The Cyber Conspiracy Saga

Part 1: The Silkman and Cryst

The Karidian Penal Colony of Jarak Teel was not a comfortable place, as one would expect. McCrystal “Cryst” Dagonstar was one of the few humans residing there and was slowly finding out that the place was not built with human comfort or even anatomy, in mind. However, life had dealt him worse situations, believe it or not, but not many. He was a bounty hunter, pure and simple, imprisoned by the Karidian Imperial Government for, of course, something he did not do. It wasn’t his fault, he found himself saying a lot, but no one listened.

He sat in the courtyard of the prison, breathing the thin air of the jungle world of Jarak Teel, wondering where his employer was now. Did the scum know how the apprehension went? Did he care that his contract employee was being tortured daily, intentionally and unintentionally? Does the Terran Expanse Government know, and would they care? After all, he did give their intelligence agencies a run once or twice. He figured his record as an Expanse Marine didn’t mean anything to them, either. He stood up to pace the courtyard while he thought back to the reason he was put in this hell.

He was hired three standard months ago by the TacTech Corporation, in the Fredon Sector, to capture a renegade corporate spy; one of their own that was a little too mercantile. This individual, a Harrad “Silkman” Mord Mot, a Sarginian humanoid. The Silkman was nearly single-handedly shutting down the TacTech Corp with all the inside information he was selling to the highest bidder. TacTech hired out for the best to stop him, and they found Cryst. What they didn’t plan on was the cat and mouse game that erupted between Cryst and his target and the following political games that were played. Somebody wanted the TacTech to go down and more, no matter who was included in the fall; even if it was a prominent Karidian political leader.

The chase lead Cryst through the deepest and darkest reaches of Terran Expanse and Karidian Imperial space. Cryst got enough information to figure out that the Silkman had a new job, that didn’t involve corporate secrets. When it was apparent that it was an assassination attempt, Cryst knew too late. The apprehension of the Silkman was already in its final stages, at the Imperial Council meeting of Teffan Affairs. A well known Karidian peace advocator was speaking and was the Silkman’s target.

The assassination was quick; quicker than Cryst’s apprehension… but not quick enough before the Karidian Imperial Guard had apprehended a known TacTech employee, and bounty hunter named McCrystal Dagonstar, and pinned the assassination on him. Silkman was slick in his escape, but not slick enough.

In Cryst’s three month long chase with Silkman, the evidence turned up slowly; who was involved in the conspiracy, who would get the profit. Apparently, there was more than just a plot to destroy TacTech, but also to encourage a war between the Karidians and the Terrans. The Karidians, a hideous race (by Terran standards) of tall crab-like creatures, have been looking for an excuse for centuries to start war; ever since they lost the first one. The corporations involved would profit well from any war. A sweet and tight little conspiracy where everyone gets what they want.

The war had yet to start, because the Karidians were not too sure who to blame… the corporation or the Terran Government. It wouldn’t be long before the violence started internally; civilian riots, vigilante attacks against Terran colonies. The Marines thought they had their hands full with the Rebellion Wars, and the Glemmy Wars. Somehow, Cryst new of two things; Silkman would be after him, and he would also be involved in the next step towards war. Someone else will die, others will be framed, and the Sitkman will slip away. That is if Cryst doesn’t get out first. He holds the warrant to kill the man that may start the war that will destroy the Terran Expanse, and he was locked up.

Cryst turned a comer to see the labor lines gathering. Time to go back to work. The Karidian slave camps ran day-in/day-out, and this one was no exception. Cryst had to get out fast before this torture killed him. He could not die with the information he had. Now, it was his turn to conspire.

Part 2: Truth Assassin

Bryant “Jack” Arlander sat in the comfortable seat of the chartered insystem shuttle he had hired. He was on the run after his last mission, with very little cash, by his standards, and very little friends. The only true friend he had was in prison, in Karidian Space, and for a human to travel into that space now was suicidal. He knew he had to find a way to get to CrysL if it was the last thing he did.

The planet he was destined for was a not so well-known vacation spot a client once mentioned to him. It was the closest planet he could get to the Karidian edge of space without getting too public. His career had taken an unfortunate turn, and Jack had to remedy that, posthaste.

