Thread: [Pokémon] Hackers [15]
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Old September 19th, 2012 (12:57 PM).
Cutlerine Cutlerine is offline
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Posts: 1,030
I totally didn't forget to post this months and months ago. No time at all has passed since the last update. Do not argue with this statement.

Two – Thieves

'Few people in Saffron have seen a natural Pokémon now; they are scarce, requiring more food and less-polluted habitats than any of the artificial ones. It does not matter. League-produced Pokémon are exactly the same, but improved.'

“Good morning, Riley.”

“Good morning, Gwyn,” replied Riley chirpily. “What can I do for you today?”

“Display messages,” I replied, and illusory green text flickered over the windscreen of the car.

“I'm afraid I shall have to move these as soon as the car starts moving again,” said Riley warningly. “It would be a terrible hazard for your attention to be divided between the road and your messages in such a way.”

“All right, whatever.” I glanced at the traffic lights – still red – and back at the messages. Thirteen new ones, ten of them station-wide alerts about new developments during the night shift, and three addressed to me personally. I poked one, and it expanded into three paragraphs of apology from Jack for shooting out the Charizard's flame sac the day before. I sighed. “Delete.”

It vanished, and I moved on to the next one, which was from my sister; it was a gentle reminder that it was my niece's birthday next week, and it would be very much appreciated if I remembered it this time.

“Riley, remind me to get her a present tomorrow and see if I can take Tuesday off.”

“Naturally. I shall compose a request immediately.”

I returned my attention to the windscreen, and had just enough time to see that the subject of the last message was 'Urgent Request' before the lights went green and it disappeared.
“For your safety, I have removed your inbox from sight,” Riley informed me.

“I noticed, thanks,” I muttered, and drove on. Without the illuminated text in front of me, there was almost no light save the numbers and dials on the dashboard; this morning, the city was thickly shrouded under a dense, slate-grey fog. The car's headlights penetrated only a few feet in front of me, just about showing the back of the truck in front; were it not for the fact that I knew exactly where I was going, I'd have had to stay at home today – that or risk using the satnav, which had picked up a rhinovirus last week and was still not feeling well.

The fogs were getting more common these days, and no one really knew why. Every expert had their own theory, and none seemed very convincing; for my part, I could never rid myself of the conviction that it was Saffron's way of protesting at the way we defiled it – protesting the abominations that we built and that called its alleys home, protesting the decaying monsters in the sewers and the poison that the laboratories poured into its veins. I shivered as I thought over it. I wasn't usually so morbid, but the fog had a way of getting into your head. I wouldn't have been surprised if it had been alive itself, a malignant spectre that leeched all your good spirits away and spat acid back in their place.

Thanks to the fog, it took me a full forty-five minutes to get to the Gym, and by that time I'd half-forgotten about the 'Urgent Request'; it was only as I was parking that Riley chirped up:

“You will be stationary imminently. Shall I display your inbox again?”

“Oh. Uh, yeah.”

I turned off the engine, and the list of messages reappeared on the windscreen. Unbuckling my seatbelt, I poked the 'Urgent Request' one and read its contents:

Agent Cadogan, I would very much appreciate it if you could contact me as soon as you arrive at work today. There is something I require your assistance with. More details will be made available when you get here.

Thanks,

Professor Maxwell Blaine


I stared.

“Riley,” I said, “this message is from Professor Blaine.”

“Yes,” it replied. “It is.”

“No, you're missing the point,” I said, rereading the message and still not quite believing it. “It's from Professor Blaine. The best geneticist in Sinnoh and the main thing standing between the League and total genetic anarchy. You know, that Professor Blaine?”

“Yes, of course,” Riley said. “After all, there is only one Professor Maxwell Blaine registered in the personnel database.”

I shook my head.

“You really are a robot,” I sighed. “All right. Turn off.”

“As you wish,” Riley said, and the message disappeared.

