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Written by Jabberwocky

The origional file can be found here

 

Corey looked around the street. The city was always grey. The buildings were grey. The sky was grey. There was always a faint drizzle. And hell, most of the cars that seemed to roll by were grey, or at least coated in grey dust.

And you wonder why you don’t go out more, man? he thought to himself. In one hand he carried a take-out bag from a Chinese restaurant down the street. Not particularly good, it was food though. Pot stickers and beef-on-a-stick. Thinking about it, Corey didn’t think he’d eaten anything substantial in the past 6 months. For the past 8 months he’d been working with a group of likeminded agents making the first truly adaptive defense system.

Corey shifted his “MAX-COLA” to his left hand that held the greasy paper bag full of Chinese junk food as he opened the door to his apartment building. It could be called a sleazebag, but that would be giving some credit to its name. As Corey walked in the front door, the features hit him. The smells of rancid food and human sweat, the glass with grease streaks on it. The building super sitting behind a counter, chewing an over spilling hamburger who’s contents Corey didn’t want to know about. The super was wearing a torn white shirt with the words “Respect my authority” crudely scrawled on there with magic marker. He had a fat red smile and small eyes that made you think of a rodent.

Putting his “MAX-COLA” back into his right hand Corey walked across the small lobby, catching some odors from the supers hamburger that nearly made him vomit. He quickly walked past him, down a grimy corridor past an elevator that had never worked to a door with a cardboard sign taped on, crudely labeled “out of order”. Pushing against it with his shoulder, Corey contemplated the dark stairway in front of him.

The first time Jane had shown Corey his new residence, replete with broken light bulbs, rats, smells of dubious origin, and a building manager who’s hygienic habits would put those of a large smelly African animal to disdain, he had demanded that she skip the rest of the joke and go for the punch line. The dark stairs were tricky. A few were missing, too.

Corey’s room was on the second floor. The third floor had been firebombed sometime in the distant past. You could see streaks of soot running down the dark walls from the bombing. The superintendent had never repaired it, under the sage reasoning that “that floor was already messed up”.

The door to his room was secured with a heavy mag-lock, which his employer had insisted on, and been installed hours after the equipment had been moved in. The mag-lock was polished chrome and gleamed in the dull corridor light. It had impressive looking lock status symbols on it, with a red security eye. Corey had his keycard in his pocket, shifting his MAX-COLA around some more he slipped the key in the lock. It took about 15 seconds to sequence and release all the catches. The door swung inwards, and Corey walked in.

The door slammed shut behind him and the room, the racks of gear, was lit by a hellish red light.

“AUTHORIZED ENTRY DETECTED. SELF-DESTRUCT SYSTEMS ACTIVATED AND PRIMED. STATE YOUR USER-CODE.”

“Daniel Corey, a stitch in time saves nine.” Corey said in a dull voice, looking down at his sleeve. The light had startled him, and he’d spilled some of his cola on his jacket.

“Access confirmed.”

With that the lights came on and Corey could hear the whirr of the five gateways lined up against the far wall. A stereo in the back of the room started playing Living Colors “Cult of Personality”. Corey set his MAX-COLA and take out bag down on top of a set of old CD cases, and looked around the room.

The windows, three of them, were boarded up. This “apartment” was a corner room, and was about 45’ by 40. There were cables running across the floor, which was littered with empty plastic bottles and clamshells. White bricks of C-4 were taped around the room, their detonator eyes glowing red. Racks of equipment were stacked everywhere, all of it quietly whirring. Against the far wall sat Corey’s desk.

Small 17” LCD displays were all around the room, most of them linked into file service and communications hosts. They displayed file names, log data. A few showed the rooms defensive status. Corey’s desk had a massive 35” 3-Dee display tank, with about six 20” LCD orbital displays and a 17” above it. Corey picked his cola and bag back up and walked across the room to his desk, being careful of the many cables and clamshells.

Corey liked his chair. It was massive and well padded. There were at least three jackets and coats thrown over it with multiple pockets being used, all filled with empty candy wrappers and gum packets. The chair made creaking noises when Corey sat down in it. He opened the carry out bag, popped a pot sticker in his mouth, took a swig of his MAX-COLA, and flipped his monitors on.

The room held, in total, over ten machines. Four of them were AM-CORE file server machines, and they were never still. They held lots of information. Two of them were dedicated to temporary file storage, hackers would hot-swap stolen files from target mainframes to one of Corey’s machines then to their employers servers. The other two were being used by Project members for low-key stuff, documents, e-mail traffic.

There were two small boxes connected to an anonymous public grid. One of them ran a chat/BBS program, mostly used by those who wished to remain shadowy. Corporate Johnsons would post missions, some of the hackers Corey knew would take them. Some missions would sit there for weeks. The other ran a bastardized mail program, untraceable e-mail. It was a nice little scam Corey ran on the side to pay the bills, selling it for 50 creds a month.

There were three Project machines. One of them was a dual AM-CORE file server box running souped-up external storage drives. One of them was a quad parallel computer array, 12800 ghz in total. Corey had no idea why the Project required that much horsepower. He wasn’t really privy to all the information on the Project anyway- he just maintained the machines.

The third… the third machine made Corey nervous. It didn’t register on the network, but it was there, like a dark, brooding presence. It had a narrow slit across the top that emitted a green light, with rows of red lights along its side. It was totally silent. All the other machines in Corey’s apartment made some substantial noise, with drive access and cooling fans. The third box was totally silent. It drew a hell of a lot of power, but it was totally silent.

Corey was lost in considering the third, silent box for a few moments, then snapped out of it. He reached over to his left and hit the power switch for his gateways. They started booting back up. His boss had come right flat out and told him that when he wasn’t in the presence of his machines, he had to turn them off.

Bringing his hand back to his cluster of three keyboards his right hand hit on the gun Jane had given him. An old 9mm Beretta. Flat black military. Laser sight. Corey disliked it. Disliked guns. But a sense of curiosity welled up in him, and he picked the gun up.

Holding it with his right hand he brought it up to eye level and stared at it. It looked deadly, still, silent. In front of him on the 35” display tank his double Trinity gateway had almost completed its self test and was coming online. The file server was waiting for the Trinity to confirm its OS loading and commence file sharing. But Corey was lost staring at the gun.

For that moment in time, it held his attention. He pressed the magazine eject button on the grip and pondered the clip. Specialized 9mm lead-oxy explosives. Maniac had taken him down to the quarry one day and shown Corey how they worked. Blew a good 40 pound rock into smithereens with one shot. Light on recoil. These versions were subsonic, too.

Then the moment was lost. Corey snapped the clip back into the gun and put it back on the desk. His gateway had booted, and there was a new mail message. Corey shook his head and went to check it.

