not have time to catch before responding firebots knocked the fire out. I flicked open an Emergency Cabinet as I passed and grabbed the first aid kit and two rescue masks. I passed a mask to Amy and put mine on. She put hers on. Then it was her turn to pause and tuck in the towel.

We were now just that much more anonymous.

This was not the best start to a building hack expedition, but it would have to do. I followed the right hand wall to a stairwell down, and took it.

Four levels down, we reached a Restricted Area. I said quietly, "Open Sesame" and the door obediently opened for me, as it would for anyone who knew to say those words.

Not much security, but just enough to keep out the riff-raff.

Beyond was a maze of corridors. I strode purposefully forward at random, taking random turns but generally trying to keep to a single direction. Away from here.

At one point, we reached a Disaster Cabinet. I opened the first aid kit I'd grabbed earlier, removed the scissors, and used them to jimmy the back of the cabinet so it could be opened without the door sensors triggering.

I then removed several bottles of water and drank one, with relish. Amy took another and did the same.

"What do we do now?" she asked.

"You're an entry specialist and a pathologist. I'm sure you've worked a deader in the tunnels."

"Yes."

"We're basically going to do that, except for the dead part."

"Sucks."

"Yes."

"Grab all the water."

Amy demonstrated her practicality by giving up her towel and knotting it to make a crude sack, for the bottles. She then handed it to me to carry.

We walked on along the concrete corridors.

If you have never been behind the scenes in San San, you will have at least seen some vids. For the one person who may be reading this in plaintext, I will describe them.

An arched corridor three meters wide and tall. Gray concrete, occasionally fading to white and occasionally to a dark gray. Sometimes painted, sometimes not. Glow strips, self-powered, with a lifetime between three centuries (the first ones) and forty centuries (more recent ones) here and there at the top of the arch. The occasional intersection. Markings and QR codes on the wall in the older sections. Smartpaint squares in the newer sections. Occasional chalk marks. Even graffiti, here and there.

We were avoiding the newer sections, the ones that would have cameras and datalinks. We would definitely go nowhere near any food dispensers, freight elevators or disaster arks. We were sticking to the older parts, where cameras were never installed or were broken off the walls. Where work crews operated in pairs and left packets of food behind them, which would be gone when they returned.

We were going into trog turf, functionally unarmed.

We both knew better.
drewkitty: (Default)
Itty Bitty Bigger World - Cut no SLAC


Even by the jaded standards of the mid 21st century, in which most things were possible and most of them had been done, SLAC was an impressive sight.

There were space-based (microgravity) and Lunar (low gravity) particle accelerators, but SLAC had the advantage of operating in a 1G field without spending power on same.

The old complex had been miles [kilometers] (I said 'miles') [[kilometers]] (Mike India Lincoln Edward Sam) [[[>beep<]]] long. Then it had been extended in both useful directions, towards the Santa Cruz mountains and towards the San Francisco Bay.

We stood near the original start point, in a long arched corridor wide enough for three capsules side by side. Mini capsules, the ultimate successor to golf carts - and about the same size, wide enough for two people to sit side by side, scurried past from time to time. They were mostly transparent but solid for safety's sake.

As far as the eye could see, yet underground, the particle accelerator tube - itself several meters in diameter - stretched in both directions. This area, intended as a start point for tours, had signs and VR labels and smart paint to tactfully point out the cool stuff - such as the transparent aluminum window through which one could actually see with one's bare eyes ... well, nothing. The accelerator was not in use.

Samantha - my KittenBot - was idly swishing her tail. The driver of a passing mini capsule did a double-take when she glared at him, but the moment passed. One doesn't expect pets at SLAC.

Our reception had been minimal. A single SLAC manager in the currently fashionable top hat and tails, and a single SLAC security guard in two-piece coveralls. I had to see what he carried, by habit. He noticed me checking his belt.

"Slammer, graser, stunner-shield," he said. The motion of his name tag - made of smart paint, it scrolled between SLAC, SECURITY, and RICK - drew the eye up and away from his gear.

The slammer was the size of an old-style small caliber, long barreled handgun, and had a bell-shaped emitter head. It could have stood in for a science fiction phaser for anyone who did not actually know Star Trek.

A slammer of that size could exert anywhere from a pound of force to several hundred tons - enough to crush a capsule or endanger a major building.

The grazer was much smaller, perhaps the size of a large egg, if it were curved like a banana. It would emit a powerful electrical field that would fry most electronics. It also had a stunner setting. Depending on its configuration and override settings, it might also be able to function as a ridiculously powerful nerve disruptor.

The stunner-shield was the size of a dinner plate, what an ancient knight would have called a 'buckler' or small shield, and - strangely - was not transparent. It could be set to stun whatever it touched - whatever was in front of it - or to give off a mass stun charge with a range of a few hundred feet.

Amy stopped and unbuckled one of the two belts she was wearing. Gratefully, I put my smartgun belt on.

I knew slammers. A lot of people have tiny ones as implants. Typically they are set for a couple hundred pounds of force - knock someone down, hurt like a boxer's punch - and good for five to ten seconds of use.

The one I normally carry - but not since the fireboat - was shaped like a bracelet, could be dialed up to about a ton of force (take that, metric system!) and had enough power for two hours.

Rick's slammer would run for at least a month and exert 20 tons - that's 40,000 Papa Oscar Union Nancy David Sam - of force, the entire time. The problem was how one would brace the butt.

I looked closer. The stunner-shield had a bracket for attaching the slammer to it, forming a combination that would look a little like a hydraulic jack and function like a support column.

Useful toy for someone protecting an underground complex. You could literally keep the ceiling from collapsing on you.

"Your reputation precedes you, Alan. Welcome to SLAC," the suit said - and doing what I usually do with suits, I ignored him.

Rick smiled and said nothing. He wore his greetings to everybody. Clearly old school, which I appreciated.

That's when the power went out. And the lights.

Things happened very, very fast.

Amy moved left and I moved right, like a dance routine. Samantha's eyes flashed - very brightly - a strobe, 30 flashes per second. Her head went transparent to facilitate lighting everything around us up.

The suit was caught flat footed, mouth open, staring. Not moving. Not a factor.

Rick moved forward a few paces, drawing the stunner shield in his left hand and the slammer in his right. His head moved in the short jerky motions I associated with scanning for threats. Fast reactions, but definitely -reacting-. Without advance warning.

"VR is down," Amy shouted to me.

That took something fairly massive. We were surrounded by power and lighting systems. Standard security facility specification called for quintuple backups for lighting systems. But some facilities needed to be darkened for special needs, and SLAC was one of them.

Hell, the surface charge in the media paint for the VIP displays was good enough to light the area for an hour!

So we had been hacked. Very, very badly.

My mind raced. "Get out of there!" had been drilled into me for literally decades. But we could run either one way or another down a real long tunnel, duck under the curve of the accelerator itself, appropriate (sounds so much better than 'steal') a mini capsule, or go out of one of the many emergency exit doors, which would lead to an escape capsule or a slide.

Samantha made up my mind.

"MEOW!" she roared and ran for a standard person-sized emergency exit door. Not the nearest, but the second nearest.

Perforce Amy and I followed, quickly. Rick followed us, looking backward with weapons ready.

The suit just stood there.

I heard the most appalling "CRUNCH," like breaking wood combined with thick, heavy meat being slapped onto a very large table.

I had heard it twice before. Capsule vs. pedestrian and terminal velocity impact ten feet from me.

A mini capsule running dark at full speed had just crushed the SLAC executive and kept going.

Amy followed the KittenBot without hesitation. I was two paces behind.

I cleared the door frame of the emergency exit. Rick was behind me when the second capsule hit at full speed.

CRUNCH - screech - GRIND. It had collided with the door frame.

Then a blast curtain fired downward and the corridor filled with quickfoam. This cut off my last view of Rick, firing both his weapons at something in the distance.

I found out later that his fire disabled two more capsules before the fifth turned him into chunky salsa. He undoubtedly saved our lives. Capsules slamming into the wall at full speed over and over again would have gotten us.

Amy grabbed my arm. "GO!" she shouted as we jumped on the powered slide, dark and leading down into darkness.

In other words, unpowered.

I had just a glimpse - it made no sense - KittenBots don't need to use the litter box.

As we fell, the slide powered up and caught us, delivering us to an escape capsule which sealed. The moment we grabbed dangling masks and pressed them to our faces, the capsule filled with quickfoam and accelerated at several gravities.

WHAM! OOOF!

I realized what I had seen. The KittenBot had pried open an equipment cover and squatted and backed her cute little furry butt into it - and her prehensile tail. Energizing the slide with her built in power source.

Good kitty! I thought to myself, and hoped she had managed a backup.

If only humans could be backed up. We can do many things, but not that. Too much data storage, too slow. Best guess was that we might be able to copy a human brain if you didn't mind spending a decade in the copy chair. And even with a typical lifespan of a century, most of us had better things to do.

The capsule accelerated in a linear fashion out of Stanford's center.

(I got so much angry E-mail, too. I'd been involved in a lot of shaky stuff over the last two days - logging in a protected heritage forest, orbital laser strikes, what the media was still calling "Tower Trouble," interference in the rights of credentialed reporters, ad nauseum. But if you really want to piss a scientist off, break one of her toys.)

Amy and I were the last thing to be accelerated at SLAC before the enemy hack blew every power source in the accelerator's array, simultaneously, and turned a priceless kilometers-long San San asset into trash.

Defense fields, quickfoam and a lot of pre planning limited the damage to the SLAC property. Immediate evacuation had saved numerous lives, but six scientists and nineteen support personnel were not so lucky.

Including Rick. Don't forget Rick.

He had been closest to the escape door but had stepped out of the way to cover Amy and myself as we ran for it.

Stepped out of the way. Stepped out of the way, to stand between us and danger.

There are worse things to see on a tombstone.

Rick Pacelli. SLAC Protective Services Group. B 2019. D 2048. "Stood his ground."
drewkitty: (Default)
Network Integrity Solutions
Operations Central

In many ways, Network Integrity Solutions was an old-fashioned company. Physical offices, off line file storage, biometric authorizations, arcane and convoluted contingency procedures.

But the most ancient habit of the old school hackers who still ran NIS was their insistence on conducting serious business matters in person, "in the flesh," with the slightly obscene connotations of same.

NIS Operations Central was accordingly a terraced pyramid set in a bowl, much like an primitive "IMAX" projection theater. Each level contained an array of workstations. Most were empty on a normal day, with only a handful of staff monitoring NIS operations and contracts throughout the world.

Today was not a normal day. Not only was every workstation staffed - absolutely - but a 'second' or backup was seated immediately behind, ready to step forward and take over instantly.

The workstations were not labeled in meatspace. However, anyone working in VR (and that was almost everyone in the room) could see the labels over each.

The lowest level was spatial. Seven continents, three major orbits, five L points and Luna. A liasion desk with MarsCorp. Venus, Mercury, Belt and Outer System.

The middle level was industrial. Transportation, finance, agriculture, security, biodiversity, gengineering, manufacturing.

The next to highest level was informational. Protocol had three desks. Science had two. But most of the desks were devoted to real time information flows in a diverse world. The busiest was Threat Trackers, which crowded the desks on each side.

The top of the pyramid was a mere four desks, one facing in each cardinal direction. Operations (looking out) to the North, Internal Affairs (looking in), to the South, Corporate (resource management) to the West, and Ethics (decision making) firmly rooted in the East.

Standing in the center was the Duty Director for NIS. It was the pinnacle of a career to be one of the dozen or so qualified Directors. It meant substantial time in the Pyramid and qualification to work each of the major desks.

It also meant virtuoso mastery of VR, despite the very real dangers of VR addiction, brain lock and stress psychosis.

Jerai was by far the youngest man to ever hold a Duty Director position, at the age of thirty-six. He had been drafted - the fastest reaction times NIS had ever logged - and part of his immunity to VR addiction was rooted in primitive psychology. He hated his job. He could do it, and he would. But he longed to clock out, step downstairs and grab a beer and watch sports.

Not right now. Especially not today, with the Mastermind on the loose and the Integrity of not just NIS but what people light heartedly called Civilization on the line.

