Authors: Ryk Brown
Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Post-Apocalyptic, #90 Minutes (44-64 Pages), #Literature & Fiction
Table of Contents
The Frontiers Saga
Fall of the Core
Copyright © 2015 by Ryk Brown All rights reserved.
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to locales, events, business establishments, or actual persons—living or dead—is entirely coincidental.
FALL OF THE CORE
The text message flashed in Hanna’s personal visual space, ironically across the face of the very man that was boring her to death.
Reply: I am
, Hanna thought. Her reply was instantly converted into a digital signal by her neuro-digital implant at the base of her skull, and transmitted to her producer.
From; Arielle: No, you’re not
, her producer messaged back.
I can see it in your eyes, and so can he… and so can the viewers.
Hanna squinted slightly and cocked her head a bit, trying to look interested as she stared at the man sitting across the desk from her.
“The same type of virus has been used for centuries now,” the man continued, “since nearly the dawn of the internet.” The man paused, looking at Hanna for her next question.
Message: Oh crap, I’m lost,
Her friend was one step ahead of her, as usual, her reply floating in the air in front of Hanna as it filled her visual space.
From; Arielle: If this particular virus has been around for so long, then surely there must be a way to protect our systems from it?
Hanna immediately repeated the question out loud.
“The problem is that this particular variant is quite adept at disguising itself. It changes its structure with almost every instance, making it particularly difficult to detect. In nearly every confirmed case of the virus thus far, it was not discovered until after it had already begun to affect the target system. Hence the name, ‘Twister’, as it constantly twists itself into new, unrecognizable forms.”
“Unrecognizable?” Hanna asked. “But it’s computer code, right? Lines of characters on a screen that tell the computer what to do.”
“When you look at as much computer code as we do, day in and day out, you begin to see patterns. It’s much like learning a foreign language. Once you become fluent, you no longer translate it in your head, you simply
“Even with computer code?”
From; Arielle: You’re straying
, her producer warned in another visual text message.
“So, if the Twister virus is impossible to recognize, how are you going to neutralize it?” Hanna asked.
“Not impossible,” the man corrected, “just difficult. Extremely difficult. However, just because it’s difficult to recognize doesn’t mean we can’t protect ourselves,” he explained. “The question we should be asking, though, is why?”
“Why?” Hanna seemed confused. She looked to her visual space for another cue from her producer, Arielle, but saw nothing.
“Yes. Why are they doing this? What is their end goal?” he explained. “We believe the authors of this code are still in the testing and verification phase. That’s why they’ve been so random and widespread in their attacks. They’re not only testing their virus, but they’re testing our
to it. Eventually, they’ll start targeting bigger, more critical systems. If we are not more aggressive in our defense, Twister could create a lot more trouble than it already has… A lot more.”
From; Arielle: Coming up on ten minutes,
the next text message informed Hanna.
Let’s wrap it up.
“Professor Dantmore, is there any chance that your organization will eventually find a way to identify the Twister virus
it strikes, and therefore neutralize it before any damage is done?”
is the real question. We have more than one hundred of the Earth’s best security programmers working on the Twister project. We will find a way to stop it. We always do. It’s just a matter of time.”
Hanna sensed one of Barry’s imaging orbs hovering past her left side, her good side, signaling that it was time for her to sign off. She smiled politely at the professor. “Thank you, Professor Dantmore.” Hanna turned to her left, facing the floating imaging orb taking position a meter away and at her eye level. She dipped her chin slightly, positioning her head to the flattering angle that her videographer insisted made her look both sexy and intelligent. “Is Twister a major threat, or is it just another digital nuisance like so many others in the past? Many have argued that we have become too dependent on technology, and that such dependencies make us vulnerable. Yet, because of our technology, we have advanced to the point that starvation, disease, and even war itself, are all distant memories of days long past. Perhaps annoyances like the Twister virus are just the price we pay for a better life through technology. The good men and women here at the Dantmore Institute are trying to reduce that cost… for all of us.” She paused for a moment, changing the angle of her head as Barry had instructed in the past before closing out an interview. “I’m Hanna Bohl, at the Dantmore Institute for Digital Security.”