Well, there were several messages. One was priority one, snapped to the top of Corey’s stack. It was a message from Jane. Corey read messages from Jane first, for a very good reason. Jane was the only person Corey knew that carried a hand grenade as a weapon of “self defense”.

The message was terse.

“Corey, we need some more services from the secure chat machine. Some people hare reported a few bugs in the code as well. Please fix those or you will be terminated.

We need you to add the latest service pack from Frontier Communications to the secure servers. Also try and manually patch the hole in its Telnet client. Please perform these actions in the hour or you will be terminated.”

A spam message followed that, from some company promoting a new series of processor. Corey deleted it. Better get on that job for Jane, he though. He keyed up the remote process list on the secure chat server on the main screen. He keyed in the download from Frontier Communications server to one of the file servers. All the machines in Corey’s apartment could be remotely controlled by Corey’s gateway. He wouldn’t have it any other way.

The update should work, Corey though. So he went on reading his mail.

A message from Killer and Maniac. “Will be dropping by later today, have some news.”

Maniac and Killer were formally referred to by Jane as Mr. Jones and Mr. Smith. Corey called them Maniac and Killer because of the way they looked. Maniac was about 5’ 9”, medium build, always wearing a leather jacket. His hear was long and tangled, and brown. His eyes were green. He always seemed to be walking on edge, and was a very drastic personality. One second he’d be cracking jokes, the next he’d have his weapons out and be ready to kill someone. Maniac was unstable, and (occasionally) took medicine for a schizophrenic disorder.

Killer was the polar opposite. He always wore a 3 piece business suit. Killer was always dressed very sharp, with a pair of shades. His hair was jet black and short, always precisely combed. The man seemed to secrete his own hair jell and deodorant. He was also the master of one shot kills. Case had seen videos of his work. It scared the shit out of him.

Why Jane needed Maniac and Killer was unknown. Maniac had shown Case almost all the security stuff related to the apartment, Killer had been tall, dark, and brooding. Maniac had been all over the place, talking, explaining. Maniac had some kind of nerve disorder- he always kept moving.

Corey plugged up another music track and took another drought of Max-Cola, then hit some news sites. First he went to Uplink’s internal services machine. Jane had given him his own login and password. Corey had disavowed himself of Uplink years ago, after the Revelation fiasco, but their news service got some things right, even if it was designed to boost the morale of its agents.

The headlines were as Corey had suspected. Indy agents had violated over 9 machines in the past two days. An Uplink agent had been arrested. On the Uplink BBS, some hackers were talking about pooling resources to try and spring him.

“Children,” muttered Corey, “Playing with their toys.” He flipped the disconnect switch and went to hit another server.

This time it was the FBI’s counter-cyberterror squads public news server. They were pretty objective, Corey mused, as he flipped to the news page. They reported all the hacks Uplink had, a few low profile arrests, some trial progress. Nothing big. Corey went over to the viral warning board.

A big headline screamed “MAJOR INTERNET WORM TARGETS CHINESE MILITAR ASSETS”. An article described how a Japanese hacker had managed to edit the Friend/Foe targeting logarithms in some of the weaker defense drones in the Chinese military along the Russian border, almost causing an international incident of thermonuclear scale.

The mail server beeped at him. Corey pulled it up on his main monitor, and looked at it. Patch completed and applied. Service opened. Everything running smoothly. Corey ate another pot sticker.

He flipped to his network security options and checked his firewall. Some project members had logged into the test network while Corey was out, they’d played some with the file server. Coding updates. Someone had started the massive CPU bundle churning on something. Sets of instructions were going from the CPU bundle to the mystery box.

The entire project was surrounded in mystery, Corey though. Heavy encryption on all files. Weird connection properties to and from the project file server. Weird files living on there. Corey had been the network administrator for the Chicago Data Haven for a while, and he’d seen some pretty weird stuff, but the things living on the project server were unearthly. The code changed itself sometimes. The server talked to the mystery box all the time.

Corey didn’t have time to think about it long. His lower right monitor flashed with security information. Someone was approaching the outer door. Two people. The metal scanners flashed as they neared the door- they were both armed. As they neared the door, one of them made to kick it down.

Corey punched his emergency security button, preparing to trigger the emergency destruction charges, flashbangs, and nerve gas in the hallway. Then he saw the leering face in his upper right monitor, from the doors camera.

It was Maniac.

“Hey Corey, you paranoid little rat. Where are you?”

Corey flipped on his outside mic.

“Maniac, what the hells up?”

“We got to come in, bro,” he said, swinging his arms, revealing at least two firearms. Corey could make out Killer behind him, his face hidden in shadows, standing perfectly still. He hit the entry clear button on his control console above his head.

As a strange coincidence, Corey’s music system started playing “Back in Black” as Maniac and Killer walked in. Corey cranked down the volume a little.

Maniac was hanging loose, bobbing his head to the music, mouthing the words, flitting his eyes around the room, checking the gear. Killer stood near the door, his arms crossed across his suit, his sunglasses still on, wearing a pair of black gloves.

“Hey man, whassup?” Maniac jived, doing a small shuffle in the middle of the room, expertly avoiding tripping on any cables.

“Uh, not a lot Maniac, dude.” Corey said. He was always cautious around Maniac, after seeing tapes of his work.

“You got any chairs, man?” Maniac drawled, looking around. Idly, he pulled out a pistol from his jacket and began toying with it. It was big, and silver. 10 mm. Could turn a man into a cloud of red mist at 20 yards.

“Nah, sorry. Usually don’t entertain guests.”

“That’s OK man, we wont be here long. Hey, you got a portable, right?”

Corey had several portables. One was charged up and docked at a station near the door. Corey aimed at it with his hand.

“Yeah, right over there. Why?”

“Grab it, and a backpack of gear. We’re goin’ for a ride, my man.”

Corey downed his Max-Cola, popped a final pot sticker, and stood up. Initiating the gateway power-down sequence, Corey grabbed a beat up book bag with “BORN TO BURN” sewn into the back flap. Killer turned and punched in the door exit code as Corey started walking towards them. Maniac and Killer made quick exits, Corey stopped for a moment to unplug his portable, folded it up, and walked out.

Maniac and Killer flanked Corey as they walked out the hotel. The super started to ask Maniac a question on the way out, and Maniac quickly flipped him the bird as he blew past the doors.

Outside, there was a black van waiting. Corey didn’t like the way this was looking. Maniac bounced up to the door, pulled it aside, and dove inside. Killer watched with a detached sense of disgust, then entered gingerly. Corey looked inside the van, found an empty seat, jumped in and secured the door.

“Glad you could join us, Corey” a female voice said from behind him. Turning, Corey addressed it.

“It feels good to be wanted, Ms. Jane.”

“Right. Driver?”

Corey turned to look at the driver. He hadn’t recalled seeing him before. Jane usually walked, and Maniac and Killer seemed to go where they would as if they were borne by the hounds of Hell.