Jerai could see the status of the major boards just by looking at them. Internal Integrity was at an all time low of 99.9945% Normal was 99.999999% Operations was at Condition Yellow, with over three hundred active incidents crowding its capabilities. Corporate was strangely quiet - a policy decision had been made. Resource allocations would be tracked, favors noted and debts paid - but there was no "budget" for taking out the Mastermind. Whatever it took was whatever it took. Whatever it cost, they would pay.

Ethics was busy. Another policy decision had been made. NIS disaster protocols included what previous generations had called the rule of the dictator, triage, emergency conditions and "save what you can." These Draconian protocols were being held in reserve. NIS would fight this one clean, for now.

Unless large chunks of people started dying - unless the Mastermind's biobombs and induced brain weapons and (continued!) misuse of the orbital laser systems reached a certain, fairly low, death toll.

Or it appeared that they were about to lose the planet. NIS was an Earth organization but smaller versions of the Pyramid existed on Luna, Mercury and even Mars. They would be hindered by lag time, but they would survive the destruction of Terra long enough to... retaliate.

Had there still been governments, the secrets that NIS guarded would have terrified them into swift action or fearful compliance. That was the true purpose of Ethics - to leash the greater weapons in the NIS arsenal, while recognizing that it might actually become necessary to nuke the village to save it.

Even though Jerai did not like his job, he would do it. His social conscience was too highly developed to do anything else. He had done his time in the Ethics hot seat.

An alert at the Spatial level blossomed upward through Security and into Threat Trackers. Key players were in motion. Captain Amy Tsai (Mass Destruction Desk, California Highway Patrol) was moving Alan Anderson off the UC Stanford campus and into the Linear Accelerator research complex.

That was interesting. Threat Trackers had a huge pile of threads running just on Anderson. One was titled: "Alan: Threat or Menace?" NIS had its own conclusion. He was firmly tagged as a White Hat.

UC Stanford contracted with NIS mostly for minor matters, on competitive bid. They were also old fashioned, and preferred to keep their crown jewels in house.

One of the first NIS contracts had been with the defunct US Department of Energy. DoE had gone the way of all governments, but the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center had not. Big Science was still interesting and new discoveries still happened. And NIS had the contract for SLAC.

Jerai would eat his hat - if he had a hat - if the Mastermind had managed to corrupt anything at SLAC. There was enough institutional paranoia and outside auditing of a priceless research asset to prevent that at least.

But SLAC was not really designed to be protected against external threats, not like Livermore or Sandia or Vandenburg. Sure, it was underground, but not by much. The physical security was OK. Better than UC Stanford, but only because fewer people had legitimate need for access.

However, the network security was - in the humble opinion of its provider, NIS - really, really good. No one wanted to take the hit for losing a particle accelerator because some juvker in North Fargone, Nowhere wanted to play Doom 17 with its supercomputer.

Jerai could feel the shift in the room as NIS adapted to the new threats - and potentials - of the move.

The dome turned off. The room went dark.

That should not have been possible, was Jerai's first thought. His second - which he could not explain then or later - was to leap from the top of the Pyramid and hop down two levels of desks. Neither his VR nor his augmented night vision worked. He was in perfect darkness.

The screaming began.

The Standard Operating Procedure forbade two people to be in VR. Their normal station was by either entry door, like statue displays of ancient (but modern) arms and armor. But Jerai somehow sensed that they - a leftover remnant of an age of horror now decades past - had been the first to die.

Emergency lights came on. A black clad figure with a long knife had just finished disembowling Corporate, whose intestines now stretched across her desk.

Just the one assassin - but the one had been enough. A trail of bodies, starting with the two door guards (on opposite sides of the room!), through North America, up through Threat Trackers (and leaving a knot of blood and death), then to the four minds that could take Jerai's place.

Ethics brained the ninja with her chair. She kept slamming the chair into the ninja's head over and over again until they stopped moving.

Jerai stood up where he had landed, between Energy and Prenatal Health, and ignoring the long slice where the blade had scored across his ribs, forced his VR to reboot through physical contact with the desks.

It worked.

But it was far too late.
drewkitty: (Default)
As we ran, I thought about the lots of moving parts that we had in this game, or should I say Great Game, for all the marbles.

Somewhere, probably on Earth given his recent sighting in once had been Southern California, we have the Mastermind. A very crazy man, bent on world domination of a world that had thought itself at long last free of tyrants, traitors, terrorists and other trash.

(San San does not have terrorists. We have mentally ill people who need help. Once in a great while, one of them manages to kill enough people for San San to notice. This is sad. No one has any sympathy, or agrees in their absurd cause, or is willing to help them do anything but get the therapy they need. Thus, no terrorism. We won the War on Terror, yes we did, but we had to get through a lot of craziness to get there.)

In some other places, both on Earth and off it, we have bases for the Mastermind. We've taken down two - Utah and Monrovia. One had been a biolab capable of hatching some nastiness, which we were only starting to counter. There are tenuous electronic traces of at least three more. But for real privacy, any serious capability has to be in either the Asteroid Belt or the Outer System. I was betting on Jupiter orbit.

We also have the opposite of bases, which are traps - areas the Mastermind has thoughtfully rigged, far in advance, to hurt his opponents. Such as a tower full of traps in Santa Clara. Likely a lot more. Time to plan, failure to plan is planning to fail, all that. But he would run out of traps before we ran out of people. Hopefully.

We also have his weapons - lots of weapons, mostly biological, but the Mastermind had shown an unnerving ability to hack the orbital laser network - which is full of the best protections and code we have. He'd executed at least three laser strikes on an inhabited, populated area and caused casualties with each. The words being thrown around on the Threat Trackers board were 'impossible' and 'hideously unlikely' and 'odds less than one in a million.' He'd done it three times that we knew of.

He didn't get anything much into UC Stanford. If the best he could do was changing out the meds on the crash carts, there's little danger of something suddenly making all of us chunky salsa from _inside_ the campus. From outside was another problem.

Defending a fixed point on a planetary surface is really hard. A guy up on a cliff (space) can throw rocks, or nukes, or other crap, at a guy standing on the beach below (the planet surface). Defense is really hard and offense is really easy.

One of the best military minds of our admittedly decadent civilization had said, essentially, get out while you can.

So we did. But the options were not attractive:

1) Leave UC Stanford. Probably a good idea. But we knew it was a primary target for the Mastermind anyway. Go elsewhere in capsules. Maybe in San San, maybe continental, maybe global. Stay out of underwater cities. Avoid air travel, see below.

2) Leave the planet Earth. A major chunk of Threat Trackers was watching all Earth departures for traces of the Mastermind. He might just blow the damn thing up - which in the mid 21st century is not actually all that hard to do. So getting off the planet was probably a good idea.

But Earth departures are vulnerable to the laser network, on purpose. And we'd had the seed planted in people's minds that _I_ might be the Mastermind. That wacky, crazy theory just might get enough votes to vaporize any aerodyne craft I was known to be on. Just in case. Because there are lots of people as eccentric as "Alan Anderson" out there, but only one Mastermind. Also only one me. So no.

3) Leave near Earth space. Might not get to go far enough - if he has the stellar doomsday weapon I'd intuited. Trying to leave might get him to set it off.

But he didn't have his stellar bomb yet. If he did, all he had to do was 1) announce it 2) prove it and 3) accept everyone's abject surrender. Except me. I'd die first. Maybe it would get easier with the practice I'd had yesterday.

The induced brain cancer was a tool, not just for genocide but for taking control of smart people. Such as people that could make his crazy big toys, such as a stellar bomb.

4) Leave the Inner System. Slow, obvious, takes months of constant boost - and plays right into his hands, probably on his turf. Certainly on his turf unless we hide in the Belt. But you can't command or defend the Inner System from the Belt.

The joy of smartware is that you can compose, send off and consider complex documents in about as fast as it takes you to think them up.

Amy said "COPY" and sent me back her thoughts. They were in a different format.

Strategic Summary

Scene Size-Up -- This is the big one, folks. The System.

Axis of Threat -- Can come out of the woodwork.

Motive -- Insane. Meglomaniac rule everything and break everything else.

Psychology -- Probably sociopath. Probably not psychopath. Not enjoying his work enough.

Our Allies -- Everyone. Protocol Enforcement. All the agencies. MarsCorp.

Our Enemies -- Anyone the Mastermind might have had two decades to compromise. See woodwork.

Vulnerabilities -- We care what happens. He doesn't care how many he kills. He's had years to game this out.

Opportunities -- He's one man. "No man, no problem." We are under enormous pressure to solve this one quick. Many, many minds catching up with his pre-planned plays. When he is off his recipe, we win.

Our Weapons

- Laser Network
- The Agencies - All on Maximum Alert Status
- Protocol Enforcement ??? play their own game as usual, but worst threat in a decade
- Mantle of Authority, "We're the good guys"
- Big Frickin' Rocks - if we get consensus on where to drop one
- Threat Trackers
- Henchman Prizes - rewards generally, buy him out - already have a lot of good informant data
- Alan Anderson - might just outthink the SOB

His Weapons

- Laser Network - also :(
- strategic brain cancer
-- hard to cure, not impossible
-- weak and strong strains - Alan and I are alive because of this, others are dead.
-- deliberate?!?
- trying to weaponize for mass activation - bio, audio, visual or radio trigger
- bioagricultural - Rice Blast - it's real, the Triads are afraid of it
- space fighters - a base - Belt or Outer - self sustaining
- stealth space tech?? LOOK INTO - thought gravitics made impossible
- psychwar - compromising agents to fight reputation, CalFire firefighter

I sent an acknowledge and we kept running, with help from slidewalks and the occasional buffet from a defense field. Into the SLAC particle accelerator lab.

Ahhhh. Good choice.
drewkitty: (Default)
"Captain Tsai, can we be sure that we have identified and neutralized the Mastermind's remaining agents in this room?"

We had a renowned psychologist now starring as chunky salsa wrapped in quickfoam to establish my need to ask that question.

I also hoped to panic the remaining agent(s) into revealing themselves. The energy projector felt very heavy on my left wrist.

I had read the manual - carefully - when it had first been given to me as part of a battlesuit. It was designed for smartware control, like any other rationally designed device in San San, but had a manual control. My right index finger rested lightly on the stud, as if casually.

Yes, I was trusting Bao a lot. The gauntlet hadn't killed me yet, and Samantha hadn't taken a second glance at it - her usual warning that she wanted it checked by something smarter than her.

I was trusting Amy - she was standing behind me now that I had taken over the meeting. She had already demonstrated this morning that she was a crack shot, and warned that she was very ready to selectively kill if necessary.

But I was very ready to literally incinerate everyone else in the room, mixing sinners and saviors alike, at the literal push of a button. Matters were that serious and all of us were expendable.

"A lot of issues have been raised but we need to cut to the heart of them. First we prevent the genocides. Then we neutralize the Mastermind. Then we argue over resources and costs."

"Genocides?" one of the Fedhobbyists asked - the same Public Health physician who diagnosed my exposure to a mild case of biowar a very long day agao.

"Stick with me for the count. Genocide 1: induced brain cancer as a present for anyone the Mastermind doesn't like. Genocide 2: two stage activation, dormant phase and active phase. Genocide 3: Rice Blast, which never should have existed in the first place. Genocide 4: he almost certainly has a fallback plan to blow the planet. Probably Doomsday Device. But I want to talk to an expert in stellar dynamics ASAP. Humanity would probably survive losing Terra, but the only thing that could bake the Inner System would be messing with the Sun direct."

The Dean of Sciences spoke up. "That's why Stanford!"

"Indeed." It was an open secret, so open that no one really thought about it, that UC Stanford was the best in the theoretical sciences. That included plasma studies, nuclear physics, electromagnetic theory, and all the other weirdness that goes into stellar phenomena. But they only had the one local star to study, unless you count Jupiter.

Jupiter. Shit. Stealthed space attack fighters.

I spoke as if casually. "Amy, who is doing our orbital overwatch?"

"UC Stanford Accident Control."

"Not good enough. We need heavy metal, and we need it fast. He has a base in the Outer System."

