Chapter 239 - Desmond
"You have the keys?" Svetlanna exclaimed. She coughed into her hand, regaining her composure. "I almost can't believe it. How did you get them? Did you infiltrate Desmond's cyberfort by yourself?"
"No, if I could do that, I wouldn't be asking you now, would I?" said Aldrich. "I do have some experience in cyberspace, but nothing that compares to even a low level techno."
That was true. Non technos could access cyberspace as well with various forms of neural interfacing such as cyberdecks, head jacks, wrist ports, etcetera, but getting into the space was all they could really manage.
Unless you were a techno, manipulating code blocks that built up everything in cyberspace took massive amounts of time and effort. You had to go old school, manually writing or deleting the code within each of countless blocks whereas technos could just do it with their minds.
Techno avatars in cyberspace also had many more perks like being able to move through the space faster and more efficiently. Stronger technos with higher processing power also tended to develop unique powers in cyberspace such as the ability to hide away from security detection or corrupt security protocols.
It was better to think of cyberspace as less 'code' and more 'virtual reality.' One could only navigate the space using a virtual avatar, and if that died, they died too.
In fact, fights within cyberspace were very much like fights in the real world except everyone had varying degrees of reality warping. Technos manipulated the blocks around them to create weapons and shields and security or attack protocols that acted like summons.
Comparatively speaking, a non techno was defenseless. They could load into cyberspace with preset assets that granted them attack or defense power, but so could technos.
The biggest issue came in combat. Technos could repair their avatars or their weapons with their minds. Non technos could not. Technos could easily switch between various code constructs or alter them mid combat. Non technos could not.
The only non techno that Aldrich knew who could compete with technos in cyberspace was Elaine, and she was a one in a million genius. Someone like Aldrich was basically as helpless as a toddler in cyberspace.
Elaine. He had to make good on her last wishes too. Aldrich had sidelined that, having gotten caught up in fighting and establishing himself. But he needed to do that sooner rather than later.
Her adoptive father probably did not have much time left in him.
"What kind of security codes are we talking about?" said Svetlanna. "I can't imagine you could bug Desmond in cyberspace, so you probably have his room bugged with some kind of listening device."
"Your assumption would be correct." Aldrich was impressed by Svetlanna's deductive capability.
"Okay then, you probably have contact addresses, not keys" said Svetlanna. "I doubt Desmond and his crew try to operate visibly in meatspace, so you probably overheard him making calls.
They're probably in rooms like this, right? Dark and full of monitors that don't really show anything? Do they even have monitors at all?
Considering the fact that the only reason we have display screens is to show what's going on to non technos, I figure a full techno crew wouldn't even need any."
"Rooms are dark, yeah," said Aldrich. 'Dark' as in there were no screens to display anything. Just technos jacked in, seeing everything with their minds, not through screens. "But Desmond makes routine business calls. He shares keys there."
"If he's not sending them via message, then he probably has a few old school clients that prefer chit chat over text. How unlucky," said Svetlanna. Her eyes flashed a bright blue as she started to traverse through cyberspace. "Tell me what the addresses are."
"SPDR11a24g9b985 and LG2a22c41dd2783," said Aldrich.
"Interesting. Yeah, definitely addresses. They lead me somewhere in cyberspace, but they don't actually crack any security. These codes aren't secure enough for his main fort anyway," said Svetlanna. She crossed her arms and sighed. "In this case, they lead me to communication servers.
The good thing is, these aren't burner servers that get generated and tossed routinely.
From what I know, Desmond's an information broker that takes requests and reports from basically everywhere, so he needs stable servers with stable addresses or else he would be too hard to track down.
What I can do is if I could access this server, I could plant a bug in it that could worm its way through deeper into Desmond's more sensitive infrastructure.
He probably records everything that goes in these servers and transfers the info to his base, so I can hijack that pathway.
My cyberspace power specializes in creating bugs, so even if there's a small gap, I can abuse it."
"Then the solution seems easy," said Aldrich. "Just send him a request to chat at those addresses. I'm sure he'll oblige."
"Sure," said Svetlanna. "I'm doing that now. You can expect an answer pretty soon. But while that's pending, I wanted to ask you, what did Z say?"
"She said nothing," said Aldrich. "Well, she did ask how you were doing, but that's about it."
"Really now?" Svetlanna closed her eyes for a moment, and the room plunged into complete darkness, the only light source having come from her shining blue eyes.
When she opened her eyes back up, she shrugged. "I shouldn't have expected anything different. Thanks for going through the trouble."
"It's no problem. Do you have any relation with Z?" said Aldrich.panda novel
"She used to be my mentor. A while back. She gave me a nickname called 'V' that I still use. Other than that, there's nothing connecting us now," said Svetlanna.
"I see," said Aldrich. He could sense that Svetlanna did not want to talk about the topic anymore.
"And here's the response," said Svetlanna. "Okay, we're set. He wants to chat now. You do have to keep him busy, though, while I try and upload my bugs."
"How long are we talking?" said Aldrich.
"Five minutes, maybe?"
"And you're absolutely confident Desmond can't track you back?"
"Alright then, let me talk to him."
Svetlanna nodded. "I'm going to display him on a screen for your convenience. If you run out of things to talk about, hold him with some BS smalltalk or something.
Aldrich watched as a larger display screen lit up in front of him. It showed Desmond in a dark room lit by dim red lights that cast an ominous crimson glow over his face.
"Why contact me again?" said Desmond. "I have already made my position clear in the meeting. I made it clear twice over with Casimir. Need I make myself clear thrice?"
"If you're entertaining this call, then I'm sure you still see some merit in working with me."
"Merit? Now isn't that up to you to convince me of?"
Aldrich crossed his arms. "I suppose you're right. From what I recall, the reason you can't work with me is because of your people, right? You don't want your people to get in the crossfire between me and the Dark Six."
"You heard correctly, yes," said Desmond, his expression quite reserved.
"What if there was no such risk?" said Aldrich.
"And how would you make that come to pass, Mr. Vane?" Desmond shook his head. "The Dark Six has put on a massive bounty against Casimir. All of the criminal underworld ranging from freelancers to hired guns will be looking for him.
You think the Wastelands safe, but they are far from that. They are lawless and free, but they are not safe. You will find many bloodthirsty guns ready to track Casimir down across this entire country, no, beyond it, across the world.
I do not want to get involved with that."
"And if the other chiefs support me?"
Desmond shrugged. "Then that is their choice. But it will not be mine. I do not want a bounty on me or my people. I trust you know by now that I deal in selling information.
It is much harder to do that with a bag of credits looming over my head. Nethunters will track me across the depths of cyberspace. I can stay in my fort, but if my spiders and I cannot leave it to collect whispers, then we have no more livelihood.
We survive only by staying in the shadows. Joining you casts a spotlight on us that we very much cannot tolerate."
"Interesting," said Aldrich. "You don't believe in my ability to protect you or your people?"
"Ability alone is not enough," said Desmond. "In fact, the greater your power, the harder it is for us to work with you.
The more power you have, the more spotlights shine on you. Spotlights from both the criminal underworld and overworld entities such as the Panopticon and corporations.
And I have told you already: we do not appreciate spotlights, no matter where they come from.