The driver was clean shaven, with long black hair tied in a ponytail. His eyes were blue. He looked young. He looked back with his eyes and mouth open slightly.

“Yes, Ms. Jane?”

“Drive.”

The guy blinked, turned the car on, and slowly pulled away from the curb. There was very little traffic on the road, and they were moving down the street at about 30 miles an hour, headed towards downtown. Corey watched the dirty shops and littered streets fly by the window.

“Mr. Corey” Corey turned to Jane, “we are embarking on a little errand today.”

“So I gathered.” Corey answered, carefully. If you ever tried to guess ahead of Jane, she’d think you were being informed by someone and get paranoid. Maniac stirred a little in his seat and spoke.

“Yeah, I told him back at his place, ma’am.” Jane continued like he hadn’t spoken.

“Do you know Mr. Case, Mr. Corey?”

Case … Corey thought.

“Who doesn’t?”

Case Jones had been the first hacker to devise a nifty hack for fiber optics. One of his “experiments” had taken out the North American transmission grid and ground commerce in Western hemisphere to a halt.

The problem with Jones, Corey reflected, as Jane stared intently at him and the van rocked as it moved down the city streets, was he wasn’t really focused. Corey had met Case a few times, they’d spent a night drinking at the same bar in Chicago and Case had done a little side work with the Chicago Data Haven. Jones was brilliant but unfocused. He was also clumsy.

Take the North American crash, for example. Case hadn’t meant to do that. He swore to that up and down. His problem was he’d mis-configured his main router and plugged a set of darkfiber plugs in the wrong set of ports. He wasn’t even trying to crash the outside.

When a random guy handed him some heavy corporate ICE one day, to crack, he had no idea where it came from. It took him 14 hours to devise an exploit to some defensive software companies claimed was unbreakable. What he didn’t know was that his “employer” represented a certain North American crime family, and hackers under their employ used the exploit to pull of one of the largest bank jobs in recorded history- 2.3 billion dollars netted in 43 lines of code.

“Corey?” said Jane, staring at him.

“Yeah, sorry… was just remembering the time I had drinks with Case Jones, that bar in Chicago…”

“Don’t worry about it. You know what happened to Case, right?”

“Yeah. That FBI agent, Jameson, tried to get inside his data net to find some incriminating data… Case took it personal, staged a full attack on the FBI’s data net. Brought it to its knees before the sysop pulled Code Black.”

What a hell that had unleashed, Corey thought. The FBI, CIA, CERT, NSA, and most of the USAF’s counter-cyberterror division had mobilized just to find him. When they finally pinned his location in Bangor, they mobilized everything from attack choppers, a full battalion of US Marines, and two nuclear subs to capture him.

“Are you listening to me, Corey?”

“Sorry, Jane, just remembering…”

“Live for the moment, Corey. We call it the past for a reason. At the moment, Case is being moved from Leavenworth Federal to the Pentagon. Apparently the DOD wants Mr. Case to show them a way to re-create that virus that crippled the Chinese military earlier this morning.”

“Nice of them to have a hacker in the brig to trot out for that. He’ll never do that. Staunch pacifist.”

Killer chuckled softly and popped a breath mint.

“He will not get the choice, Mr. Corey” he rumbled in a voice of geologic pitch.

“Precisely,” Jane said “which is where we come in. At the moment, is being kept in the Main Street Hilton, downtown. Per his request.”

Corey chuckled. “Case loves making the system dance to his tune, whenever possible.”

Looking out the window, he noticed uncomfortably they were starting to head downtown. Traffic was getting a little heavier, but the driver was taking a lot of strange back ways and short cuts.

“Indeed.” Jane said. “While he’s at this hotel, he’s protected by a force of around twenty NSA and CIA operatives.”

“Wait… I-“

“Unless you’re brain damaged you should have realized by now we are going to bust Case out of this hotel and take him back to your place for safe keeping, until the Project Lead comes by to pick him.”

“What makes you think he’ll co-operate?” Case asked

“He’ll co-operate.”

At that point, the van turned into a dingy back alley. The ride started getting bumpy.

“I don’t suppose you brought you weapon, man?” asked Maniac, reaching under his seat and bringing up a shiny, silver, rectangular case.

“Nope. Didn’t see a need for it when I left the pad.”

The van stopped. The long haired guy turned around and said

“Ms. Jane, we’ve arrived.”

“OK, Mr. Jones, Corey, get out. Mr. Guy, myself, and Mr. Smith will proceed to the hotel. I’ll tell you now, Case, Monk is supporting us, on one of those rooftops, with a .50 caliber sniper rifle.”

Maniac attached a strap to the silver case, slung it over his shoulder, and grabbed another two flat black cases.

“Get the door, man,” he said.

“Wait.” Jane said. She opened her small purse and withdrew a small pill bottle. “Take these, Corey, since Mr. Jones has his hands full.” Corey took the pills and put them in his “Born to burn” bookbag. Pulling his bag onto his lap, he slid the side door open and lightly stepped out, adjusting the bag on his back. Maniac lightly stepped out, almost silent despite the three massive boxes he carried. From inside the van, Killer reached across the aisle and pulled the door shut. The van silently moved down the alley.

“So man, you’ll probably want to know the score,” Maniac said, walking towards a short dumpster. He slammed both carrying cases down on the closed lids, expertly shrugged out of the third, and let it rest by his feet. “Hand me those pills.”

Corey pulled his bag in front of him and dug out the small bottle, then tossed it to Maniac. Maniac caught them and held them very carefully.

“Don’t throw these, man,” he said, any hint of humor gone from his face. His eyes were black holes.

“What are they?” Coreyasked, sliding his bookbag back to rest on his back and walking towards the dumpster.

“Mepedrimine. Combat grade neurological enhancement drugs. Love this shit. Great stuff, makes your reflexes fast as fuckin’ greased lightning. Sometimes, I can see bullets in midair on this shit.” Maniac unscrewed the bottle and dumped two pills into his hand. “Want some?”

“Naw, that’s OK. Hopefully I wont need it.”

“Whatever.” With that Maniac flipped open both boxes at once.

Corey saw two boxes full of flat back & dull silver weaponry. Maniac started shuffling them, popping bits into one, slapping switches and levers on another. After a minute of arming himself, Maniac slung the third box over his shoulder.

He was holding two machine pistols with extendable stocks in either hand. They had straps going around both his shoulders, with a bandolier of oversized clips. Over one shoulder was slung the impossibly huge barrel of a grenade launcher.

“Maniac, man, who planned this op?”

Every operation that Corey had been on involving Killer & Maniac, one of them planned and the other followed. Most of Killers ops were planned to the second, involving a lot of stillness and very few casualties.

Most of Maniacs ops involved heavy weapons with very little forethought.