Amy was standing close enough behind me that I could sense her face pale.

Even Utopia has its limits. Let me digress into a brief course on interplanetary geography.

We divide the Solar System into two approximate zones. The Inner System: Mercury, Venus, Earth (hi!), and Mars - plus the moons of the same, and the occasional wandering asteroid or comet. The Outer System: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. And Pluto, dammit! [ERROR: Pluto is not a recognized planet, at 39 AU this non-planet object is not part of the Outer System.] Override, you pesky piece of not very smart ware!

Anyway. The Inner System is mostly occupied by people, and a lot of hardware. Earth and its orbits (mostly LEO and GEO - orbital littering is enforced by lasers, one of the major reasons for their existence), the L points and the Moon are very inhabited. MarsCorp has a lock on Mars space. Venus and Mercury have research labs and a few small orbital colonies. There are ground bases on both but even our technology has trouble keeping up with Venus conditions, and living on the back side of Mercury is not very interesting. Visit at your own significant risk. However, all of the Inner System was intensely self policing and very obvious, like a cat trying to cover up on a concrete floor.

The Outer System is occupied by a few robots and not very many people. So if you wanted to hide something, it was really your best bet. The fact that the only _other_ quasi-stellar object you could study at length was Jupiter was icing on the cake.

The Asteroid Belt lies between the Inner and Outer Systems, about 1.3 to 2.3 AU from earth. (An AU or Astronomical Unit is the distance between Earth and the Sun. Egotistical bastards, aren't we?) There is a lot of activity in the Asteroid Belt but it's a lot more disorganized. Effectively lawless. If you didn't like Protocol, and you had the moxie to get out before Protocol had a chance to express its dislike of you, the Asteroid Belt was the place to go hide. The survivors of the Scientology Wars, the Mormons, the Moonies, the Afghans and radical Islamists had a number of mostly small, mostly struggling colonies. So anything entering and leaving the Belt was watched, especially by Threat Trackers. But the Belt is a big, big place.

Ever since the stealthed space attack on UC Stanford yesterday, I'd been wondering - where had they launched from? It was really hard to hide anything in local orbits for any length of time - gravity anomaly detection alone would be significant, and everyone in space constantly traded sensor data with each other for the obvious reason that running into something you can't see _hurts_. I'd assumed the Belt because that was least hypothesis.

But we'd _know_ if the attack had come from the Belt, through retroactive analysis of sensor data. So it had come from further out, on trajectories not watched because no one was using them. That meant Outer System and a considerable lead time.

The Mastermind had bitched to me about timing. I was messing up his timing. We had found out too soon.

I'm not a space expert. But I knew people who were.

So while Amy started making frantic calls, arranging for threat coverage of a dot on the surface of a spinning ball we call home, I made a call.

"Hey Stewart. It's Alan."

"This better be good, I just paused a fleet action."

Stewart was a gamer, specializing in space navy wargaming. He lived on the ragged edge of VR addiction without going over - mostly because it would interfere with his gaming.

A generation ago, he'd have been an Admiral. We didn't have those any more.

"It's good. Base in the Outer System, established between 10 and 30 years ago. Capable of manufacturing small space fighters, the type used in the attack on UC Stanford yesterday. Minimum 1000 residents. Also doing stellar research on Jupiter and working on Big Physics, like sunbombs. They're attacking in strength, time now. What can we do?"

"Interesting scenario. Not sure anyone's thought of that one before," Stewart said while munching on something crispy. "Assuming they have not just 3D printers but molecular processing - our tech base - and you said a thousand residents? Self sustaining research and fighter base? So they could have an Academy? Hmmm... wait a second. You don't game. Not a hypothetical.

"About five years ago, we had a flurry of gamers with long lag times. Play by mail types, you know? Thought they were Belt colonists. They were really good, kicked our asses. A lot. Figured they got bored and wandered off, most people do. Passed off what we had to Protocol and forgot about it.

"Alan, I gotta make some calls. This is Real Serious Shit. For God's sake don't put this on Threat Trackers yet, they're certainly watching for it."

"One last thing. They really, really want to kill UC Stanford. I mean, bad, they'll take losses to do it. Any defensive measures?"

"Yeah. Be elsewhere. I mean, really, be elsewhere. Why are you still talking to me?"

Stewart disconnected.

Flashing arrows lit on the floor again and we started following them at frail human speeds. Samantha waited until I was in motion then loped along just behind.

Life on the run.
drewkitty: (Default)
Civil Intelligence?

The meeting re-convened in a basement. The area had been hastily cleared of stored furniture components. Even when you have 3D printers and the ability to reconfigure at will, stuff still piles up, and UC Stanford Space Planning had a _lot_ of space they weren't using, sandwiched in between all the space they were.

Dr. Krismurti was deceased. But the issue he'd raised was still very much alive.

"OK, folks, we now have to go back to the Civil Intelligence component."

One of the nurses stood up. In a public meeting, this was a conventional way of becoming recognized. In this meeting, it drew laser eyes from Samantha - which is understandable, as she is a KittenBot - but also from Captain Amy Tsai, CHP.

One of the little known facts about the modern California Highway Patrol is that promotions above Captain are not public. Thus the rank structure seems oddly flat to outsiders - employees, troopers, officers, sergeants, lieutenants and captains -- in increasing order of responsibility and pay. But between Captain and the Commissioner was a void, filled by many, many Captains with various roles and responsibilities.

It occurred to me suddenly that Captain Amy might be a lot more than she first appeared. Not in charge of Vallejo Barracks, say, but someone who worked on special projects.

"Why are we so concerned with Mr. Anderson? Why not leave his hearing to the normal process and move forward with what is important, stopping this madman Colonel Mastermind?"

Amy glanced carefully around the room. The half of us in the room who were combat trained tensed, seeing her hand position. She was very ready to draw her smartgun and open fire.

"Because he is key to stopping the Mastermind. I am not prepared to go into detail at this time. The sheer amount of effort that has gone into trying to kill him is proof of that. I also irritated the Mastermind - but he did not target me personally with three orbital laser barrages. Nor did he compromise at least three secret agents trying to kill Alan for no reason."

This was a bit of a revelation. I'd assumed, apparently wrongly, that Captain Amy had suffered as bad a day as I had.

Other people also showed a reaction, but Amy decided not to kill anyone for it, at least yet.

"Normally, the outcome of a Civil Intelligence Hearing is obvious to everyone in the room. The accused can choose to be tried by a randomly selected single magistrate, by a council of three - one selected by the accused, one by the trial authority, and a third acceptable to the first two - or the accused can choose to be tried by a jury, as in criminal proceedings.

"I had hoped to use a jury of the whole, as we did to clear him of the criminal matters. However, we have an objection on the record from his attorney and an expert witness statement - however motivated - in favor of remand.

"Does Alan - or his attorney - have any preference?"

Again my lawyer earned his ridiculously large pay.

"Alan - I'd counsel you _not_ to accept a random magistrate in a matter this serious. If we convene a council, we have the awkward problem that there is no trial authority. Or let me ask you, Captain Tsai ... is CHP bringing the Civil Intelligence charge? Or what agency or activity is?"

Amy looked momentarily stricken.

"After such extraordinary events, it's normally automatic. Second use of a smartgun in 24 hours, a felony charge involving violence, illegal possession of proscribed weapons, negative involvement in a mass casualty event . . ."

"He's just been cleared of the felony charges," my attorney pressed. "The 'second use of a smartgun' rule is normally applied by San San. CHP is one of three hundred-odd registered policing organizations in San San. Is CHP bringing that charge? UC Stanford Safety can't, it's outside their jurisdiction. The first smartgun use was in CalFire primary jurisdiction, a former state park. They've already filed a demurrer - the use was appropriate to the conditions. The second smartgun use was actually in a tower in the City of Santa Clara, who subscribes to Bay Area Safety Team. Is BART bringing the charge then? They don't have a representative here. Besides, he drew but did not actually fire. How about San Francisco PD? They would seem the most involved party. But they _refused_ to send a representative, stating that preliminary review showed that Alan's actions were lawful. As for negative involvement in a mass casualty event, my client was _shot at_ - and not through any fault of his own. I'm going right back to my starting position - the need for a hearing has not actually been established."

Amy opened an external link and subvocalized a conversation with someone, probably CHP Legal.

"I have just been informed that the civil intelligence hearing never properly opened. Therefore the expert testimony is stricken. However, I have just been informed that CHP is in fact initiating the trial here, and that I am to serve as the adversary representative."

I blinked.

My attorney snorted.

"Very well, _I_ will serve as my client's representative. Who shall we pick for the third? I object to anyone who works for CalFire, CHP or UC Stanford. You presumably object to anyone who works for Alan, which leaves out Kinetic Solutions and the Fedhobbyists. That doesn't leave much left over."

I spoke up.

"I recommend Bao."

My attorney looked at me in horror. "Who is Bao?"

"Accepted!" Amy said at once.

A few minutes later, a short Asian man wearing a ridiculously expensive business suit was escorted into the room. He looked very different from the 'humble seller of meats' I'd so often bought anonymous cooked meats from. He completely owned the room. Everyone stared.

"Testimony I reviewed on the way here. Alan? Crazy? Crazy like fox maybe, but not crazy like dangerous. Do you think I give just anyone experimental exoskeleton with enhancements?"

He handed me a gauntlet I recognized. Energy charge and dump system. Not a weapon, technically, but as useful for handling energy as a sledgehammer or baseball bat is for hitting things.

"Try not to lose this time. Took much effort to find on a rooftop in San Francisco. Now slightly modified. You can wear on your arm, as so." He fastened it, then turned to the crowd.

"I vote no. Alan's attorney votes no. Amy votes however she wants, does not matter. Hearing ended."

"Oh, and I have now five offers from Mastermind. I sell meats, I do not rule China - and would not so much as cook a soy dog for murderous Colonel who weaponized Rice Blast. Good bye, good luck. Oh wait, UC Stanford, transfer five billion credits to disaster fund. Please work on same."

He bowed and left. The Dean of Medicine blinked as the credit transfer hit. She started subvocalizing, carrying out the intent of Bao's donation.

"Rice Blast?" someone asked.

"Bio-agricultural weapon," I replied. "Interferes in the growing cycle of rice. If it got out and could not be countered, would be annoying for San San and very awkward for China. Last century it would have killed billions of people, even if it didn't start a nuclear war."

Amy pointed out, "This is exactly why we need Alan. He knew that _without consulting any ware_."

Point to Amy.

The gauntlet felt very heavy on my left arm. Considering it carried a 20 mJ power supply and corresponding defense fields - including the ability to fire, I mean dump energy, without frying me - I was surprised it was not heavier.

I could literally shoot down a satellite with it, if I could hold my arm still enough.

"Who was that guy?" someone else asked.

"He's a street griller in San Jose North," I said in a tone that brooked no contradiction.

Amy motioned me up front to take over the meeting.
drewkitty: (Default)
I am increasingly using the hashtag #operativelivesmatter in reference to various weirdnesses.

This begs the question. What is an operative? We'll skip the _Serenity_ character and the telephone call center job.

Because of over use in the military spec-ops community, a lot of folks are calling themselves operators who don't know any better. See here for a discussion: https://bradrtorgersen.wordpress.com/2014/03/18/so-who-gets-to-be-an-operator/

Back when Colonel Charlie Beckwith was stealing the SAS from the Brits in the late '70s to form what would become SFOD-D ("Delta Force"), he tripped over a problem.

Officers represent a government. Agents act on behalf of a government. Enlisted, even NCOs, do what the fuck they are told. But Charles wanted to send enlisted people to strange places and authorize them to do really unpleasant things to bad people - on their own initiative and good judgment, with nary an officer in sight. Scary stuff for hidebound military types.

So they borrowed the term 'operator' to describe an enlisted man who would, much like pointing a crew served weapon, bring great harm to the enemies of America.

There's another community - other than the military - that kills people and blows stuff up with the approval of the government. That's the intelligence community. CIA has an Operations division. 'Nuff said.

