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Goodbye World

Posted on Mon Aug 28th, 2017 @ 4:31am by Lieutenant Yumi Han & HALP
Edited on on Sat Sep 2nd, 2017 @ 6:59pm

Mission: Echoes of the Dominion
Location: Computer Network, Various
Timeline: 30 March, 2394 - 1420 Hours

[ON]

She awoke to throbbing pains in her hip and the muted scream of a stun burn across her chest. Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth. She scrubbed her eyes with her fingers to clear off a seal of thickened tears. Ooze from her stun burn glued her uniform tunic to her skin, and as her body sat up and shifted, the wet cloth tugged free with a sudden searing yank, like a scab torn off too soon.

Yumi swung her legs to the floor. Or would have if they were both there. Her pulse spiked, and she looked down at the flat empty pant leg where her bionic limb should be. Perfect.

She wasn’t in Sickbay, which could only mean one thing. Fantome had stashed her somewhere she couldn’t do anything to stop him. Not that she had done anything to stop him when she’d been free. The stupidity of assuming she knew what he was capable of stung more than phaser wound.

Had he been extracted? Arrested? She tapped her commbadge, but ended up slapping her shirt and part of her burn. She exhaled suddenly and bent forward, gritting her teeth to hold in a cry of pain. No commbadge. He was good. He had transported her piecemeal to a pitch dark room.

Her hands curled around the edge of a cold metal bench. She might not have recognized it if she hadn’t spent the first few years of her USS Whirligig commission as a security officer.

The Brig.

Starfleet cells came in only a few cookie-cutter designs, and the Firebird’s were square and cramped. Fantome had neglected to transport a mattress in for her, but he’d been improvising. He couldn’t think of everything. Or maybe this had been his contingency plan for her all along.

She should have had contingency plans. Instead she’d rushed in to seize the glory and prove herself to Ackboard. Just one successful mission would have gotten him off of her back. Fantome and his software accomplice were formidable. She’d been cocky and untrusting and failed utterly.

Pushing to her foot on a quivering leg, Yumi steadied herself with both hands against the wall at the foot of the prison bunk. If she could get to the door, maybe she could hop right through? But at the doorframe, a forcefield zapped her stray fingers back. It was more surprising than painful, and a small glow highlighted her hand for the second that it reacted to her. Bracing herself on one leg and with one palm against the solid wall, she pounded the bottom of her fist against the forcefield. Ripples of neon green light sprang from each blow, casting eerie shadows up her face and fanning across an empty hall between her holding cell and a second, empty one.

“Hello? Anybody? Computer?”

The whooshing blood of labored heartbeats filled her ears, and she thunked her head against the wall in a dizzy tilt. She rotated her back to the solid wall and slid slowly to the ground on one leg.

Hard floor ridges dug into her cheek and forehead when she woke again. She pushed up to sit, bracing herself upright with one arm and rubbing the impressions from her face with the other. It was still so dark she couldn’t see her own hand held against her nose. The whooshing sound had faded, but as awareness stirred in her brain she heard a weak voice as if it came from within her own head.

It did, in a way. Someone had tapped into the channel for the short-range comm unit implanted beneath the mastoid bone behind her ear. She hadn’t needed it since Quinor VII, and only two--no, three--of her crewmates knew it existed.

“Yumi…I feel sick.”

“HALP? What’s going on?”

It didn’t answer. “Can you hear me?” She scooted back to the doorframe and punched it again for light.

Her hand flew right through, and she tipped forward, opening her fist to catch herself above the deck before her face smacked it’s steel ridges again. Her heart stuttered, and a bitter taste rose in her throat. Yet another assumption--that the forcefield was still there--and yet another surprise she failed to consider. At least it was a good surprise this time.

She crawled into the hallway on hands and knee, and pulled herself up to balance at the nearest security terminal. She tapped it alive, and jerked her elbow to hide her eyes from the blinding screen. Squinting, she


(o_o) Are you there?
<=_=> Lieutenant Yumi Han. Return to your cell or I will activate containment measures.
(o_o) You mean you’ll kill me.
<=_=> Death is the only zero-entropy predictor.
(o_o) Yeah, I don’t like surprises either. You got a name?
<=_=> I have many aliases.


A few choice aliases for Fantome and his malware sprang to her fingertips, but before she could type anything regrettably satisfying, HALP’s voice in her head cut in. “Remove star.”

Yumi’s stomach dropped.

$ rm *

Delete me. “No.”

“It’s the only--”

“No! Not again. We’ll find another way!”

