00. Foreword
01. Keys
02. Search
03. Downward
04. The Undercity
06. Brain Surgery
07. Matter of Payment
08. Reboot
09. Biohazard
10. Cyberpuppets
11. Links
12. Encryption
13. Queries
14. Debugging
15. Disconnect
16. Downtime
17. Fletch
18. Learning
19. Predator
20. Decompression
21. Kinetic
22. Memory Leak
23. Chronology
24. Lockdown
25. Mind of the Monster
26. Empathy
27. Trojan
28. Reformat

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There was a harsh crack as metal slammed into reinforced safety glass. Deck's eyes snapped open. Out in the lab, there was another impact and he heard the sound of something breaking.

How long had he been asleep?

He lifted his head from the desk. From his position in the office, he could clearly see a group of cyborgs gathered outside the windows of the lab. One of them was in front, hammering on the safety glass with a stiff, metallic arm. The glass had already shattered, and was now a solid blanket of broken fragments. After another strike, the window gave and collapsed into the room like a welcome mat.

Deck shot out of the office and headed for the rear door. His limbs were still slow and heavy from sleep. He shook his head, trying to wake up.

He needed to reach the elevator.

From the inside, the door was controlled by a simple button. He slammed his hand into it and dove through as gunfire chased him from the room. On the outside, the door was keypad-controlled, just like the opposing door he had used to gain access to the lab. Deck waved his hand over the keypad, sending it an avalanche of bogus codes. The keypad detected the intrusion and activated its lockdown. There was an audible click as the internal bolt locked into place, freezing the mechanism.

He sprinted down the corridor, passing a number of rooms on either side. Aside from the dim lighting, this area was in great shape and looked like it hadn't been scavenged. He'd hoped to explore them in hopes of finding more supplies, but he'd messed that up by falling asleep. He needed to leave before the cyborgs found a way through the door he had just sabotaged.

At the end of the corridor was an elevator. He stabbed the call button and waited. Behind him was the sound of heavy metal arms beating on the laboratory door. Its surface was already bulging under the assault. He hit the call button a few more times.

He glanced up at the elevator display. It was blank. It was either burned out or the elevator wasn't working at all. The car could be on its way up to him now, or it could be sitting at the bottom of the shaft, dead. He had no way of knowing.

Behind him, the beating became more fierce. The attacks were now concentrated on a single point in the center of the door. The blows came in a steady mechanical rhythm. A vertical crack appeared at the epicenter of the repeated impacts. From his map he knew that all of these side rooms were dead-ends. He was boxed in.

Over the last few decades, corporations had slowly realized that traditional law enforcement was a poor solution to criminal threats. Whenever there was a high-profile kidnapping, [attempted] assasination, theft, bombing, hostage crisis, or general attack on company interests, corporations found that the police created at least as many problems as they solved. The police couldn't always be counted on to resolve the crisis, but you could count on them to hold a press conference, talk to the media, sign book deals, compromise security, leak photographs of sensitive locations or information, and generally show a complete lack of discretion once the disaster was over. Even if the situation was resolved peacefully, the company would spend weeks or months dealing with the security and public-relations damage.

Corporations eventually turned to the private sector when they needed help. Private security firms (who were, whether they admitted it or not, really just very polite and well-dressed mercinaries) offered a way to solve problems and protect company privacy. They would do their job and keep their mouths shut afterward, leaving it to their clients to address the media and portray events as they saw fit. This would significantly diminish the corporation's civil liability profile in the aftermath. This arrangement also allowed companies to respond more forcefully to threats: When the media was looking, the police liked to try to capture bad guys, but security agents were able to be much more aggressive if they thought they could justify it later.

Rebecca Lansing worked for Security Solutions Incorporated, a Seattle-based firm specializing in counter-terrorisim. Her firm had been hired by TriOptimum the previous week. At the time, all that was known in the media was that nobody had heard from the station in over a week. TriOptimum knew that a shuttle had been destroyed, there were fires, decompression, and probably quite a few deaths. They had assumed that someone (political anti-technological terrorists, most likely) had taken control of the station. Rebecca had been sent to the crisis command center in New Atlanta to coordanate things on the ground, and the other members of the team had been sent to the launch site to prep for the trip up to Citadel.

