Title/Part Number: Drachenblut: Part One
Category/Warnings: Action, Technobabble.
Pairings: None thus far
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L3's artifical dawn was still hours to come as Aleksandr Morovsky awoke from unsteady slumber. Someone was pounding on his door.
Actually, several someones. He could hear heavy boots shifting in the apartment building's hallway, the floor creaking under its unusual load. In the corner, on a dresser next to his withering tube of hand lotion and his lamp made out of an old port bottle, a green digital display read 3:04.
"Shit." The man's eyes went wide. He was an ungainly person, about forty-five and quite overweight, and the shadows from the dim ambient glow of the colony slashed shadows across his belly and shirt. His hair was greasy, his face was unshaven, and his temples ached with a slight hangover. He waited for another sound and heard the hissing crunch of the floorboards shifting again.
/They found me./
"Military Police! Open up!"
"Shit," he repeated hopelessly to the darkness. "Shit."
Morovsky glanced out his nearby window to the creamy yellow pavement outside in the night -- five stories down to the ground. There was no hope of getting down the side of the building; he didn't have a balcony or any rope or even a fire escape. A bead of sweat rolled down his plump face and fell noiselessly into his white pillow.
The man reached over to the television screen on the nearby table and typed a code into the remote control. He had installed the microcamera in a light fixture in the hallway many months before, as a vain precaution against something like this. The TV flashed on, giving a black-and-white, fuzzy view of the dim hallway outside. Some dust or something seemed to have settled on the lens, but he could definitely make out several shadowy figures outside his doorway. They held their rifles at the ready.
/But could they have figured it out...?/
He reached into his dresser with a grimace and pulled out a shiny silver pistol. It was illegal to own guns on-colony, but that didn't matter now. Chances were, they already had enough on him to put him in front of a firing squad. Morovsky slowly loaded all six chambers of the gun and held it next to his head, barrel upwards.
"Military police! Open up!"
/It doesn't matter how they knew. Maybe the whole thing was a molehunt. Maybe the synthesis plans were just a fairy-tale. All that matters is that the OZ secret police are pounding on my door at three AM and I'm going to die painfully in a few hours. Maybe sooner./
"Open this door!"
Morovsky crept like a cornered animal out of his bedroom across to the first shadowy room of his apartment, closer and closer to the pounding sound. Wary of the squad of trained killers less than three feet from him, he braced his right shoulder against the doorframe. Gradually placing his right ear against the flimsy wall of the apartment, he could hear several whispering voices in the hall, definitely at least four or five soldiers.
/They'll be armed with automatic weapons... and I've only got six bullets.../
His heart hammered in his ears and chest like the thrashing of an engine. They would come in looking right at him... if his reflexes were fast enough, maybe he could tag the first one. The rest would fall back into the hall and wait until he made a move.
/I may be a dead man, but I'm not a corpse just yet./
His odds were pitifully small. But they were still odds. And, of course, there was an excellent chance that they would kill him in the gunfight, preventing them from being able to torture him... Morovsky's sweaty body pressed up against the wall as he settled into his crouch. He could wait until they decided to move. He listened to himself breathe for a few seconds.
Their move was decidedly different from what he had expected.
There were a few metallic snaps in the air, his ears rang, and the gun was out of his burning, numb hand and tumbling across the carpet. As the wooden door before him burst open, he could see the wallpaper and boarding next to his hand open up in pinpoint explosions. They'd disarmed him without setting eye on him.
/Intelligence Department's infared vision system... they watched my body through the walls.../
Painful light flooded forth into the first room of the apartment. Figures in full OZ attire -- uniforms, gloves, and hats -- cast loud shadows on the soft carpet flooring. Morovsky blindly charged forward, in a last desperate hope to tackle his attackers; but a gun butt slammed into his forehead from somewhere.
Almost welcoming the release from reality, the hapless mole slipped into blank unconsciousness.
"How's the search going, ma'am?"
OZ System Administrator Garner glanced briefly up at her subordinate before returning her gaze to the computer screen. "Glad to see you up at this hour, Ballard."
Not quite sure whether to interpret this as actual praise or an accusation of shirking his duty, the technician bowed his head. "I came as fast as I could, ma'am. What's going on?"
