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Clotho was busily running strings of code through her hands. The flow of algorithm and information was a blur as she pieced it into worthy sequences, testing, discarding, executing. “We have a problem with coordination, Mik.”

Mikare was sitting a few meters from her in the metaspace. “Talk to me.”

“Coordination. We need a way for the agent tree to talk to each other and to us.”

“Why can’t they talk the way they normally do?”

She withdrew her hands from the shimmering fountain of iconography, which froze instantly. Mikare had to force his eyes from sliding downwards in unconscious compensation for the vanished movement. He dragged his gaze back to Clotho’s face, which was unperturbed as usual. “We’re not on a normal Run here, Mikare. We’re the bad guys, now, and we need to remain undisturbed and undetected. Do you really want me to run you through it?”

He nodded. “Yeah, run me through it. I’ll see if it jars loose any ideas.”

“We will have an enormous tree of agents loose in the ‘Verse, observing the local conditions in their tiles as we use whatever these resources Epaulette is getting us to try to ring those servers’ bells at the Revenet layer. The agents need to be unobtrusive, and even more important, not traceable to us - at least, not to the attempt.”

“Okay. Understood.”

“So they need to be able to report in when they detect framequake or lag in the tile they’re sitting in, so we can coordinate those sightings with the degradation attacks. They need to communicate with us secretly, like we talk to each other using the phone tree when we’re announcing a run.”

Mikare had slumped a bit further, his face thoughtful. “Right. They need to talk to us...” he trailed off for a moment. “Do we need to hide the fact that they’re talking at all, or just break the trail between them talking and us listening?”

“It would be better if no-one knew they were talking. It would be minimally acceptable for there to be a break, so that once other players do figure that out they won’t be able to follow the link back.”

“Yeah. Well. I had this idea, once.”

Clotho cocked her head. “Once? Has it ever worked?”

“Nope. I’ve been saving it.”

“How do you know it works?”

“I don’t.” He grinned at her from beneath his quicksilver. “But I bet it does.”

* * *

I sat before several infopanes, floating in a private metaspace. They were arranged in the same patterns as the monitors in my loft. I keenly felt the absence of the metastack; Paul’s promised resources were formidable, but they weren’t mine. The metastack was just muscles, though; the routines from it were sitting in my portable, which was linked into Paul’s processor farm. I settled myself into the control points and tapped virtual keys, triggering the sequence.

I didn’t even know where the attack launched from, but I’d told it to concentrate on three targets - a commercial uplink facility in New Mexico, the Tanegashima Space Center’s uplink facilities at the Yoshinobu launch site, and (just for kicks) the cellular service network nearest to the Federal USSTRATCOM at Colorado Springs. I saw the flood of electronic routines on its way, confirmed that it was trying to do what I wanted it to do, and sat back to wait.

The commercial site figured out fairly quickly that it was under attack and dropped off the Net, although I couldn’t tell if that was a defensive reaction or simply a system failure triggered by the attack load. The JAXA site on Tanegashima fenced with my probes for a couple of minutes before a mode shift in the incoming packets convinced it that incoming traffic had returned to normal. In fact, the surrounding routing pools one metric out from the site had been compromised and the normal traffic was all trojaned, but the JAXA systems weren’t paranoid enough to determine that. The attack traffic swarmed through, eating the relatively simpleminded security bots and filters along the way, and gang-rushed the uplink. Ten blinks later, I was sitting in SEO, looking down from a string of pearls that formed the JAXA relay network - six earth orbiters, four longhaul probes and a couple of Lagrange relays.

It took only a few minutes to install the routines I’d carefully carried through the defenses, latching them into the tracking algorithms for the various sensors of the network disguised as connectivity diagnostics. I was helped by the rigid standardization of the birds, as well as the fact that the four oldest had been launched before the notion of realtime intrusion - i.e. the InterPlaNet - had been fully realized.

I pulled all active intrusions from JAXA, leaving the checks of my recently-planted observers to automated routines, and checked out the Colorado Springs intrusion. There was no way I’d have gotten into SPACECOM, especially without anyone noticing, but my probes had locked up twelve of the cellular towers closest to the main SPACECOM uplink farm. I wiggled metaphorical fingers and told my attack system to continue.

