Hacker’s Heart: Rooftop Infiltration

The man was silent as a ghost as he drifted along the rooftop, crouching down amid the sensors and antennae.
Actually, Shard reflected, that wasn’t a great turn of phrase.  Most ghosts tended to be somewhat loud, rattling their chains and moaning.  If anything, they were quite obnoxious with all their noise.
He, on the other hand, was most decidedly not loud.  His boots were outfitted with chameleon soles, shifting and flexing with each step to adjust to the terrain beneath.  Each step was sure-footed, the shifting soles making sure that not a single pebble was disturbed or moved out of place…
The rest of Shard’s outfit was similarly well-chosen.  He wore a tight black jacket, one sleeve cut at the elbow to reveal the flexible computer screen strapped onto his forearm.  The jacket was covered in pockets, most of them bulging with several other little high-tech gadgets that could come in handy.  Shard had a pair of skin-tight black gloves pulled on over his fingers, concealing his prints while still giving him full range of movement and the ability to activate his touch-screens.
Shard’s head was bare, but he preferred his night pursuits that way.  As he picked his way among the weather vanes and satellite dishes, monuments to technology, he moved with purpose, carefully placing each foot.  Even though it was nearly pitch-black, the man seemed to have no trouble seeing where he was going.
That was no illusion.  Shard’s eyes had their own augments, helping him make his way without a single step out of place.  Of course, those augmentations weren’t cheap, even with his own considerable modding skill.
That, he thought to himself, was one of the reasons he was up on top of this roof.
His destination lay just ahead.  The door was recessed back into the shadows, but Shard’s eyes could see the glowing yellow halo surrounding the frame.  That put the man on edge.  He hesitated, slowing down and carefully checking each footstep before shifting his weight over.
Finally, Shard was standing in front of the doorway, gazing up at the yellow halo around it, visible to his eyes only.  The handle was right in front of him, beckoning for him to try it, to see whether it was open.
Shard didn’t touch it.
Instead, he lifted up his left wrist, running his fingers over the flexible display attached to his arm.  A few touches, and it sprang to muted life, displaying readouts and outputs in night-friendly green.  Shard scrolled through a few menus, tapping on different buttons, until he found the options he wanted.
With the program set, Shard dipped his other hand into a pocket, pulling out a handful of what looked like small marbles.  He held them in the hand attached to the screen, waited for the portable computer to recognize and connect with the objects, and then activated his program.  After a beep, he closed his hand around the small spheres – and then tossed them forward.
The spheres flew to their points on the door, sticking to the metal frame.  Shard couldn’t keep his grin off his face as the glowing yellow pattern in his eyes shifted, now bounded by his new additions.
He reached out and grabbed the handle, gave it a twist, and waited, feeling his heart leap up into his throat.
The glowing yellow field of electricity around the door didn’t change.  Shard’s grin widened, and, more silent than the average ghost, he slipped inside.

Setting study: Hacker’s Heart

First, I want to apologize for using these last few posts to talk about my behind-the-scenes work on developing my next novel.  Sometimes, I just need to write things out – and I’m one of the writers who always needs an outline, and cannot write a long story without one.  Normal stories will resume next week!

For Hacker’s Heart, the story is set in the future, and there have been some significant advancements in technology and how it affects everyday life.  However, despite so many different aspects of life, many things also remain reassuringly familiar…

Year: 2140

Location: Minneapolis, MN.  Why Minneapolis?  Because I’m fairly familiar with it, and it’s always nice to have a setting that’s well known (for anyone who’s actually been there).  Obviously, I can play around with the details a bit, as it’s over a hundred years in the future.

Technology: This is the big one.  There have been some advancements in many areas (cars now run on electricity, are much cleaner, and tend to look like rounded bumps, for example), but the biggest one is bio-augmentation.

Different types of bio-augments:

  • Physical augmentation.  These enhancements increase physical abilities, such as speed, strength, jumping ability, height, mass, or other similar traits.  Most of the time, these augments can be observed with a glance; strength still needs muscle, and so people with strength augments tend to be very bulky and dense.  Speed implants tend to cause a “twitchy” status, due to the increased movement speed even when at rest.  Obviously, augmentations that change body shape, such as height augmentations, are instantly visible.  
    • Physical augments tend to be seen more among the working class than the upper-middle class and rich, and are often used for jobs.
    • These augments tend to be cheaper than most others – and are also most often done in shoddy workshops where they may not take properly.
  • Mental augments.  These enhancements are designed to increase thinking speed or intelligence.  Designed to, at least.  These are brand-new, have not been fully tested, and don’t always seem to properly function – at least, not without causing some side effects.
    • Mental augments are rare, but occasionally seen.  They can’t be observed physically, so they are easier to keep hidden.
    • These augments tend to be most popular among the wealthy, who can both afford the incredibly high expense of these augments, and also make the most use of them.  They are also sometimes seen in people holding high jobs, such as prosecutors, surgeons and doctors, and some military agents.
    • Mental augments come in two “flavors.”  The first type allows the brain to access outside sources of information, such as the internet, with direct thought queries.  These augments allow people to almost instantaneously recall information from other sources.  The second type, newer and even less tested, is designed to enhance raw brainpower.  These appear to work, but often have strange side effects (vampires?).
  • Utility augments.  This third group of augmentations is the most varied, and serves as a “catch-all” for any augments that don’t fit in the first two groups.  These are often related to a job or career, or sometimes a hobby.
    • Shard has several of these utility augments, such as an ocular augment allowing him to see the flow of electricity and interfacing nannites at his fingertips to allow him to jack in directly to computer systems.
    • Other utility augments include GPS systems for people on the road, lockpicking tools for burglars or locksmiths, enhanced vision of various types, bone plating to protect against gunshots for soldiers, a blade that withdraws into the body for chefs or construction workers, implanted magnets, and other systems.
    • Many police officers have a radio implant so that they can hear chatter and take calls without needing an earbud.  Some also invest in lock picking tools or armor plating.  Heart, obviously, cannot use any of these implants.
    • Utility augments come in a wide range of qualities, from professional implants all the way down to back-alley jobs.  Obviously, paying more tends to lead to a better quality augment.
    • Another sub-class of utility augments includes those for vanity or appearance.  These vary widely, from breasts that adjust in size up to hair covering one’s entire body in various colors.  Some people even get enhancements to make them look more like animals, or creatures of myth and legend.

Character Study: Shard

Attention, fellow writers!  NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month, is fast approaching!  While getting started on the actual writing before November 1st is forbidden, we are free to plan and plot as much as we choose.  So for this week, I’m doing character studies on my characters that will be in my upcoming story.

Name: Richard Galt

Nickname/Preferred Name: Shard

Job: Freelance hacker, security consultant, suspected in several hacking crimes

Background: Richard Galt has always had an affinity for technology.  After nearly getting expelled from school at age thirteen, he returned and graduated in less than a year.  He’s widely known in many tech circles, and is considered a “gray hat” – he occasionally seems to stray towards illegal prospects, but he’s never been caught doing anything strictly illegal.  He works during the day as a digital security consultant for big companies.  At night, it’s anyone’s guess.

Skills: There isn’t a digital system Shard has met that he can’t break open.  He has several augments to aid him in this ability, and he considers it a point of personal pride that he’s one of the best hackers alive.  He’s also gifted with an excellent memory and almost insatiable thirst for knowledge, and uses his almost encyclopedic memory to solve puzzles.

Carried Items:

  • Wrist-mounted computer.  Shard uses this device as his portable hacking station, and can hook it up to most machines he encounters.  The flexible touch-screen extends up his forearm, and responds to both mental signals and to touch commands.
  • Electronic interface nannites.  Also known as “IO nannites” among hackers, these tiny little electronic devices allow him to directly interface with many computer systems.  They establish a microscopic bridge between his index fingers and a computer port.
  • Sunglasses.  A classic part of any hacker’s wardrobe.  Shard’s glasses also give him some enhanced low-light vision.
  • Optical nannites.  Give Shard the ability to “see” electrical currents around him.  Great for detecting alarm systems…
  • Sensor bundle.  Looking more like a octopus-shaped blob of wires than anything else, this device can be plugged into most machines to remotely stream data to Shard, even when left behind.

Strengths: Richard has a powerful, inquisitive mind that is constantly working and tackling new problems.  When he has something to think about, he ferrets away at it, refusing to give up until he has an answer.  He’s also fiercely intelligent, and also has a strong independent streak, leading him to work to be self-reliant.

Weaknesses: When Richard doesn’t have a problem to occupy his attention, he tends to search for one.  This often leads to him getting into a lot of trouble when left without a problem – especially when he’s not being watched.  He also has a blatant disregard for rules, which often leads to him straying to the outskirts of legality.

Pet Peeve: When Richard gets an idea, the worst thing anyone can say to him is “No.”  That is the easiest way to make him charge in, just to prove his opponent wrong.

Character Study: Detective Heart

Attention, fellow writers!  NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month, is fast approaching!  While getting started on the actual writing before November 1st is forbidden, we are free to plan and plot as much as we choose.  So for this week, I’m doing character studies on my characters that will be in my upcoming story.

Name: Lovely A. Heart

Nickname/Preferred Name: Leah Heart, Detective Heart

Job: Police Detective

Background: Leah has always wanted to be a detective.  Even as a kid, she used to try and hunt down bad guys.  She enrolled in the Police Academy straight out of high school.  Not only was she top of her class, but she also took many community college classes at the same time, working to broaden her knowledge.  After graduating, she quickly established herself as one of the most talented and dedicated officers in the field.