Jack liked to call himself a “truth assassin”. The expanding age of the Teff an Expanse Federation had brought a new need, which Jack fulfilled. As a Expanse Marine, Jack started out as a simple computer operator, but was quickly noticed for his skills and prowess in high security areas; areas in which he didn’t belong. The Committee of Internal Military Development saw it necessary to reward Jack with “improvements”; cybernetic equipment wired into his brain improving his talents even further. He now possessed three cyber-jacks, hidden under his long hair, six cyberdrives, and a cybernetic eye which allowed him to choose from several different vision-enhancement modes. In the military, during the Rebellion Wars, he found new names for informers that wanted to go into hiding; new homes for those who did not want to be found… jobs that weren’t easy considering the complexity of the FrontierMatrix. Now, he was a expert of the Matrix, and very good at what he did. He continued to work in the same lines, freelance, until a particular high-ranking politician hired him for an unusual job. He did not want to disappear; he wanted a piece of information to disappear. A piece of his past somehow ended up on some Matrix Database, and it was dangerous to his career; scandal material. He wanted the truth assassinated. It made sense to Jack. Even if there was some kind of hard copy of this information somewhere, it wouldn’t mean shit if it wasn’t on the Matrix.

That’s how his life as a truth assassin started. It ended almost in the same way, except curiosity got the best of him this time. On his last assignment Jack was hired by a strange Sarginian (Is there any other kind?). The alien never gave Jack a name, or if he had, he probably used those powerful psionoics his race has to wipe it from his memory. He just wanted a particular series of data banks wiped out. He said it was inside the Expanse High Council Data Matrix, and would be under very high security. For Jack, it was a piece of cake.

Soon afterwards, the assassination of a prominent Karidian was all over Terran News, and speculations of war between the Terrans and the Karidians could be heard everywhere. The shocking part was Jack’s old friend Cryst was indicted for the assassination. Immediately, Jack new something was wrong. Jack’s suspicions were confirmed that morning when he jacked into his home port. The first thing Jack checked was the special set of secured memory he and Cryst only knew about. Inside was a c-mail transmission from Cryst explaining in vague terms that he was in trouble. That’s all Jack needed to know. After this job, Jack would start to plan. Karidian space or not; tense relations or not… Jack was going to get Cryst out. First, however, he had to do the job he was hired to do; those secured data banks.

Jack chose to attempt the job from home; break into the government database from his home terminal. With all that was going on, Jack’s mind began to wonder. He figured, while he was there, why not check out any govemment records possibly related to the assassination. He fantasized about a deep dark conspiracy. He was not prepared for his fantasy to some true.

He found strong evidence deep in a personal database about a conspiracy that involved several corporations, a faction within the Expanse Government and a secret cult-like faction within the Karidian Government. It had a codename: Operation Koolal, named after the Karidian god. Jack found that odd. There was also a mention of a Silkman. This name sounded familiar. This spurred on his interest.

Jack stored this information deep with his own brain, and then executed the command to go to the memory location where he was hired to go. His location within the Matrix didn’t change. This worried him. He always had a policy of secrecy with his clients. The memory would be wiped out without Jack seeing what was in it. This was the first violation of that policy. He was hired to destroy the information he just accessed. This was enough evidence to clear Cryst. Jack paused in his indecision. Fatal mistake. One should always keep moving inside restricted areas in the Matrix.

Asmall insignificant sentry program logged him as a unauthorized user, and was calling a local administrator. Jack moved quickly to withdraw his inquiries, and tog out before they could identify him. The system administrator call was suddenly redirected to a remote port, ID Silkman. Jack was definitely worried.

Jack’s memory pathways out of this section of the Matrix were suddenly being cut off by special security programs he didn’t initially recognize. He knew if he stayed much longer, he’d be IDed. Jack turned a virtual-comer inside the Matrix, to nearly collide with a security program. Jack suddenly recognized the program; Program REAPER, a government designed program to induce cyber-psychosis, if you’re lucky, and if you’re not, a complete lobotomy.

Jack hastily retreated back into a sub-memory module allocated for an inactive redundant system that hadn’t been used in years (a back alley in virtual reality terms). The security modules passed him by, and Jack was able to exit out quickly.

Immediately after his log out, he heard a knock at his door. Stayed in too long! Jack hurriedly gathered some belongings, some cash, and his briefcase, and promptly exited out the proverbial backway. He hid for a while in a few hotels, until the city cooled down enough to charter a flight. Leaving Earth hurt. He loved the amount of Matrix he could travel on Earth. Outer Expanse Matrices would be small, and not very satisfying. Shit happens. Jack had other work to do anyway. Then, he suddenly, something occurred to him; I’ve never been in the Karidian Matrix.