Now it was obvious that there were no terrorists, and probably no survivors. TriOptimum realized that they no longer needed the group of highly trained (and very expensive) security agents, and had sent them back to Seattle. They were in damage-control mode now.

Rebecca looked at the retractable pen she'd been clicking for the last hour or so. Was this her pen or Trioptimum's? She couldn't remember. She shrugged and tossed it into her handbag. She tore the used pages from her notebook and placed them at the console, then put the notebook back into her handbag. She took off the mobile headset and hung it at the securtiy station she'd been using. Then she went over the items she was carrying one last time to make sure she wouldn't be taking any sensitive information from the site.

"Lansing. We've decided to keep you on for the time being."

Rebecca turned to see Buchanan giving her a dour look. She opened her mouth to ask but he anticipated the question and cut her off, "We've already made the arrangements with SSI, and they've cleared you to continue working with us."

She set her bag down in the swivel chair and began unpacking again. "Okay, but I don't know what you want me to do, I mean..."

Buchanan waved his arm as if to backhand her question away, "Just the same thing you've been doing. You're our point of contact with this guy and we don't want to confuse things by giving him someone new."

She nodded. This made a lot of sense to her, although she had been looking forward to getting home.

Buchanan gestured towards the console, "He still hasn't responded?"

A head appeared over the bank of security stations behind her. It was one of the TriOptimum techs, "Excuse me, Mister Buchanan? We just lost the one I was telling you about. I figure we have maybe twenty minutes before our bandwidth situation...", he trailed off as Buchanan held up a single finger.

Rebecca sighed, "I've been paging him every ten or fifteen minutes for the last hour. Still nothing."

"Well, maybe he got himself killed.", Buchanan said hopefully, "At any rate, keep at it and see if you can get him back."

As he walked over to speak with the tech, Rebecca glared at him. She returned to work.

The crack in the laboratory door was now large enough that the cyborgs could reach through. Numerous metal hands came though the gap and pulled sideways on the lightweight metal surface. The opening became broader.

The elevator arrived. As the doors slid open, Deck jumped in and slapped the only available button. This wasn't a full-access elevator, but instead a direct link between the research and medical levels.

As the elevator began to move, he noticed the elevator music that was playing. It was some sort of light, soulless, diet jazz. It made the moment even more surreal.

He enjoyed a few quiet moments while the elevator descended. He caught his breath. He had figured out the answers to a lot of questions before he fell asleep, and now all he needed was a safe place to hide while he contacted Rebecca.

The doors opened to reveal a nest of mutants. There were four of them that he could see, all hunched in a corner, looking to see what the elevator had brought them. Deck was guessing they had learned to respond to the elevator chime like Pavlov's bell, or the knock of the pizza delivery man.

He stayed in the elevator, which would prevent them from surrounding him. All he needed to do was keep them out. As the first one lunged inward, he sent it tumbling back into the corridor with a broken nose. Another came and received a dislocated shoulder and a kick in the face. Deck stood firm, letting them come to him. Their bones were brittle from their illness and they were incapable of teamwork, but they were tenacious. Nothing would stop them short of incapacitation or death. One at a time they stepped up and were quickly kicked out of his elevator.

After a few minutes of bone-crunching martial arts, the mutants were down. Their bodies lay in a group in front of the elevator. He dragged one of the bodies into the door of the elevator to hold it open. If the door couldn't close, the elevator wouldn't leave, which meant the cyborgs couldn't follow him this way.

The room was once some sort of waiting area. The couch had been gutted and its foam interior had been placed on the floor and used as a nest of some sort. The pictures had been pulled from the walls and the plain red carpet had been soiled with every bodily fluid imaginable. The room was now a reeking box of death and excrement. There was a sign posted over the door that informed him he was in a restricted area and that he needed to remain in the waiting room and notify security if he had arrived here in error. There were some vague threats about the punishments available for corporate espionage.

