A Shift in Operations
She stood for a moment and bathed in the orange glow from the rising sun. From the plate glass windows surrounding her office on the 45th floor, she watched the city begin to stir. Drones whizzed by. People in the streets below moved like ants around a hill. The morning news feed kicked on over the radio. She fired up a cup of coffee and leaned against her desk, head swimming and groggy from a restless night. She pressed her fingers against her temples and closed her eyes.
Yesterday’s attack had not left her mind. Around 4PM, a hacker had broken into her Cerebral Imaging subsidiary and made off with a Beta Test file from halfway across the world. Security Chief Ryon Knight had reported the incident straight away, but had little information to offer. The terrorist was in and out without a trace, IP location immediately scrambled. Her life and soul were in this company and theft was not something she took lightly.
“Director Haas,” her secretary said through the intercom. “You’re guests have arrived. They are waiting for you in the lobby.”
The Director took a moment to savor the aroma of coffee in the air. She inhaled deeply and pressed a button on the monitor behind her. “Thank you Katie. Send them up, please.”
Haas hoped that these consultants would have some solutions. Immediately after yesterday’s theft was flagged, she and Knight had gathered a group of her top level specialists to discuss security options for CI going forward. The impromptu council had identified a number of shortcomings in their cyber-protection suite. Some had suggested adjusting the ice distribution over their central servers. Others proposed an increase in defensive security upgrades. All well and good. Not exactly the most inspired ideas, though, and experienced hackers could navigate around them with little difficulty.
She gave some consideration to the PriSec units that had begun to surface internationally. The ’23-Seconds’ incident and the ensuing chaos had given them the chance to capitalize on an unstable political climate. Now, they dotted the globe like fleas. She liked the idea.
Most promising were the dozens of Mumbad consulting firms that had gone public since the region emerged as a commercial and economic bastion. These were highly skilled teams of professionals that could bridge gaps, secure valuable contracts and solve security problems. Their influence of late throughout the world’s corporate structure was almost ubiquitous. It was to the most prominent of these that Haas and her team decided to reach out.
A soft rapping on the door brought the Director back to the present. “Enter,” she called out, taking her cup of coffee from the machine. She watched Ryon Knight hold the door open to usher in three consultants, as well as one of his own blue-level security specialists. He smiled and raised his biotic right hand to greet her.
“Good morning, Director,” Knight said closing the door behind them. Ever casual, he already had his white sleeves rolled up and his black tie slightly amiss. For years, the handsome blonde man had been the Haas’ most trusted adviser and friend, reinforced especially by situations like these. “I hope you slept well. Our guests here tell me we have a lot to talk about and more to do. This is Ahmad Malhotra, James Chance, and Mahira Kassem.”
They arrived earlier that morning at Hannover and were quickly escorted to Cerebral Imaging by Knight and a full green level security detail. Their alacrity was not lost on Director Haas, who valued speed and efficiency more greatly that anything. Within twelve hours of the previous day’s security breach, they were standing in her office ready to work.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you all,” replied Director Haas, shaking each of their hands in turn. “I hope your flight went smoothly. Our accountants will see that you are compensated for you travel and expenses.”
“The pleasure is ours,” Malhotra spoke for the three. A petite man with skin like auburn sand and a thick black beard, he was exquisitely dressed. He wore a pressed blazer accented by a blue cummerbund and kerchief. The golden turban that smothered most of his head was decorated with a large ruby and his fingers were covered in gold rings. “It’s an honor to finally have the opportunity to work with your company.”
“Likewise,” the Director responded, cordially. “I regret that it couldn’t be under better circumstances.”
“No need for apologies, Director. “Corporations tend to reserve our services until things have gone awry.”
“Very well, then. Please, have a seat.” Haas motioned toward the chairs encircling her desk. “Can I get you anything to drink?”
“Thank you, no,” Malhotra said politely, taking a seat between Chance and Kassem. On his lap he opened a large briefcase and began unpacking a number of odd looking Pads and a PortCom. “Mr. Knight has explained to us that you are having some security issues here at Cerebral Imaging.”
“Regretfully, we have no security to really speak of,” Director Haas replied. “While the world’s most aggressive and experienced hackers are siphoning our accounts and disrupting our internal operations, we have less than nothing with which to defend or retaliate.” She paused to fire up the two terminals behind her desk. She waited for the computers to sync up with the consultants’ devices and took a sip of her coffee. “An accelerated server protection program was stolen without so much as a trace last night. These so-called ‘runners’ never jack in from the same digital location twice, encrypt their IPs and go completely invisible once they jack out.”