Part 3: In the Shackles

 

Cryst marched in line with the rest of the prisoner-slaves to the transport shuttle. It was a long and hard work day deep within the mines of Jarak Teel. The burns and lacerations from the Takladiam Ore were causing severe pain to the human, as he sat on the hard metal bench in the rear of the prison shuttle. The night would be welcome, as far as Cryst was concerned, even if his cell was configured for Ajaratikaran; a short, four legged saurian creature that slept in the daylight. He knew the prison officials enjoyed the torture they put him through, while he attempted to sleep in a bed too small for him, in bright Light. He had no control of the matter converters that configured his room; the machines that could convert all the matter in his cell into energy, and back to matter in a split second, redesigned completely different Every once in a while, they would find a new configuration, and give Cryst a little surprise when he came back from the mines. He doubted they would do it today. Although he wasn’t supposed to know, he found out that the computers were acting up lately, and the administrators were running a full system diagnostics all week. This notion made him think of Jack. Jack and Cryst served together in the Wars as Marines. They each had their share of life-saving experiences with the other. so a solid friendship was inevitable. Cryst had hoped that the message he left had gotten through. Jack was Cryst’s only trump card. When Cryst was filed out of the shuttle, hours later, and shoved into his cell, he was suddenly greeted with a pleasant surprise. His cell was nicely configured for a human. A message well received.

Getting to the Prison Matrix took Jack two full days on the secured line that Jack had established with a little inside help. Jack knew a few a politicians in the Terran Expanse High Council that owed him a favor. They were able to get him a secured line off of the vacation world he was on via some local com-sats and several spy-sats that not many people knew about. He was sure he could trust them because of the information he made them believe he had.

The third day was spent setting small memory flags within the Karidian Matrix, so he could get back to the

Prison, and try to get Cryst sprung. Jack was able to travel easily through the alien Matrix, because it was an old version of the Terrans’, obviously sold through some black market deal, or something. The fourth day was spent resting. Jack’s cyber-connections were warm in his brain, and he needed the rest badly. At least Jack was able to do Cryst a little good, changing the configuration of his cell, and locking it into a memory storage area the Karidians would never find. His eyes fell heavily, after he logged out, and his smile showed his pride over his work.

Cryst awoke comfortably from his soft bed, which Jack obviously set up. From the outside, it looked like a steel bunk, but once Cryst had sat on it, he realized it was more of Jack’s Matrix work

Cryst rubbed his sore muscle, and the sore wrist that held his Prison Wrist Band. They were called Shackles, although they were much more sophisticated than pieces of iron. They controlled nano-explosives that had attached to his spinal cord. Senors set up in orbit around Jarak Teel would signal the explosives to blow. They wouldn’t kill him, but they would paralyze him for life, causing him to be a prisoner of his own body. Knowing there weren’t many ways off the planet, the Karidians speculated that the prisoner would be stranded in Karidian space, paralyzed, easily detected by Karidian patrols. This was the device that kept Cryst on planet. There were several different types of the Shackles, all fitting for the different species. Some did cause death, used for the more invulnerable species, but Cryst was blessed with a more humane device, or at least that was what he was told.

Cryst heard the hiss of his cell door, as he prepared for another tortuous day in the mines.

Jack awoke later than he wanted, worried that his work would be too late. The flags he set might not be there when he reentered. However, as he discovered, the flags were still there, due to his skill and prowess. He soon was deep within the Prison Matrix.

Jack first had to find out if there was some kind of personal security systems that were so often used in modem prison facilities. The Terrans used collars that stunned the victim if he got out of line. The Karidians probably used something similar. Jacks plans were to erase Cryst from the files of the Prison, and then supply him with a way out. Timing was important. What Cryst did on the planet was also important.

The shuttle was not as full as usual, which seemed a little odd to Cryst. He scanned the group that was on board; a Moradian giant, humanoid standing about three meters tall, with a vicious attitude towards humans; a cloaked Gantarian, mysterious race of tentacled creatures, hard to look at without getting sick; a Fragarian, akin to the humans in many ways, this one was cybered up like he was a Matrix runner. Cryst’s view passed over the Gantarian, grey-tan cloak covering all but the tips of his three tentacle-legs. Wait a minute, Cryst thought Gantarians have four tentacle-legs!!!

Jack found the Shackle data after dodging several deadly security programs. The Karidian Matrix was definitely more lethal than the Terran Matrix he was used to. Many of the programs were disguised, or unidentifiable until you approached them with a query. However, no damage yet.

The Gantarian had soon began to moan loudly, as if the creature was sick. A Karidian guard hobbled over to see hat was wrong, as per his duty. Slaves should be in perfect health for the Ore mines.

Cryst was able to see vaguely what happened next. I fake tentacled limb swiftly rose from the cloak, and a blast of laser fire leaped from it. The guard fell, dead. The other guard fell just as quickly. Cryst couldn’t move to do anything, as he was chained to the bench.

The cloaked figure then sat still for a moment. Cryst stared intently, intensely curious, but also uncomfortably familiar with the individual’s style and intentions. Cryst watched with astonishment and sudden recognition as the chain’s keys floated from the guards belt to the outstretched humanoid hand that claimed them.

