A Virtual Thermopylae


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Scene Title A Virtual Thermopylae
Synopsis Anc. Greek: lit. "The Hot Gates." The natural hot springs into which Hercules is said to have leapt in vain attempt to cleanse the Hydra-venomed cloak which killed him. Also the location at which the famous Battle of Thermopylae took place, wherein a vastly outmatched Greek force held off a Persian army for three days before being almost entirely wiped out.

Coerced into investigating the recent acts and attacks of a Chinese technopath, Hana takes battle to him. Unexpected allies arrive too late to prevent the release of a digital weapon which threatens death for them all.
Date December 29, 2009

Global Telecommunications Network

At first, Hana Gitelman felt like she had just taken out earplugs while standing in the midst of a clamoring mob.

She'd expected that, of course, while waiting for the suppressant to wear off; reality and expectation didn't quite align, but they never do. The reality hit harder, and the dull weight of headache still lingers behind her eyes now, some hours later. She turned down the painkillers.

Physically, her surroundings are as unengaging as can be — the temperature just a hair cooler than comfortable, the air scented with antiseptic and metal, the room institutional white paint and tile with very little in the way of furniture: a sparsely padded close cousin of an operating chair, countertop and sink, with an attendant hovering in the vicinity of a nearby stool, neither able to quite sit down nor stand still. There's a guard at the door, of course; he has a gun, she doesn't. It wouldn't matter under other circumstances.

Now? Now the lioness gives him a long and steady look, one that has his fingers twitching despite the stiff rigidity of posture and the straps securing her wrists. Good enough for now.

Dark eyes close as the Israeli turns her attention both inward and outward. Electronic pinions stretch, extend into virtual spaces denied the technopath for far too long; her power carries her into the riptide crosscurrents of the world wide web, navigated with the unthinking facility of experience.

Her reach is indirect, diffuse, as she filters the flood for anything relating to her present purpose: the Chinese technopath and his associates.

Other technopaths in the world. Easier to distinguish the neurological patterns of a living being, even if some of them don't technically have brains from the relatively straightforward clamor of programs and human interface inputs, even when the mutants contacts are only brief, rudimentary compared to the surgical invasion of Hana's queries: fledglings that surround the lioness, tumbling downy and bowlegged over her paws and knocking erratically into her elbows. She is, quite frankly, bigger than so many of them are. The closer you get, the greater the differences seem.

The first cyberpath worth his salt nevertheless spooks and scatters like an eel under the probing shaft of a diver's lamp, the otherwise comfortable king of some small hill in Malaysia. Squirms and catches on the eddying current of some otherwise negligible radio band, before executing an almost tangible double-take to find her still there; he withdraws back into the flesh, abruptly enough to be of some physical discomfort wherever he is, disconnects and leaves the line hanging, though not without leaving his unfinished project laid out for her speculation, a glass slide parallel to the dozens of other simultaneous processes she's running, incapable of denying transparency to her curiosity. (Curiosity's the wrong word.)

Partial decryptions, discarded when they revealed nothing but photography of blank sea, the bird's eye speckling of boats, a map with a corkscrewed rainbow of routes that knots into a fuzzy filament cloud around Somalia. Pieces of code scavenged out of a firewall, fat fingerprints that match the scars that Homeland Security's own database divulges to her examination; unmistakable, sloppy albeit as incisively powerful as the marks left by bloody fingers on an exposed throat.

The guardsman says, because it's been hours since she seemingly vanished into her fugue, "Water's at your right hand."

She isn't worried about the little ones. Not, at least, as long as they scatter rather than gather or hover around the fringes; they aren't any part of her current goal. Nor is the vast virtual background of interest. But this, this

Wireless draws back, angles around through different routes to study the digital construction from multiple perspectives, cataloging its strengths, weaknesses, character and flaws. Gleaning whatever information she can about it, its maker, and perhaps even what hides behind — but not yet daring to touch, to probe its surface and depths actively and risk attracting attention for it. First things first.

The guard's words are an unwanted distraction that rattles around the very back of her awareness. Water might indeed be in order — but stubborn and resentful pride, for now, wins out. Hana refuses to acknowledge his presence further.

Oo-kay. Prickly bitch. The guard is a little too well-trained to actually manifest a physical shrug of nonchalance or annoyance, but there's a wrinkle of his brow apparent in the blur of the Israeli woman's peripheral vision, a polite salutation that probably would have politely ended up 'ma'am' bitten short, before he deigns to join the rest of the room and its furniture in insignificance. Dulling neon fades out from behind her eyes; not because she can't see them, but she certainly isn't looking.