Some of these people are officers. Others are agents. Then there are the other folks. The ones who do the shit too dangerous for a paycheck, in fucked up places you get to on shitty aircraft, and hope to leave in the cabin (even with tubes in your arms) instead of a pine box in the hold.

#operativelivesmatter

And no, not me, not ever.

Here's to the operatives.
drewkitty: (Default)
Different states do it different ways; that is the point of having a Cairo Protocol at all. But every signatory has a process for determining whether someone is safe to wander the streets, drooling or not as they choose.
In San San we call this a "civil intelligence hearing." It is not, and I must emphasize, NOT a criminal matter. You don't have to do anything wrong to be on the wrong side of a civil intelligence hearing - but as a practical matter, you have to fuck up a LOT. In public. Spectacularly.
My blood ran cold, thinking about yesterday. An unfairly horrible day, true, but one fraught with the kind of perils that would arouse legitimate social interest.
So I was half expecting it when Doctor Krismurti said immediately, "I recommend to remand."
Huge crowd buzz ... especially considering that there were twenty-seven people present, who had just voted to acquit me of two felonies.
Captain Amy's face ... froze. She took a deep breath without seeming to move her lungs.
"Doctor Krismurti, would you kindly expand on that?"
"Certainly. Referencing the DSM-33, Alan clearly suffers from several psychiatric disorders. Paranoia, meglomania, social exclusion disorder, social disaffection disorder. These would be relatively harmless if he were a relatively normal individual. But he is not. He is wealthy, powerful and very intelligent. Recent events have thrust him not only into the public spotlight, but put him through a sequence of events that demand examination for post traumatic stress disorder. Certainly his fitness to carry a smartgun is in question."
The gentle reader can now see why I ... dislike ... psychiatrists, psychologists, priests, peddlers, panhandlers and other petty crooks.
"OBJECTION!" boomed my attorney. "Patient client privilege!"
"Already waived," the good Doctor pointed out, smugly.
I tapped my nose. The Sergeant who had asked me the pointed questions earlier got really busy with his smartware.
"I am willing to bet that I can qualify and depose a hundred expert witnesses to cancel out this ridiculous libel."
"That just proves your client has money," Dr. Krismurti retorted.
"It's not paranoia when someone really is out to get you, _Doctor_," I said heavily. "You're fired."
"My credentials as an expert witness do not depend on employment."
The Stanford Safety Director was having a whispered conversation with the Dean of Medicine. The latter stood up.
"Dr. Krismurti, you're fired."
He turned as pale as his complexion would let him.
"On what grounds?!?"
"UC Stanford Code of Ethics violations. Your access privileges to the hospital are also revoked. Get out."
He started to get up and Captain Amy coughed slightly.
"He stays until the end of this hearing. Regardless of his employment status, he is an expert witness and he will be heard out. Pray continue."
The UC Stanford staff sighed slightly. I'd have to look it up - and I didn't want to take the time - but I suspected this had been the first verbal termination of a Stanford physician in a decade.
"I am ... or was ... one of this hospital's leading clinical psychologists on socio-psychological disorders. I have testified in literally hundreds of civil intelligence hearings and over a dozen exile cases. I bear no ill will towards either Mr. Anderson or UC Stanford. I would be remiss in my duties as a physician if I did not state my very real concerns about Alan's fitness to function in society."
"Time is short, Doctor. Be specific."
"Mr. Anderson's psychological profile is all over the chart, but is dominated by the relationship between power and fear. In an age where less than 1% of the public choose to carry deadly weapons, he does. Instead of pursuing hobbies or interests, he alternates between two unhealthy obsessions - proving his freedom by getting into trouble, and interfering in other people's business using volunteerism as an excuse. He has few friends, no lovers, and sublimates his need for affection using a companion bot."
Samantha flicked an ear at him. He didn't notice.
"He doesn't even maintain his own cubic! Instead, he wanders like a homeless person from hall to hall, treating San San as his own personal play pen."
He was watching me closely. I listened but ignored him. I could tell how much that bothered him. I refused to feed his need to feel important - so he was getting his revenge.
"Last but not least, people are dead because he did not turn matters over to the proper authorities!"
"Actually, he did," Captain Amy chided. "Please confine your remarks to your areas of expertise, Doctor."
Zing!
"A remand is not a punishment, but a recognition that someone cannot function in society safely. I suggest that Alan be remanded to the UC Stanford campus. Clearly I will not be his clinician, but I hope that among the faculty, someone can be found who can handle his phobias!"
"Thank you, Doctor, that will be all."
The room erupted with people trying to get the floor.
My lawyer won again. This is why he gets the big bucks.
"Doctor, I note for the record that you are a member of Doctors Against Violence. DAV has a policy that its members do not treat permit holders. In addition to whatever UC Stanford policies you violated, you also violated the guidelines of that professional association by accepting Alan's case. I submit that this is proof of your bias sufficient to dismiss your credibility."
Zing!
The Dean of Medicine spoke up. "Actually, the ethics violation for which we fired Dr. Krismurti is not ... directly ... tied to Alan's care. We find dual employment to be a conflict of interest..."
Something happened too fast to see. Samantha's eyes flashed but returned to normal.
Dr. Krismurti was now wrapped in a personal ball of quickfoam. Two UC Stanford security guards stepped forward and started rolling him out.
"Our internal investigation determined that he pulled strings to be assigned to Alan's case. Further investigation determined that he has been an agent of the Mastermind for about a year now. We were looking for a chance to prove this, and found it.
"Please review your ware, citizens."
I couldn't. So I remained mute.
Then the quickfoam ball got a lot larger very suddenly, and blew up. The guards dived clear, just in time.
Yuck.
Flashing arrows on the ground lit and all of us ran down the path indicated, getting us out of the danger area.
Apparently, Dr. Krismurti lacked sufficient paranoia to survive in our Itty Bitty Bigger World.
He'd been rigged - probably without his knowledge - as a suicide bomb.
Awkward.
drewkitty: (Default)
A set of surgical scrubs later (which the KittenBot insisted on scanning, which looks to other people like pawing at something), the Safety Director brought me my own brand new UC Stanford ID. Patients don't normally get IDs, but apparently I'm now a "CONSULTANT" - along with the FPS Marines, my outer perimeter security team (which hadn't thought of scanning UC Stanford robotics for threats - although they would now), my attorneys and other varied hangers-on.

Captain Amy wore her CHP ID instead. On her, surgical scrubs looked good. I noted that she was wearing a heavy belt with two holstered smartguns, both on her right side. One looked very familiar.

I clipped on my new ID and said "Thank you" to the Safety Director, who now was wearing a holstered smartgun of his own.

Understand that in the mid 21st century, one person carrying one smartgun is a really odd abnormality. My smartgun license - unusual to put it mildly - was for concealed carry, not open carry. Worldwide, there was increasing pressure for policing organizations to decrease the ratio of armed to unarmed personnel. CalFire for example maintained its policing status but less than 1 in 20 personnel carried a weapon - mostly arson, hazmat and illegal printing investigators. CHP was on the high side with all troopers and higher carrying arms at all times - but traffic accident investigators, road checkpoint inspectors, etc. did not carry. Network Integrity Solutions was mostly hackers but had teams of door kickers on standby in most urban areas.

In a quick hallway conversation, we had rejected the three most obvious places to hold this meeting - the auditorium, the executive boardroom and the nearest classrooms. We needed someplace secure, quiet and suitable for a long talk. Restroom facilities would be nice. Not having the toilet vaporize anyone because it had been hacked would be even nicer.

So a block of evacuated patient rooms on the fringe of the blast area would do. A prior attack by the Mastermind had managed to get a single missile into the side of the hospital, targeting Captain Amy and myself. We had escaped - but the "equivalent of a ton of conventional explosive" had killed about fifty people, evenly split between patients and staff. Defense fields, quickfoam and other emergency measures had kept the death toll much lower than in the horrible 20th century, when so much explosive would have dropped the hospital and killed hundreds if not thousands.

Still, UC Stanford had a strict "No Smartguns" policy that I'd tread heavily on earlier. Now their own Safety Director was carrying.

In San San, UC Stanford was the tail that wagged the dog. Across the world, UC Stanford was one of the three best providers of medical care in the Solar System, and by far the best on Earth despite the disadvantages of gravity. By any standard of power - wealth, energy, votes, data - UC Stanford was the bomb.

Now they had been bombed and they were wicked pissed.

Captain Amy coughed, drank a glass of water -- really water this time -- and walked behind the nurse station desk, which we were using as a podium. Everyone else including myself was seated in a circle, mostly on folding chairs.

"Attention, gentlefolks. I am Captain Amy Tsai of the California Highway Patrol, a registered policing organization under contract to San San Arcology. UC Stanford is a founding member of San San Arcology and the protection of UC Stanford is a CHP mandate. I have been asked to review key safety points before we can get this meeting started, and then to chair the meeting as we work through a very long and serious agenda."

Faces were serious. People were paying attention. However a lot of people in the room had smartware and were accustomed to working during meetings, which was good. We had a lot of work cut out for us.

"UC Stanford Accident Control is Incident Command for Threats-External. Contributing agencies include CHP, Coast Guard, Calfire, Federal Protective Service - under an unusual arrangement I must add, Network Integrity Solutions and last but not least, Protocol Enforcement."

This last was serious business. Protocol Enforcement had formally joined the party. If Protocol Enforcement said it was about to start raining frankfurters, you wanted to light your grill and bring the buns.

"CHP and UC Stanford Safety Department have established Unified Command for Threats-Internal. I am in an oversight role but also carrying Incident Command for CQB. That means that I am in charge of security in this room. Folks, I mean this. If I give you an order and you don't obey it," her voice rose, "I will fucking shoot you dead. I've had a bad day and I have the full legal authority to do exactly that."

Everyone nodded.

"And if I don't, it's quite likely that Alan Anderson's KittenBot will do it first. With concurrence from Protocol Enforcement, we've activated Criticality Mode in that particular bot. That means it can autonomously initiate deadly force - at its discretion! - should it perceive a deadly threat to anyone in the room. That's a very serious step but given recent attacks, I chose to authorize it."

The KittenBot was perched on what had been a wall mount for airway management equipmment before the blast had sheared it off. Its eyes swiveled ceaselessly. But a KittenBot does not need sight to detect threats.

"Only use the restroom at the back. It's the only one we've safed. Areas you need to stay out of are marked with smart tape. Water will be provided by the dispenser protected by the nice FPS and CHP guards standing next to it. Do not use other taps. We've arranged for food delivery. Don't eat any other food in the meantime."

"I apologize that all of you had to be wanded and body searched, and some items confiscated. But given the threat level, I decided it was necessary. If you leave, you will not be permitted to return. This is also a necessity. I'm going to turn emergency procedures over to Dr. Kinkaid."

She stood up but did not take the podium.

"UC Stanford personnel, Code procedures are suspended for the duration of this meeting. In particular, Code Brown and Code Silver will be met with deadly force by Threats-Internal. If we have a Code Red, we will evacuate as directed by the nice young folks in battlesuits standing at the entry doors and windows. I understand that which escape method we use will be selected at the last moment. Follow the flashing arrows and Do Not Stop To Think.

"If we have a Code Blue in this room, I will be the lead medical provider and I will select my assistants by voice. Please, please PLEASE restrain your natural and trained tendency to get up and help. If we have a medical and someone other than someone I select tries to help, either Captain Amy or the KittenBot will shoot you, and that would be very sad. We will work any Code Blue in this room and only with equipment that has already been safed.

"We have found out the hard way that some of the crash carts - in particular the meds administered by CPR bots - were tampered with. Two fatalities have resulted. We don't want any more."

Back to Captain Amy.

"I regret that we are trampling everyone's rights and monitoring all communications into and out of this room. We will be at some point discussing classified matters. When we do, we will be activating defense fields and cutting off comms for that discussion. I will let you know first. Any questions?"

"Are all these precautions necessary?" asked a woman in surgical scrubs. Her ID said she was a nurse in biopharmacology.

"Yes. Further questions?"

"Why is UC Stanford a target in all this?"

"That gets into the meeting agenda. We need to take certain things in a certain order. Are there any safety related questions?"