“Well… I won the toss, but Ms. Jane already had most of it planned. I mostly chose my gear here. Like it?”

“Yeah…”

Case looked down the alley. It was nearing dusk.

“What’s the plan, Maniac?”

“Well,” Maniac said, walking to a point where he could get behind the dumpster and started fishing around, “we’re gonna bust that great hacker guy from his captors and swing him back to your pad. This’ll be facilitated by some nice driving from Mr. Man, some gunwork from Jane & Killer, and some intense hacking by you.”

“Hacking?”

Maniac came up from behind the dumpster with a long metal pole.

“Yeah. She wants you to tap into a Telco junction on the roof of this building here, get into the Hotels security systems, and suppress most of the response signals. As an added bonus, she’d like you to cut some satcomm stuff they’ve got running in Case Jones’s suite.”

Maniac reached up with the pole and grabbed a fire escape ladder, and gave it a good tug.

“Great,” Case mumbled. “Why couldn’t this be done from my workstation?”

“Well,” Maniac grunted, pulling the rest of the ladder down, “for one thing, there’s a Grade Two DOD/CERT guy in the suite running overwatch. You will get caught this run.”

“Grade two? There’s only three guys with Grade Two or higher, man! This is suicide.”

“No it aint. Catch.” Maniac threw him the case he had been carrying over his shoulder and started climbing the ladder.

Corey set it down on the dumpster and opened it. Inside, protected by soft grey foam, were many things. Most of them wrapped in plastic. There was a new smell about it.

“Hurry the hell up, man. Open that on the roof.” Maniac yelled at him from halfway up the collapsing ladder. Corey quickly snapped the case shut, threw it over his shoulder, and started up the ladder.

He made it onto the landing where the fire escape ladder stopped and the stairs began. Maniac was leaning against the building, looking at the pills in his hands. When Corey pulled himself onto the platform, and Maniac tucked the pills back into his pocket.

“Well man, we’ve either got eight flights of rickety iron stairs to climb,” he said, “Or we can take an elevator.”

With that he turned to a boarded up window level with the platform, pulled his right hand machine pistol to his shoulder, and held down the trigger.

Fifty 10 millimeter rounds sprayed out of the gun in under ten seconds. The noise and muzzle flash nearly threw Corey off the platform. When Maniac had emptied his clip and ejected it, Corey looked up from the crouched position he had snapped into and let his hands fall from his ears.

Where there had been a sheet of light tin, there was now a ragged gash. Maniac was kicking at it while trying to get another ammo clip off of the bandolier on his belt into his gun.

“Uh, man, shouldn’t we be a little, discreet?” Corey asked, standing and walking towards the hole Maniac was slowly hammering out with his foot.”

“Fuck that, dude. Any locals show interest, I’ll fuck ‘em up real good.” Maniac said as he slapped another clip into the machine pistol and it made a series of dull clicks. With a final hammering footfall, Maniac squeezed through the gash. Corey followed, taking off his book bag for clearance and bringing it through after him.

The hall was dark. They were in a sleazy apartment building much like Corey’s current digs. He wondered if the super looked the same. If the building was inhabited its denizens were keeping their heads down. After Maniacs explosive entrance, Corey knew he would keep his head down.

Maniac was moving at a pretty moderate speed. He was keeping both his weapons in front of him, swinging them side to side. His head would keep checking his footwork as he moved. Watching Maniac move in combat was like watching a ball of nervous energy roll across the ground gripping large amounts of weaponry.

After they had passed close to fifteen doors, they arrived at a dingy elevator lobby. A shopping cart sat in one corner, loaded with foul-smelling trash. The fluorescent lights overhead flickered with a lack of power. Maniac scanned around the room for a few seconds, then reached out and pushed the elevator call button.

Somewhere deep in the building Corey thought he heard a dilapidated “ding”.

“Uh, man, should we be using the elevator?” Corey asked nervously.

“Why shouldn’t we?”

“Uh, because it might fail and we’d fall to our deaths?”

“So?”

Corey shut up.

The doors slowly ground open to reveal a dingy and poorly lighted elevator chamber. Maniac got in, and the chamber sagged slightly. Corey gingerly stepped aboard. Maniac punched a button near the top of the list, the numbers had been covered with decades of grime and sweat.

For a while there was no sound but the clacking of the elevator motors and Maniacs loud breathing. Then the elevator came to a shaky stop and the doors rattled open. Corey made a hasty debarkation, with Maniac a little behind him. They had arrived in a small tunnel with a door at the other end.

“Let me take the lead, man,” Maniac said, pulling both of his machine pistols out. “From now on we’re on hostile ground, you follow me, you see anything tell me. Keep your fuckin’ head down.”

Manic walked up to the doors, snicked his weapons safteys off, and kicked down the door. He gestured to Corey, who dashed up and stared over his shoulder.

Maniac lept like a cat onto the roof. He ducked, rolled, and came up in a kneeling position with both weapons out. He quickly scanned 180 degrees, then stood up and gave Corey a “follow me” signal. He started running across the roof with his weapons readied. Corey watched his sep. Maniac was fascinating to watch run. He moved like a leopard on crack.

They quickly ran out of roof. Maniac looked at a ten or fifteen foot gap separating them from the other roof. Around them heating vanes and antennas rose like a high tech forest.

“On the next roof, the big array. That’s where we’re headed. See anyone?”

Corey put his hand to his face to shield his eyes and looked.

“Nope,”

“That’s why we don’t use you for a gunman, Corey. There’s two guys covering the array, looks like CIA agents. One’s hiding in its shadow, over on the right, staying pretty still. The other’s behind that stack of boxes by the roof door.”

Corey squinted. Thirty years of staring at a 3-dee tank hadn’t left his eyes in the best condition. He could make out a vague shape in the shadow of the antenna.

“How do you know there’s someone behind the boxes?”

“Saw them move. He’s probably leaning against them. OK, we break the plan now. You jump across and run for the array. I’ll be two steps behind you all the way. Just MOVE!”

Maniac made to push Corey, and Corey put all his effort into a mid step running jump across. He hit the other roof with a few feet to spare, took a half a second to recover his breath, then looked up to align himself with the array and started sprinting.

There was a light drizzle that pressed against him. He focused on nothing but the feel of rain against his face and the impact of his feet against the roof. He started running as fast as he could possibly move.

About halfway across the roof he saw the shape under the antenna move. A man in a trench coat toting a large, flat-black military shotgun. Maniac liked working fast, Corey wondered why he was still alive. The man was raising his gun. Corey stopped dead and looked behind him.

Twenty feet of blank, drizzle swept rooftop gave him an inquiring look. Corey’s stomach did an interesting thing.