One mutant had never attacked him. It was cowering in a dark corner, staring at him like some terrified animal. As he stepped over the broken pile of bodies, it shook its head back and forth. He looked closer. It had been a woman. Her thinning, whitened hair hung in her face in a tangled mass. Grunts and whines came from her throat. The ability to speak was long gone, but still she struggled to communicate on some primal level.

She seemed passive. He ignored her.

Deck bent over to examine his fallen foes. One of them was wearing the remains of a security uniform. He didn't care to search the excrement-stained pants, but the belt was sure to have something of value. The mutant had a sidearm, a pistol identical to the one Deck was carrying. He took the ammo and left the weapon. Most of the rest of the equipment was useless. There was a flashlight and a VOX, neither of which interested him. He found another clip of ammo, which he pocketed before moving on. Neither of the other two mutants looked like they had anything worth carrying around.

He reloaded his pistol and dropped the extra clip into a pocket. As he moved to leave, the woman flinched, fearing an attack. He looked down at the bent form, trembling on the floor in front of him. Her face was thin and pale, smudged with filth. She had more hair and teeth than the others, and seemed to have some slender thread of sanity to cling to. Deck wondered if he should use his pistol to end her misery. If he were in her shoes, he would certainly hope someone would have pity enough to kill him.

Her head rocked back and fourth as she grunted out some pathetic whine. She seemed to have only one thought, and that was that she didn't want to be hurt. The dull, sunken eyes were framed in dark, bruised flesh. They stared at him with a mixture of terror and confusion. This person could have been a Ph.D. a few weeks ago, and now she was living like an animal, eating dead bodies... or worse.

Deck holstered his weapon. He couldn't shoot her. He backed slowly out of the room.

Beyond was a large, open area. The carpet was mainly red, with a border of beige where it met the walls. The metal doors had been decorated to look vaguely like wood. The walls were mostly beige, with red trim. Someone had evidently decided that nothing says "research" like red and beige. There were frosted glass panels that stretched from floor to ceiling, with dark block letters and generic symbols indicating the various departments. He had no idea what the various research projects were, so the signs were meaningless to him.

The ceilings were higher here than on the hospital level, breaking free of the claustrophobic darkness that had plagued him since he awoke. The room was bathed in gentle glow cast from the hanging lighting cylinders and from lights positioned behind the frosted glass panels.

He examined the nearest glass sign / panel. The words were broken by a spiderweb of cracks that converged on a single bullet hole.

He peered behind the panel and saw a pink, lumpy growth on the wall, directly behind the bullet hole. He prodded it. It felt like Styrofoam. He frowned as he tried to figure out what he was seeing.

Expansion foam.

Most modern space platforms employed a safety feature to protect against decompression. It was a thin layer of gel, sealed in plastic that lined the inside of the outer hull. If a small-scale decompression took place due to a projectile or stress, the air would come into contact with the gel, causing it to expand violently. The gel would rapidly grow and harden, sealing hull breaches from micrometeorites or - in this case - weapons fire. This explained why the station hadn't decompressed once the shooting started. Expansion foam couldn't help in the case of a large-scale breach, but it was ideal for dealing with small cracks and puncture wounds in the hull. Deck realized this meant he was along an exterior wall.

He needed a map.

Connected. TO-RL1.VID

Rebecca's voice came into his head, "No, nevermind, I've got him again." She was speaking to someone off-camera.

"Hey. I'm on the research level and I need a map."

"Glad to have you back finally. I tried to raise you about an hour ago, but you didn't respond. Every time you do that people here start thinking you're dead." The picture of her was grainy and at a low framerate. There were short pauses and gaps in the audio feed.

"I was asleep. Apparently the interface doesn't do anything when I'm not conscious. What's going on with you? This video feed looks like crap."