These tracks were left by someone who had either disregarded or never learned the lessons that she had once taught Mallory Allistair. Rather than shape themselves into the structure of code and pattern of signal, allowing the security protocols to pull themselves in as surf takes a boat to land, this technopath had flung an anchor out, stabbed oars into sand, exerted enough avid strength to all but crack the vessel to halves in the process of ascent and ruptured the sea with it. Whomever had broken through to the photograph records had done so in haste, with astonishing power, and a total disinterest in stealth that shouldn't necessarily be mistaken for a lack of finesse.

Which isn't to say that no mistakes were made. Sectioned off in a nearby vault— perhaps, in life, no more impressive than a half-cased rig of surplus or spare parts scavenged out of one of the local sweat shops with wires roped coarsely naked down a wall— there's a sample of pernicious code, small, roiling like an infection confined in a Petri dish with a putrefying piece of its original host. Which, quite frankly, would be precisely what it is, judging from the plain-faced text file that accompanies it. While Hana neither speaks nor reads Malay, nor the other investigator English, they can trade notes in a tongue that isn't one.

The construct itself does nothing. She fills the pug marks and prints with metaphorical plaster or powder, comes away with moldings.

She may not be the most tactful person in the world, in most departments of her life, but the deduction is readily available even to Hana Gitelman: Probably a man.

The photographs and notes are studied in intimate detail, as only a technopath can; not by reading them so much as by becoming them, information momentarily a part of self and written deeply into working memory. Also written offsite into other memory, a repository continually updated with her findings that wielders of blackmail can access at later dates. Not now, of course; not while she's still searching and there's a guard with a gun breathing the same air. Enough is not enough if they can't see the data yet.

She doesn't touch the telltale signature of virus, however; while Wireless is at times distressingly reckless, it's only when she considers the risk acceptable. This isn't.

She sweeps through the space defined by firewall one last time, seeking any last bits of useful information. Returns her attention to the realm of physical just long enough to drink down half of the water left at her elbow; Hana doesn't, here, give guard or attendant or hidden watcher or even any part of her room more than the most cursory of glances. Setting the glass back down, she sits back, closes her eyes, and retraces her steps.

Now to reach out further, armed with enough knowledge to begin seeking the person behind the attacks.


Naturally. The United States government had done her the dubious favor of winding a selection of units among their considerable fleet of copper-winged satellites around in anticipation of optimizing her progress there. One of the locations at the top of the list that the Company and HomeSec had suspected, by algorithm of 'political interest'— nothing that usually concerned Gitelman prior to captivity, but not news either. It corroborates the Malaysian 'path's detective work. How disappointed the little king of the little hill must have been, to discover nothing more interesting than pictures of boats.

He was missing a few diagrams that are more readily available to Hana's access to the government's database. Vessel makes and models. Pictures, infrared, logs. The proportions and numbers of the Invierno are easily matched to the hit criteria on the algorithm that had sorted through so much footage, and Hana sieves out of the mess of instant messages, television feed, news bites, one thin, plaintive recursion transmitted from somewhere on Staten Island bleating for her attention. Discarded. The pilfered intel is good, now stored in Wireless' mind, but there's far more and more complete where it came from behind the firewall that springs up at the periphery of her thoughts as tangibly as a fence with a NO POACHING sign screwed onto its diamond links.

Already, she can hear her quarry splashing around in the protected waters behind it, discernible patterns of movement. Watches, listens, as the tug and push of other hacking routines, both the generic and the genetically-enhanced, recreational vandals and espionage efforts parallel to her own, bots, idiot marketing software, telecommunications relays, fail to elicit the answers and changes in the traffic of encrypted information that the hardware was physically built to provide. Sure, equipment breaks: but not like this. Little fishermen cast nets in, and there's hardly a splash; the filaments come out, neither fat with fish nor clotted with garbage, but thinned down, eaten through, erased as if by acid.

The little fishermen draw them back, are terribly confused. Did something bite? Was there something wrong with the water? The metaphors don't work, and the Communist Party has been eerily swift to crack down on electronic discussions, though the conspiracy theories are neglected, dismissed to wear out their fervor at the leisure of kids who apparently have nothing more constructive to do with their time. The other cyberpaths— Malay, even fledglings like Mal would know better than to bring up the ghostly impressions that smuggled data had engraved on circuits around the world.

Still, even her protege and the helpful stranger whose files she'd just ransacked wouldn't have had the sheer perceptive capacity to recognize this organized mass of inaccessibility in cyberspace as more than a series of hardware failures, bugs, and 404's. With her clear view of wireless signals around the world, she can sees the interplays, reads between the lines, and still it's doubtlessly only the tip of the iceberg.

