Whom Do You Serve?
One of the recurring problems faced by every corporation was
datatheft. Linking LIM's mainframe to the datanet made it much easier
for multiple parties to use that data, and in any case it was required
by Mother Brain, the supercomputer AI that served as Palm's chief
executive, but it left open the possibility that a skilled gridrider
could swipe a file here, plant a virus there, and ultimately cause
millions of meseta worth of damage. A conglomerate LIM's size wrote
off a certain amount of data loss every year, as there was no way to
keep out every single neon angel who tried to fly the system. Luveno
did its best to keep that slot on the balance sheet as low as possible,
though, which was why there was a Computer Security Section. Under the
leadership of a very good, very efficient, and very nasty gridrider
named Kyle Dougan, ComSec defended LIM's system, repaired the damage
any hackers managed to inflict, and carried out the exact kind of
attacks they were trying to stop against Luveno's competitors.
The cyberjocks who worked for ComSec were every bit as talented as
the neon angels who flew the datanet illegally. Often they were
better; Dougan hired only the cream of the crop. They also had the
advantage of top-of-the-line equipment, cutting-edge computers and
peripherals and the most advanced software money could buy. The price
for this was that the gridriders now had to serve their corporate
master, giving up the anarchic way of life that fueled most hackers.
The hotshots on the street said it cost the ComSec agents their edge.
Tyler doubted it; from what he'd seen, the hackers that signed on with
Luveno were never the kind of people who got their edge from flipping
off the system in the first place.
Mika Triton was an example of that. She was the rarest of the rare,
an ace computer specialist in her late forties. Mika stayed current
with the latest upgrades, as familiar with them as any teenaged
cyberjock, just because she loved computers. They were her job and her
hobby; only her family had ever come ahead of the datanet with her.
Tyler always figured that the legendary Angel Red, the gridrider who'd
given rise to the term "neon angel" for hackers, had to be the same
kind of person to have stayed a legend for over thirty-five years.
Mika was a short woman, attractive, slightly plump, with her blue
hair pulled back into a functional braid. She smiled when Tyler came
"Hey, Tyler, long time no see! And you've brought your girl, too!
Nice to meet you, Melora," she chirped. "Tyler's told me so much about
you." She extended a friendly hand to the female agent, who shook it
with more than a little surprise. Extroverted gridriders weren't quite
the rarity that middle-aged ones were, but the breed did tend to be in
"Um, thanks. He's said nice things about you, too."
"Well, he's that kind of guy. Hm, I guess from your faces that this
isn't a social visit. What can I do for you?"
"I need a favor," Tyler asked. "There could be some danger, though,
so please say no if you feel you should."
Mika waved his concerns aside.
"No way, Tyler. Besides, with what I owe you, if the payback's easy
it wouldn't feel right," she said, saving Tyler the embarrassment of
having to come out and mention their past debt.
"So am I. Now go on; lay it on me and we'll see if I can do
something for you."
"We need a look inside Luveno's own system, and I mean a close
one--seriously intensive data analysis, preferably with traces run off
of the results."
Mika was quite startled, and it looked like a tremor ran through
her, though it might only have been a chill.
"Our own system?" she said, then gathered herself. "Well, what are
"Environmental status reports concerning the new plant being opened
near to Iala."
"Oh, that shouldn't be too bad. That's an open file constantly
being used, so they couldn't put too much security in place or else it
would seriously impair the file's utility." She paused, then turned to
her console. The base unit of her system was an IMVE Conqueror, the
top-of-the-line model in its class. To that was added memory boosters,
analysis units, chipreaders, and a 24"x36" viewscreen. There was a
keyboard, but Melora's standard interface was clearly the VR rig hooked
into the machine.
"Be careful," Tyler said. "If my understanding is correct, then
someone does not want this to be public knowledge."
"I'll be careful," she promised, slipping on the matte-black gloves
and settling the headpiece over her eyes.
"You don't go for full immersion?" Melora asked, surprised. While
the average wageslave--like Tyler--didn't use a virtual reality
interface at all, the efficiencies gained by virtual manipulation of
code not worth the expense, hackers were the one group that did use VR
regularly. Full immersion virtual reality, where the operator actually
felt like they were in the computer world, was the standard.
"Nah. Sure, I lose a hair in efficiency this way, but I can leave
one foot in the real world. It keeps my options open."
It also, Tyler knew, gave her a certain level of protection against
viruses designed to induce lethal biofeedback in a hacker, because
there were fewer connections to the brain to exploit.
"Go!" Mika's finger stabbed a button only she could see, and the
screen came alive with a sea of swirling lights and shapes, a holovid
representation of what Mika was seeing.
"Welcome to LIM Computer Security Central." Her viewpoint swung
from side to side, then froze. "Ha! Gotcha, you little bugger!" A
heads-up display indicated [SCANNING...TRACE AND ANALYSIS UTILITY
LOCATED], and a small yellow blip grew brighter, less indistinct.
