preloder

Book 1 / defrag

Chapter 6

The great hieroglyphic walls of the Hanging Gardens rose before her. The sensory noise of bio-space dropped away, and with it, her hammering heart. Fear became an afterthought, and she forgot about it. Glitch’s cat-avatar hurled herself at the barred gates. At the last possible second, it fragmented into a blurry mess of pixels  and slipped through the bars. All over the garden, sphinxes’ heads rose and turned in her direction. The garden’s warden, a jackal with an impossibly long, snaking neck, lunged at her. Glitch twisted, tumbling end over end through cyberspace, and evaded the snapping jaws by inches.

Then she ran.

The housecat hurled itself between grapevines and wide, leafy ferns. She scaled a warm palm tree on the edge of the garden and then leapt for the wall. The jackal’s teeth flashed again, and she didn’t glitch out in time. Cold pixels from her right rear leg flew through the air like blood droplets. The thing had started a trace on her. She hit the sandstone beyond the garden hard.

Glitch looked around. A scant leap away stood a half-man, half-falcon with a scroll of papyrus rolled up in his hands. He was tinkering with the neon-hieroglyphics chiseled into the sandstone of one of the nearby gardens. It figured that a corporation would style its avatars after gods. He was a user like herself, but one who belonged here, a native of the system. Probably a tech doing system maintenance.

He turned towards her. The falcon-head cocked to one side. To Glitch’s digital eyes, he was moving in slow motion. Unlike the ICE of the Eyes in this sky Matrix, avatars that weren’t directly jacked in were limited to biospace speeds. The user was at a desk somewhere, hammering out queries from the distance of a keyboard. Glitch darted away, sprinting at the speed of thought around the corner, but it was too late. He’d seen her.

Glowing red hieroglyphics spread across the system from around the corner. The native-avatar must have decided to raise the alarm without going through the full diagnostic procedure.A sphinx barreled around the corner a moment later, its eyes glowing scarlet. Glitch dove to one side, narrowly avoiding collision, and slammed into a wall. It was soft and warm to her touch. Glitch pressed into it, shuffling through the code it was made of, and finally fell through, leaving the sphinx behind.

This garden had a guardian as well, but it hadn’t noticed her arrival yet. The walls were flashing red, but one of the grapevines was also pulsing gold at intervals. Glitch weighed it in her hand: light enough that it wouldn’t slow her processor down, soft enough that it wouldn’t trip her up, and most importantly, hot to the touch – she could hack it easily.

Glitch’s avatar sank its teeth into the vine and tore a section off. Data flooded her system. It was a chat channel, exclusively used by the company’s techs. It spanned the entire system without spilling into the local project channels. Glitch didn’t waste time with anything fancy – she turned it into a personal projection so she could keep tabs on it. A chat log populated across the sky.

<:Horus:> Hacker maybe?

     Unknown user in sec 2 DB for 1 sec

<:Anubis:> Noted

        Sighting logged

        Avatar?

<:Horus:> Hard 2 tell

        glitchy

        maybe a cat??

        Logged in as GUEST

<:Anubis:> Noted

     Logged

<:Thoth:> Hey guys I think I got an unknown user over here in the sales database?

        Are there supposed to be any guest users in the system?

Glitch looked around. Sure enough, this garden she’d hidden in to avoid that last piece of ICE had another avatar in it. This one was mostly human, but had the head of a bird with a long, narrow, curving beak. Glitch dove between two plants and made a break for the far wall. She hit it full-force, her processor chewing through the code as fast as she could edit it.

<:Thoth:> Nevermind, it’s gone.

        Must have just been a glitch.

<:Horus:> ITS NEVER JUST A GLITCH

        H4CKZ0R !!!! !!1!

<:Anubis:> Agreed.

        Get everyone on Net.

        If they’re traveling that fast, they’re probably a JACK.

        Contain it before it knows we know it’s here.

<:Horus:> GAME ON

<:Thoth:> Calm down, dude.

        If it is a local JACK, meat-side security will get the credit for bagging it anyway.

<:Horus:> NOT IF WE CATCH IT FIRST

        LETS DOOOOO THIIIIIIIIIS

Glitch broke cover. She bolted flat out for her goal: the heart of the pyramid at the center of the garden – ROOT. Immediately, ICE descended on her.

Sphinxes hemmed her in on all sides. Glitch leapt and dodged from side to side. Several of them got their claws into her before she slipped away and she left a trail of pixel blood in her wake – that trace was getting a lot stronger. It wouldn’t be long before the system was able to pinpoint her, and throw her forcibly out. Then she’d have dumpshock to add to her list of problems.

Horus, the falcon-man avatar she’d first encountered, suddenly appeared in front of her, blocking her path. He sent her a direct message.

<:Horus: > :GUEST:> Here, kitty, kitty, kitty

        Let’s see how many lives you really have.

Glitch smirked. They thought she was fast now…. She loaded up one of the prebuilt programs she carried with her in her cyberdeck. Glitch sent him a reply and hit “Run”.

<:GUEST: > :Horus:>:  yes lets

Her cat avatar split into nine different copies of itself, and each of them bounded away in different directions.

<:Anubis:> Sighting in sector 3 database

<:Horus:> Got em pinned down in maintenance

<:Thoth:> I think I just saw it in both sectors seven and five?

        It’s fragging fast.

<:Horus:> H4CKS

<:Anubis:> I have it trapped.

        Converge on the receiving database.

Glitch flinched as two of her avatars died untimely, pixel-ed deaths elsewhere in the Matrix. The physical feedback wouldn’t do any lasting damage to her biology, but it stung. She darted around Horus as he snagged another of her clones and headed for the pyramid again.