In this day and age, no one expects anybody to guard their treasure with a dragon. There isn't supposed to be a cyberpath in the world with that much conscious, simultaneous, fine control over that much data.

Even a series of hardware failures is a red flag in its own right — twice is coincidence, three times is conspiracy. And a wall, however large and insurmountable, is no more than a challenge.

Taste is the wrong word, but there is no right one; no syntax in English that conveys the weight and texture of a digital hand pressed against the virtual substance of an electronic barrier, the blurry edges of boundaries defined only by software code and strength of will, the inevitable seepage of one into the other, however small and slight.

Wireless isn't trying to tamper, not yet. Listening, sensing, drawing information about what hides behind — and how best to reach it. The line of tension behind her eyes tightens as Hana continues her work, but she's far enough away from her own body to not be bothered by it. Not yet. Certainly not when her goal might be just beyond the horizon of perception.

But the question that currently stands is — to break in, or draw him out?

There's certainly enough information to aggregate a calculated decision from. Hundreds of gigabytes and the hundreds of gigabytes extrapolated from them. No doubt, the man behind the firewall is perfectly capable of crossing over. Helpfully, the consistent pattern and interests sketched out by the evidence of his search— much like the pattern of similar investigations that have been going on around the world, assigned by General Autumn or otherwise— makes it fairly obvious to Hana's deduction, what kind of lure would work best. In the tangible world, fish that get to that size won't have without a good deal of hard-won cunning and strength, outsmarting hunters, rivals, consuming those lesser, but there's something inanely overbloated about the raw power contained by this cyberpath. A giant, to be sure, but not an ancient the likes of Volken, Monroe, or some of the other technomancers she has brushed past in her day.

He'd come for it.

On the other hand, her objective is twofold, and it's almost guaranteed that to complete them she'll have to get past that wall at some point.

Outside, in what the uneducated might term as 'the real world,' the guard and other agent tread gently, quick to notice the small wrinkle of change in her eyes closing, and the far larger changes that it represents. What Hana can do while boiling tea or practicing aikido kata would take most experts hundreds of man-hours with state-of-the-art equipment. What Hana does with her eyes closed is reason to tread lightly, and refill her glass very, very quietly.

A firewall, untended, can eventually be breached even by mundane means. The active maintenance and protection of the bulwark's integrity — this is, in Hana's estimation, the greatest hurdle. And the one she can most simply, if not easily, address.

Not easily — because a proper lure takes subtlety.

Wireless draws back, putting a purely virtual distance between herself and the shallow curve of massive barricade; a scattering of technopathic relays as well, little tiny pieces of code that serve as her digital eyes and ears to monitor what happens within and beside the firewall. To monitor her quarry's responses.

First she needs an encryption, lifted from the Homeland Security computers around her physical self; she needs places, source and destination. Those are also excerpted from recent transmissions. The content, however, is purely manufactured, down to its fragmentation into single stray packets, deflected in the maze of electronic communication. It happens all the time, and neither sender nor recipient would notice because their computers compensate — but such snippets are a breadcrumb-like treasure trove for those who live between computers.

…broke encryption… Vidar file… Midgard Base… probable co-location… Verano.

The corollary of this, of course, is the trap that lies in wait for any inquisitive cyberpaths.

Though massive, her hulking quarry does not lack for perceptive acuity. Of course. The response is immediate: protocols seize the stray packets she sends his way, and there's a tendriling through the firewall's translucent obstruction, and the interface between programmed tripwires and sentience blurs for a moment in the crescendo of electronic activity.

The fish pushes snout against the tastily feathery, bright thing, lips passing dangerously close to the hook. Unfurls fins, presses closer with a sweep of its flat tail, an onerous, hulking crawl to the surface, shouldering aside the myriad gnats and minnows of other cyberpaths who briefly cloud toward the bait, too. They don't fight him for it, either sensing the sheer prowess of the approaching menace or confounded by codenames and encoding.

It looks even bigger outside its tank. Too big; the seams show dully to the inquest of Hana's mind. Brainwaves kaleidoscoped, patterned to a complexity that makes the supecomputer processes of the world look like typewriters in comparison, but peculiarly simple to her interpretation, exposed under the membranous translucency of movement and flicking activity. Before the 'roids— whatever the Hell those were— before his expanded influence, the technopath was not nearly as powerful as the ex-Mossad agent herself.

