Two months ago – Under the Desert
The days were long and arduous for Sonti, taxing her abilities, and, after her first shift in the ‘chair’, her imagination. She was not assigned to work any projects, but was monitoring several low-key events around the world. The level of control that this group had in areas as remote as the wastelands of the Arctic and as crowded as the streets of Tokyo amazed Sonti. They had operatives everywhere. And they weren’t afraid to use all the resources at their control. Sonti soon learned that many millions of people across the planet were either sympathetic to or in the direct control of TKO.
When Sonti dragged herself to her cell after her shift, she collapsed on the bed, falling into a fitful sleep. She finally got up, disgusted at the lack of rest she had received and went into the AI to explore. She was determined to find a way to hack into the system and find out just what was going on. So far, she had not been successful.
The next day, SM2nd class3 Transmitter Sonti sat in the ‘chair’ and stored the data in files set aside for this project. She gasped slightly as her source broke contact.
Expecting a few minutes of rest, (transmitting took a great deal of concentration), Sonti let her eyes wander around the room. To her immediate left SM2nd class 2 Tate reported on his Project. From the bits and pieces she could gather, Tates’ project involved drugs (illegal, she guessed), depression and a great number of deaths.
Sonti had been here for a month, as near as she could figure. Time was measured differently here in the ‘Lair’, as she referred to this underground compound. (For some reason she felt as if this could be a dragons cave.) Two weeks or two months, Sonti couldn’t tell the difference. All she knew was that the work here drained her. The atmosphere of recycled air did not refresh her and the psychic energy that flowed through this place depressed her. She lived on her reserves of energy that normal ‘above ground’ people store up for a short time. After that, she began a steady spiral down into depths of exhaustion and depression. Her only relief came when she went into the A.I. trying to find an escape from the boredom, the depression, and the hopelessness. She looked forward to that time away from the evil that surrounded her every minute of the day. This was the tiny thread that tied her to sanity. The single action that she could take outside of the realm of control they exerted on her. When she was hacking, she was free.
Later that day, after her shift had ended, she had eaten in the common area, and spoke with Dan, the young man from her initial group. Dan had changed. He had given in to the pervasive darkness that stalked the hallways in this God-forsaken place. He had not shown even a glimmer of the youthful, fun-loving kid that Sonti remembered during training and orientation. He answered her questions with the monosyllabic predictability of a ‘touch’ addict. His quick decent into oblivion frightened Sonti. She began to wonder if she, too, was balancing on the precipice of madness. She feared that she would disappear into the morass of evil this place held if she didn’t escape soon. And she knew there was little likelihood of escape.
Finally in her cell, Sonti lay on her bed linked to the AI through her signal generator, and began looking through the mundane files that she had access to. She explored the maps and technical pages, the safety diagrams, schedules and calendars, and went to the ‘net to see what had happened on the outside. She noted that the areas she had access to while in the chair were blocked to her here on the net.
Sonti had become sufficiently groggy by this time to consider sleeping again. She flew past several mundane programs and ran into a couple of firewalls as she was getting set to fall asleep. From a distance, the firewalls were innocuous, blank walls that simply blocked the view and passage of unauthorized users. They changed into walls of flames that seemed to grow claws and fangs and spit tongues of flame at the unwary user. She stretched and yawned, getting ready to break her connection when she saw it.
It was a simple cleaning program that traveled throughout the system. It looked for orphan files, commands, threads, inquiries, and cleaned them up. Deleting, re-establishing, re-directing, it made it’s way from location to location, quietly cleaning. Sonti looked at the program itself and saw that it had room in its code to ‘cavitate’. Cavitation was the time that it took firewalls to close up after a secure program has been admitted. This simple cleaning program had a sloppy section of code that would allow someone to ride in with it right through firewalls without detection. And, as Sonti had surmised, most of these systems were set up with intense outside walls and very little security within the protected areas of the AI.
Sonti, now wide-awake, thought as she waited at that point in the system for the program to return. She had her timer going and it had reached seventeen minutes when the program returned. It was possible to follow this program around the system to see where it would go and where Sonti could go without being detected. Sonti thought she would risk it and waited for the right moment.