Hanna froze in her position as she waited for the red light on the imaging orb hovering next to her to go dark.
“We’re out,” Barry announced from the corner of the room. He pressed a button on the control pad hanging from him at waist-level, causing all six imaging orbs to return to the docking station on the floor next to him.
Arielle leaned closer to Barry as the last orb landed in its cradle. “Replace that dazed, disinterested expression she had on her face with something more perky. You know where I mean, just before the professor said the same type of virus had been around for centuries.”
“No problem,” Barry replied as he bent down to close the lid over the imaging orbs. “I’ll head back to the hotel and start the preliminary edits.”
Ari nodded in agreement.
Hanna looked at Professor Dantmore as she stood, feeling a bit embarrassed.
“It’s quite all right, Miss Bohl,” the professor said as he also stood. “Most people find what we do quite boring. In fact, we’re now the last group to use humans in our analytical work. Everyone else uses AIs.”
“Why don’t you use them?” Hanna wondered.
“There’s just something wrong with using artificial intelligence algorithms to study other algorithms.”
“But aren’t the AIs faster, and more accurate?”
“Yes, but they still lack the instincts that humans possess. Even after three hundred years of using artificial intelligence, the closest we have ever come to achieving the instinctual nature of the human mind, in digital form, are the human consciousness uploads.”
would have been more interesting to talk about,” Hanna insisted, as she reached out and shook the professor’s hand. “Unfortunately, that wasn’t my assignment.”
“It was a pleasure, Miss Bohl,” the professor said.
Hanna smiled and turned away as the professor left the room, then walked over to her producer. “For the record, I
paying attention. I was just considering my next question.”
“Uh-huh,” Arielle replied.
Barry looked at the technician standing to the side of the room, ignoring the exchange between Hanna and Arielle. “You guys have point to point?”
“Of course,” the technician replied.
“Mind if I use it?” Barry asked.
“The terminal is in the next room,” the technician said. “Follow me.”
Barry turned to Arielle, who had a curious expression on her face. “If I upload the raw file to the client from here, it’ll save us the cost of the point to point link later.”
“What about the edits?” Arielle asked.
“I can send them the edits as a macro after we finish the final cut. It’s a tiny file that we can send through the public net.”
“Sounds good,” Arielle agreed. She looked back at Hanna. “Next time, you might want to do your pre-interview research before you leave the hotel.”
“Right,” Hanna replied.
Arielle shook her head, knowing full well that Hanna would never do so. “At least you’re using the angles that Barry told you about.”
“Hey, I listen.”
“Since when?” Arielle wondered with a laugh. “I’ve known you for ten years now. If there’s one thing you’re not good at, Hanna, it’s listening to the advice of others.”
Hanna grabbed her bag from the chair next to the exit. “That was last century, Ari. It’s the twenty-sixth century now. You’re looking at the new, improved Hanna Bohl.”
“I see,” Arielle replied, picking up her own bag. “And is the new, improved Hanna Bohl finally going to land us a cushy full-time gig with one of the major news-nets?”
“Of course,” Hanna insisted, as they headed out the door and down the corridor, “but not if you keep lining up these snooze-fests.”
“Hey, they pay the bills. This one even put a few dollars into our savings.”
They turned the corner and headed across the lobby toward the main entrance.
“I don’t even know why you’re putting money into that account,” Hanna argued. “We won’t even need it once we land that cushy gig.”
“It never hurts to have a backup plan,” Arielle insisted. “Besides, that savings account kept us from being on the streets when we got stuck in Philly for three weeks last year… or did you already forget about that little fiasco?”
“How could I, with you always reminding me,” Hanna retorted as they exited the building.