The hook sinks. She hears it, a droning mumble of thought:

— 美國政府汇报的, 大概是Team Delta行动另一局面 —

reported back by the government of the United States, probable extension of Team Delta's operation

Size is only one side of the equation; and while Wireless adjusts her plans to compensate for its revelation, the weight and bulk of power her opponent can claim, she is a very long ways from deterred. It's not the first enemy she's chosen who outmatches her vastly in such terms.

In the real world, Hana's lips draw back in a thin, coldly grim smile. Once more into the breach.

If her quarry is a fish attracted by feather-tufted lure, the flash of electric signal and code-snippet which inserts itself between the exposed digital Grendel and its firewalled lair embodies the sense of a slender filleting blade. Released from the Israeli technopath's control, spidersilk threads of security code plagiarized from private security and the Company itself web over the virtual breach; like the analogy, they are stronger by far than lack of thickness implies, though no more than a hasty and expedient patch.

If he had any amount of time in which to study, the patch would be easily removed despite its internal strength; it's a kluge, an ungraceful grafting onto someone else's construct. Hana's role, of course, is to deny her opponent that very time.

The obvious weak points are the only ones she can readily see, and it's one such seam that Wireless sinks digital fingers into; seeking, prying, absorbing what information she can while tearing at the Chinese technopath's very substance.

It isn't a solo attack, of course, but other fronts are manned by autonomous and simplistic pieces of malicious code; distractions at best, without the edged menace of Hana's sentient intent.

Hey, the behemoth thinks to himself, roiling to a ponderous halt; someone's taken a machete to his stubble, and for a moment he mistakes something much worse for razor burn. Hey guys. What's going o—


There's a blast of sentiment, outrage, interpretable only to Hana's wireless perception: fast-moving rapids through the pattern of his thoughts. Their consciousnesses clash without mingling. He swats at the myriad of miniature routine harriers. Drifts back at the firewall. Stops; takes a faltering instant to cycle through the sudden flood of unexpected data, the energetic blossoming of system errors across his hide, the bulk of him rolling, bunching, and tensing like fatly-skinned muscle under the dig of Hana's metaphorical fingers, a moment to recognize the main thrust of the real threat. Hana herself.

Intel scintillates in her mind's eye. Dozens of maps, extrapolated from hundreds of thousands of photographs, hundreds of minutes of verbal recordings, of translations, of sightings, port-side gossip, biometrics, Wagner's narrow face flashed up under eleven different aliases and half as many nationalities, a carelessly-cobbled database of bribe expenditures and groundwork, silent assassinations simplified down to numbers, the unimaginably intricate flotilla of algorithms that somehow found the pattern in all of this noise. Someone within the Communist Party of China has spent a lot of money and effort looking for Wagner and his Verano, and a considerable portion of those funds, that manpower, even belonged to China.



It is the unavoidable conclusion. All dashed lines end there, highlights eating up the broad coast, flags flashing where they mark the People's Republic research and other stations.

A split instant later, new sickness breaks over the side of Hana's head, a wicked, carving pain that sears a neat warning through her psychic presence and into her physical body. In some dreadful irony, she recognizes stray segments of code, long after the coders' signatures and perhaps even the names of the men and women who created it were lost, pieces that bear certain resemblance to the patches she'd seeded into her enemy's miasmic form. The Company made this. She'd seen a different piece of it shorn off and preserved in a storage space off the edge of Malaysia. The virus had taken at least one other Chinese technopath before the Party took the virus for their own use. If the Shanti strain 128 had shown her nothing, it's clear as day now: the Company's poisons are quick.

For the moment, with her eyes closed, she's spared the indignity of guard and attendant exchanging worried glances.

That's wrong.

Wrong in a way as intuitively understood as it is profound; until today, the divide between digital and physical was wide and deep enough to be almost insurmountable — but this virus could only have been made by another technopath… a true adept. And a malicious one.

She doesn't confuse the virus' maker with her current opponent, however.

It sinks its hooks into her psyche, barbed twists of wire digging into soft tissue. Halfway around the world, Hana's fingers curl into rigid fists, lips pulling back to bare her teeth in a silent snarl. Her arms draw in, straining against the lengths of synthetic material that hold them down.

Finesse is for those with time to spare; Hana isn't such anymore. She crafts from digital self a longer, sturdier blade; one riddled with her own contamination, the virus already hijacking system resources and replicating within the Israeli technopath. She, too, can use it as a weapon; and does. No computer in the world is attuned to the digital frequency upon which Wireless' defiant howl propagates, would know how to interpret the signal so received; but it isn't the rest of the world that matters now, only this fight, the need to strike while she still has time; and to strike deep.