“What’re you doing?” Clotho had appeared in the metaspace next to me. It took everything I had not to jump.

“Getting us a phone.” I grinned at her once, from behind Mikare’s mask, and turned back to the ongoing kabuki of electronic lies forming on my infopanes. The attack system had isolated transponders on the twelve towers it had selected and was busily weaving shuntcode into the tower systems to route traffic to and from those transponders through redundant ones while convincing the relatively dumb tower diagnostics that no such thing was happening. It took about a minute, and then the attack system had twelve cellular multiband radios cut off and under its own control. Turning all of them upwards, it thought furiously for a moment and then began to broadcast upwards using slight delays in the transmissions to spoof their origin as being offset just a few kilometers - right onto the main dish of the SPACECOM link.

The Hotbirds answered, blissfully unaware that their signal wasn’t being received at SPACECOM at all but being painstakingly snatched from the air by the twelve stations at the other end.

Before four minutes had passed, the Hotbird network had had a fleet of observer routines installed and been released to its military masters, so far with no one the wiser.

“I presume you have a method of disconnecting the agents from the control paths up to the sats,” said Clotho. Her voice was curious, rather than sarcastic.

“Yep. The agents aren’t going to go near the control paths.”

“Enlighten me.”

I rezzed up an infostruct and handed it to her. “This needs to get installed on the agent swarm.”

“What is it?” She took the infostruct. It pulsed red twice and faded, sucked into Clotho’s systems.

“It’s a canned hack. Basically, it just tries to open a comm channel to a pseudorandom set of addresses which my third hack will hold open in sequence.”

“And that third hack?”

“The beauty part!” I was grinning by now. This was the fun part, damn it, and it was clever. “Here.” I spun the final module out into the metaspace and watched her examine it, touching one avatar palm to it and going blank-faced as she swam into the code.

“Mik, this hacks public infrastructure...”

“It does.”

“And then...?”

I touched the routine. Clotho removed her palm and refocused. I double-tapped it, sending it out of my private space and into the storm of traffic that was passing through and leaving the facility. “Wait.”

She looked at me somewhat acerbically, but shrugged. I tapped my fingers out in the Heavy, waiting. A few seconds later, a signal came back from the module. “Okay. It found a local public works node. It’s burrowing in. And...” there was a flare in the signal as the module reported itself open for business. “...bingo.”

“As you said, Mik, walk me through it.”

“The agents will send their reports through the code library I gave you. That module in turn will send the traffic to the nearest beacon module - that thing that I just sent out is a beacon module. It will, in turn, modulate the traffic into tiny fluctuations of the public power grid.”

“And that will get to us how? What if the agent’s on a server in Botswana?”

“Ah, because I have the scope modules running on...” I checked - “ - twenty-four spaceborne observation platforms by now. And when the power grid fluctuates, so carefully that hopefully no-one notices, the traffic could be going to *anywhere*, right? It could be read by any device plugged into that grid as an embedded signal.”

Clotho was looking enlightened. “But we won’t be plugging into it.”

“Nope.” I grinned again. “This will work best at night, but it’ll be acceptable on the dayside, too. Watch.” I typed out a quick message and fired it at the beacon node. After a second, one of my infopanes flashed a deep crimson, and I zoomed it. “See? Hotbird...Six-Alpha.” The image in the infopane was a dark blue, shot with white traceries, the signs of a technological civilization from space. The white, in this case, was scripplepaint, taking raw power and faithfully turning it into high-grade illumination. “The scripplepaint will catch the signal modulation. Ever so slightly. They isolate it from the grid, but there’s too much of it, they can’t do it entirely, and here-” I stroked virtual keys. The attack system obligingly identified the sector and printed the map codes - “‘-in Östhammar, Sweden, it’s modulating the scripplepaint used for street lighting. Hotbird six-alpha sees it, the scope module sees it, and it decodes the modulations...” As I trailed off, the text came up on the infopane, overlaying the white-shot darkness of Scandinavian East Coast. THE QUICK BROWN FOX JUMPED OVER THE LAZY DOG.

Clotho laughed. “That’s actually pretty good, Mik, for a complete egotist.”

I leaned back in my chair, still grinning at the array of technology and usurped utility before me. “Thanks, Clo.”

“Well, I suppose I should get busy on the agents, then.”

* * *

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