I got out and walked to the elevator slowly, wondering what Blaine could possibly want with me. As a young man, he'd ushered in the genetic revolution of the late Noughties from his lab on Cinnabar Island; now, as an old one, he'd retired from his position as Cinnabar's Gym Leader to become the head geneticist for the entire League – which meant he was here in Saffron, where the biggest laboratories were. They'd wanted to put them up on the Indigo Plateau, where the League headquarters were, but getting supplies out there was a *****, and things were generally just more convenient down here in the capital. Besides, no one in Kanto really wanted to be sharing anything with the Johtonians – and definitely not our genetics labs.

Where exactly Blaine worked in the building was a mystery to me; what he did was so secret that very few people actually knew what it was and where he did it. To find out, I went to reception and asked them to call Blaine and tell him I had received his message; I'd have asked him directly, but his biocomputer wasn't accessible from the Gym network. A moment later, I got a reply that told me to meet him in the third sub-basement, and I went back to the lift and down.

As soon as the lift doors slid open, I knew something was up. Two armed Mr. Mimes stood in the corridor, tapping their fat fingers against their thighs; they had an aura of menace about them, and I was sure that they were trained combat models. If they got the slightest idea that there was a threat present, people were going to start dying pretty damn quickly.

“Agent Cadogan!” I looked past the Mr. Mimes and saw a bald man in a linen suit and round sunglasses approaching. “Agent Cadogan, you got my message.”

He seemed casual enough, smiling broadly beneath his impressive moustache and waving his cane around with friendly abandon; immediately, I began to feel slightly suspicious. After all, there were two military-grade Mr. Mimes in the corridor with us. There was no use acting as if nothing had happened when something like that was going on. Still, if that was the way he wanted to play this, I wasn't going to interfere; he was the one in charge here.

“Professor Blaine,” I said reverently. “It's – it's an honour to meet you, sir. It really is.”

“Oh, no, Cadogan, the pleasure's all mine,” he replied, guiding me down the corridor. “You've quite the reputation – the Saffron Gym's most valuable resource, so they tell me.”

“I'm good at what I do,” I admitted.

“I'm the same, Cadogan, I'm the same,” said Blaine breezily. “But you were no slouch in the genetics department either, were you? The finest mind of your generation, they say.”

“If you're referring to the reports, sir, they tend to exaggerate things. The League likes to think they made the best possible acquisition when I turned.”

Blaine laughed.

“You may be right there,” he said, ushering me into a laboratory and closing the door behind us. “Now, to business,” he continued, and his whole manner changed abruptly: anxiety replaced levity and a frown his smile; all at once, he ceased to look jolly, and instead looked like a man with the world's battery ranged against him.

“What?” I blinked for a moment, startled by the sudden shift in mood; it took me a moment to realise that his apparent good humour had been an act, designed to conceal the fact that something was very obviously wrong. “Wait – what – why the subterfuge?” I asked at last.

“We can't be too careful,” said Blaine. “Someone – or more probably something – got past security last night, and got down here too. This floor's been evacuated except for a few select employees, but I'm not sure I want to trust that anywhere outside this lab is safe.”

“Wait,” I said, trying to sort things out in my head. “There's been a break-in?”

“Yes,” replied Blaine, and shook his head slowly, sighing. “And that's not the worst of it.”

“What is the worst of it?” I asked, afraid of the answer.

“They broke in in search of something,” Blaine told me. “There's been a theft.”

I stared at him.

“What?”

“Some hacker group has entered here and stolen the embryo my team and I were working on,” said Blaine.

“That you...? Your project?”

I couldn't keep the disbelief out of my voice. It was strange enough that someone had actually got into the Gym, but to have managed to overcome whatever security measures Blaine had in place and take his work... I hadn't thought it was possible. Where Blaine and his research was concerned, the League spared no expense in keeping things secure.

“Yes,” he said. “My project.”

I didn't ask what the project – this mysterious embryo – was. If I was meant to know, he would tell me; otherwise, it wasn't my place to ask.

“I – God. Do we know how it happened?”