If she's going down, she will take him down with her.

A world away and an instant of data transmission between it, satellites focused on the gleaming blue-green world below feel the shockwave that is Hana's wild war-cry. But it is not the satellites — the angels of the digital age — that need hear, it is the spirits bound inside of them that respond to the beacon that has been laid out before them. Like the disembodied spirits of myth that Richard Drucker has modeled his electronic avatar after, the presence of T.Monk and R.Ajas, technopaths known in tandem as Rebel that make their emergence into this conflict like the cresting of a tsunami.

Cascading network failures follow them like an ocean swell, pieces of junk information and half-recycled data gathered up behind them like the wakes large ships leave in their paths. With T.Monk and the fore and R.Ajas following behind, this haphazard collection of information is not quite as incidental as it seems. Ragged fringes of information that no one cares about are wound tight behind the two as they hone in one Hana's electronic signature, and the presence assailing her; where Hana Gitelman— K.Apila— is finesse, Rebel is brute force.

The paired technopathic entities stop at the perimeter of the encounter, sensing the viral corruption within Hana. But even as they stop, the momentum of the data they have gathered follows behind them, and when R.Ajas moves beyond T.Monk, lunges across lines of data and networks, demolishing computers in his wake, he is carrying an overflowing net full of garbage like an Olympian athlete carries a medicine ball.

The surge of junk information slams head on into the Chinese technopath, and overload of the detritus of the internet all at once, a thousand weather forecasts, videos, clips of songs, ineffectual worms, viruses, forums on conspiracy theory, a Rick Astley song, fragmented jpegs and countless more worthless cast offs assail his senses, choking the bandwidth of the systems used to access this point in digital existence.

The moment that overload attracts itself to the behemoth, T.Monk follows in through R.Ajas lead, fanning out his digital presence like a many-limbed hydra, his morphic nature from years of existence as a purely digital entity comes blindsiding the colossal electronic opponent. Lashing tendrils of corrupted data bind like shackles around the behemoth, biting toothy packet requests into his electronic form. Alone, but never forgotten. T.Monk offers to Hana, even as his younger counterpart disengages from the information overload and begins attacking the behemoth in a way more suited to someone of his talents.

R.Ajas attack comes not in the form of an assault on the behemoth, but of repeated unauthorized attempts at data transfer. It is like watching a suckerfish pull algae off of the inside of a fish-tank as R.Ajas attaches to the behemoth with lamprey-like effiency and begins a rapid-fire barrage of his internalized defenses in an attempt to distract and confound. If the behemoth lets up, Rajas will consume information from him like a leech to blood, gathering intelligence on the target. If he is kept out, he is a persistent irritant keeping focus off of the others.

Sorry we're late. R.Ajas quips, The old man is slow. R.Ajas does not yet realize what happened to Hana, and just how bad it could be.

The dragon's bleeding gold. Every incursion that the other technopaths make against its form results in another pungent spume of information drawn out of it. Across the nation, residents and tourists of China clap hands against laptop cases and iPhones, make faces and dial service hotlines. It's a dull crescendo in the back of Hana's ear, even as the voice of her attendant's floundering inquiry flattens into a lugubrious crawl.

Ms. Gitelman? Ms. Gitelman. Wireless.

给我去死! Die! Fuck you, bitch! 白鬼! pixels coil in her ear. The stranger withdraws in the nearing proximity of her allies.

Get Johnson in here. Get— fuck. A thumb on her cheek. If there are fingers latticed around the side of her throat, and that would make sense, they fail to register through the wasp-tailed static that's eating up hearing, touch, eyesight in great brutal bites of black. The asset has gone to Enesidaone. Read, Gitelman has collapsed.

The firewall sparks points of contact, as the other cyberpath calls retreat. By now, the virus courses through circuitry jammed by R.Ajas' insistent press of false traffic and addles relays that had already been inundated, the digital equivalent of bloated swelling. Infection rages, self-propagating, multiplying through components as complex and variegated as an organic construct. Begins to scorch dangerously close to the interfaces of R.Ajas' attack, nipping at the periphery of the boy's thoughts. The security barrier can do nothing, change nothing, fails to resist as the Leviathan plows back toward it—

Yet the Chinese creature halts abruptly in its tracks, even as it burns and gradually deconstructs in them. Its shrieking epithets turn inward, refocus elsewhere. Let me in! Let me go! Stop! 给我—

It's the leaking voice one might imagine emanating from a very large snail parked over a salt flat.