As the Director concluded her rundown, Mahira Kassem pulled a Pad from her satchel and turned to address Ryon Knight, who was leaning nonchalantly against a window. “Mr. Knight,” she began, “what specific defense protocols and server upgrades are currently being employed by Cerebral Imaging?”
“Unfortunately, there isn’t much to speak of,” Knight replied. “We’ve been running the same Cyberdex Suite for years. It’s effective for what it does, but it’s outdated and doesn’t solve the bigger problem. Additionally, our funds are funneled through the Crisium Grid. It protects our finances from the most parasitic runners, but the theft of classified projects goes unimpeded.”
Mahira noted everything feverishly into her Pad as Knight ran down the corporations paltry security measures. Director Haas studied her and chewed anxiously on the end or her pen. Kassem looked very much a Mumbad native. She had pointed, dark features, a small bindi on her forehead, and glistening black hair that she wore in a braid over her shoulder. Her pantsuit was a plain charcoal grey, but in typical Navi avant-garde fashion, very low cut to reveal an ample cleavage.
After a few moments, Mahira finished her notes and took some time to analyze Knight’s information against the company’s budget and overall function of R&D. Haas watched the wheels turning in her head. She noticed then that she was gnawing on her pen and quietly put it down, hoping no one could read her nerves. She was not used to letting others solve her problems.
“This company’s efficiency is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before,” Kassem had apparently come to some conclusion. “Average project completion time is well under twenty four hours. Even Victoria can’t boast those numbers.” Haas felt a swell of pride wash over her. “That being said,” Kassem continued, “mega corporations in today’s political and social climate cannot hope to survive without the flexibility for implementing extreme counter measures. I have a suggestion.”
Vague. Cryptic. “Interesting,” Director Haas replied. “What might these measures be? How extreme? More importantly, what is it going to cost?”
“With our help, not much. I think my colleagues would concur that we shift your R&D temporarily to violet-level security clearance. All projects will be placed on hold. Nothing in and nothing out. We do not publicize this transition, and we withhold documentation from the federal government until the transition is over. An under-the-table shift in operational function would give us a window to send a violent message to cyber terrorists around the world.”
“As we’ve said before,” Director Haas reiterated, “we possess no retaliatory measures at this time. It has been that way since the inception of Haas Bioroid, and it remains our guiding principle. We maintain a pacifistic philosophy, at least on the surface, and the federal government leaves us be. No interventions. I will not throw money into a blood-soaked defense project that would tarnish this company’s reputation.”
“If I may interject,” James Chance spoke up for the first time since their arrival, “the very nature of this counter strike means there will be no legal ramifications for Cerebral Imaging or Haas Bioroid.” In contrast to his counterparts, James looked very American. He was slender, pale of skin, with a generically handsome face and grey-white hair. He wore a tight vest over a white shirt, black tie, fashionable translucent glasses and a comms device in each ear. If anyone looked a business man on the go, James was that man.
“We have worked with the Weyland Consortium almost exclusively for years,” he boasted. “Some of our biggest investments have been with their weapons and defense sector. For the right price, I believe Elizabeth would be open to negotiation. I will work to contact her immediately. Mahira, establish a line to Victoria as well. Her global surveillance network will be paramount.”
“On it,” Kassem turned her attention back the PortCom on her lap and began again at her typing.
“Director,” Chance continued, “what is the next project in queue for execution?”
Haas took a moment to scroll through one of the HoloMonitor screens in front of her. “Project Vitruvius would be next in line. Scheduled for tomorrow…execution and completion.”
“Great! Create a server for it, immediately. These hackers want project files. We are going give it to them.”
“Excuse me?” The thought of surrendering a file to a terrorist set her temper flaring and her face turning a shade darker. Ryon Knight raised an eyebrow.
“As soon as they touch the file,” James put his hand up to calm her anxiety, “we can fire a trace to triangulate their location. Pin them down. Hard. All eyes on. Once traced…… well, I don’t think I have to explain what happens next.”
Malhotra and Kassem had regressed into their own bubble to establish communications servers with Weyland Consortium and the Near-Earth Broadcast Network. Ryon Knight stood to the left of the Director, watching everything silently and sipping at his coffee. Her blue level security specialist stood with hands behind his back, postured and silent behind black glasses.
“The ball is rolling, Director, and it’s in your court,” James Chance finished. “What you do with it is up to you. You brought us here to solve a problem.”
Director Haas looked again to Ryon Knight for affirmation. He smiled back, coyly. “Sounds like we’ve got a sting, Director.”