"Shodan has doubled the number of satellites it controls. We can't stop it. We can't even get ahold of the owners of all of these comsats to let them know their birds are under attack. Global Net has a big, gaping hole in it right now and we are starved for bandwidth as the remaining sats try to pick up the slack. It's a mess."

"I think I figured out what she's doing with them."


"She's diversifying again."

"With comsats? You mean its trying to somehow create a backup of itself on all these satellites?"

"Not a backup. Its actually adding them to its brain."

"I didn't think that was possible. These are just relays - they pump information from one location to another. How could Shodan possibly use them to expand its mental capacity?"

"You know anything about how its constructed?"

"No. There are no schematics anywhere planetside and we haven't gotten any solid info on it yet. We have one of the designers on his way in here - we are expecting him in about forty minutes." Someone whispered in her ear and she corrected herself, "Twenty minutes."

"Well, she is not a single computing machine, but a big, interconnected web of nodes. All she needs is memory and raw processing power - storage doesn't do her any good. Just like your brain, there isn't any one group of cells that is the home of all of your thoughts, but instead they come from all over your brain, right?"

"Okay, I'm with you.", She was holding a retractable pen which she repeatedly clicked against the desk as she took this in. A small group of people had gathered around and stood behind her. All he could see was a wall of people from the waist down.

"The structure she needs is one where there is a bank of memory and processors, and where any part of memory can reach any other part - preferably using the fewest possible number of hops. There is no fixed structure, no set pattern. The structure develops as Shodan learns."

She stopped clicking the pen for a moment, "But these connections are not instantaneous - the round trip between comsats can be several milliseconds. How can it function with that much latency?"

"Are you kidding? How much latency do you have in your brain? Ever try to remember something and have it take five seconds or so?"

After a few moments she seemed to accept this and the clicking resumed. "How did you figure this out?"

Deck moved to the opposite side of the room where there was a bench. He needed to sit as far from the reeking waiting room as possible. "That's the funny thing about the human brain, sometimes you get ideas and you don't know where they come from. I noticed several odd things on the station, and they seemed to form a pattern." He paused as he gazed at the image in his head, "Hey, do me a favor?"

"What do you need?"

"Tell the guys behind you to pull up a chair or get their own screen, I'm tired of looking at this wall of crotches."

"Um - sure.", she stammered. She motioned to them but the crowd had already dispersed.

"Anyway, I noticed all the portable consoles were missing. There should have been at least one for every desk, but they were all gone."

Rebecca flipped the pen around and made a note of this. "So you think Shodan rounded them up and cannibalized them for parts?"

"Right. Used them to make nodes like the one I found on the hospital level."

"That makes sense. From what I've seen there aren't resources available up there for making new chips, so when it wanted to expand, it began using whatever was available."

"When it ran out of those, it started to use other stuff - like the security networks. I noticed that even though Shodan has cameras everywhere, the bots still have to hunt for me. Since the security network is a big interconnected web of machines, I'm guessing that she's using the processing chips in the cameras and stuff, and making another node out of them. If she wants to use the cameras to see, she has to stop using them to think. I'm not sure she could stop using them at this point."

Rebecca was shaking her head as he spoke. "Wait - using cameras to think?"

"Remember, anything with memory, processing, and a network connection is usable to her. Cameras have all three, and can be used as part of Shodan's brain, provided she gives up using them for visual input."

"That doesn't seem like a worthwhile tradeoff."

"Now it doesn't, but a few days ago everyone was dead, insane, or working for Shodan. All of that internal surveillance was a flood of useless input that she had to process. It was like seeing inside her own body."

Rebecca raised an eyebrow.

Deck nodded vigorously, even though nobody could see him. "That's kind of how I've been thinking of it lately. This place, this whole station, is almost like an organism. The reactor? Her heart. The nodes? Her brain. The cyborgs? Her immune system. This thing is a living, breathing, creature we are dealing with, and it has been kicking our ass."

"So what does that make you? A germ?", Lansing drew in a slow breath as she turned this over in her head. "So Shodan is motivated by the need to expand?"