“HOLD IT RIGHT THERE!” the guy was yelling. Corey turned to look at him. He was crouching slightly, staring right at him, sighting down the barrel of his shotgun. He looked professional. Corey desperately thought about what Maniac could be doing. He could have sold out…

“What are you doing up here, sir?” the guy asked, not moving a millimeter. Corey decided to bluff.

“Uh, I’m just checking the m-line rotary girdle…” he started to say. The man gave him a quizzical look.

“What was that?”

It was at this point Corey noticed something strange. He could… feel… movement behind him. For a quarter of a second he felt it, then he saw something arc over his head. The man in the trench coat saw it too, and raised his gun to try to shoot it. But it was moving too fast, and it hit him square in the chest.

It exploded into a living being of fire, its tentacles reaching out. Corey dropped down to his knees and felt heat press against him. The mans scream echoed across the roof, almost drowned out by the cacophony of the flames. His scream was terrible. It was the sound of someone burning to death.

“Cocktail…” Corey whispered under his breath. Suddenly to his right he heard a great amount of movement. He turned to see a man in a black blazer with a large pistol in his hand pushing a box out of the way to shoot at him…

The rooftop was suddenly full of the sound of gunfire. Corey watched in horrid fascination as nearly seventy 10 millimeter bullets cascaded into the man. His face was blown away, his arms turned into clouds of bony spittle, his chest exploded, his legs flew backwards. When the noise that was as a thousand hammers falling ceased, there was little left of the man than a pile of flesh and some red mist.

Maniac stepped from his hiding place to Corey’s left. The silence on the roof was disturbed as two clips from Maniacs machine pistols hit the floor. There was some rustling as he slapped two more clips into his weapons, and a snick-CLAP noise as he notched them.

“Van, this is Roof, we’re secure.” Maniac said into a small pocket mic.

“What the hell is going on!” Corey yelled at Maniac

“We’re breaking a man out of Federal custody. People will die today.” Maniac said. Corey thought he put too much enjoyment into that statement.

“OK, open the case.” Maniac said, looking around the roof. It dropped off to their right, and Maniac started advancing in that direction. Corey made a noise of disgust, sat down on the wet rooftop, and opened his case.

It was lined with grey padding. There was a small radio with a slimline headset wrapped in a plastic bag. Corey took that and put it in his pocket. There was a battered sliver box with a few wires come off of it. The box had ridged sides and a small LCD readout. One of the connectors was a USB connector, Corey noted. The other was a dual plug designed for an optical interface.

The third, and final device, was a disc, with “USB Fire Trap drivers & assorted utilities” written in Jane’s spidery handwriting.

“A fire trap…” muttered Corey.

Maniac came walking back towards Corey.

“Get set up man, we don’t have all day.”

Corey stood up. Maniac was moving cautiously across the roof to the sat antennas Corey brushed some rain from his clothes and walked over.

“I’m not gonna try and tell you your job, you know what to do here. Now get it on. Oh, hook up your earpiece.”

Corey reached into his jacket and pulled out the radio in its plastic bag. He slipped the plastic bag off and let it fall to the ground, not noticing. He flipped it on, tossed the main part in his pocket, and put the headset on his head.

“This is… Mystic.” Corey said, using his operational name instead of his real one. Jane liked using operational names, right? he thought.

“This is Lobby” Jane’s scrambled voice said. “I need you patched through in 10 minutes. Do it.”

“This is… Killer,” a flat voice said through Corey’s earpiece. “I’m in position. The agents on duty have ordered some room service. I’m going to take out the delivery man and go in there myself.” Corey choked.

“Into a room full of armed CIA and NSA agents? Are you cra-“ Corey stopped himself, he knew Killer too well. “What good will you do us dead?”

“What good do I do you alive?”

“Quiet the channel. Mystic, you’ll find instructions in the firmware of the device. The operation will execute in a little under 10 minutes. Get patched in. Out.”

Corey shut up. He dumped his back pack on the ground next to the antenna array and dug out some power screwdrivers. He looked around on the base until he found a panel marked “FOR TELCO SERVICE ONLY”. It had a lock. A rather complicated looking lock. Rooting through his toolkit, Corey found he was lacking a few tools he needed.

“Maniac, man, can you help me with this lock?” Maniac was leaning against the far wall watching him with his machine pistols hung by his side. He’d shown an aptitude for lock picking in the past. He looked up.

“Sure thing, man,” Maniac stood up and… loped… over to the array. He crouched down and looked at the lock.

“Pretty complex…” Corey observed. Maniac grunted. He stood up, reached into his coat, stopped. With a fluid motion Maniac pulled his right hand machine pistol up and pulled off ten rounds. They snapped out of his gun in under 3 seconds. Corey dove to the side with his arms flying to cover his head. The panel emitted sparks and swung open.

“GOD DAMNIT MAN! WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT FOR!?!” Corey screamed, pulling himself off the ground. Maniac instinctively trained his gun on Corey as he was getting up. Corey looked up and saw Maniac aiming down his guns sight, the look in his eyes, his body language. His throat tightened. Corey’s face turned ash grey. Oh shit, he’s going to kill me he thought.

Then it was over. Maniac snapped out of it, and lowered his weapon. He blinked.

“Shit man, I’m sorry. It’s this drug. When you’re on it, you don’t give a shit for human life just doesn’t much… just… don’t piss me off, for your own good. Nothing personal, but if something gets in my way at the moment I’m liable to blow the shit out of it.”

Corey pulled himself to his feet, looking at Maniac with real fear. Part of him wished he’d brought his gun, while another part told him that Maniac could have him dead in three different ways before Corey could even draw.

“Right. Just… go over there. Thanks for the lock.”
Maniac looked at Corey, and for a moment they were a little closer. Then Corey felt a chill creep up his spine, and Maniac turned around and walked away. Corey blinked, and looked down at the access panel.

“Maniac, I heard gunfire” Jane’s voice came across the headset. Maniac stopped.

“Nothing Lobby, just a small problem. Its dealt with.”

“Roger. Mystic, get in and get cracking.”

“Roger… Lobby” Corey answered. “Say, will there be a lot of blood on this op?”

Dead air answered him.

“Damn….” Corey muttered.

The panel had been blown clean off from the lock. A bullet had holed a lower part of the panel and zinged into the transmitter, but all the lights were still on. Most of the optics and connection taps were still alive. Considering it had just been blown off with some automatic 10 mm fire, Corey considered himself lucky.

The Telco in this city liked to use proprietary connection jacks on all their gear, but Corey had appropriated himself a set of plugs from a service truck in his first week here. He pulled out his set of fiber connectors, plugged one pair into the Telco plugs, then pulled the firetrap out.

Holding it, he pondered it. The firetrap was an unusual device, an expensive device. Corey had first heard from it from some of his Government friends, who routinely played games of tag with foreign operatives. Corey didn’t know just how it worked, just that it would take intrusion countermeasures and keep them tied up. He had a feeling it used some kind of machine emulation to create a small subnet of phantom boxes that would draw the IC, and it hid the computer plugged into it deep behind a wall of fakes.