“We've got a few things pieced together,” Blaine told me, crossing the lab and stopping before another door. “We know there were two intruders. One that broke into this lab and actually committed the robbery, and one that disengaged the alarms and cameras before the theft took place.”

“How do you know there were two of them?”

“Because we have one of them in here,” he said, and pushed open the door.

Beyond was a standard examination room – much like a morgue but without nearly as much charm. On the steel table was a small abomination spread out in various chunks across the table; it looked like its body had exploded and blown its limbs and head apart. A scientist leaned over the whole, investigating the contents of its abdomen with a probe and scalpel.

The scientist looked up at our entry; Blaine motioned for her to keep working and turned to look at me, evidently expecting a reaction of some sort.

“What the hell is that?” I asked.

“We have no idea,” said Blaine. “It uses the standard Base v04.1.3 code, but the rest seems to be home-grown – completely made from scratch.”

That put the ugly little monster in a new light. I studied it more closely: round, oval head studded with eyes, apparently at random; tubular mouth with needle-shaped tongue; fat little body and two long, thin arms that terminated in three-fingered hands. If it had any legs, they were missing.

“A security guard found it in the watchroom,” Blaine went on as I scrutinised the beast. “Looked like it had burst at the base of its body, ripping up its sides and shredding its legs. We're not sure how it managed it; it was as if—”

“Someone ruptured a flame sac,” I murmured, thinking of yesterday.

“Perhaps. The damage is consistent with a small flame sac – but there's no residue.”

“Really? None at all?”

Blaine shook his head.

“I have no idea how it exploded. All I can say is that it did, and that before it did it strangled the guard watching the cameras, hacked into the security computers and disabled the alarms. It also erased the entire night's security footage and turned off the cameras.”

I whistled.

“That's... an impressive little monster.”

“Yes. It's worryingly intelligent, actually,” Blaine said. “And yet its brain is tiny – it looks like it came from a fish.”

“Sir?” asked the scientist, looking up from her reconstruction work. “We've confirmed that now. The brain is based on something.”

“Not home-sequenced? Thank God for that,” said Blaine. “I'd be worried if there were hackers who could create scratch brains so easily as to throw them away like that. What is it?”

“It's loosely based on a tuna brain,” replied the scientist. “But it's got three or four strange nodes in it that we can't identify.”

Blaine raised his eyebrows.

“Keep looking,” he said. “We need to know more about this monster.”

At this point, I decided I'd heard enough; it was time to go for the big guns.

“Sir,” I said, “what did the scratch let into the lab? What broke in and stole your project?”

Blaine hesitated.

“We don't know,” he admitted after a while. “It may have been a person, but if it was, it was someone who was known to the night staff. Someone who wouldn't have been noticed. I've already had people ask questions, but no one saw anything out of the ordinary.”

“But you don't think it was a human, do you?”

He sighed.

“No, I don't,” he confirmed.

“Why not?”

“Because there were two dead guards in the building this morning. The one strangled in the control room, and another lying in the corridor down here, crushed beyond all recognition and covered in three-inch puncture wounds.”

My eyes widened involuntarily.

“What? What the hell was this thing?”

“We don't know, remember?” Blaine threw up his hands in frustration. “Hell, this whole mess is one big question mark! Whoever orchestrated this, they aren't a hacker group we know about; no one's this good, this well-organised.” He gestured at the tuna-brained beast on the slab. “No one can take a tuna brain and make it do what that thing did.” He sighed again and turned back to me. “That's why you're here, Cadogan. You're uniquely placed to figure out who did it and how.”

“Me?” I'd been expecting this, but I still couldn't see why me exactly. OK, so I knew a lot about how the hackers operated, having been in their line of work myself for so long – but my knowledge was three years out of date now, and it wasn't really going to help me track down these mysterious thieves.

