"Shut them down. Get rid of that data now!"
"Sir, they're refusing to fragment."
"Then get someone down there and fit them blow for blow. Destroy that monster now!"
"I want that beast gone before I get back. If you have to call Nikolai in, then call him in. But that beast better be gone before I get back." He turned away and started up the ladder. "Getting rid of it is primary, retrieving its data is secondary. I don't want to lose any of or people."
"Yes sir," but he was already gone, and the hatch was closed. "Well, what are you looking at me for,? Get me Nikolai." His subordinates scrambled to obey.
"This is Rose speaking, how may I help you?"
"I have a job for you."
"Just a second." He types a few keys on his keyboard. "Continue."
"Is the line secure?"
"Do you need to ask?"
"Sorry. Here's what's up...."
"We have a bug."
"Bug: spy, mole rant, hole. Someone opened their mouth."
"Oh." Kryket shrugged. "Is there something you want me to do about it?"
"There's nothing to fix. They know nothing."
"They'd better not. But make it look like something's up."
"Me? That's your job. 'To make the public think we have nothing to hide, but we need to hide it anyways.'"
"Hey, I don't need you quoting my job description too."
"Then stop complaining. Go fix the hole that isn't there. And leave me alone."
"Someone wants to speak with you."
"What do they want?"
"Bug Busting Inc. Another one."
He sighed. "Third one this week."
"Patch them through."
"Line 6, whenever you're ready sir."
"And boot up the network. get the crew warmed up."
"Yes sir. Consider it done."
"And what do you expect me to do about it?"
"Against what threat. There is nothing left. We saw to that when I rebuilt the infrastructure."
"They found a way in."
"I wish I knew. I'm sorry, Rose, I can't help you anymore." The line went dead.
Kryket booted up the software, and started running the patches.
"Hello, what have we here?"
There was a door where there shouldn't have been one. A door where there should have been a firewall a mile thick.
"I'll send someone over there right away."
"This isn't just a small bug, sir. Perhaps you should see to it personally."
"I haven't got time for that. If my professionals can't handle it, they will advise. Do not interfere. You know the stipulations of the contract."
"You can have two. That's it. No more. End of the line."
"Thank you, sir," but the line was already dead.
Rose shook. This could not be happening. All those years. All those trails. All of everything. And it was ending.
There was only one option left: to come out on top.
The phone kept ringing. The doors kept opening. Suddenly the phone died.
"No, I will not let it end like this!" He booted up the experimental infusion device, and dove into the system.
"Kryket? Is that you?"
"What are you doing here?"
"Chasing a bug."
"Barricading a door."
"Some things never change, do they?"
"No, they never do."
"I'm using a different name now."
"I heard. You'll still be the Spydir in my book. Where you working now?"
"Government. Offered me a load of equipment and a teeny paycheck. I couldn't refuse. You still working the slums?"
"They're not slums anymore. But still on my own. Haven't found a formidable enough partner. Unless you're looking for a change of scenery."
"No thanks. The grass is sharper over here."
"Last time I checked, you were the one who didn't see a fence."
"I guess some things change, and other things stay they same. Like me and you. Respectively, of course."
"Not quite. The reverse, actually. You were always to trusting." Kryket activated Quarantine. "You should have known better than to hack through my firewalls."
Rose dialed into the network. Too many things where happening at once. He'd have to slow everything down.
>ACTIVITY RATE DOWN 20%
>disconnect all ports
>ALL PORTS CLEARED
>LOADING... COMPLETE. WELCOME BACK.
The firewall was repairing, but not fast enough. If any hackers got near enough, they'd have little trouble getting in.
"I hate to do this, but here goes nothing." Kryket held his breath, and activated Quarantine.
The cell was like one that Nikolai had helped Kryket build.
"I just hope he hasn't changed as much as he claims." He stepped up to the wall, and began to dial himself out.
The system was running more smoothly than the last time he had entered the system, before many of the newest upgrades. The virtual world around him was fluid and smooth. After pausing a moment to re-orient himself, Rose set to work.
"Call up the old crowd."
>Connecting... Complete. Who would you like to speak to?
"All of them."
>Not all are accessible.
"Get me those that are then."
>Proceed when ready.
Faces appeared around him, as if he floated in a sphere of vid screens. Weary faces warmed when they saw him. "Good evening, gentlemen. I know it's a little late, but the world is coming to an end. Everything that we worked all those years for is fading, and something new is trying to pull away the balance. We cannot stop it; all we can hope for is to come out on top. Those who wish to join me, please dial in now."
Quarantine did what it was supposed to. It pulled everything in it's target range in and let nothing out. Or it wasn't supposed. Something was wrong. Kryket shivered as he watched the hackers prying into his data.
Something was very wrong.
There was one loose tile in the wall. One brick held in with a touch less mortar than the others around it. Or there should have been. Nicolai closed his eyes and tried to concentrate.
It had to be in here somewhere. Every programmer had his flaws, even a master such as Kryket. Tendrils of thought reached out from his mind, made material by the virtual environment. They tapped each tile lightly, in turn, testing its strength. Halfway through the room, he felt one that seemed different. Nikolai marked it, then continued on.
The portal to the Net appeared in front of Rose, and he passed through it to the checkpoint. There, only one colleague was there to greet him.
"I'm sorry, old friend, but we've gone our own ways. The Net and the System do not belong to us anymore, and we have let it go. Nobody will be joining you on this venture. I'm sorry." The simulacrum faded away.
"So am I," Rose spoke to no-one, "So am I."
The lines were reeling it away from him, though the hole in the firewall. All his hard work, lost. All his patience, wasted. All those years of spending all his money on security instead of rent or food, spoiled. Kryket pulled himself out of the system and cried.
Yes, that was it. the loose tile. Nikolai tapped it, twisted it, trying to trick the code into letting him go. Eventually, it fell away, and the cell melted. As he withdrew from the Net, Nikolai could feel that something was very, very wrong.
His spirit stood in the checkpoint, and waited for the end. But Rose's corporeal fingers danced across the keyboard, racing to find a way out. He started to withdraw, but something refused to let him return to the real world. The virtual landscape pixilated around him, and nausea racked his body.
"Please don't let it end this way. Please."
The tears tumbled onto the keyboard, soaking up the molding crumbs of food poised between the keys. After a few moments, he looked up, and noticed for the first time that his world had changed. His terminal was no longer in a dripping basement of a dying building. He no longer could hear the roaring of cars passing overhead, or the drip of leaking water from the floor above. Instead, there was a light hum, and the room had changed to a tile cell.
Kryket looked around, and smiled.