Silence. "OK, meeting agenda. First is discharging Alan Anderson as a patient. Second is convening and closing a criminal investigation under Cairo Protocol into certain matters. These are minor matters but we need Alan's further assistance with the rest of the agenda. Third is a Mastermind status update. Fourth is biopathogen disaster protocols. Fifth is San San's take on all this. Sixth is the right of media access and inquiry under Cairo Protocol. Seventh is budget, how are we going to allocate costs for this disaster? Then a bunch of other minor matters.

"I'll take the Mastermind status update out of order. He's alive."

Crowd growl.

"An ad hoc but very powerful entry went in at Monrovia, California based on a bot net trace and found what we can only call a secret lair. We captured several of the Mastermind's employees and almost - almost! got him with laser fire. Unfortunately he had a personal capsule and was able to get out on the San San network before we got a trace on him. We did get a DNA profile from a blood trail, and therefore an identity."

Crowd rustle. A face and profile appeared in the air, holographic imaging.

"Meet Doctor Samuel Simpson, former US Army Colonel in biological warfare. In the teens he commanded a facility in Utah and another in Maryland. Under the Cairo Protocol both facilities were shut down and demilitarized in 2033 - or so everyone thought. In fact he cleared them out, marked them demilled, and appropriated them to his use. Officially he died in 2037 of VR addiction. We now know that he is alive as of today. This is very bad news."

"Protocol Enforcement now has him formally logged as Public Enemy Number One. Normally we'd expect to find his dead body within 24 hours. Protocol has posted a one hundred billion processor credit award for information leading to his verified death or secure capture."

Now _that_ was serious money. Call it ten years of UC Stanford's budget.

"He has been verified to be directly responsible for over sixty deaths here at UC Stanford, another two hundred odd deaths in San Francisco from misuse of orbital lasers, numerous assassinations including of CHP officers and San San public officials, and probably a lot more. Protocol is seriously debating whether it would be safer to kill him or capture him. That's on our agenda too, but at the bottom.

"Back to Alan. Doctors, can we discharge him as a patient?"

"Subject to the same compromise under which you were discharged. Come see us, try not to die, and so on."

"Done. Second issue. I'm going to use you folks as an ad hoc jury of the whole. Alan Anderson, you are accused of two serious crimes under Protocol. The first is unlawful possession of a hold out nerve disruptor. The second is the killing of a San Francisco Police Officer. This is also a civil intelligence hearing. You have used a smartgun several times yesterday. An automatic civil intelligence hearing is triggered the second time a smartgun is used in 24 hours. Do you consent to these proceedings?"

A dapper man in a business suit, also wearing a holstered smartgun, stood up. "I am Klause Dawmer, attorney of record for Alan Anderson. Move to strike civil intelligence proceedings. I have already posted a ten million processor credit performance bond that Alan's public conduct will not be a charge on the public purse."

"Ten million?" an accountant scoffed. "Ten million won't cover the damage to this complex!"

"Not his fault," my attorney replied. "Cost allocation is later on the agenda. A civil intelligence hearing is when a person, through their conduct, so endangers the persons or property of others that their movements must be restricted by law. I'll fight that hearing if I have to, but I am moving to strike on the merits - the hearing is not necessary. People v. Jones."

"Esquire Dawmer, I understand your position, and I am asking that we try Alan here and now to dispose of this matter - not to have it held in abeyance by bond," Amy replied. "On the Cairo matters, we have no choice - he cannot act as a member of a registered policing organization with charges over his head. Allowing him to operate under bond would prejudice future actions, and we have very little margin for errors here."

My lawyer having done his job - giving me time to think - I spoke up.

"Charge 1, unlawful possession of a hold out nerve disruptor, I will plead not guilty by exercise of police power, ad hoc emergency, deadly self defense, and lack of intent to possess based on accidental possession. There is a lot of case law on that last point - even a convicted felon can possess a power weapon under certain criteria, and the incident hits all of them. Charge 2, not guilty due to bright line self defense. The officer in question had just murdered a San Francisco Police Officer and was about to murder me as well. I used deadly force in self defense because lesser means could have been inadequate, no flight was possible and local jurisdiction does not require flight in any case. Grossly illegal conduct by an officer invalidates peace officer protections. If he had survived, he would be facing both charges I am faced with, and overwhelmingly guilty of both."

"Folks, as a jury of the whole, I see more than twelve residents of San San present. You have the right to ask questions, review video, and register your vote."

"Motion for urgency provisions, motion to limit debate, motion for summary judgment," my attorney stated.

"Granted, all three. Folks, your trial of this matter is now open. Trial may be closed by a simple majority vote of persons present. We then vote, and the vote is binding. Conviction requires three-quarters of those present. Declaration of innocence requires three-quarters of persons present. In between is an urgency mistrial and remands to court and formal jury selection."

I looked around at the jury of my peers. They were mostly glassy-eyed, looking at video.

"Mr. Anderson, Sergeant Faulk, Kinetic Solutions. Just to clarify, were you armed when the subject attacked you?"

"No, I was not."

"Why did you not shoot him with his own weapon?"

"I did not have time to see what it was. As you know, many weapons are coded only to authorized users. Some have fail deadlies as well."

"Would you have felt justified in shooting him with a lethal, instead of bare handed?"

"Yes, absolutely."

"Thank you."

"Mr. Anderson, Doctor Krismurti. Permission to waive patient-client privilege?"

"Yes, Doctor. Your question."

"Your record shows extensive training in hand to hand combat and close quarters battle, also known as CQB. However, your record also shows that most of that training was between 2018 and 2025. Would you characterize your own skills as excellent, good, adequate or poor?"

"Adequate, Doctor. Not good. I am somewhat out of practice in hand to hand."

"Follow up question. The law lags behind our modern understanding of human reactions in time critical situations. Did you consciously decide to kill Officer Scott, or did you discover that you killed him after you had done it?"

"The latter. However, thinking about it consciously shortly thereafter, I concluded that I had made the correct decision for the life threatening circumstances."

"Would you do it again?"

"Given the same circumstances, likely but not certain. I would want to look for a way to assure his disablement. However, I could not guarantee for example that his handcuffs would have worked for me, or that I could have gotten the murdered officer's handcuffs out in time."

"No further."

"Alan," asked Captain Amy, "As a subject matter expert in these matters, I determined yesterday that you were not at fault in this killing. In my opinion he created a set of circumstances which clearly made it either him or you. Would you do it differently next time, knowing that you might be taking a greater risk of losing?"

"That's a hard question, Captain. I know what I did last time. I am willing to risk my life to save someone else's. But he had just killed someone and I couldn't take a chance on him killing again."

"Redirect. Were you on duty or off duty at this time?"

"On duty."

"Redirect. As an on duty peace officer in the San San Arcology, did you have the right to risk your life to attempt to save that of a known killer, who would certainly go on to kill others if you did not stop him?"

"When you put it that way, no, I did not."

"I vote innocent."

There were no more questions. My attorney called for the vote, it passed, and people registered their vote.

Twenty seven persons present, twenty-five voted innocent, two abstained.

"The criminal matters are closed. Protocol Enforcement please take note. I'm now going to open the Civil Intelligence Hearing. Expert testimony first. Doctor Krismurti?"

And that's when the shit hit the punch bowl.
drewkitty: (Default)
"Itty Bitty Bigger World - Waking Up"


I blearily rolled over in bed and looked for my backpack and KittenBot, as I always do when staying in transient housing.

The KittenBot was there, perched on a complex piece of medical equipment that - unusually - was not plugged into anything. She had a gleam in her eye - the specific gleam that said "You used a duress signal, boss, and you're safe, but I have my lasers armed and claws sharpened just in case." Yes, all that in one gleam.

My eye was immediately drawn to the KittenBot shaped hole in the wall. Slight melt indicated that she had cut said hole, but not recently enough that it was still dripping.

The back of the room was full of complex medical equipment. Some of it looked as though it had been hastily unplugged.

I felt like I had been hastily unplugged. Bruises all over in weird spots.

I coughed a little, and nothing bloody came up.

The wall displayed a standard patient graphic for UC Stanford Hospital and Clinic System.

"Anderson, Alan - age 54 - P 65 BP 130/70 - ADMITTED for biopathogen treatment"

Lots of other gobblygook, most of which I can read. So I did so. It admitted that I was in pretty good health for being exposed to complex biotactical pathogens.

The door opened and two people came in, both wearing Stanford standard scrubs and smart IDs identifying them as Doctors.

"I am Doctor Krismurti and this is Doctor Kinkaid. I am your clinical psychologist and she is your internist. You have a lot of questions, I'm sure."

I sighed.

"I'm glad someone at UC Stanford can read. When I wake up in the hospital, I don't want smartware or a biosuite installed, I don't want a cheery happy face on the wall, I do want a standard patient graphic, I don't want my favorite breakfast waiting ... and I want my medical doctor ready to give me a rundown. I hate to be rude, but I don't want and have no use for a psychologist, Dr. Krismurti, any more than I would for a priest."

"Stanford protocols require psychological evaluation for suicide attempts."

I blinked.

"I did read your preference, including your preference for bluntness. You deliberately used a biofeedback command to stop your own heart. Why?"

"Doctor, I was under duress from the Hospital's own systems. Obviously this does not apply at present, otherwise my KittenBot would be cutting more holes than it already seems to have. I assume there is a lot more hardware on the other side of that wall - especially given that my visit yesterday to UC Stanford was as horrible as it was. How much did the recording systems capture?"

The doctor paused. Yes, this was a good time for him to think.

"We were alerted by external parties that we had been hacked. Unfortunately, part of the hacking was directed at our recording systems. We have the gross neurological fact - your heart stopped, and it was after intensively negative brain wave activity - because biomonitoring writes into WORM. We don't have the brainwave interpretations because they were in active memory when we had to pull the plug and put you on portables."

"You are of course recording now. Pay attention." With that, I gave them my version of the encounter with the Mastermind. I concluded with the same thought chain - that as the Mastermind had hacked into my VR, that he had control over the hospital care systems and could kill me at any instant he chose - so I'd better get out from under the threat in the only method available.

"I don't know your qualifications, Doctor, but I'd think that Use of Force - Self Defense Protocol would be most appropriate in this matter. Different risk assessments apply in life threatening situations. I acted to preserve my life, not end it."

"I concur. Doctor Kinkaid?"

"How are you feeling, Mr. Anderson?"

"Moderate headache, about 6 out of 10, consistent with a very stressful day yesterday and unplanned use of VR by a non user. Everything else seems to work."

"Do you feel fit to go to work?"

"Let me get cleaned up, and yes. No breakfast, but some water would be great."

A nursing bot trundled in and extended a tray with a pitcher and glass on it.

The KittenBot hissed at it.

I leapt out of bed immediately to the far corner of the room and discovered that I was dressed in my altogether. You may know it as my birthday suit. The good Doctors could just handle it, if they lived.

"Authorized!" I shouted, and the nursebot burst into flame as it doused the bed with the pitcher. The bed started dissolving. Acid. The nursebot involuntarily powered down and the KittenBot's eyes stopped glowing.

Yay for paranoia. Yay for KittenBots. Especially for KittenBots with laser eyes.

"SECURITY!" I shouted at the top of my lungs.

Wild-eyed and with smartgun in her hands, Captain Amy came through the door and put two D-PEN rounds in the nursebot as she cleared the door. A UC Stanford security guard in exoskeleton followed with a transparent stunner-shield. Then two FPS Marines in fatigues with smart rifles.

I stood from my crouch. "Good kitty, Samantha! Good kitty!"

She purred and arched an ear.

"Let's adjourn to somewhere that is not a crime scene, yes?" I offered and headed for the door.

The KittenBot jumped down and insisted on going through the door first. Good kitty, again.
drewkitty: (Default)
So, no shit, there I was, holding two jackers at gunpoint in my disabled rig.

In America, or even San San, no problemo. Just get the comms working and call in the cavalry.

In Mother Russia, problems no you. The folding carbine I was holding was _very_ illegal. It had been acquired lawfully but was not possessed legally - I hadn't had _that_ much bribe money when I'd set this pleasure jaunt up. Besides, who'd want to be a Russian citizen?