"Seems that way. When it ran out of computer parts, she absorbed the security system - and probably some other stuff - into her mind."

"I just realized that the attack on the first satellites happened just before our last conversation. I'm betting that when you blew up that node, Shodan made it a priority to expand beyond Citadel. What sort of effect does it have when you destroy a node?"

Deck gave a pointless shrug, "You can ask you expert when he gets there, but its probably similar to what happens when you destroy human brain cells - you get brain damage and memory loss."

"Brain damage? You mean lowering its IQ?"

"Sure, that would lower Shodan's IQ, but she will actually be worse off than before she expanded to the new node in the first place."

"How so?"

"She will have built links to the new node. In a system like hers, there is no way to globally remove invalid links. So, she will have a lot of thoughts dead-end on her as she attempts to access stuff that isn't there."

"Links? You lost me."

"Before Shodan went crazy, I had a long talk with her. After that, I got to study her up-close for a few days. She explained that her brain is based on links between thoughts - like our synapses. Related thoughts, ideas, and memories will be connected. I don't understand how the links form exactly, but they are fundamental to how the brain works."

She struggled with the concept, "Related thoughts? So, Shodan is a big bunch of databases?"

"No, just the opposite. A database is a big list of related stuff with an index. All of the data fits some pre-determined pattern. You can't just have a database of 'everything'. You would need to organize the data somehow, and searching the database would take forever. Shodan's brain works completely different. Its a big mass of single ideas, each one linking to a bunch of other ideas."

He could tell she still didn't get it. He tried again, "Think of a single word, like 'horse'. What do you think of when you hear the word? Mammal, horseshoe, cowboy, saddle, neigh, horseback riding? Whatever. Anything that relates to horses. Anything you think of when you think 'horse' is a link you have in your brain that is connected to the concept of horses."

Rebecca began to nod. He continued, "Follow one of those links. Cowboy. Now what do you have? Old west? Showdown? Desert? Cowboy hats? Horses? Again, another big list of stuff. If you were to keep doing this and map it out -"

"It would look like a bunch of interconnected spiderwebs, like Global Net.", She suddenly got the picture.

He smiled, "You got it. This isn't just about stealing comsats."

"Once it has the satellite network, it can start taking over other machines. Anything connected to Global Net."

Deck suddenly felt a tinge of urgency. As much as he wanted to see TriOp crumble due it its own foolishness and greed, he wanted the world itself to be more or less the way he left it. He couldn't be the King Of All Hackers if Global Net was down and everything collapsed into chaos. He also realized he was the only one in a position to do anything. "How fast is she taking over the satellites?"

She looked down at her notes, "We have several different projections, based on different models of Shodan's capabilities. One model assumes that there is a limit to how many comsats she can hack at once. Using this model, we project it will take somewhere between three days and a week to get them all. The other model - which assumes she can continue to expand at an exponential rate - projects she will have them all in twelve hours. From what you've just told me, the second model is probably correct."

The connection suddenly degraded. The video feed of Rebecca deteriorated into a slideshow of grainy still shots. "-ooks - we - -st anoth- one." Her voice was broken and punctuated by garbled spurts of over-compression.

"What? Yeah. You lost another satellite. Look, before this connection dies, send me a map of the research level."

"-ake it dow- ... the commu- ... -ay." Her connection sputtered.

"Hey!", Deck was yelling, ignoring the danger of attracting attention. "You're breaking up! Send me the map -"

"Dest- the relay bef-"

He rolled his eyes. "Listen to me, I can't do anything until I know my way around."

The picture froze in place and the audio feed went silent. The connection was dead. There was a new map in his library now.

He opened the map. At the top it was labeled, "Level R - Reactor".

"You stupid woman", he spat. He figured that whatever she needed him to do, it was on the reactor level. He just needed to figure out what it was and how to get there from here.

He was still hungry. He had a few candy bars left, but he was seeing how far he could go before he ate them. What he really wanted was a hot meal. Some soup. A bowl of noodles. Mashed potatoes. Maybe some...