“Yes, you.” I could feel Blaine's eyes boring into me even through his sunglasses. “Cadogan, it isn't just that you understand the hackers, it's that you're a good detective. You must admit, your insider knowledge would get you nowhere without a certain aptitude for problem-solving – and for monster-killing. It isn't the one aspect or the other that draws the League's interest in you, it's the combination.” He paused. “That was the report given to me by Lauren, and I trust it. So, this investigation is yours and yours alone. This embryo must remain entirely secret, it must be recovered, and the hackers who took it brought in for questioning. You have the entire support of the League behind you.” Another pause. “Any questions?”

I took a deep breath, and tried very hard to act nonchalant.

“No, sir. I'll – I'll start right away.”

“Excellent,” said Blaine. “I've arranged for you to have your own office on the fourth floor. I'll take you there now, and show you what we have so far.”

As I followed him back out to the corridor, I couldn't help but grin. If I wasn't very much mistaken, I'd just been put in charge of the League's most important investigation and been confirmed as the best agent they had, all at once. Pretty good for a morning's work.

---

My new office was a significant improvement on the old: austere, white walls, handsome furniture in pale wood, glass and steel, and a floor-length window to the right of the desk that looked out over the top of the fog, letting in bright sunlight and making the city look like it was flooded three storeys deep in grey sludge.

“Whoa,” I said, unable to hold back. “Now this is a workspace.”

“Yes, it's very good,” agree Blaine distractedly. “Over on the desk here are the requisite files – hard copies only, you understand? Nothing about this gets onto the database. This are real state secrets we're working with here.”

I wondered what they could have been creating that could be so devastatingly important, but didn't dare ask.

“OK,” I said aloud, picking up the folder. “What's in here?”

“Everything we know so far,” Blaine told me. “Which, I'm afraid, isn't much.” He paused. “I'll leave you to read it. I'll be downstairs trying to recover something from the mystery scratch, if you need me.”

“All right. I'll be down soon, I guess. Might as well start with the crime scene.”

Blaine left, and I took a moment to spin around proudly on my new chair and look imperiously out of the window before opening the folder and flicking through its contents.

There wasn't much in there that I didn't already know: two creatures had broken in somehow, turned off the cameras, killed two guards and stolen something unbelievably important from Blaine's lab. I sighed, set the folder down on the desk, took a last proprietary look around and went back downstairs.

“Still no idea how the brain works,” he told me as I came in. “This thing should barely have the capacity to work its own legs, let alone use the computers in the watchroom.”

“We have got something back from it, though,” said the scientist who'd been dissecting it earlier. “It's got very unusual blood.”

“How is it unusual?” I asked.

“It's human,” she replied.

“Human?” I repeated. “You're sure?”

“Yes,” she said. “I can even tell you the blood group. AB negative.” She shook her head. “With traces of P-37, of all things.”

P-37 was the primary constituent of the fluid that ran in the veins of Poison-type Pokémon; what it would be doing mixed with human blood in a scratch monster was anyone's guess.

Human blood... That rang a bell, somewhere in the back of my head. Human blood, a blown-apart body, P-37. I'd seen this before, somewhere – read about it, or heard about it. Something experimental, that we in the hacker gangs had been talking about but had never actually tried.

“Hang on,” I said. “Tell me about this little monster's skeletal system.”


“Weird as hell,” replied the scientist. “It's built like a birdcage – all the way around the edges of its body. The whole thing snapped to bits when it blew up.”

“Is there a little stubby bit in the middle?” I asked. “Like a truncated spine?”

“Yes, actually,” she said, puzzled. “How did you know?”

I smiled grimly.

“The brain you've got there is a decoy,” I said. “There was a second brain in there. A human one, illegally modded with an Abra psi gland and supported on a bone stem.”

“Of course!” cried Blaine. “Someone grafts their brain into this little robot scratch, gets it into the building, pilots it to the watchroom, turns off the cameras and teleports out, leaving us with what looks like a sentient scratch to puzzle over.” He frowned. “But the explosion...?”

“No such thing,” I told him. “It was an implosion. The brain suddenly vanishing from inside the body creates a vacuum, and the pressure outside gets too much for those spindly little ribs.” I pointed at the thin bone fragments on the table. “The whole thing snaps in the middle, and the psychic field sets off the P-37.”