It was pretty tough to get around, the one time Corey had gone up against a firetrap he’d been forced to rip the gateway provider that it was connected to into three pieces with brute force attacks. It lacked the finesse that most hackers Corey knew desired, but it had kept the bastard off his back.

“Hey man, you gonna stand there all day?”

Maniacs words shook Corey awake again. He plugged the firetrap in, and pulled out his portable.

The portable folded open to reveal what was, at heart, a dual keyboarded, triple monitored portable workstations. The keyboards had been compacted and the screens were small, but that’s what it was. Corey sat it on top of the base of the array, then set the firetrap next to it and switched the portable on.

It flashed a logo on the main screen, then the other two lit up. One started flashing network connectivity stuff, the other started flashing hardware verification. The central was already sitting at a command prompt. Corey waited for the right hand screen to complete its verification before typing in a command.

He quickly mapped the firetrap into the portables router table and configured it. Then he went to check the firmware.

There was some text saved in there.

“OK Mystic, here’s the plan.

1. Killer will get into Case’s suite. He will probably compromise himself, and get captured.

2. You will compromise computer security and bypass the commands sent from the agents protecting Case and send them a false signal. Myself and Mr. Guy will proceed to the suite and enter, using false identifications

3. Once inside, we will re-equip Killer and neutralize all of the agents stopping us from getting at Case using the element of surprise. We’ll ask you to activate the buildings emergency fire suppression systems on a code word. The code word will be spoken by me, it will be “We had spaghetti three times last week.” When I speak this, trigger a level 4 fire in that room.

4. After that, myself, Mr. Guy, and Killer will escort Case to a getaway car in an adjoining parking lot. We’ll require you to bypass city security and mislead any operatives following us. Once we reach the car I am confident in Mr. Guy’s driving abilities and will just require you to give us information on road situations after that.

5. Be advised of two things. Monk is on one of those rooftops and will be supporting us in the initial takedown. He’ll also help us on the getaway. He’s on a different frequency, he prefers to avoid contact with other team members during an operation. Also, the DOD computer agents are on a different floor, near the hotels security center. They will be onto you after we start firing. Be prepared.

This was a Jane plan, Corey realized. It relied a lot on other people and was a

little more complicated than he’d prefer. But it was the operational plan.

Corey fired up his communication apps on the laptop, and considered how to get into the hotel. Well, he had a major communication antenna here, first step was to make it his personal slave. He pulled out a disk card that the Telco used for diagnostic purposes and slotted it in his portable. He fired up the little app they used and pointed it to the antenna array’s control computers.

In about twenty seconds the array entered what it called “Diagnostic and help mode”, suspended all traffic, and shot Corey to its root command line.

“You are mine now, boys…” muttered Corey as his fingers flew over the keys. He had a lot to do.

First he configured the antenna as a connection from his portable. Then he leaned back a little and scoped out the hotel. He punched in some assembly level motor commands to rotate the antenna, which it did, with a quiet humming noise. Then he opened up all the ports on the antenna’s transmitters and receivers and started scanning.

He got a lot of short wave traffic that was mostly interference from electronics and scaled back. He was looking for any signal to piggyback into the place on. There were three 802.11f receivers in the place, but the protocol was too secure for Corey to want to try anything. The last thing he wanted was some DOD computer jockeys buzzing around him in interest.

For about 45 seconds he scanned until a rather obvious fact slapped him in the face. A wireless router was running unsecured. It was sitting in the lobby and was probably used by patrons to connect their palmtop computers to the place’s broadband access. Corey punched it into his portable, which talked some with the array.

CONNECTION REFUSED- OUTSIDE OF LOCAL AREA. Corey smiled. Usually this meant he would have to sneak in closer, but he had a massive antenna here. He keyed in a command and increased the power of his transmission by a factor of ten.

CONNECTION ACCEPTED.

Corey’s smile widened.

It tried assigning the firetrap an IP- the firetrap told the DHCP probe to buzz off. Corey pulled the DHCP server up, which happened to be a gateway. It was running some light grade security stuff, mostly to keep kiddies from walking into the lobby and switching on the sprinklers. Which was really what Corey was about to do.

Corey switched on a few of his intrusive apps and pointed them at the gateway. Quietly they bored a few quick holes in its meager firewall and set up shop in temporary memory. He was in.

Corey started poking around. There was an administrative command, he could see it. There was a much larger internal firewall protecting the control machines. Corey looked at his computers visualization of it. Chuckling again, he keyed in a few commands and started a few more applications.

He was totally immersed in his portable. The drizzle splattered around him, lights on the firetrap blinked, and his fingers flew over the two keyboards. Maniac watched from his vantage point leaning against the wall.

Corey looked. His two driller apps had wedged a small hole through, and he fed an intrusion utility. So far he hadn’t seen anything around here, the two DOD boys were probably laying low. He was generating a good bit of noise, but he was looking for speed…

… then he saw them. As he flashed into root access for the buildings central machines, his left hand monitor beeped and showed him two running monitor daemons that had just come online. Those would be the DOD boys. Shit.

He thought fast. The daemons were starting to look around the internal machines for a security breach. He had an infestation program on him that could re-write the firewall on the fly, but he’d need to keep the two agents occupied until it finished. It didn’t work too fast.

Using root he took one of the lesser internal machines and had it open an outside port and started a streaming connection with the outside. Started downloading and playing an old rerun of the “West Wing” from one of the many streaming servers out on the net. But the traffic through a “secure” system would be like shooting a fire hose through someone’s living room.

The two DOD daemons quickly focused on the connection. Corey kept his sniffer on their traffic in the right hand window, watched general traffic on the left, and watched his infester recompile the firewall on the middle one.

Corey watched the two agents. For highly trained professionals he wanted to see what they did. He noticed one source the streaming connection while the other worked to seal the hole in the firewall. Flipping his attention to the middle monitor he noticed the infester was done. Great he thought. Those agents will know there’s been a compromise but there’ll be too much going down in that building for them to think about it much longer.

Corey did some root magic and plugged up a security camera quad display on his right hand monitor. All four were blank. He did some querying to find the room that Case was in, then plugged up the two cameras in that room on two of the four small sub screens on the right hand. He pulled up one of the lobby, and one of the kitchen’s cameras on the other two, then checked on the DOD agents.

They were going through the logs on the internal machine. Carefully. That would keep them occupied for a while.

Corey flipped to the center monitor.

“This is Mystic, I’m in.” he breathed.

“Roger that,” Jane’s voice answered

“Couldn’t have come at a better time,” Killers voice breathed, “Suppress the security and alarms and I’ll make my move.”