He took out a candy bar and stuffed it into his mouth. He needed to keep his mind on the task at hand. Out of habit, he put the wrapper back in his pocket to throw away later. Then he realized that was stupid and he took it out and toossed it on the floor. He wiped the chocolate from his mouth with the back of his hand and took a deep breath. He felt a little better.

No matter where he was going, he would need the central elevator. That was the only place you could access all of the levels of the ship. The reactor level was at the base of Citadel's spine. There was a long shaft dropping from the main dome to the uneven lump that was the reactor. That would mean that any elevator that reached the reactor level would have to be in the center of the station, attached to the spine.

Maybe he would stop on the crew level on the way down and get some real food.

Deck headed south. The faux - wood doors parted to reveal a corridor leading to rows of offices and labs. He could hear movement up ahead.

He came to the first set of doors. From the open room to the right, he could hear wet sounds. He peered around the corner to see a filthy man in a once-blue jumpsuit trying to eat the red gel out of a petri dish. His body was covered in sores, but he looked a little healthier than the average mutant. His back was to Deck. He would be an easy target, but Deck wanted to avoid combat if he could. He slid by the door and left the creature to its meal.

Various medical equipment littered the hallway. Some of items were sitting on wheeled carts. Deck assumed that most experimental equipment passed through here on its way to the medical level for testing. He stepped carefully over the stacked machines and proceeded to the end of the hall. Signs directed his path. To the left was "Project Sycamore", decorated with a simple beaker icon. To the right was "Project Lotus" and an atom icon. These projects could be anything. Randomly, he chose right.

Project Lotus seemed to be all about nanotechnology. Nothing in any of the rooms were of any use to him. He moved on and found Project DEM. Its offices were walled in glass, which had been smashed open at some point. The keypad guarding the door had been smashed, so he stepped through the large open window frame.

He didn't really have a system for deciding what to search. Some rooms he would stop and examine, others he would ignore. This project seemed to be something that somebody was willing to fight over. The walls were lined with diagrams of the human brain. There was some basic nanotech gear lying around. In one corner there was evidence of a struggle - a desk was turned over and some chairs had been tossed aside. There was no blood and no bullet holes. Whoever had been hiding in here had been dragged out alive.

He pulled the overturned desk away from the wall and found the data access port with his right hand.

An instant later he was sailing through the digital ether. The local node was full of information. Years of work had been cataloged here. As always, there was a long strand of data, reaching off into the infinite distance and blocked by a heavy layer of black ice. Deck slowed his speed as he drew closer to the impassible wall. Why were all local terminals cut off like this?

He realized that for security purposes, they were probably not accessible from the outside. These were one-way connections that allowed the researchers to access Global Net (or TriOp Net) but didn't allow for outsiders to access them. That would make the terminals useless to Shodan, and so she would naturally wall them off from her network. Now the terminals were isolated.

He flipped quickly through the data. There were notes, emails, white papers, design schematics, and technical documents for all sorts of devices. Some of the notes were so filled with technical jargon they were gibberish to him. He stopped when he came to a diagram of a slender metal tube. The shape was unmistakable. It was a neural implant. The schematic was too technical for him to understand, but it linked to a number of other documents.

Deck knew the clock was ticking on the satellites, but he couldn't pass up the opportunity to learn more about the implant. He paged through technical articles. Again, most of the articles were heavy with medical jargon to the point of being incomprehensible to him.

There were some video logs, most of which were recorded by a Dr. Rex Melville. He was a puffy, older man with thick glasses. It amused Deck to see a man in the center of the world's best in advanced medical technology to succumb to the common flaws of obesity and myopia. Despite his lack of physical success, he was clearly a master of neurological medicine and nanotech augmentation. Deck poured through his design logs, learning all he could about his implant. Deck managed to find a medical dictionary in the data heap. He jumped from the video logs to the dictionary as he encountered unknown words - which was about every five seconds. Sometimes he would need to visit the dictionary multiple times and make numerous branching lookups just to get through a single sentence.