Just as the cleaning program went through, Sonti moved into position and followed in its wake. It’s cavitation. She had made it through!
As Sonti passed through the firewall, she became aware of a hum. Barely above the hearing threshold, it was something that she felt more than heard. It was pervasive and soon seemed to pulse through her. She felt that she had become part of the circuits of this machine as the energy flowed through the fibers of her nerves, muscles, and skin. Slightly disoriented from the hum, Sonti struggled to maintain her focus and keep track of where she drifted in the system.
As she adjusted her thoughts to the AI, she began seeing the machines’ interpretation of itself. It projected an image of itself to Sonti. Sonti felt as if she were standing on a tiny ledge with her back against a cliff that stretched out of sight above and below her. There was a great chasm before her that was crossed in several places by gossamer thin strands. She could see lights and objects moving along these strands until they disappeared inside a huge, black cube. The cube appeared to be several miles from her.
As her thoughts adjusted to the terra of the AI, Sonti saw the cleaning program off to her right. Still dizzy and somewhat disoriented, she directed her thoughts to follow it and soon caught up to it. She passed several markings on the wall that brushed her right shoulder. These did not make sense to her, but she tried to fix them in her memory for her return trip. She made the mistake of looking down as she glided after the cleaning program. A bottomless vista filled her vision and her mind was soon filled with fear. She conquered the fear with the realization that this was not real, it was simply a picture. Sonti was, in fact, reclining on her bed in her cell while her mind went on this fantastic journey into the brain of the AI.
Sonti followed the cleaning program across one of the gossamer bridges that linked the firewall with the closest of the cubes in this tri-cube system. While she did not fear the vast empty space that surrounded her as she crossed the chasm, she felt herself physically squeeze her eyes tightly shut, as if that would be able to block out the unnerving sights that filled her mind.
She soon came to an entrance into the cube and passed through uneventfully. The interior of the cube was less open, but no less foreign. Lights, pulses of visible energy, sharp multi-tipped crystals, moving shadows, far-off metallic grinding noises, and the occasional distant scream kept Sonti at a high state of awareness.
She made notes of the ‘landscape’ of the system… operating systems pushed into several regions of the AI. Smaller programs spread themselves like tentacled rugs across her vision. She saw directories, maps, other automatic programs, and several unexplainable things. Weird lights and visions kept flashing against the backdrop of her vision.
Sonti stopped at a crossroads of sorts and followed the gossamer trail to a high, featureless wall. The small outline of where the opening appeared to be was the only mark she could see on the otherwise dull gray surface. She could not see the top of the wall or the ends as she changed her viewpoint from left to right. She stood looking at the wall, turning around to get the perspective of the place she had entered.
When her back was to the wall, she sensed movement at her feet. Sonti looked down and saw a bot program pass between her legs, heading toward where she had come from. She quickly turned and saw the opening begin to iris closed. Feeling brave, Sonti stepped through the shrinking opening and stood still on the other side, stunned at what she saw.
There before her was row upon row of shelves. Each shelve was made up of small slots and had an elaborate filing nomenclature. These shelves were as tall as the wall appeared to be and stretched to either side until they disappeared.
Sonti moved along the aisle directly in front of her and looked at the row headings. The words were disjointed, perhaps coded, but some appeared normal. She read the titles as she passed…‘Rain’, ‘Fire’, ‘Alchemy’, ‘Natural Elements’, ‘Foundational Physics’, ‘Miracles’, ‘The Lie’. Sonti rightly guessed that these were files of some sort and that each slot was a separate file. The number of files in storage here was staggering, reaching, perhaps, several billion.
After another long look at the ‘file room’, Sonti turned to the door, noting as she did, that the bot program was approaching the door. She waited for it and followed it through, continuing backward along the path she had taken to get here.
She had a few moments panic when she couldn’t find the door through the firewall, but relaxed when the cleaning bot came back through on its’ rounds. She followed the bot back through the firewall and exited the AI as quickly as possible. She checked her timers and found that the cleaning sweeps were about eighteen minutes apart. She also watched her security programs and saw that they, too, ran about every eighteen minutes.
Sonti found herself exhilarated at the discovery. She was pumped and for the first time in months felt the familiar warmth of hope. Finally, she slept a short but restful sleep.