Another piece of ICE, a leopard with glowing spots, raced towards her from between the arches of an aqueduct. It was following her trail of pixel-blood – the trace had just caught up with her. She had a split second of cyberspace time before it was on her. Glitch grabbed as many vines and plant-stuff as her system could handle. The leopard pounced. It flipped her onto her back and swallowed her whole.

The leopard-ICE was built for containment, not destruction. The walls of its stomach were icy-cold and hard as marble. Glitch force-quit every other program she was running and focused all of her processor’s power on dragging the vines along with her. Huge chunks of foliage tore up out of the ground and disappeared down the leopard’s gullet. It gagged. Glitch redoubled her efforts, pouring every bit of power she had into moving whatever code she could find into the ICE’s storage bank before its jaws closed, sealing her away from the rest of the Matrix and blocking her from jacking out. The leopard convulsed. Somewhere in biospace, a server was about to catch fire. The linings of the leopard’s stomach glitched. Glitch sank her teeth into the momentary gap and started forcibly reconstructing the code she found there. If ICE could speak, this one would have been screaming. Suddenly, the convulsions ceased. The leopard’s eyes closed. When they opened again, they were a deep purple, the color of her avatar’s eyes. All over the garden, guardians relaxed and went back to their patrols. The Glitch-leopard bounded away towards the pyramids.

<:Thoth:> It just disappeared.

      I think it jacked out?

<:Anubis:> No user logout detected.

<:Horus:> Mybe some1 dumped them from the system meat-side?

<:Anubis:> Perhaps bio-security is actually doing their job for a change.

        Pity.

        It was an enjoyable exercise.

<:Thoth:> Dead?

<:Anubis:> Only dumpshocked, I would hope.

             CERD only pays bounties on live runners.

<:Horus:> I wanna get a look at that cyberware before they ship out.

<:Anubis:> Best find them quickly then.

     You won’t get near them after CERD is notified.

The Glitch-leopard hit the steps of the pyramid and started climbing them, five a time. Her claws sent sparks flying every time she hit the sandstone, sending up a spray of neon rainbow colors.

<:Sobek:> I received your message @Anubis.

     We got a hacker?

     Running scans now.

<:Thoth:> *Had* a hacker

<:Horus:> Wait.

     Meat-side security says they’re still running sweeps

     On 188 & 189.

     They haven’t found anyone yet.

<:Thoth:> Does that mean

<:Horus:> fuck

<:Thoth:> they’re still in here?

<:Sobek:> Shouldn’t that ICE be on standby?

     Why is it showing active?

<:Horus:> FUCK

<:Anubis:> Shut it down

     SHUT IT ALL DOWN

The final door between her and ROOT was light, easy to process, but hard and cool to the touch. Glitch shut everything else out of her mind but the task in front of her. She called up a plain text version of the code and scanned it manually, looking for any poorly phrased command she could exploit. All around her, the hieroglyphs flashed neon red.

The answer came to her in a flash. She extended the alarm around her into the ROOT. A moment later, the door popped open to admit her ICE-leopard to deal with the threat inside. She was in.

The paradox of cyberspace was evident here: the room she entered was at least as large as the pyramid itself. Every inch of the walls, floor, and ceiling were covered with golden, glowing Eyes of Horus which blinked, stared, or rolled about in turn. Glitch abandoned the leopard just inside the door. The program crashed as she left it and the leopard crumbled to pixels. Her black-cat avatar emerged back into the digital world with a leap. The moment its paws touched the floor, the room’s eyes began flickering wildly. Purple light spread across them, engulfing them in its glow. Glitch’s cat-avatar stretched. It reared back on its back-paws, becoming bipedal and vaguely humanoid in form. Her username changed from to .

<:Horus:> @Bastet Drek ur good

     I think I’m in love

Glitch locked the door to the pyramid, and then, after a second thought, relocated it entirely to the opposite side of the room.

<:Bastet:> @Horus sorry

     i don’t date wage slaves

She moved the steps to the pyramid a moment later, filing the log-in gate in a garden marked “catering”.

<:Horus:> @Bastet HARSH

<:Bastet:> @Horus this building is mine now

      bye bye

From the heart of the matrix, Glitch pulled up a list of every other user with admin privileges. Then she flung them all from the world. She revoked their godhood and exiled them beyond the wall of the garden. Gates slammed shut, passwords failed, and she became the uncontested deity of the pyramid.

Now.

Time to look at options again.

Glitch called up security cameras from everywhere in the building. The eyes all around her opened wide and became windows into meat-space. It took her several long, frantic minutes to find her body in the mess. There she was, half concealed under the desk.

Syntechie was gone.

Glitch flicked through the cameras and found the woman unconscious, near the stairs, with a drone hovering over her, and a security guard with a stun gun trained on her unnecessarily. There was a dark patch on the carpeting. Syntechie was bleeding from somewhere, but Glitch couldn’t identify the source from the distance of the cameras.

Syntechie must have lured them away from Glitch’s unconscious body and then paid for it. Glitch felt a grudging respect. The feeling faded a moment later in the transience of the matrix. Glitch checked the readouts. There were several other drones on the floor as well, searching systematically for any more of Nine’s explosive surprises, or other runners.

Inside the Matrix, Glitch ran her hand along the walls, flipping through menus, until she found the directory she was looking for. There was no hacking necessary now, just a simple set of commands given to a system eager to please . Every door on the floor slammed shut and locked. Cries went up from the security team as their drones suddenly turned on them. Glitch shut down the elevators and, remembering her own arrival, turned up the fans in the vent shafts, sending icy-cold air out across the floor.  The guards fell silent, stunned out of consciousness.  With a few more commands, Glitch sent drones to patrol the stairs against reinforcements.

For the moment, at least, they were safe.

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