Hanna paused a moment, taking in the streets of the city. Electric vehicles of all shapes and sizes, most of them automated, packed the streets with a never ending ebb and flow of traffic. Buildings towered in the afternoon sun, casting long easterly shadows. Elevated walkways stretched between the buildings and around every intersection at the second, fifth, and tenth levels. Monorail trains cruised overhead, as they shuttled passengers from the elevated platforms at the second levels. And finally, above it all, countless shuttles flitted about as if on invisible pathways in the sky as they ferried their privileged passengers from building top to building top. Hanna loved the feeling of being in a big city. To her, it meant endless possibilities.
“Are we going to have time to visit our parents?” Hanna asked, turning her attention back to Arielle.
“Not this time, I’m afraid. We have to be in Boston day after tomorrow.”
“Then we have plenty of time,” Hanna said.
“Not if we’re going to take the train.”
Hanna’s head fell back slightly as she moaned in discontent. “Twenty-four hours on a train, again? For once, can’t we just take a shuttle?”
“We can’t afford it, Hanna.”
“Then can we at least take the tube?”
“We can’t afford that, either.”
“What’s the point of putting money into savings, then?”
“To protect us the next time you pull another stunt like the one in Philly. We can’t live on what the pop-nets pay, Hanna. You know that.”
“We could if we weren’t leasing all that extra FI gear,” Hanna argued as she started down the street.
“You know damn well that all the major news-nets want full immersion now,” Arielle reminded her as they headed up the stairs to the monorail platform, “and that equipment is expensive to lease.”
“We could make just as much money doing the tabloid stuff using simple hi-def minis. We could pick up a three-pack for half of what we pay Barry per week.”
“We agreed, Hanna,” Arielle argued. “We’re real journalists, not pop-goons. I’d rather be working as a junior production assistant in some snippet clearing house than do the tabloid stuff.”
“There are cross-overs, you know,” Hanna insisted as the next monorail train came to a stop and its doors opened. “Lara Knox, Blaze Hunter, Michael Benat…”
“All pretty faces, and no substance.”
“Pretty faces who get all the best stories,” Hanna argued, “and ride around in private shuttles, I might add, instead of taking overnight trains between coasts.”
“The deal is until we hit thirty,” Arielle reminded Hanna, “and we’re not there yet.”
Hanna looked at Arielle as they stepped onto the monorail train and grabbed hold of the overhead rail. “Ten months.”
“And for those ten months, we continue with the plan. You, me, and a videographer… with full immersion imaging gear.”
“I know, I know.” Hanna gazed out the windows of the monorail as it pulled away from the platform and made its way to the next stop. As it passed between the buildings, she caught a glimpse of San Diego bay in the distance. She had grown up not far from downtown, and this city had always been one of her favorites. “What’s next?”
“Epidemiologist in Boston,” Arielle replied. “He’s an expert in the Klaria virus.”
“Sounds like another snoozer to me.”
“People are dying from the Klaria virus, Hanna.”
“Yeah, I know,” she said as she gazed out the window of the monorail, “but if we don’t have anything new and interesting to tell them about it, the viewers don’t care.”
“It’s your job to make them care, Hanna. That’s why you need to do your pre-interview research before you actually arrive at the location.”
* * *
Hanna picked at her food, disinterested in the standard hote
l bar fare that came with their rooms. She looked at Arielle, sitting across the booth from her. “Why Boston? Why not something on the west coast?”
“There’s nothing good out here right now,” Arielle replied. “Most of the assignments out here are fluff anyway. You said you wanted stories with more potential, didn’t you?”
“I meant stories that would be more popular. Stories that would boost our numbers.”
“Look at the assignments on the east coast boards, Hanna. There are far more to choose from. We can work nearly every day, and without doing fluff pieces. Out here, we’d have to do mostly pop-culture crap to work that often. Besides, there’s a lot more wannabes out here, and they’re always bidding jobs down in order to get them. It’s harder to make a living out here.”
“Couldn’t you find anything else to get us out there?”
“The epidemiologist gig was the only thing that paid enough to cover our travel costs. There were a few others that might have been more interesting, but they were all still TBA. Better to take the sure money.”
“Yeah, but it’s another virus story,” Hanna moaned. “Nobody cares about virus stories.”
“They do when it affects them.”