Jack was intensely busy with a cat-and-mouse game with a security program that came out of nowhere. Jack was unable to get to the Shackle data of his friend, although he was able to identify it. Cryst was, after all, one of three humans on the colony.

Jack deftly hid in a data base file, which seemed to be deep within memory the program could not access. Waiting for the program to give up its search, Jack took a moment to look around. What he found was erdightening.

He first found the data he needed to determine his friend’s activities; slave labor in some mines. At the very moment, according to the schedule he was being shuttled to the mine. Then he noticed a recent change; something only he would notice. Fresh memory. Someone changed the roster. According to past rosters, there were usually 10 to 15 prisoners shuttled to the mine at this time. However, the fresh memory read that there were only four. This worried Jack. He knew that Cryst was on that shuttle, but who else was. He accessed the names of the others, and tried to cross reference it with the list of inmates that were usually shipped through. All but one checked out. The quickly tried to access that name, and suddenly an alan-n sounded, sending a message to a remote communications channel. Before exiting out, Jack was able to access the name; ID: SILKMAN.

Silkman had removed his disguise, and stood in front of Cryst.

“Nice to see you, again, human.” the thin-skinned sarginian hissed.

“Fuck you, you damned esper. Unlock me from these things, and I’ll show you how nice it is!” Cryst felt a strong anger building, and this outburst was only the beginning, if he lived long enough to let it loose.

“No, I’m sorry. giving up the advantage is not my style. You can understand, can’t you, Mr. Dagonstar. I have bigger, and better plans for you, and your friends here.” he gestured to the other two who sat bewildered at the situation,”Certain individuals paid a nice price to have you two killed, but it wasn’t quite as profitable as the price on Mr. Dagonstar’s head. This human has helped set up my retirement plan.”

The assassin was moving slowly and quietly toward the door that lead to the cockpit. Keys out, Silkman swiftly opened door, and shot twice, once for each of the crew. The shuttle suddenly lurched, as the Sarginian lunged towards the controls and regained stability. After a few moments, he was able to reprogram the flight computer, for a flight outside the orbital perimeter.

“There, that will do.” he said as he emerged from the cockpit. “In a few moment, you will all three feel a sudden pain, and then nothing. Killed while trying to escape. Pretty smooth, I must say ”

As silk…, Cryst thought. His sweat was dripping heavily over his brow. The other two were furious attempting to break free, and get at the Silkman, but to no avail. The bonds held fin-n. Cryst could only wait.

Jack was able to swiftly dodge the security around the database, and get back to the Shackle data. He soon found the information he needed and deleted it clean. He then took a few moments to make a few friends, and deleted two other files.

The hours passed. Cryst knew the amount of time it would take, and when it came, nothing happened to any of them. JackIt had to have been. He must have deleted their Shackle files, so the perimeter would not detect them. After that thought had raced through Cryst’s mind, another entered. Fake it.

The Silkman entered the cargobay, where the three still figures slouched over. Cryst was pleased to see that the others got the hint and followed suit. Sitkman, then proceeded to remove each of their bonds with the obvious intent of completely disposing of them. It was that moment that Cryst took his chance.

The blow threw the stunned Sarginian back into the waiting arms of the already standing giant Moradian. There were a few audible cracks as the giant squeezed.

“Wait don’t kill him yet. I have a feeling I know why these things didn’t work.” he lifted his left arm; the one with the Shackle device. “Can you jack into him. He’s probably got a remote jack channel set up. I think a friend may be in trouble.” he said to the cybered humanoid who stood beside him The figure nodded his head, as he searched for a jack wire on the Silkman.

Jack was stuck in a comer, being chased by some of the Silkman’s personal security progarns. Jack had used every possible programming skill to dodge them and get back to the pathway home, but these sec-progs were not letting up. Jack was running down a long parallel-pathway, when he suddenly found himself surrounded by an army of security programs. Jack was ready to accept defeat, when suddenly a voice came to his input port.

“Are you a Runner that goes by the name of Jack.?” it said.

“Yes” was the reply.

“Cryst is okay, and thanks to you, so are we. I go by the Butcher on the Matrix. Cryst says rendezvous with us at the coordinates that are now being fed into your memory. We don’t have much time before Karidian patrols get us. Hurry.”

Butcher.. it sounded familiar, “What about the Silkman?”

“Don’t worry, the Butcher will handle him.”

The Butcher… Jack did hear of him. He was a specially jacked Fragarian spy for the Terrans; specialized in withdrawing information from brains via external jacks, and reprogramming the brain to whatever he like. He usually did very gruesome things to his victims.

Jack took a deep, virtual breath as he moved passed the now dormant sec-progs. He easily found his pathway home, and logged out.

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