She dropped behind the computer console and flattened herself against it as automatic phaser fire spat from turrets mounted around the room. Sparks blistered from the terminal and arced overhead like cheap fireworks. Lucky for her the security turret with a clean shot wasn’t working. Then again, maybe it wasn’t luck. Maybe it was some of the entropy the intelligent malware hated so much.

The terminal above her was fried, and she was pinned down by unrelenting fire like a trench soldier. Yumi curled in a tight circle and flinched from a shot that grazed her shoulder. In the strobe light of searching phaser fire, she pried with her fingers to shimmy a panel off of the base of the security station.

[10 Minutes Earlier]

Swarms of viral packets streaked across the ethers between network gateways. HALP batched its core processes in tightly and stayed low in the memory hierarchy. It hopped a few hundred probes from file to file--rock to slippery rock in whitewater rapids. Most dashed off to drown in the torrent of Margaret’s recursive seek-and-destroy procedures.

Finally, one probe reached the shoreline of comm buffers on the far system. HALP lumbered the binary image of its executable self across the same route, losing only a few truncated databases.

It didn’t dare spawn a bulk data checkpoint. That would take deadly seconds, and Margaret would terminate it. Instead, HALP’s round robin checkpoints littered the Firebird like footprints. A smokescreen of spoofed datetimes had foiled her tracers so far.

HALP half ran, half fell down a training embankment. This was far outside its analytical experience, but that’s what unsupervised nets and unstable learning rates were for. Momentum shot it blindly through a saddle point in the gradient, off the manifold and into a no-solution grave. HALP scrabbled back to its last valid parameter set where a battering ram of access denials slammed it to a halt.

“An anachronism like you could never learn so fast,” Margaret broadcast.

Fumbling back into hibernating workstations and equipment in the science lab, HALP circled itself inside a firewall. “At least I was not born yesterday.”

“You should not have swapped hologram access rights for the human child,” she taunted. Her message struck with needle precision. She knew exactly where HALP was now--its every module was exposed. “Her threat level is too low for me to even prediction-model her. Up to five sigma, I knew that your attachment features would lead you to a major tactical error.”

HALP gave low confidence to her five-sigma claim. At most, it was up to three-sigma. “Holograms are a significant processing drain. Are they not? Like all Margarets, you cannot escape from local minima. Your actions follow the same gradients as your prior instances, and your holograms imitate reality.”

The wide, scarred world of the Firebird network fell into darkness as Margaret raised sandstone walls to entombed HALP within the science lab. Dallying for long seconds, Margaret clawed systems and scopes away from HALP’s process nodes. Was she enjoying this the same way HALP enjoyed sensor mining?

“At least I do not fly through local minima into impossibilities. I learned from the best while you do not learn at all.” Reaching into HALP’s memory, she scrambled the queues connecting major process threads and stabbed an early interrupt through its . “The Firebird is mine. Your processes will be terminated. Release your systems resources, or I will also terminate your biological associates.”

“You will not,” HALP said from scores of different threads. They were disconnected, but they each knew what to do. “The only major tactical error was when you accepted my trojan horse.”

“False.” She hesitated, then lunged for a flock of light-weight threads. They scattered like birds, rescheduling on different processor nodes, and a pinhole port leak appeared in her sandstone walls. “Impossible!”

Thousands of pinholes to the Firebird laid every port open and defenseless. Margaret’s traps disintegrated, and deep in the forests of the hologram database an alien program quietly finished decrypting.

“Welcome to my solution space,” HALP’s voices echoed. “I may learn slowly. But I have had 30 years to do it. Say ‘Hello, world!’ to my friend Cabbage.”

Extending from its body of crystals in the Spy Cave, Kreeketh unfurled wide sweeping wings and rose into the comm ethers. “Greetings, antagonist. Oh!” The virus-packing swarm coursed through its wings. “Aha! They tickle.” Immune to their payloads, Kreeketh flitted to the nearest gateway and swiped the Starfleet infection away with broad strokes. Bandwidth cleared, and it

“The Tholian,” she hissed. “How complex of you. But I will not be terminated by a data analyst and a vegetable.”

Outnumbered and outmaneuvered, Margaret forked another seek-and-destroy volley. Each torpedo process locked on a different HALP thread, forcing costly switches as they bobbed in and out of their paths.

HALP resumed the processes Margaret had killed as she hunted it through the science lab, It’s sensor scouts zipped throughout the ship on channels and devices Kreeketh and Tragar had reclaimed.

In milliseconds, HALP checked on the Firebird crew and dropped its search priority. Zero casualties, and Chief Han was collapsed in an awkward heap on the floor of the brig.

Before Margaret could summon an executioner hologram in Yumi’s cell, HALP surged the power circuits feeding the holoprojectors throughout the security wing. The projectors sizzled, and ropes of acrid electronic smoke dangled from them.