"We caught a mole. I just got a call-in from the Operations Bureau.... he's alive, a little beat up, though. They're transporting him to K block right now." She adjusted her glasses for a moment before taking a sip of her coffee. "We gotta find out what he took and where he sent it."
"Are they going to interrogate him?"
Garner shrugged and brushed the black hair out of her eyes. "Yeah. Unfortunately, it'll be a few hours until the time they get around to asking him what we need to know... and if we're smart about working, we'll be done much sooner than that. Time is of the essence, Ballard, so get going!"
Ballard sat down at the next workstation and turned on the terminal. "Maybe they'll give us a transcript of what he says. That way we'll be able to check our work."
"You ever read an interrogation transcript before?" The system administrator's voice was laconic and slightly charmed. /We hire such innocents these days./
"N, no, ma'am."
"Believe me, Ballard, you don't want to. Ops is too lazy to actually transcribe the things by hand, so they just run the recording through a computer. Problem is, they put in an onomonopoeia generator in the software; so you get to read KRRAKK when they break his vertebrae."
The ruffled subordinate turned slightly green. "...I'll remember that."
Garner shook her head and continued typing. "It'll be a pity if they kill this one, though. If I ran the circus, I'd hire either him or whatever friend of his wrote the code."
"How far did he get?"
"It's still hard to tell, really. But it looks as though he was able to access some of my own link allocation tables -- and not by brute force, either. That's pretty impressive. I think it'd take me a few years to find a way around my own password schemes; but it looks like this guy did it in under three months."
Ballard's eyes widened as he began to type in command codes. "...That's amazing."
"Yup. But on top of that, he got through the /old/ system administrator's barriers, it seems, accessing Clarke's XQS extension list. That's where I am now, at least." Garner shook her head and whistled. "Oh, yeah, that's right; before you get deep. I had to release about a trillion access barriers to get anywhere, so there are all these 'Access Violation' packets floating around. Just ignore 'em."
"...What a nuisance."
Garner shook her head ruefully. "Yeah, really. The higher-ups at the organization are all like, 'let's give everyone system privacy', so people who rank above us have higher access levels. Right now, I'm working off an admiral's account 'cause he's got better system privileges than I do."
Ballard shook his head warily. "Um, can't we be prosecuted for doing that?"
Garner only smirked. "You gonna rat yourself out?"
This time the tech grinned. "Think not, ma'am!"
There was total silence for five or ten minutes, save the constant rainy sound of keys being pressed. Then, like a thunderstorm breaking, Garner's fingers suddenly erupted into an unceasing flow of code.
"Looks like I finally reached our mole's little burrow... insert a passcode... try again... Ballard! Get to 'cd10293.xrm', on the local server's root directory... I just unlocked it for you. Start modifying code so's my timer window won't expire! You've got eighteen seconds until the system locks me out, so hop to it!"
Ballard nodded. "Ma'am!"
Garner's eyes were like stars as the data streamed by on the screen. "Got a hit -- two hits -- here we go! Brilliant scheme he used there; I'll have to remember that. I've got access to his infonet, and I just cracked his disk partition. Let's see this list of files... they're not scrambled; so he must have just been working on a transmission of them... holy shit! Ballard, come here and look at this!! Let's see what this first file is...."
"But I'm still rewriting the code on the xrm file --!"
The pumped-up administrator stretched out an arm to grab the tech's chair, but as she prepared to yank him away from his keyboard her arm froze. As her eyes widened to round coins, her arm stretched horizontally out in the air like a support beam.
Then it slowly dropped to her side and she collapsed into her chair.
"Is this someone's idea of a fuckin' joke...?"
When he regained consciousness, Morovsky was tied into a chair and staring at a pair of perfectly polished boots a few yards away. Gradually becoming cogent, he shook his head and followed the legs, the ceremonial sword, and the length of the half-shouldered cloak upward. As he saw the man's face, he felt the knot in his gut squeeze itself into a painful ulcer and his face become a mask of utter terror.
OZ Vice Admiral Sethir Negon, dressed in full regalia, smiled back at him.