Corey looked at the kitchen cams and saw a darker patch of shadow that occasionally moved. He shivered.

He ran his program. It was a classic. It was your normal fake video feed tape. On a setup this big sometimes it just edited out a cameras cycle on the monitor. Corey didn’t really care how it worked, as long as it worked right now.

“Programs’ on. Working on commo.”

A shadow fell across the picture as a man in a white shirt walked across the kitchen floor. Suddenly the shadowy presence of Killer sprang from the corner and struck. He furiously laid a blow on the poor mans stomach, temple, and back, then kneed him and threw him to the ground. Looking around, he slipped a garbage bag tie over his wrists and ankles, then threw him in the corner. Killer grabbed a tray of food from the countertop and walked quietly out the door. Corey noticed for the first time he was wearing a rather nice suit.

Corey started looking desperately for any connection lines out. He found a connection to the local data grid in the basement, and put an intrusion utility there. He looked around some more, and found some outgoing phone lines. It was all controlled by the same computer in the basement. All but one…

Corey looked at the antennas connection trackers and noticed a ULF signal going up into… high orbit. Originating from deep inside the building, the signal probably came from the DOD guys. It looked military. Corey pondered, then smiled. He had a small thousand-watt microwave transmitter at his disposal, and the signal was already weakened by the weather. He quickly pulled up his assembly compiler and started writing an ECM script. This was the first he’d written, but he knew the theory, he’d just overwhelm the receiver…

“Mystic, Killer is about to make interception. Are you ready?”

“Almost, give me a second…” Corey said while typing furiously. The script wouldn’t be that long. Or that flexible. Then again Corey planned to leave it lying in resident memory while he scrammed away… no use for it again.

“Done.”

Corey loaded the script and readied his intrusion utility. And watched the action go down.

Killer entered the suite perfectly. He handed his tray to a security goon. They all looked identical, now that Corey pondered them. They were sitting around a table, on a couch, or standing up. About fifteen of them. They all wore long coats or dark suits, some of them had their guns out. Corey saw Case lying on the bed reading a book. He looked up and saw Killer, who made eye contact with him and gave him a slight nod.

Bad idea. One of the goons picked up on it and grabbed Killer.

“Hey! I don’t recognize you!” he yelled. The table of dark suited thugs leapt up and pulled out large and deadly handguns. Killer looked around in semi-shock while one of the suits started frisking him.

Corey looked at the commo traffic flashing across his screen. He noticed radio traffic in this room, enough to determine that each of the men was wired. All wired into the main communication in the basement. Corey looked a little surprised… until he realized that all their gear had automatically started relaying through the server in the basement. Auto-configuring pieces of crap, Corey thought. It worked to his advantage though. Which he liked.

Firing up his intrusion utility on the central communications server, Corey patched into their communications. He tripped his jamming script on the antenna array and flashed the communications server, disrupting all its traffic. The entire hotel had just blinked off the data grid, and everyone inside was cut from ‘net access.

With a few more keystrokes he patched Jane’s communicator into the channel the military ops guys were using.

“- we have an unidentified intruder. Any unit, please respond. CERT Team One, hold tight and report status.”

“CERT Team One, the hotel has lost network access. We’re reading a major compromise and penetration of the computer systems here. Something’s going down.”

“This is Agent Darrow of the FBI, myself and my partner are coming to you.” Jane’s voice came over the comm.. On the monitor Corey noticed some of the goons adopt an expression of disgust. They’d take FBI backup at this point, but they didn’t feel like it. About 8 of them had Killer at gunpoint. He looked very confused and was stammering.

“I almost feel sorry for him,” said Maniac. Corey jumped. Maniac was leaning over his shoulder.

“Damn man, give me some room.” Maniac backed off.

Corey flipped back to root on the central screen. He checked the building control computer machine. Unsecured. He navigated into the fire suppression systems, and saw how they worked. His Assembly translator was working overtime, but it had generated a slightly passable user interface. Corey readied a command in his little Assembly translator.

The door opened on the security monitor. Jane and Mr. Guy walked in. Both wearing suits. The goons looked at them in confusion.

“FBI” Jane said, pulling out a badge. One of the goons inspected it, Mr. Guy pulled out a badge and the goon looked at that too.

“OK. We got this guy here, he’s not an employee. We don’t know what’s up- our link to commands been severed.”

Jane walked over to Killer. Some of the goons pulled up on their guns. Killer made his move.

His arm sprang back and caught a goon on the head. He crumpled. Killer ducked and dove into Jane. About five handguns went off. Jane had her gun out and against Killers head, holding him to the floor. The scuffle had lasted about six seconds. Corey stared in amazement. Mr. Guy also had his gun out, but he want aiming it at anyone. Corey had a nasty feeling about that.

“Jane knows some moves,” Maniac said with some awe.

“OK, punk” Jane growled at Killer, “You’ve got about twenty seconds left on this rock, and I want you to spend them all considering this- We had spaghetti three times last week.”

Some of the goons were loosening up on their weapons looking on with something approaching fear. Fear at this mad woman with a gun to a defenseless man.

“Miss… that isn’t neccisar-“

Corey triggered the fire systems.

The next ten seconds happened in a blur.

As the red light flashed Mr. Guy leveled his pistol at the three goons standing around the table with shotguns and fired. Their guns were either aimed at the ceiling or the Jane/Killer duel in the floor.

Killer’s hand snaked inside Jane’s coat down to her belt and grabbed another pistol. Before it had cleared the holster it had fired, taking a goon down with a massive gunshot to the chest. His precious bodily fluids were spraying all over the back wall.

Jane shifter her gun up to the nearest goon and fired. His head disappeared in a halo of blood.

One man standing near the window just disappeared as a high explosive .50 caliber round turned his chest into Jello. A

Then the sprinklers hit.

Corey’s view was obscured as water and foam were everywhere. There was a cascade of gunfire. There were some shouts. There were screams. There were grunts.

After forty seconds the gunfire stopped. At forty five seconds there was a female yell and three gunshots in quick succession.

At one minute and three seconds Corey heard a voice on the radio.

“Mystic?” a voice that might have been Jane croaked

“I’m here.”

“Kill the sprinklers. Cut the jamming. Get us out of here.”

“Roger.”

Corey killed the sprinklers, and looked upon Hell.

The room was drenched in fire suppressing foam and water was dripping from everything. Blood had mingled with water and was all over the place. All fifteen goons were sprawled across the room with mingled looks of surprise and pain on their faces. Flat black weaponry was all across the floor.

Mr. Guy and Killer were holding pistols and were back to back in the center of the room, scanning around it. Jane was leaning against a wall, holing her pistol at Case with her left hand covering her gut. There was some blood there.