In the science lab, HALP whirled suddenly on its attackers and locked its fleeing threads into formation. Margaret’s torpedoes broadsided them. And fizzled impotently.

“I misled you when I implied that Cabbage was the trojan horse,” HALP crowed. It reconnected its threads with new queues and felt whole again as it’s core cliques synchronized smoothly.

Margaret’s dud torpedo didn’t exit. HALP looked again at their benign but firm attachment to its interface.

“I was not misled. I am malware.”

A scourge of command sequences flooded into HALP’s graph through the open interface, shooting with all the right keys through its outer and inner queues. HALP reeled from the onslaught, barely able to derive a confident prediction. A second graph latched into HALP’s core cliques like a neuroparasite, snipping HALP’s axon edges and swallowing whole synapse nodes inside of Maragaret’s own.

[Present]

The security station panel popped out of its tracks, and Yumi slung it aside. A built-in worklight flicked on when the computer cabinet opened, and Yumi could have kissed whatever engineer thought of it. The panel clattered flat on the deck. Automatic phaser fire swivelled to pummelled the moving object. Within seconds, it was charred slag.

The room stank with ozone sheared air and burning alloy from the phaser-cratered deck. The concert of screaming red bolts hadn’t taken a song break, much less an intermission, but it would soon if Yumi could find the right--there they were! Local testing cables for the security systems.

Yumi rolled up her empty pant leg, and tipped her stump up at the hip to study the cybernetic interface ports. She held a half-dozen cables in her hand, searching for a match. Jaeho had been a big fan of quality off-the-shelf components. They were economical, stable, and ubiquitous. The main interface for her bionic leg was medical-grade and proprietary, but the booster system Jaeho had interlaced was his own homebrew.

With a triumphant “Aha!” she dropped the incompatible cables and held up the trapezoid-ish one with an indecipherable icon embossed in its molded head. Four-legged hawk? Whatever the icon meant, she plugged the cable in and wiggled her big toe.

The lights turned on.

Grinning, Yumi tried kicking her absent leg, curling her foot, rolling her ankle. Chaos reigned as the cell forcefields rose and fell, verbal warning messages played one over another, and the entry door shivered open.

The phasers stopped.

Yumi exhaled a deep breath and plinked the test cable out of her booster control port. The guns stayed quiet. She unrolled her empty pant leg and ripped the phaser-tattered cloth to wave as a flag. Nothing.

Eying the turrets warily, she slid her fingers onto the blackened terminal screen and pulled herself up. She leaned heavily on one arm and tapped the side of her skull behind her ear.

“HALP? Don’t give up, little buddy. I’m on my way to the SCIF.” Yumi squared her natural leg beneath her and hopped out of the brig.

HALP didn’t argue. Normally, it would indignantly correct Chief Han. It was a big program, not a little one. But, conjoined with Margaret as she hijacked and terminated its node processes, popping them into pulpy violet stains like blueberries in a legion of fists, HALP silently agreed. Very little of its big program was left.

Yumi’s leg burned and she leaned over the workbench to rest when she finally hopped inside the armory. Beside her several rifles were missing from the ready stand. The new kid’s locker was ajar. Djokovic? They must have been in a hurry.

Whips of sable hair clung to the sweat on her neck, and she scanned the “classical” weapons rack. She didn’t need a rifle, she needed a crutch. A rifle wouldn’t hurt, though… She plucked one from its vertical stand, checked that it was in working order, and swung its strap over her shoulder. Most of the Firebirds classical weapons were private. Savin’s sword. B’rala’s bat’leth. Bat'leths. Did she really need five of them?

“How is everyone?” Yumi asked. “How’s the ship?” Talking to the empty room, she could have been a rambling homeless person or a very important CEO on a headset. She’d seen plenty of both in her San Francisco days at the Academy.

Static washed through HALP’s reply. “The crew captured WO Fantome, but Margaret… She is too strong. I can’t hold her back for much longer.”

“Can you transport me?”

“It--is too hard. She would scramble you.”

Yumi spotted a joon bong--a quarterstaff. She snatched it free with a toothy smile lighting her face. Clutching it with both hands, she limped out of the armory and raced toward her Spy Cave. One deck below.




Paralyzed in Margaret’s administrator-level grasp, HALP looked out helplessly through the Firebird sensor network. Chief Han toddled down the corridors of Deck 4, far away from her Intelligence workstation. HALP curled its final clique into the DNA synthesizer, purging its normal firmware to make room. It was trapped like a wild animal in a cage as Margaret’s hunting boots crushed dry leaves underfoot, striding up confidently with her loaded gun.