/Oh, no... of all the possible people to command my capture op, I got the Grand Inquisitor.../
Morovsky, trying desperately to avoid the man's laconic yet immensely disturbing gaze, looked around him. The room he was in was probably an OZ interrogation cell, totally sealed and extremely bright. Heavily soundproofed, too
/so no one hears the screaming/
as well as extremely white and reflective. The walls and floor were hard solid ceramic, coated with an ionic barrier to make it extremely smooth
/so they can wash what's left of me out the cell when he's done.../
and durable. There was a solitary microphone pickup dangling from the ceiling of the white chamber, perhaps twenty feet in the air; and a video camera in one corner of the room.
Negon's smile became a condescending, predatory grin.
"I can see by the look on your face that you know who I am, Aleksandr Morovsky. To put it delicately, you've probably heard of rumors of those who've crossed my path... and rumors of what happens to them."
Morovsky nodded, his brains aching from the concussion.
"You may have also heard stories of what I have been known to do to traitors." Still smiling, the admiral unsheathed his ceremonial sword, the gleaming blade sliding out of the sheath with a metallic sound. As he lowered it into a carrying position, the blade clicked softly against the steel toe of Negon's right boot.
"The choice is now yours. You can find out whether those rumors are true... or you can do exactly as I tell you."
The mole nodded willingly.
"Um, ma'am? What's going on? Ma'am?"
Ballard's query was met with nothing but silence as Garner's jaw slowly dropped. He got up and glanced at her workstation, but saw nothing but a black screen... he hadn't been fast enough to get her more access. But the administrator had probably gotten a long enough window to read what was on the screen at the time...
It took about ten seconds until Garner's face lost its ghostly aspect and returned to its normal appearance.
/I should have known better than to work with this greenhorn around. But nooo, I thought that a mole like Morovsky could never have gotten too deep... What the hell was I thinking?! Now both of us are stuck in this shit, and stuck in it but good./
The administrator sighed and looked the tech in the eyes. "Ballard, I just got some... really, really bad news."
Ballard gulped. "How bad?"
Garner looked down and thought for a bit, then got up from her chair and approached her subordinate. He, of course, obediently stood up at attention; and she sighed ruefully. "Real bad. Insanely bad. Ten-year-development-process-ruined bad."
Her green eyes locked bitterly onto his hazel ones. "Yeah. We're going to be the ones who tells Ops that their mole managed to get his hands on some seriously illicit shit. And if anything I've heard about this operation's commander is true, HQ may be in a shoot-the-messenger mood."
"Who's the commander, ma'am?"
"...Negon." Garner watched with an I-knew-it-would-happen expression as Ballard's eyes widened and his lip began to quiver. Quickly, she raised her hands in a placating gesture and started talking again. "But if you do exactly what I say, we might just get out of this without getting court-martialed or worse. For now I think we're safe at least; we've got skills they need. Right now, all you can do is worry about doing your job better than you've ever done it before."
Ballard's throat contorted a final time and his face became less green. "...That's good. I'll do the best I can, ma'am."
Garner smiled. "Excellent. You got another thirty-six hours' energy in you?"
The tech's mouth changed to a worried line. "Yeah. I'll probably need some caffiene soon, though..."
/He may be naive and sickly and geeky, but he can stay awake for a day and a half. And that's all I really need.../ Garner smiled and exhaled. "That's just fine, Ballard."
"I got used to it in college, ma'am. What's our first move?"
Garner's first move was to coolly rip open an access panel on the main console and flip three red levers.
"We seal the room."
Next, she made a beeline for the phone and dialed 00013. Her voice was quick but calm.
"Operations Control? This is System Administrator Marie Garner; serial number OZ-CSYS2313387. I'm at the twenty-eighth computer center. It looks like your mole hit the jackpot. I have a ten-seven-seven status... repeat, that's a ten-seven-seven security breach." She listened to the charmingly soft chirps from the other end as the operator started screaming hasty, panicked commands to subordinates for a few moments before hanging up the phone.
"Ballard, I'm going to machine 104 to start ripping apart the machine transfer records. We need to see exactly what files he got and when he sent them. While I do that, you get to seal off the network and suspend all security rules."
Garner's face was impassive, but inside her heart was pounding along at a hundred miles a minute.
/Shit. Shit. Shit./
/I don't even think Ops has created procedures for dealing with something this big./
/And if that mole was half as smart as I thought he was.../
She quickly checked all the closed-circuit cameras to make sure no one was entering the building, then grabbed a keyboard and started frantically hacking through barriers and tracing command paths.
/Then we don't have a chance in hell./
To be continued...