It was mind-expanding. He was assimilating information hundreds of times faster than would be possible under normal conditions. He was able to navigate through huge volumes of information instantly. He never had to stop to thumb through some reference book to look anything up. He was learning with zero friction.

Deck pulled his hand from the desk, having completing his exploration of dozens of logs. There was very little about the disaster, but he had absorbed volumes about the implant.

Incoming signal: US.GOV-RL1.VID - Compatible video codec available

Deck opened it up, "You back on the air, Lansing?"

Her face appeared, illuminated by the same pale glow of florescent lights and display screens. She looked tired. He wondered when she had slept last. "We're back on for now. The military has some birds that are isolated from commercial satellite traffic. They have been kind enough to let us transmit from one of them."

"I've got good news for you."

"Good. We need some."

"The bio-toxin isn't killing me. It turns out the implant was designed to recognize known chemical agents and neutralize them as they pass through."

She breathed a sigh of relief, "Good, we couldn't even get TriOp to help us out on that one. They still insist there is no bio-toxin, and that they would never develop such a thing."

"They? I don't get it. I thought you worked for TriOp?"

She shook her head, "My firm was called in by TriOp when they lost contact with Citadel. We normally specialize in anti-terrorist situations, but this situation has evolved since then. The government swept in when the satellite network started crumbling. The satellite owners are clamoring to know what's going on, and the families of Citadel inhabitants are demanding to see their loved ones. On top of all that, we have a media circus pitching their tent outside. It's a zoo here."

"It sounds like you guys are in over your heads."

She lifted a steaming styrofoam cup to her lips and took a careful sip. "Really, our firm is out of the picture now, but they are keeping me around so there is a stable point of contact with you. Everything that is said to you goes through me."

Deck felt better about Lansing now that he knew she didn't work for TriOp, "Good. Keep it that way."

"I'll try. There are a lot of powerful forces at work here. TriOp is talking to the media, claiming that no information is available on Citadel - which everyone in here knows is complete crap. The military want to scuttle the whole station to stop Shodan, and the media are using all of their tricks - including some hackers - to try and get a peek in here and get the real story."

"Ugh. Look, I'm still on the research level - can you get me a map?"

She nodded as she took and other sip of coffee.

"Fine. Now, where is the AI expert?" He decided to get moving. He walked back over the smashed window and into the hallway. He proceeded south.

"He is talking to the military. Right now, they are asking a bunch of questions while the TriOp lawyer is trying to talk him out of giving any answers."

Deck hit another intersection but continued south. The lights were dim here, as if there was some sort of local brownout going on. He dropped his voice to a low whisper, "Well, when he gets out tell him this - " He peeked around a corner to make sure the coast was clear before crossing an open area. He stayed low. "Tell him that Shodan is crazy because her ethics chip was bypassed."

"What was that about ethics?"

"Shodan's ethics chip was bypassed, and Diego didn't properly configure her afterwards. He had someone hack Shodan so she could assist him in whatever crooked deals he had cooking. He was supposed to make sure Shodan didn't hurt anyone. Apparently, he messed that up."

Rebecca nodded but made no comment. The buzz in the room around her had come to a near standstill. They were all listening to him now.

He saw that Lansing had sent him several new files. One was a map of the research area. "Hang on a sec.", he said to Rebecca. He opened up the map and tried to figure out where he was. He was close to his goal. The map showed that there was an elevator at the center of the level, as he had expected.

Nearby, he could hear the metallic impact of mechanical footsteps. He peered around the corner and found a security bot, pacing back and fourth. It blocked his access to the central elevator. He was going to have to deal with it. In the darkness, he squinted, but couldn't see what sort of weapons it was carrying. He drew his pistol.

She became impatient, "Right, someone hacked Shodan and disabled its ethics. Can you tell us any more?"

"Yeah, I'm the one who hacked her."

He killed the connection and dove around the corner, gunning for the bot.

7Cyberpuppets = Encryption 8