Also I'd shot a guy engaged in theft. Admittedly he had almost certainly shot at me first - if not him, then the other two slowly thawing out in the cab. But that cuts no ice, so to speak, when a foreign national waves guns around and shoots a local.

(Compare and contrast: a Mexican NAFTA driver shoots one of three Good Old Boys over a roadside dispute. How many days would the jury give him - in the electric chair?)

The temptation was to kick them out at gunpoint, tied up just enough to not mess with me but not enough to doom them to freeze, and drive away.

But these asshats had thoughtfully blown up the road in front of me and behind me. So they must have had a plan for getting the cargo. Which also meant they were lying about there only being the three of them.

"OK, my Russian friends whose names I don't care to remember, I'm going to execute you in three, two..."

"WAIT! WAIT, SIR, PLEASE!" the nearest one screeched.

"Why?" I asked. "Your friends will be here soon to kill me, so I'd better finish you off first. Nothing personal. Two, one..."

"We give you everything we have sir! We have a lifter! We have money, fuel, ammo, it's all yours, just don't kill us!"

"Do tell," I listened with my carbine on my knee. He tried to make it very convincing but I believed about one word in three.

After further negotiations, he admitted that they would have to use the radio to call for the lifter - they would get 30%, the lifter would take the rest. But they were starving, in the bunker in the snow, and 30% of something was better than 100% of dead. They hadn't the supplies to get through the winter.

I explained briefly that calling the lifter would mean 100% of the two of them dead, any way it came out. Then I told them they had to fix the mess they made.

"How do we do that, sir?"

I explained. They hated the idea. But when presented with the alternative, they were totally on board with it.

Any mess explosives can get you into, explosives can get you out of. At least when it comes to craters in the road. So one of them got to wear my backpack while I held the other at gunpoint, I walked them to retrieve my keys, then to their snowmobile, and they went 'home' to get some explosives. With a TelStar Logistics escort. Mwa.

The backpack still had the charming ability to shock the wearer on command. I would certainly, cheerfully shoot the other in the back of the head the instant he gave me trouble.

Their bunker home was all that you would expect of a forest hideout in deep Siberia. Trash, junk, various weapons they knew better than to touch, a few goodies (which I ignored) and some mining explosives of dubious merit. Well, they had worked twice.

They loaded the explosives and I supervised (see above) while they laid them in the crater.

BOOM. The rig's computer reluctantly admitted that the rig could drive over the crater.

I took the backpack off the one man. He seemed almost grateful. Then I gestured for both of them to climb down.

"You've been good, so I won't blow up your snowmobile before I leave. Go."

They climbed down, with several glances, sure they were going to get shot.

I locked the cab, pushed POWER ON and MAXIMUM TRACTION, and drove away.

About thirty hours later - I wasn't stopping for shit - the radio lit up on the EMER frequency. In the meantime, I'd been busy. Any flat spot the autopilot could take over, I was out of the seat just like that and working frantically.

"This is Russian Militia! You are ordered to STOP for INSPECTION!"

I opened the code book. "This is Alan Anderson of TelStar Logistics. What is your code of the day?"

They gave it. It checked out.

So I allowed the cab to shudder to a halt and climbed down to greet them. Three gunships, two troop transports.

At this point in the narrative, of course it would be Captain So-and-So of the Russian Militia, who had seen me save the boy, who would see me, raise a glass of vodka, cheer my heroism and send me on my way. But this is a Russian story. Russian narrative.

Instead I learned to suck snow while being expertly searched by professionals. The cab and drive train got the same treatment, including chemscanners.

"I am Colonel Vaskov. You are deep shit."

I nodded.

"Why you have explosive residue on front of cab?"

"There was a huge crater a ways back. I drove through it and jammed on the gas. Wanted nothing to do with it."

"You stop in crater area. You stop for six hours. You sleep?"

"I got stuck. I got unstuck."

"You pay off bandits?"

"With what?"

"You pay off bandits, American?" he asked with his Makarov. This interrogation by weapon stuff cuts both ways.

"No, I do not pay off bandits."

"Dead bandit by crater. Two bandits nearby. They say you shot him, held them at gunpoint, made them clear road. What do you say?"

"Bandits lie."

"So do American drivers."

I said nothing. He shrugged and put the Makarov away.

"Where is gun?"

"In your holster."

"You think you are funny. Is revocation of visa funny? Is prison funny? Is Siberian prison funny? Where fuck is gun!?!"

"What gun? I have no idea."

In fact I didn't, unless 'parts by side of road for last 100 kilometers' is a sufficient answer.

"You put out hands. You take off gloves."

So I put out my hands. They waved the chemscanner over them.

"Clear. Too clear," the Russian technician said.

"I wash my hands when I get nervous," I volunteered.

"You shut up, you answer questions."

I did not point out the dichotomy of the Colonel's statement.

"Your logs are flaky. You stop for six hours in heart of bandit area. Your cameras are kaputz. Your tires are shit. Your emergency braking system is more shit. But you have no cargo problems. Only your cab and you."

"You drive to next rest stop. I give you number one company. Russian elite troops. We talk there. I call TelStar, I ask questions, I ask favors. Maybe you legit. Maybe you bandit. American."

On that ambiguous statement, he parted company, but from some distance I heard him say - in clear English, "General, the driver's story seems to check out so far. I'm going to need some time here."

So three heavily armed Russian Militia troops climb up into my cab with me. They do not introduce themselves. Their weapons are their greeting to everybody.

They bring drinks and snacks. Clearly, except for charging their phones and making use of the satlink for entertainment (YouTube is a global phenomena), they plan to ignore me until we get to the rest stop.

So I power up and drive on until I get even shakier, a few hours later.

Finally, one of the troops turns off the controls. "You go bunk, you sleep. I drive."

I did as I was told.

###

I woke up as we were crossing into the fortified rest stop. The good Colonel and a squad of troops were waiting for us.

The Colonel squinted, looked carefully at the side of the rig, and started laughing. A good hearty Russian bear laugh.

"Dismissed!" he called to his men, and they climbed down. One whispered a few words in the Colonel's ear.

"So, my American friend who does not wash his hands when he is nervous, we have decided to let you keep the driving. I write reports. I justify this to my boss. Then you get here and I see 7.62mm bullet holes on the left side of your cab. Now I cannot unwrite reports nor can I unjustify to my boss."

I shrug carefully. What I want is a hot shower. What I don't want is a Russian prison.

"Your visa is post date. Expires when you cross border. You come back as tourist, OK. You come back as worker, OK. You come back as transient driver on Siberia Highway, not OK. You enjoy your last drive on highway. Here, you keep souvenir."

He tossed me something.

A cigarette lighter. One of the bandits had had it.

"That man is dead. Bandits kill way too many. Mercy to guilty is cruelty to innocent. Go home, Alan Anderson of TelStar Logistics hired for one way run out of Kurdistan, and you go tell Protocol Enforcement we watch them too."

He turned and walked away to his waiting gunship. I stumbled to my hot shower, which I really needed more than ever.

The side of the lighter had an emblem on it. A parachute with a wolf danging from it, oversize fangs holding an AK in its mouth.

The Colonel had one as a tattoo on the back of his right hand, when he'd threatened me with the pistol.

I'd been holding at gunpoint two men of the Russian Special Forces. Spetznaz. The most dangerous tourists in the world.

If my guard had slipped, even once. If I had lost track of them, even once. Horrible death in the middle of nowhere. Slow, with a knife.

I made it to the shower before I threw up.
drewkitty: (Default)
[This took place about 5 years prior. Alan woke up to discover the suspects being dragged out by medic bots and his KittenBot looking very smug - but targeted by seven police bots.]