Skills: Extensive combat training, including multiple forms of hand-to-hand combat.  A crack shot, proficient with a wide array of weapons besides her usual sidearm.  Smart and logical, able to remain calm and reason in tense situations.  Skilled in many police-related skills, including nonlethal combat, tactical driving, infiltration tactics, and other abilities.

Carried Items:

  • Car keys.  Leah has her own unmarked police cruiser, which she’s tweaked for peak horsepower and handling.  The vehicle is silver gray, and shows slight evidence of dents despite Leah having hammered them out many times.
  • Zip tie cuffs.  Officers have found these cuffs to be more efficient and useful than standard metal cuffs, and have switched to using them.  Leah has a supply on her at all times.
  • Police badge.  Equipped with holographic seals to prove authenticity.
  • X5 stun pistol.  The X5 is the standard-issue weapon now given to police officers.  It fires a pair of charged steel flechettes that conduct an electrical charge between them – no wires required!  The stun is usually enough to bring down an adult male human.  Leah has modified her personal pistol to also fire a wide-angle burst of electricity, stunning in a wide arc.
  • Medical bracelet.  This marks Leah as a “darkie” in case she is unconscious or immobilized and requires medical treatment.

Strengths: Leah Heart has an uncanny ability to ferret out answers for many crimes, even when it may be confusing to other officers.  Her combination of determination, intelligence, skill, and fierce competitiveness gives her a strong intrinsic drive to succeed, to come out on top.

Weaknesses: Is a natural “darkie” – her body is unable to accept bio-augmentation implants, and any attempt at augmentation could cause a potentially fatal allergic reaction.  Because of this, she must work even harder to keep ahead of her fellow augmented officers.  Leah also can have a short temper, a lack of patience, and is easily fed up and frustrated by bureaucracy and incompetence.  She doesn’t tend to do well with jokes.

Pet Peeve: When things don’t make sense.  Leah doesn’t hold much stock with the supernatural.  “There’s always got to be an explanation.”

Hacker’s Heart – potential opener

Detective Heart knew that the call was coming even before her earbud crackled.

To an observer watching, the woman might seem almost psychic, judging from the way that she reached down for her phone a half second before it rang, not flinching as the buzzing sound cut through the air.  But Detective Heart wasn’t psychic, although that skill would be useful to possess.

Instead, she was simply observant.  Her partner, previously slumped back in the passenger seat of their cruiser, perked up and leaned forward as his neural implant vibrated.  That little twitch of a reaction was enough to warn Detective Heart of what was coming.

In her mind, the detective felt a little irked at how the officers with the neural upgrades always got the call first, even if it was only a half-second’s lead.  It wasn’t like it was her fault that she was ineligible.

The irritation passed in a brief flash, however, as her phone rang.  Detective Heart hit the control on her phone, hearing the little bud in her ear crackle to life.  “Heart,” she spoke aloud.

“Hey, Leah.”  Detective Heart jerked upright, flashing into full wakefulness.  That wasn’t the voice of the dispatcher.

“Chief?” she said back, the slight lift in inflection turning the response into a question.

On the other end of the line, she heard a sigh.  “There’s another one,” the man spoke up a moment later, his voice sounding more tired than Heart could remember hearing.  “This one’s downtown, Fifth and Park.  Get here right away.”

Heart didn’t have to glance over at her partner to see if he had been listening; she knew that he’d been keyed in to the radio as well.  His neural implant automatically linked him in, even offering him the option of responding directly by thought without speaking aloud.  Smartly, however, he’d kept his mouth – and his thoughts – to himself.

The female detective didn’t waste any time talking to him.  Her finger slammed down on the police cruiser’s ignition button, and the engine sprang into gently rumbling electric life.  Her foot slammed down on the accelerator, and they took off.

As she navigated deftly past the other vehicles on the road, often slipping around them even before they had a chance to respond to the automatic signals being broadcast along with her wailing siren and pull over to the side of the thoroughfare, Heart ran through the clues from her most recent case in her head, mentally cursing.

Damn it, the man had struck again!  She didn’t know how he got around, how he chose his victims, or even why he kept on killing.  This case stubbornly refused to conform to anything Heart had previously witnessed, to snap into some sort of sense.

She did know how he killed, at least.  Small comfort that was.

The killer simply tore his victims bodily apart.

Up until now, the man seemed to mainly target those poor souls unfortunate enough to be on the streets late at night, mainly vagrants and the homeless.  But from the sound of the Chief’s voice, the case had just taken a new turn.  And it didn’t sound good.

Normally, the drive to Fifth and Park would have taken about fifteen minutes.  Heart made it there in seven.  But even as she skidded to a stop, the electromagnetic brakes nearly locking up under her heavy foot, her heart dropped down from her chest, landing somewhere in the pit of her stomach.

The intersection was painted in flashing hues of red and blue, projected from the lights of half a dozen other squad cars blocking off traffic.  Cops were already at work, rolling out caution projectors and herding bystanders away.

Something had changed.