P-37 reacted badly to psychic fields, and so the teleportation would have caused accelerated decay in the rest of the body – hence the extensive damage. Instant collapse, just add psi waves.

“Someone implanting their brain into an automaton... but that's incredibly dangerous!” pointed out the scientist. “They'd be running a huge risk – in such a fragile body, they might easily die, and the return teleport would be completely blind. There'd be a large chance they'd never make it back to their original body.”

“Which means that either the thieves are lunatics, wanted this thing really badly, or both,” I concluded.

Blaine nodded slowly.

“They said you were good, Cadogan,” he said. “I guess they really meant it.”

Despite the circumstances, I couldn't help but smile; I'd just been complimented by Professor Blaine, probably the greatest geneticist the world had ever seen, on a problem of forensic biology. That was something that didn't happen every day.

“Unfortunately for them, these guys picked exactly the wrong person to send in on this mission,” I went on.

“What? Why?”

“The blood. AB negative is pretty uncommon – the rarest type, I think. I don't know the exact figures, but it's definitely less than one per cent of the population. We should be able to at least make a start here by looking through the people in the AB negative blood group.”

“Well, Cadogan,” said Blaine. “Good start. Contact me the moment you find anything.”

I nodded.

“Will do, sir.”

I turned and walked out, grinning to myself like an idiot. I knew this was serious, but it was going so damn well.

---

“Welcome back, Nadia.”

The blackness was receding, and she thought... yes. There was a face, and a light, and a harsh, pounding headache that felt like a giant drumming on her skull.

“****,” she mumbled. “Hurts.”

“Yes, it'll hurt. Not much we can do about that, really – brain surgery's pretty painful stuff.”

What was that noise? Why was there noise? Nadia tried to wave it away, but her hand barely moved at all; her body felt clumsy and disconnected, as if it belonged to someone else.

“Hang on there. You can't move yet. You haven't quite reconnected.”

“You're loving this, aren't you?”

A new sound, this time. Different – higher, sweeter than the other.

“Christ, just put her under for a while longer. She's a ****ing hero; don't leave her in agony.”

Why wouldn't the noise stop? It hurt so much, stabbed her in the ears with sharp, needling pains...

“She's not in—”

“Yes she is. Put her under. Now.”

The sounds were fading, drifting further away; Nadia felt consciousness dancing before her, just out of reach, and gratefully let it slide into the distance.

When the light came back a second time, she felt a little better. She knew who she was now, if not where she was, and she was pretty sure she could move. She curled and uncurled her fingers, and wondered vaguely why everything was so red; then she realised her eyes were shut, and opened them.

There it was – a face.

“She's coming round,” it said, and now Nadia understood the words. “She's back! Nadia's back!”

“What – where am I?” she managed, through dry lips and a fumbling tongue.

“Back at the base, Nadia,” said the face, and for the first time she realised it was attached to a body. “You did it. Everything worked, just like the boss said.”

Then memory returned like a sudden blow, and Nadia gasped.

“The embryo—?”

“Safely in the incubator. It looked like it might not make it for a bit, but it's stable now. We did it. You did it.”

“I did?”

“Yeah.”

“Thank God.” Rational thought was returning now, dripping back into her skull as the stem cell wash in her head fixed up the last few neuronal connections. “Christ. I've got a ****ing bad headache.”

“Kind of the price you have to pay to have your brain transplanted. You almost didn't make it back to the lab, you know – you teleported into a bin. We had to clean leftover Chinese takeaway off your medulla.”

“Nothing left?”

“No.”

“Good.” Nadia closed her eyes. “Look, I need to sleep, S – So – Sam—”

“I'm Jack.”

“Yeah, Jack. I'm just gonna – gonna sleep for a bit...”

The red glow of the light through her eyelids went out, and Nadia descended once again into exhausted, painless sleep.
__________________

For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.
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