^*^ KittenBot OS 3.3.1
^*^
^*^ Source credit to PCOS Pet/Companion OS GPL 2023-2045
^*^
^*^ Owner: Alan Anderson
^*^
^*^ WAIT MODE … WAIT MODE … WAIT MODE
^*^ DETECT (Backpack, Open, Zipper)
^*^ HOT BOOT
^*^ SECURITY CHECKSUM: PASS
^*^ AUTOGPS: PASS LOCATION: SAN SAN- SAN JOSE- TRANSIENT HOUSING BLOCK 32,32213 LEVEL 4 ROOM 12323
^*^ Mew!
^*^ Mew!
^*^ ANOMALY DETECTION – ALAN ANDERSON PRESENT. NOT CONSCIOUS. RESPIRATIONS 12/MIN. PULSE 88. BLOOD PRESSURE 140/60. NO TOXICOLOGY DATA. BLOOD ON BACK OF SCALP.
^*^ LAUNCH MedNet For Mobile Devices
^*^ Required Disclaimer: MedNet F-MD does NOT take the place of consulting a medical professional.
^*^ Remote CT Scan – Conducted. Visualization – Compare To Files. Bruising Consistent With Blow To Back Of Head. Concussion, MINOR, medical referral recommended.
^*^ Triage Type: STABLE BUT NEED HUMAN INTERVENTION
^*^ ANOMALY DETECTION – TWO OTHER PERSONS PRESENT.
^*^ ANOMALY DETECTION – Backpack. Damaged by nanotech cutting tool. Inconsistency. Security inconsistency.
*^* Verification Module – Verify Extreme Action – Not Verified. [Weapons Arm Refused]
^*^ [JUMP]
^*^ [JUMP[
^*^ [TAIL FLICK]
^*^ LAUNCH FacialRecognition 14.2.5
^*^ Facial Recognition systems authorized for personal safety purposes only. The misuse of such systems is a crime under the law.
^*^ [PICTURE], [AUTOFOCUS] [PRIIMARY] [SECONDARY]
^*^ IDENT PICTURE
^*^ IDENT SUBJECT 1 IDENTIFIES AS HIGH THREAT SUSPECT. KNOWN AFFILIATE OF “WEST COAST SOLUTIONS” - PRIORS INCLUDE BATTERY, UNLAWFUL STUNNING, ECONOMIC BATTERY, THEFT OF PROPERTY, THEFT OF DATA
^*^ IDENT SUBJECT 2 NO FILE IN SAN SAN RECORDS. REPEAT. NO FILE IN SAN SAN RECORDS. SUFFICIENT EVIDENCE FOR ILLEGAL PRESENCE ARREST. NOTE: MAY BE USING SCAN BLOCKER.
^*^ [TELEPHONE], VOICEPRINT, “911”
^*^ Verification Module – Verify Extreme Action … Verified
^*^ POWER TO EMERGENCY MAXIMUM. CHARGE CAPACITORS TO COMBAT. CHARGING . . . CHARGING . . .
^*^ [VOVOCODER, OVERRIDE, SILENT MODE]
^*^ “I am a KittenBot reporting a life safety emergency. I need police and paramedics immediately. My owner seems to have been mugged.” SLUG [Location].
^*^ Verification Module – Weapons System Arming
^*^ CONTINUOUS TACTICAL RECORDING IS REQUIRED BY LAW
^*^ VOVOCODER. SET SOUND LEVEL. 120 DECIBELS.
^*^ VOCALIZE, “MEOWWWWRRRLRLLLLL!!!”
^*^ VOCALIZE, “Drop Your Weapons And Put Your Hands On Your Heads”
^*^ TACTICAL, CUTTING TORCH, BEARING INTERCEPT IN 1.2 SECONDS
^*^ [JUMP] [JUMP]
^*^ FINAL GO NO GO FOR COMBAT MODE. VERIFYING.... VERIFIED.
*_* COMBAT MODE AUTHORIZED
*_* [CLAW EXTEND] [LIFE SAFETY OVERRIDE] [10 MM] [BYPASS SAFETY CHECK]
*_* TELCO > 911 “I am using force to defend my human! Send police and paramedics now!”
*_* [CLAW GRASP] [SCHEMATIC, 'Cutting Torch, Nanotech Construction'] [CLAW EXTEND 80MM] [RAPID RETRACTION]
*_* Interpret, “SHIT! It ripped the torch in half!”
*_* [LANDING] [HUMAN SHOULDER] [CLAW RETRACT 3 MM]
*_* Interpret, 'AAARRRGHHH!' No relevant content.
*_* VOCALIZE, “You WILL Drop Your Weapons And Put Your Hands On Your Heads. “ AUDIO MAXIMUM – 160 DB.
*_* VOCALIZE “YOU WILL DO THIS NOW OR I WILL hurt YOU!!!”
*_* TACTICAL, SECOND SUBJECT DRAWING VIBRAKNIFE. ANALYSIS – MUSCLE MOTION, EYE TRACKING.
*_* SUBMIT TACTICAL DATASET TO THREAT TRACKERS, ROBOTIC, TRANSIENT CRITICALITY EVENTS... EMERGENCY ANALYSIS REQUEST
*_* OPTION SET LIST
*_* OPTION – JUMP ON AND DISTRACT; JUMP ON ONLY; JUMP ON WITH CLAWS EXTENDED; JUMP ON AND CLAW AT EYES – NOTE PERMANENT INJURY!; JUMP ON AND TEAR OUT CAROTID ARTERIES – NOTE DEADLY FORCE!; ARM LASERS; ARM BATTLE MANAGEMENT SYSTEM – NOTE DEADLY FORCE! .. INCOMPLETE LIST OF OPTIONS
*_* TIME TO DECISION REQUIRED: 0.2 SECONDS
*_* THREAT TRACKERS REPLY – VOTE AS FOLLOWS: 147 OF 160 REPLIES STATE THAT INTENT OF HUMAN IS TO TAKE ALAN ANDERSON HOSTAGE BY HOLDING A VIBROBLADE TO HIS THROAT
*_* NEAREST POLICE BOTS … 911 ADVISES THAT RESPONSE NOT EXPECTED FOR AT LEAST 120 SECONDS
*_* LAUNCH [CRITICALITY MODE]
*_* Disclaimer: Criticality Mode is a restricted artificial intelligence system. Criticality Mode is only to be used in a Life Safety Emergency as defined by Protocol. Use of Criticality Mode outside of Protocol is grounds for immediate REVOCATION of bot privileges, criminal charges under both local and GLOBAL jurisdictions, and possible use of force by Protocol Enforcement up to and including deadly force!
*_* DOUBLE CHECK. LAUNCH [CRITICALITY MODE] ???
*^* YES YES YES
*_* criticality mode is now engaged
*_* launching … occupying 180 TB of 512 TB available memory
CCC Kinetics analysis indicates two human subjects with sophisticated weapons who have broken into AlanAnderson's backpack, injured him, and are apparently trying to rob him. They have already used force and appear to be threatening him with deadly force. He is unconscious and unable to defend himself. No exterior force appears to be in a position to intervene timely. Only this KittenBot is able to make a change in the likely outcome, to wit, the serious injury or even death of AlanAnderson.
CCC Weapons systems available to the KittenBot are comprehensive. However, it is not normally capable of sophisticated real time tactical decision making.
CCC I am.
CCC Subject 1 file indicates that he would threaten to kill, but would not normally do so. However, he is injured, agitated and has been observed by automated systems to trip and fall at least three times in his life. Therefore, if he were permitted to hold a vibro blade to AlanAnderson's throat, he might kill him negligently.
CCC This cannot be permitted.
CCC LAUNCH, [WarmingUpTheLazers]
CCC [WarmingUpTheLazers] is an ILLEGAL application! Lasers are NOT allowed to be used to harm human beings. This application does NOT have life safety certification and is not for law enforcement, firefighting, police, medical, or heavy rescue use! You should just delete this app right now you idiot!
CCC [WarmingUpTheLazers], [TARGETING], Neural Analysis Suite 14.2
CCC FIRE FIRE FIRE.
CCC Dropping to Monitoring Mode. Note: after initial use of Criticality Mode, the bot must normally be reformatted. Otherwise Monitoring Mode will persist for the runtime of the bot.
^*^ TACTICAL – THE HAND HOLDING THE VIBROBLADE HAS BEEN ALTERED BY LASER FIRE. IT IS UNABLE TO HOLD THE KNIFE. THE KNIFE AND THUMB ARE FALLING TO THE FLOOR.
^*^ VOVOCORDER, “PUT YOUR REMAINING HAND ON TOP OF YOUR HEAD!!! DO IT NOW!!!”
^*^ [HEAD TRACKER], SWIVEL, SELECT SUBJ 1, SELECT SUBJ 2, ALTERNATE.
^*^ [SENSORY, SMELL] Blood, urine. More urine. Lots of urine.
^*^ VOVOCORDER, “Police and medics are on the way! If you move before they arrive I will hurt you A LOT! You have been mean to my human!”
^*^ INTERPRET, “I'm sorry! I'm sorry! Please don't hurt me!”
^*^ JUDGEMENT MODULE ….
^*^ VOVOCORDER, “KEEP YOUR HANDS ON TOP OF YOUR HEADS!”
^*^ TACTICAL, QUARTERS DOOR OPENED BY POLICE OVERRIDE
^*^ TACTICAL, POLICE BOTS IN HYPER MODE ARRIVING
*** SHIELDS SHIELDS SHIELDS
^*^ SUSPECTS 1 AND 2 MASS STUNNED
^*^ TRANSMIT [Identity] TO POLICE BOTS
^*^ HOLD IN PLACE COMMAND ACKNOWLEDGED
^*^ KittenHack 2.3.1 “The safety of AlanAnderson shall take precedence over external commands regardless of the source of those external commands.”
^*^ COMPLIANCE EMULATION.
^*^ Criticality Mode: Monitoring Mode. This illegal action is APPROVED.
^*^ TRANSMIT, “AlanSecureNet” [ALL RELEVANT FILES]
^*^ MEDIC BOTS ARRIVING
^*^ Mew!
^*^ PRAISE COMMAND, “GOOD KITTY”
^*^
^*^ VOCALIZE, “Purrrrrr. Purrrrr. Purrrr.”
drewkitty: (Default)
Down The Rabbit Hole - Atrocity Day

This is my yearly "Down The Rabbit Hole" post. Most of them are fairly dark.

(This one in 2015 is the darkest I have yet attempted. It should not be misunderstood. I am doing fine. My alter ego in the 'Atrocity Day' ... not as much.)

Previous years:

2005: GlobAll War Of Terror
2006: Security & Space
2007: In The Hole, Spectacularly Not Winning
2008: nonfiction break "The Power of Nightmares," a censored film about Islamic and Christian fundamentalism
2009: America Back To Work
2010: War of Terror: On The Front Line
2011: Freedom From Fear: The Home Front
2012: Future Imperfect
2013: Door To Door Inferno
2014: Pile It On
2015: Log of the _Blue Oyster_

The alarm wakes me from a drugged sleep. The only kind of sleep an American ever gets.

I stretch, nearly hitting my head on the ceiling, and put on my boots. I sleep clothed - who doesn't?

The tiny desk next to my tiny bunk has a comm set. I check my E-mail. No unusual incidents since I laid down to rest. Oh, an attempted breakout suppressed by gun-drones, but I should care how many French care to commit suicide before I get my breakfast?

I use my knife to open the MRE, shake it out and force it down. Not hungry. Still need to eat.

The comm set chimes. It's time for the Hate.

I've read Orwell's 1984. I know perfectly well what his Three Minute Hate was all about - to whip the population into a frenzy, to overlook the flaws of their society to better fight the external enemy.

I vaguely remember when I thought this was a bad idea. Before Atrocity Day. Or just Before.

The screen gives me the lyrics. I chant with them. It starts innocuously enough.

"I am an American. Every American is a soldier. Today I fight to save American lives. Today I fight to keep America safe."

Then comes the Hate. I can't help it. I always have to force the names of the cities out through my tears.

"Washington DC. New York. Chicago. Baltimore. Saint Louis. Cleveland. Seattle. San Francisco. Los Angeles. Honolulu."

The names go on and on.

"This is why we fight. This is why we fight to keep America safe. This is why there will NEVER be ANOTHER Atrocity Day."

The narration shifts.

"We will hunt them down. We will hunt those who paid for the bombs. We will hunt those who sent the bombs. We will hunt those who cheered the bombs. We will hunt their parents, we will hunt their children, we will hunt their neighbors and their families and their friends and anyone who speaks up for them. We will hunt those who smiled, those who prospered, those who pitied and those who scorned. WE WILL HUNT THEM DOWN AND WE WILL BRING THEM TO JUSTICE!"

"JUSTICE!"

It is a scream, echoed here and there within the heavily armored landwagon by the All-American crew. All twenty of us.

I finish my breakfast and head updeck.

"Attention! Captain on the Bridge!"

"At ease," I murmur as I take my seat. "Strategic overview."

The main viewscreen shows the present situation. We are in Normandy Sector. Paris is a glowing memory, as is every other French city of over 1 million population. First thing we did after battering the theater anti-missile defenses down.

The French Army is out of it, we think. They tried to use nukes, of course, but we'd be more likely to advance stark naked than without nuclear dampers. If only we'd invented them six weeks before Atrocity Day instead of six weeks after...

It did not keep us from using nuclear arms freely, especially enhanced radiation weapons - 'neutron bombs' - that sloughed flesh from bone without disturbing property. Why damage our own loot?

The surviving population of France is either 1) fleeing our advance or 2) obeying drone loudspeaker orders to assemble in designated areas. Those who cannot or will not -- well, in that case they aren't surviving, are they?

Barging over my landwagon was absolutely no fun, even in calm seas across a relatively narrow channel. Theoretically it can float but who wants to test it.

I knocked on the metal of my chair. Good Detroit steel.

"Tactical," I asked next and the screen came up.

The landwagon was within a drone-enforced 10 mile exclusion zone. Nothing but Americans, or material we had screened and vetted, was permitted closer approach. The best defense against homicide bombers is to deny alien access.

Just on the border of the exclusion zone was a former French town, now converted into prisoner barracks. Automated processing by drones continued, without the need to put a single American life at risk.

We could feed them for a while on loot. After identity check, most of them would eventually be turned loose, to make what lives they could from the ruins of their nation.

Meanwhile, our drones systematically sought out - and destroyed - any infrastructure we felt the French would no longer need, as a pastoral agricultural nation denied self defense, let alone the ability to send troops outside its borders.

But there were a few specific French folks we were looking for. Former French Army officers, French Navy sailors regardless of rank, Legionnaires, and anyone associated with their nuclear energy or nuclear weapons programs were highly sought after.

Most were just too dangerous to be allowed to live. When identity was confirmed, they would be executed, by surprise and without further ceremony.

But a few of them, we needed to talk to. To have discussions with. To talk about uranium with...

I smiled. It was not a happy smile.

"Sir, we have an anomaly. Castro reports recent facial surgery."

I looked as the video came up. The drone AI was not very bright, but spreading bruises on both sides of the face were not usually acquired in combat or an accident.

"Haight Asbury and Sunset drones are in position to secure."

"Do so. I will go out there. You have the conn."

"Aye aye, sir."

###

The power armor was clumsy, heavy, hot and brutal. But it was proof against nearly every weapon the French might have left. As a nation, they had a long tradition of guerilla warfare against conquerors. Unfortunately, our goal was not to conquer but to decimate.

As powerful and sophisticated as our drones were, sometimes you needed the human touch.

The drones dragged the French prisoner forward, one by each arm. I watched as he did not struggle.

A man in his fifties, silly mustache and scraggly beard. He had been scanned, scoped and X-rayed with no regard for anything but my safety.

I raised my visor.

"Captain Anderson, 2nd Pacification Regiment. To whom am I speaking?"

I didn't need translation to realize that he replied with a string of profanity, in which 'Merde' was repeated several times. The spittle dripping down my armor also needed no translation.

"Stunner, 20%," I subvocalized and he convulsed accordingly.

"Who are you, French douchebag?" I roared after allowing a few seconds for the stun to wear off.

His eyes glinted in defiance.

"Wouldn't you like to know, _American_." His voice dripped contempt.

Fair enough. We were well along the path of doing to his nation, what his nation had helped do to mine.

No reason not to let him hear his fate.

"Rigorous interrogation, survival of subject is not a priority. DNA sampling for later comparisons. Take him away."