Get out, is the only acknowledgment Hana spares for her reinforcements, ungracious and brusque; spare and simple signals triple- and quadruple-checked for any piggybacked contamination before she lets them free of herself.

She does spare a second moment to explain: Virus. Lethal. Him and me.

She can't see. Not in the physical sense, not in the digital; feels the shuddering dessication of her enemy in the interlacing of virtual selves, the free migration of the virus back and forth between them. Die? Wireless whispers into the synapse between them, digital voice as staticky as her failing awareness. Tone bleeds over into the short-range transmission, carried on peripheral signals that she doesn't make the effort to rein in; the sense of her voice as she knows it, cold and satisfied in its grim promise. Not before you do.

But despite that promise, that vow, she'll never know who failed first — because Hana Gitelman retains a weakness her allies and kin do not.

The weakness of flesh.

Red films her vision, diluted blood washed over her eyes by rapid blinking that attempts and fails to clear her sight. Bent forward against the bonds restraining her arms, Hana coughs, violent paroxysms that stain the cloth of her jeans red with blood. She fails to recognize the touch of the attendant, can no longer discern the currents of digital ether; just as well, perhaps, although the woman's failing consciousness doesn't form the need to prevent contamination of other systems in such coherent terms.

Hana collapses in truth, slumped in the chair; blood drips from her lips and wells in the corners of her eyes as the virus attacks both mind and body.

«Do you forget so easily?» Comes the chastising from the blue-white tendrils of T.Monk's digitized form as his binding chains and thorned presence keeps wound around the dragon, holding it in place. He flexes and warped, crippling infiltration of viral data turning portions of his digitized essence into black flecks that crumble away from blue, «Kapila said, "Acts only cleanse the body. Knowledge, however, is the highest end for which one strives.» Even in the presence of catastrophic collapse of data, Monk remains the philosopher.

Skittering up on the dragon's back, R.Ajas electronic essence chokes on the data drain coming from him as viral infection turns cobalt blue to jet black, spat out as sloughed shingles of data, an external shell of junk information used as a buffer against such intrusions. As the cocoon-like shell of protective information flakes away from R.Ajas, diaphanous wings shred from the chrysalis of viral cast-off, cobalt fans of butterfly like shape and form that take R.Ajas alight, leaving the viral detritus to sink back in to the dragon.

«When all faults of the heart are cured by acts, and when the felicity of Brahma becomes established in knowledge…»

T.Monk's voice becomes filled with noise and pops as black crusting corruption laces through his form, spinning fingers of packet requests and bloated information transfers around the dragon's muzzle like hands grasping a crocodile's mouth shut.


Continuing to quote the Kapila of Mahabharata, Monk's hydra-like form recoils from the hind quarters of the dragon as thin limbs break apart and crumble under the weight of the viral infection.


Blue-white sparks issue forth from the severed areas of Monk's body, cradkling trails of binary data leaking out of him like blood from the severed heads of a mythic hydra.


Just like the Hydra of Greek mythology, from those severed stumps sprout two more lashing appendages, each of them grepping across the data construct that forms the behemoth, crushing, squeezing, constricting, compressing what data remains of him, trying to compartmentalize what remains of the behemoth to make him a smaller target, lessen his burden on Hana's mental bandwidth.


R.Ajas winged form finds focus of the behemoth as he struggles to push through the firewall, frantic spasms of motion sending a denial of service attack out like a thousand raking claws thorugh the butterfly-like form, lending only to the cobalt blue shattering and breaking apart into a manifold swarm of wings that turn to a blue haze sparkling around both K.Apila — Hana — and the Chinese dragon.


One of the hydra-heads of T.Monk's digitized form curl upwards, three more rising in the same motion, their tapered worm-like heads forming to a point a single byte in size, before drilling downwards in tandem atop the back of the dragon's head. These boring data requests plunge deep into his information form, cutting through a sea of ones and zeroes that shriek and crackle with painful recollection of what once was his life before this, before the dragon. Black veins coruscate up the blue tendrils, and seeing that intrusion, R.Ajas' swarm of information coalesces around T.Monk fully, wrapping his form in cobalt blue sheathing that layers like scales and begins dripping down the sides of the dragon like a dinosaur toppled into a tar pit.

«…and what you have forgotten most, Hana: absence of pride.»

Squeezed inwards by the cobalt-blue shell, the dragon's body wracks as data worms meet viral infection, slithering through the makeup of his system, turning black the exterior of R.Ajas' digital form as broken husks of both technopaths begin crumbling under the effect of the virus. Then, like freshly growing sprouts emerging from within warm soil, tiny strands of blue-white data flows out of cracks in the dragon's infrastructure, memory leaks caused by the penetrative attacks of T.Monk, forming as vine-like protrusions of Monk's own digital essence that begins to wrap, warp and grow through and through the dragon.