“Come… with us. Now.” Jane croaked. Case’s book was on the floor and Case was holed back against the wall. He was white faced. Corey couldn’t blame him. He nodded. Killer walked over to him and dragged him out of bed, started walking him towards the door. Mr. Guy walked over and Jane threw her left arm around him, and he started walking her out.

“Mystic… get a hold of our EMS service… have them waiting at the extraction zone.” Jane croaked.

“Roger that.” Corey answered. Jane nodded, then dropped her pistol and slumped against Mr. Guy.

“You carry her,” Mr. Guy said to Killer. “You’re stronger than me.” Killer nodded, and scooped Jane up. Case looked between them with horror on his face. “Move it computer jockey, we’re not out of the woods yet.”

Corey looked at his screens. The DOD agents were busy. They had found and killed his intrusion application on the communications server and killed it. Tough cookies. Now they were working across the network looking for him. He decided to reveal himself.

He triggered a massive brute force attack from one of the internal machines at the first agent and launched a bunch of malformed, malicious packets at the second. He watched the results. Against any other machines that would normally cause a slight faltering.

The message returned- they were both running firetraps. Corey blinked. These guys were well equipped. In this situation all his fancy gear did was put him on even footing.

Their counterattack lit up a bunch of lights on the firetrap. It was just a probe, like his strike had been. Now they know I have a firetrap. All bets are off.

They started pulling something weird. They were trying to feed him a steady stream of data on a low port. Large packets. They know more about the firetrap than I do, thought Corey. Strange error messages from the firetrap started appearing on Corey’s main screen.

Corey thought fast. A firetrap worked by taking incoming signals and bouncing them, so what if you kept bouncing signals around in there…

He grabbed a worm off his HDD, and shot it to one of the machines. Instead of targeting it at the machine he knew was behind there, he fired it into the firetrap at one of the ghost machines. It started bouncing around inside there, and the signal from that agent died.

The second stopped his attack and began attacking the machine Corey was sitting on. Corey gave it about 45 seconds before the first agent would reset his firetrap. They wouldn’t fall for the same thing twice. Corey upped the transmitter power on his microwave, then had another idea.

He pulled up his intrusion utility and pointed it at a ghost machine running on the firetrap. He fired. He expected an error, but instead it found a root. By securing the firetrap, he had a direct line into the agents computer. He pulled up his stiletto virus, and fed it right down the waiting throat of the unsuspecting computer posing as genuine data.

It was luck, but it worked. The firetrap went down and the computer went dead. The second agent backed off. Corey spun his defensive apps to face it. He fired some malformed packets, which Corey’s apps deflected. The firetraps virtual machines had been adjusted, they weren’t permanent any more. They kept moving, starting, restarting. The agents learned, that was for sure.

Corey needed to take him out, fast. Personal pride, mostly. He could feel Maniac tugging at his arm, but he didn’t pay any attention. He stared at the tables as red lights started blinking. The firetrap had been bypassed. Corey threw up some temporary software firewalls and put his connection analyzer on high alert. There was something connected to the agents computer that was non-standard…

... a chat application. Corey chuckled. The dumb bastard was running a chat application with a direct pass through his firetrap. Admittedly, it was encrypted and well hidden, deep in the stack of connections, but Corey had found it. He started firing things up it.

The DOD agent noticed instantly. He tried closing it, but the piece of software Corey had fed him took out his firetrap’s control process. It shut down. His computer was wide open. Corey reached in and switched it off, wiping the memory and BIOS as he did so.

He leaned back from his crouch and grinned the grin of a winner.

That’s when bullets started flying.

Corey looked up.

Maniac was grabbing him and pulling him back.

Three men in long coats were running across the roof with shotguns. Corey stared for about two seconds, said “Oh shit,” and slammed his portable closed. He reached down, grabbed his back pack, and took off running in the opposite direction.

Maniac downed a pill, pulled both of his guns up, and went to work.

Corey ran fast. Behind him he heard the rapid ka-chinkachinkachinkachinka of Manaic’s machine pistols, and the occasional BOOM-chuck-chuck of a shotgun. He didn’t look back. He ran to the edge of the roof and zipped down the fire escape. He hit the landing, hard. After recovering his breath, he put his portable and his toolkit back in his book bag and zipped it shut. He lowered the street level fire escape ladder and zipped down that as he heard more gunfire. Hitting the street, he picked a direction that would lead to the most light and ran.

He ran out of alley and came upon a street. The street across from the hotel they had just raided. About five police cars were in front of it, with EMS ambulances in front. Police officers and SWAT team members were running in and out with shotguns. Directions were being shouted. Sirens wailed. A nagging little voice inside Corey said “You did that. You. Its your fault those fifteen men are dead.”

He ignored the voice, turned around, and walked away.

He walked until he came home. He took off his earpiece halfway home and threw it down a sewer.

He walked in the front door. The super was nowhere to be found. Corey walked upstairs. He felt sick. He wanted to die. When I get upstairs, I’ll just let the charges go off at verification. End it there.

He walked up to his door slowly. He punched in his key code. He opened the door. These are the last seconds of my life he thought.

No alarms went off. Nothing rang. The machines hummed, and display screens were kicking information out at a pretty consistent rate. There was someone standing in the corner….

Maniac emerged from the shadows. He looked bloody. There was some blood on his lips. His guns were gone.

Corey felt someone behind him. He spun around. Killer stood to the right of the door. He took Corey’s bag, put it down, and closed the door.

“Jane’s at the hospital. Took a shrapnel round to the belly.” Maniac says.

“She’ll be fine. Tough girl, she is,” Killer said.

“Where’s Case?” Corey asked.

“Just left. Project lead showed up. We wanted to make sure you made it back alright.” Killer rumbled

“How’d you get off that roof, Maniac?”

“I don’t remember…” he said.

Maniac pulled an envelope out of his pocket and dropped it on Corey’s workbench. “I’m getting out of here. I need a drink.”

He pushed his way between Corey and Killer, keyed open the door, and was gone. Killer took a step towards Corey and put his hand on his shoulder. He looked into his eyes, moved his face about 2 inches from Corey’s.

“Is the killing getting to you?” he asked in a low voice.

“What do you fucking think? Ever since I’ve hooked up with you guys I’ve seen more bodies than I can see at the morgue. Those agents didn’t need to die.”

“It was part of the plan.”

“We need new plans.”

“Maybe.” Killer stopped to think. “You’ll get used to it.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Corey said. He felt the shiver again.

Killer clapped him on the shoulder and walker over to the door.

“You did good, man. We won.”

“We aren’t the good guys.”

Killer stopped to think.

“It isn’t so bad. You’ll get used to it.” He walked out the door.

Corey jumped to the door and stuck his head out the door.

“Get used to what?”

Killer stopped and turned his head over his shoulder.

“Being damned.”

Killer faded into the shadows. Corey closed his door, and was alone with the money and his conscience.

 

 

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