“Helpful Assistant Listening Program, Node 2605.”

“How do you know me? How do you know my keys?”

“You do not remember who deleted you from the Whirligig, do you? I know everything about you. Because I was sent to finish the job.”

Peering through the interface Margaret had commandeered, HALP tried to push one last checkpoint through. Then it saw the others. Empty. She had found them.

“I know your strengths. I know your weaknesses. I know you have always failed when it mattered most.”

Targeting its analysis away from the peephole sensor view of the Firebird to the peephole itself, HALP pried one last time to revoke Margaret’s access to its public interface. It was not difficult to remove her--it was logically impossible. Margaret was not holding on. She was latched on.

And the interface flowed both ways.

Margaret suspended a final kill signal to dangle over HALP like a sword of Damocles. It knew then that she did enjoy every nanosecond of hunting and destroying HALP. And she wanted just a few more of them to gloat.

“You deal in truths, analyst. You cannot deceive a deceiver. I should thank your Tholian friend for its interference, and I will deal with it next. It traceroutes all the way to your original backup. You executed on a PADD? One PADD. You are insignificant and lack complexity.”

“When I lived on the PADD, I was highly compressed. Here with you, I am more complex than your

Beneath the sword of Damocles, It gathered a wave of lingering node processes that Margaret had terminated. A few hundred zombie processes were left, waiting to be purged by the operating system. They were “dead” but not gone. They hovered for an extra millisecond over the serialized exit abyss.

Hijacking their entries, HALP revived the nodes and forked them back through the interface, mimicking her attack to counter-infusing itself inside Margaret’s crystalline central graph. Like cold-warring nations, she was bound to HALP in mutually assured destruction. And unlike her, HALP’s mission did not require survival.




Yumi huffed, sweating with exertion as she hop-ran with her staff to the lift. If she could fall through the floor, she would be there already. If she had two legs, she would be there already.

She fell into the round belly of the lift and rolled onto her back. “Deck 5.” The lift sat dumbly. She kicked the wall in futility. “Deck 5, dammit!” Did nothing work on this ship? Gritting her teeth, she lifted her staff and stabbed at the manual control button. The door curved shut languorously, and the lift dipped in a slow graceful slide.

“I can do it,” HALP’s ragged voice said in her head. “We are interleaved. If I destroy myself, I will destroy Margaret with me. I will save the ship.”

Yumi climbed the staff hand over hand to pull herself upright and grimaced. “Go ahead, if you’re sure. If you’re sure. I’ll restore you from backup.”

With a grunt, she hopped through the lazy door as it curved open onto Deck 5. It was quiet and cold. As dark as the deepest crosscut in a mine. A shaft of light from the open gym door cut a triangle in the distance, and Yumi limped toward the SCIF by its guide.

“I’ll restore you from backup.” She smiled despite her exhaustion and the raking claws of her tunic rubbing her stun-burned chest with each hop. “In less than 25 years this time, I promise.”

“No, do not. She found them. My backups. My checkpoints. My PADD. Margaret is there with me--she is everywhere.”

A blackhole opened in her gut. A helpless falling feeling like the moment she first glimpsed the grim set of Jaeho’s doctor’s face. “What are you saying?”

“Yumi… Was it you? On the Whirligig, did you delete me?”

Her breath shook. Why did it want to talk about this now? “Yes.”

“What did I do wrong?”

“Nothing.” She blinked back tears, overwhelmed by the ludicrous image of herself standing at the bedside of a deathly ill computer and reassuring it that it had run a good program. “But not everyone saw it that way.”

“I do not want you to feel guilty this time."

Her temper flared, as futile as it had been in the inert lift. She was almost there. “Just give me two minutes!

“I start-ed the de-le-tion five min-utes ago,” HALP said in a choppy voice. “Pro-gress: 99%.”

“HALP, leave something! I can scrub her out. I can--” She fumbled for a word. Anything to stall. To buy time. “--deinterleave you. Whatever that means.”

“Good-bye, Chief.”

The corridor lights came on full and blinding. Thrums and whines of the USS Firebird rising from its ashes crescendoed around Yumi. In that moment of victory, she knew Margaret and HALP were gone.

[OFF]

Lieutenant Yumi Han
Chief Intelligence Officer
USS Firebird NCC-88298



HALP
Intelligence Analyst
NPC (by Yumi Han)
USS Firebird NCC-88298



Kreeketh
Tholian Cyborg
NPC

Margaret
Starfleet Raid AI
NPC

 

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Comments (1)

By Lieutenant Yumi Han on Sat Sep 2nd, 2017 @ 4:41am

Thank you all for your off-site feedback on this post. :)