«These constitute the path that lead to Brahma. By those one attains to what is the Highest.»

T.Monk and R.Ajas aren't attempting to destroy the dragon at all, they were never here to act as a knight and slay the beast, it is only through seeing pieces of T.Monk squirming through the behemoth's body that their plan of attack truly comes into focus. With R.Ajas having mined data out of him to understand his makeup, and Monk having penetrated his internal firewalls by access pathways discovered by R.Ajas infiltration, they never sought to destroy the dragon. No, R.Ajas and T.Monk have a far more bold plan.

«Enlightenment through unity.»

They're going to assimilate him; virus and all.

Two distinct strains of horror shockwave through the Chinese technopath's body of matter, two separate identities. One larger than the other; the smaller in control, the core, preserved and immune even as its other symbiotically-linked counterpart is slow-shredded and disintegrating into a miserable wreck of massed data, the surprised flesh of a cybernetic entity. Trade secrets exposed, free for the taking. More than the Verano, now, or even the 20 kilo-ton warhead that's been the quarry of governments around the world for various reasons and ends, pieces of the Communist Party's infrastructure, plans both economic and military surface in winking motes to the T.Monk and R.Ajas' sifting claws.

It won't do. It won't do at all. And the monitoring presence decides it's about time to pull the plug on this situation before it spirals any further out of his control.

MapQuest brings you a new and improved toolbar! Start?



—where the riot took place yesterday, in Ciudad Evita, and who were arrested in —

Your search - government "Evolved ghetto" meadows - did not match any documents.

At meshaga'at li et hasechel. You're killing me. Give me a call?

—repeat, we have a Code Pink. Full lockdown, a child is missing on the thir —

Abruptly, the cyberpath's shape winnows and begins to shred in ways that no living digital entity should be capable of doing to himself, and the bones of him protest the self-destructing rend and torque of the muscle. A strangled cry of fury belches through dozens of networks. Fractures hypertext and file transfer, Telnet and secure shells all over the net, implodes a computer or eighty. Virus burns at one end of him, his cohort incinerating the other. —不! No! No! 恳求你! I beg you —

Where there were two agents watching over Hana before, there are seven now that she's down, blood laked in the notch of her upper-lip and welling in the V-shaped nook below her throat. Gel is a cold sheen on her exposed sternum. Charging to two hundred.

Abruptly, R.Ajas and T.Monk offer his only recourse for survival. And as fiercely as he'd clung to the unbelievable power and strength afforded to him by his partner, he changes his mind right quick: reaches out all too eagerly for those that draw the stuff of him into themselves, force-feeding leprous flesh to them, replicating himself— and the viral infection with him. Broken structures, malignant routines tear at the two other cyberpaths, mentor and protege, threaten the contiguous boundaries of their disembodied forms like bacteria challenges to lyse the walls of adjacent cells into useless entropic muck.


The defibrillator jolts an instant's taloned snarl through Hana's white fingers, and a wilted squirm of signal from her brain.

Forty over ten. Patient is tachychardic; we need to get her on bypass now.

Did she succeed in either operation?

Not my job, Agent.

For the second time in the space of the month, Hana finds herself submerged in psychic silence but this time it's preceded by a reasonable facsimile of personal darkness as well. She isn't awake to hear it, or the snap of struts and sprung wheels lifting her useless body into motion, medbay doors cracking like teeth.

The viral infection corrupting large portions of R.Ajas as he filters through the behemoth's contained information banks continues to cause digital butterflies to wilt and crumble from his ephemeral form. Infected nodes of data blocked off and left to rot. T.Monk can feel the same corruptions disengaging networks he has spread himself across like a beached whale, whole subsystems and server clusters shattering under the weight of the virus.

«Know humility, do not beg, accept your end.»

T.Monk does not qualify those words to anyone in particular, neither the Behemoth nor Hana, as his blue-white digital form continues to drill down through the outer shell and into the core of the Chinese technopath's essence, as much as Kazimir Volken would feed on the life-force of the living, so is T.Monk doing with the electronic signatures and data-constructs of another technopath, adapting the virus' very nature into himself, combining his own mental construct with the consuming nature of the Behemoth's own design. In a way, the Behemoth designed his own destruction, created his own end in the forms of a gestalt formation of something greater than the sum of its parts.

«R.Ajas, disengage.»