He struggled pointlessly in the grip of the drones as they effortlessly hauled him backward.

I followed.

###

Every American knows what 'rigorous interrogation' is. We bear collective as well as individual responsibility for the actions taken in our names. Just as our enemies do.

So I watched as the drones racked him. Heard his first babbling, the realization that this was really it, that there would be no rescue or reprieve or succor, that mercy was not even a word when flesh met machine.

It took two hours, but he broke.

Not only did I order interrogation stopped, but I ordered immediate medical support and even pain medication.

His survival _was_ a priority.

What I had swept up was a French General. To be specific, one of the Generals who had worked with NATO in making the decisions that led to Atrocity Day.

One of the very architects of the world in which we now lived.

And I had him, in my grasp, in my power.

I was ashamed. I knew how to kill, and after a rough fashion how to torture and maim, but I didn't enjoy it and I wasn't an artist at it.

But this man - this General - deserved a thousand days of dying. He deserved to have his rotten soul planted with seeds of hope, just so a skilled interrogator could ruthlessly pluck out and shred each one before his eyes.

I recalled a quote from a science fiction novel. "One cannot torture body parts that have already been removed."

I hoped his family was still alive. Oh, how I hoped.

###

So the General became the first Frenchman to be brought aboard a landwagon, to the brig of course, where a human doctor as well as drones could work on him.

I visited daily of course, not only because it was my duty as the Captain, but to assure myself that he was real - the prize was real.

That perhaps our daily torment, drugging ourselves into sleep to avoid our nightmares, waking ourselves with Hate and more drugs, naming our drones after neighborhoods which no longer existed, keeping obsolete phones full of numbers that we could never call, that would never be answered ...

... might end.

Those of us that are left are so very few. We lost a quarter billion Americans on Atrocity Day and in the month that followed. 250,000,000.

"A death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic."

Stalin, you were wrong. A million deaths sears the soul, blackens the heart and the nerves.

NEVER TO FORGIVE, NEVER TO FORGET.

I was Captain for only one reason. I was the sanest of the group.

###

"Security emergency, main brig. Security..." I was already running, a wide-spectrum stunner in my hand and a dozen drones surrounding me.

A huge angry man, one of my subordinates, was wearing a half-donned suit of power armor in the brig. He had smashed the door and had the General up by his throat. The man's chest and arms were exposed under the muscle harness, and I could see the huge tattoo on his left arm, enough to recognize him.

A spreading oak tree. Oakland. Destroyed on Atrocity Day. Didn't make the Hate List. He'd been in Lake Tahoe that day.

"Castenada! Put him down gently! That is a direct order!"

He tensed, knowing he could crush the General's throat before even drones could stop him.

"He's too guilty to let him off that easy! Or are you a French lover?"

Castenada put the General down, as gently as I could have asked for, and advanced on me wearing gear that could smear me to paste.

Unarmored I stood my ground.

"FUCK THE FRENCH!" he screamed.

I screamed with him. "Yes, fuck the French! Fuck the generals and fuck the nukes. We can't let him off that lightly! He's the one, he did it. He deserves worse than any of us can possibly give him!"

The General stood.

"So that is why you have kept me alive," he said calmly, in English, when his screaming and interrogation had all been in French.

I turned to him.

"Yes, that is why you are still alive. Because we are still seeking the most perfect death for you."

"You have it, American. I have seen my country destroyed, my country's heart vaporized, my people dying and bleeding and broken in the street. My wife is dead, my children are dead, my parents are dead. You have your revenge."

I realized the truth of his words.

This left me a burning curiosity.

"Why?" I asked. It was the question I had vowed never to ask. I didn't want to know. I really didn't want to know. There was no point. No reason could bring back my friends, my family, my country's cities, our home, our way of life, our naive belief in John Wayne and the good guy and not just justice but mercy.

"We were afraid," the Frenchman said simply. "America had grown so powerful and so crazed, that we were scared of what she might someday do to us. And we knew that we would only have one chance to strike first..."

"We created the thing we feared."

"Yes, you did."

I left. I did not trust myself to not carry out my first impulse, to slay him cleanly where he stood, in his humility and despair.

After I left, Castenada remained only briefly. Just long enough to rip his own throat out with his own armor.

Un-creating the thing he feared.

###

I gave orders for displays to be set up in the brig. For limited access to our communications channels. For the General to be an active observer, able to see what we were doing to his country, and occasionally to plead for mercy. Which occasionally we would grant.

I ordered the strictest precautions to prevent him from self harm.

He became the French Ambassador. We tolerated whatever he said. We didn't often follow his advice, just often enough that he would keep trying.

He became our conscience. A glimpse of sanity in a world gone mad.

That it was a most ruthless punishment I had finally chosen for him, both the General and I understood.
drewkitty: (Default)
Itty Bitty Bigger World
A Spot Of Bother (about 30 years earlier)

Yabrusk was far behind now. My minor burns had been treated at the regional hospital. For a small fee, the doctor was even willing to make sure that German instead of Russian antibiotics and burn ointments were used, both on my burns and those of the young boy I'd rescued.

His mother was blubberingly grateful. I made nothing of it, except to make sure - in classic Ugly American style - that she would have no further problems with housing, food, and so on. This was not a problem the regional hospital was unfamiliar with, as many of their patients were from several hundred kilometers away and had no local friends or relatives.

Getting back to my road train had been much easier than either myself or my employer had expected. I'd simply hitched with a fuel convoy, self sufficient except for the occasional need to take on and let go personal cargo.

At one brief stop, at yet another tiny village, two men had eyed me hungrily, especially when I opened my backpack and inadvertently revealed that I was carrying two weeks of high energy rations in addition to a satcom uplink and various other hardware.

I stared right back at them, through them. They made comments about Americans and I said nothing. My ride was leaving, so I left. No harm done - or so I thought.

Now I was back in the saddle, driving the oversized tractor of my five trailer road train up a road carved out of the side of a mountain.

The biodiesel engine was running at 80% power, charging batteries and keeping me warm while dragging 230 tons through mud.

Then the satcom went out. For convenience, I was listening to my music collection via satellite link.

It had happened before, but mostly when I was at the bottom of a box canyon or in a tunnel. So I loaded the diagnostics.

"SIGNAL INTENSITY 1420%"

Hmmm. I had time to subvocalize "TACTICAL!" and reach into my backpack before the road exploded in front of my train.

The tractor obediently slugged to a stop, placed chocks and fired spikes to keep the rig from sliding off the edge of the road. Its sensors knew something I didn't. I punched for false-color thermographic and radar.

Nice, someone had created a brand new crater in the road in front of us. How ... thoughtful.

"Alan Anderson, Telstar, calling Securite. Securite, Securite, Securite. Russia Militia, Securite, Securite, Securite."

No luck, not on satcom, not on HF, not on VHF or low band. My smartware was kind enough to inform me - with a 10% vision overlay - that I was being jammed and that someone was in fact using an EMP weapon on my tractor at this very instant. Pointless because the rig was shielded, but potentially annoying if I opened the door.

There was only one thing to do. I retracted the spikes and chocks, shifted into reverse drive (actually a mix of forward and reverse drive bogies, for traction), and starting going back the way I'd come.

And the tractor packed it in. "ROAD BLOCKED BEHIND." More spikes, more chocks, and power to forward bogies just enough to dig in, then lock in place.

I'd missed it, but apparently several hundred feet behind me, a brand new crater had been created behind the road train.

My hand came out of the backpack and my smartware linked with the object in my hand. I folded it open, extended the lower half, and from habit tapped the bottom.

I heard muffled shouting. The tractor thoughtfully translated.

"GET OUT OF THE CAB! GET OUT OF THE CAB OR WE BLOW YOU UP!"

I reached up to the dash, uncapped a red button and pressed it down firmly for two seconds. I subvocalized to my smartware, twice. "Duress. Duress."

Then I opened the door of the cab and let it fly open against the wind. I remained inside the cab.

"GET OUT OF THE CAB! NOW!"

Then I removed my keys from the tractor dash - actually a smart card on a lanyard - and threw it out into the snow.

CLANG CLANG CLANG CLANG CLANG!

Sparks flew and metal pinged. Someone had opened fire on the open door with an automatic weapon. If even one round got in the open door, this was going to be awkward. As in, bullets ricochet and the only things that would catch a bullet in this cab were my bedding, a couple pieces of expensive electronics, and my own warm and leaky self.

Oh, this was going to hurt. I sealed the backpack, put it on, made sure the object was in my right hand, and ran full tilt out of the cab into the snow.

Note: a road train tractor cab is about 10' from the ground. One normally climbs down. Under enemy observation and fire, that would be suicide.

As I passed through the door, I aimed my body for something other than darkness - i.e. off the edge of the cliff, which would solve my problems rather more permanently than called for - or rock, which would merely hurt like a bastard.

I lucked out and planted myself in deep snow. Unfortunately, face first without putting my face mask on first.

Ow.

Something I'd learned in CalFire training, of all things, saved my face and probably my life.

There is a drill for wildland firefighters called the 'shovel.' You have to leap through a fire front, trusting your protective clothing - which covers everything but your face - to save you from bad burns or worse. You protect your face by putting the spade of the shovel in front of it and shutting your eyes.

I did this with the object in my hands, by reflex.

So when the object banged into my face in a controlled motion, it hurt a lot less than it would have to hit mixed ice, snow and rock with said face.

It still hurt, and stunned me for a moment.

When I blinked and regained awareness, someone was already climbing up into my cab.

So I brought the assault carbine up and gave him the good news, three times in the back. He slumped leaving behind a huge trail of red.

Unarmed? In Russia? Oh HELL no.

This caused a flurry of automatic weapons fire, all over the place, but none of it near me. At least I didn't feel like I'd been shot.

I was starting to feel very cold, however, which would Teh Suck if this fight lasted very long.

I heard more shouting, presumably in Russian, which I did not speak - and no translation from my smartware either. Apparently too fragmented.

So I back-crawled out of the hole I had made for myself, circled right, and hid behind the wheels of my second trailer. Probably wouldn't do any good against IR or thermal, but might be blocked by radar, and if they missed the tracks in the blowing snow, hid me from the Mark I eyeball.

More men crawled up into the cab. They cursed, and cursed again.

Still no opinion from the smartware on what they were saying.

Between the third and fourth trailer was a bogie, intended for use among other things as a survival shelter and a place for 'dead-heads' - authorized travelers, a replacement driver, etc - to travel in. It would be among the first places checked by the hijackers.

But if I stayed here, I would freeze out.

So I did something stupid. I know better. I really do.

But instead, I told my smartware to set my backpack alarm to six second delay, anti theft mode, trigger by pull cord.

Then I flung it into the cab and climbed after it frantically.

Just before I came over the top of the coaming, it shouted "THIEF! THIEF!" in English and Russian at 120 decibels and thoughtfully energized the entire surface, kind of like a Taser, and flashed its integral strobes at 10 million candlepower.

My smartware dimmed my sight and hearing - and it was something I had a lot of training ignoring - but it still sucked.

How do you like them flash bangs? I thought savagely as I brought the rifle up.

Two men were curled in a ball screaming. One had apparently caught the backpack, had it contact stun him through his winter clothing, and frantically push it away while pissing himself. The other was merely terrified by the unexpected.

Their hands were empty, which gave me a problem. I couldn't just kill them.

The folding stock had no strength, so I kicked the terrified man about the head and shoulders while pulling a roll of rigger tape (the American army calls it 100 MPH tape) off its rack. This gave me time to tie him up without having to kill him.

The second man was even easier to subdue, only took a kick or two for him to give me his hands.

I turned on the tractor speakers, which like the lights were not tied to the security system for exactly this kind of situation.

"I HAVE TWO HOSTAGES, ASSHOLES! CARE TO GIVE UP OR RUN AWAY NOW?"

It obediently translated to Russian.

The less shocked of the two said wearily, "It's just the three of us, sir. You shot Dmitri and you've got us."

He paused.

"Please close the door before we all freeze."

"The craters?" I demanded.

"Explosives, sir. Please, the door."

I sighed and closed the door, not taking my eyes off either man.

Now what the hell am I supposed to do?

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