Cobalt moths swirl around the head of the behemoth, continuing their cherry-picking of data from across the digital carcass. The defiance does not so much earn chastisement from T.Monk, as it does consideration. Watching R.Ajas continue his devouring of the intelligence gathered by the Chinese technopath, T.Monk can feel massive portions of not just data he has collected and gathered like armor over his own unbodied essence, but parts of himself being consumed by the virus as he integrates it into his system. Some how, what R.Ajas does, his act of defiance rather than selfishness is the last bit of inspiration he requires.

«You have grown.»

Those words, meant for both Hana and R.Ajas, precede what T.Monk does next, as yellow-hued cracks begin to spider-web across his body, dividing the segments of data that he uses to shield himself from the hazards of electronic existence, before they slide off of him like the shed scales of a snake. Beneath the blue-white shielding of T.Monk, is revealed a gleaming energy essence of gold, shining like a sun cresting from behind a moon.

«No one will die today.» T.Monk informs as his data mining finally breeches the last lineof defense of the chinese technopath, deep fiery-orange light shining out from the breached of defenses, and that orange begins to slither up like absorbed water into the bright, shining yellow of T.Monk's core essence. «There was no hope for you, Behemoth, no hope from the trap K.Apila placed for you.» The orange light grows as it surges through T.Monk's collapsing form, and R.Ajas is quick to swarm down in, seeing the virus the elder technopath is assimilating moving at too rapid of a rate through his unshielded form.

«Monk! Stop!» R.Ajas screams out across the net, «Without your shielding »

«It is the only way I can save what of him remains. I will not take a life.» There is affirmation in T.Monk's voice, in the hollow and metallic roar. This may not be what the Behemoth wants, may not be what Monk wants, but often times life does not present options anyone wants, but one man's adherence to his moral compass and another's second chance at life creates a road not yet considered.

«I won't let you do this on your own.» Much as R.Ajas had shed his outer layer of defenses for this more clear form, so too do the butterflies break away in cracked shells of collected junk data, flaking off like dry paint from something it cannot adhere to beneath. Colorless light, like bleached fireflies burn beneath, dancing pinpoints of information each connected to a greater part of a whole. «No one dies! We have to find Hana! We're the only ones who can!» R.Ajas affirms, and the white light divides in two directions.

It does not want to, is not supposed to break apart, half of the energy shatters from behind R.Ajas and begins spiraling towards where Hana had receded. It may not do anything, it may not be enough to reinforce the mental exercise she had overloaded herself performing, but everything R.Ajas is knows that Hana is not just K.Apila, she is not just the last tenuous connection to flesh that Richard Drucker has, he knows she is a friend, and he knows she is in danger.

Funneling half of his attention towards Hana, R.Ajas turns the remainder of his divided attention towards where Monk is being consumed by the virus. Colorless motes of light cling like dust fibers to the back of Monk's golden form, and those white motes form a scaled protective layering, a filter through which the information and data protocols of the virus can be more safely amalgamated into Monk's form. Large pieces of R.Ajas turn black, entire lights swallowed and snuffed out as he recodes the virus and burns out from it.

«You have grown…»

Monk's final words come with admiration and appreciation, as orange-red fiery light from both of the entities that comprise the Behemoth are drawn upwards towards his yellow-gold form. The color is tempered, burning white-hot as Monk reaches out to R.Ajas — reaches out to the boy he once was, the boy who wanted nothing more than to be a Hero — and connects his consciousness to the very same information nodes that are rapidly trying to decompile the virus and assemble it into something new.

Something new.

Orange, red, gold and white all commingle together, consciousnesses relocating portions of higher memory and functions, generations, languages, experiences, motivations and lives all connecting into something else. Broken ends of crippled systems recompile, corrupted sectors and failing information clusters reconnect to new subsystems and routines never before expected. Whole memories are shared, experiences, consciousness, religion, parents, failures and triumphs.

Orange, red, gold and white all wind together in a spindle of fiery colors, and someone speaks up from the experience, someone calls out across the networks their combined forms have dragged their battle over. It is both the death-rattle and birthing scream of something greater than the sum of its battered parts, an echo that roars across cyberspace and follows the trail of data and information tracking Hana back to her source, tracking the collapsed technopath back to her source.

«We have grown.»

Whatever has resulted from this battle is not parts, but a whole, one that knows a piece is missing. It can feel a piece of what it once was, R.Ajas traceroute command funneling through the internet, following Hana's receding back towards her body. Track, locate, liberate.

Rebel will not leave her behind.

Rebel will not forget.


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