"Dougan's little spyfliers, to keep an eye on what his staff's up to."
A brilliant black cube formed in the palm of Melora's virtual
"hand," and she flipped it at the tracer. One side of the cube opened
like the lid of a box to admit the crackling spark, then snapped shut.
The yellow blip tried to escape, bouncing off the inner walls of the
box, then became quiescent.
"Gotcha! Now, let's go find that file you wanted." Swiftly, she
moved through data channels that looked like long, curving tunnels of
circuitry, her heads-up display rapidly scrolling through locations and
[INDUSTRIAL DIVISION OPERATIONS DATABANK--ACCESS BY PASSCODE]
An energy field of shimmering green with a pulsing symbol in
gold--LIM's corporate colors--blocked the end of the tunnel.
"I could hack this, but why bother?"
Mika reached out, tapped something, and three places on the sigil
began to glow white. She then touched each of the three spots and the
gold faded to empty black.
[BETA-LEVEL ACCESS GRANTED]
"It's a leftover passcode I scrounged up from a job a few months
back, so it can't be traced to me, unless I use it again," Mika
explained. "The way I see it, why get in by brute force when you can
have the system let you in on its own?"
The databank looked like a giant honeycomb, with hexagonal chambers
representing datafiles and green-and-yellow "bees" for the various
search utilities used by the mainframe to locate files based upon user
requests. Mika held out her hand and a bee landed in it. A menu of
choices appeared in a window that opened up in the screen, and her free
hand quickly inputted selections to give the search its parameters.
The window snapped shut, and the bee buzzed off on its quest.
"Another advantage to using a passcode: since the system thinks I'm
a legitimate user, I can use its functions to help me do the job
instead of having to rely on my own software."
[ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ANALYSIS LOCATED]
"All right, now let's see what we've got...scientists' and
engineers' reports, internal memos..."
Mika split the screen and started scrolling documents up on the
"Light, this thing's a nightmare!" Mika exclaimed. "Chemical wastes
being dumped into Scion Bay, insufficient air pollution controls. I'm
surprised they aren't just strip-mining the peninsula; they'd do less
"Definitely the kind of thing designed to get the attention of any
self-respecting eco-terrorist," Tyler agreed. "Mika, what does this
look like from a technical standpoint?"
"Good question." She manipulated a couple of on-screen icons.
[DATA ANALYSIS IN PROGRESS...]
"Oh, yeah, here's an internal memo detailing payoffs to the
government inspectors," Melora said. "I see what you were getting at,
Tyler; this is almost too good."
"That's because it isn't real," Mika said gleefully. Another window
popped open and began scrolling through the results of her search.
"Someone's definitely been corrupting this data. Documents have been
tampered with...documents removed...documents inserted. This thing
isn't half the environmental disaster someone wants us to think...oh,
cute, there's an undo code!"
"Whomever made the changes put in a nifty little subroutine that
will reverse all of them with one command. That's why it was so easy
to find the alterations now; they've been marked up and flagged to
"How about after that code is used?" Tyler asked.
"Now that's a different story. Then it's really hard to find,
especially since the real data would be back in place so it would mesh
with all the other data from the original, legitimate files. I could
dig up some evidence of tampering with several hours' searching, but to
be honest, there'd be no reason for me to push it that long without
Tyler rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
"How detectable would the doctored files be to a hacker?"
"I hate to say it this way, but it depends on the hacker. Your
average street-level cyberjock might never notice it...heck, the
difficulty of hacking into Luveno's system would really cut down on
most gridriders' efficiency and the low-level ones would be lucky to
get this far. If you had to hack the access you'd be dodging system
security all over the place, which keeps your analysis from running at
peak level. The really top-flight neon angels wouldn't get fooled, but
I think most outside gridriders would."
That tallied with Tyler's expectations. Neo Green didn't like
technology. To them, computers weren't a tool but part of the evil
they were fighting against. Any gridriders among their number wouldn't
be much more than amateurs, and they weren't likely to hire top-rank
contacts. So, if they had been wise enough to double-check the data
they were given with LIM's files, they probably wouldn't have been able
to spot the alterations.
"Okay, so here's the million-meseta question," Melora said. "Who
dummied up these nasty little things?"
"Good question. Let's see if I can find out."
[ANALYZING DATA SIGNATURES...]
"I'm hoping that whoever did this wasn't too careful about covering
his tracks. The fact that I'm here under the guise of a beta-level
passcode should help. The system should think I've got a right to
"Any of us in ComSec, though, could rig it up so that a search of
this type would hit a wall, so let's hope that someone with a bit less
savvy is involved."
[DATA SEALED BY BETA-LEVEL PASSCODE]
"Perfect. Now let's try a little smoke and mirrors..."
[LOG-ON RECORDS UNAVAILABLE--PASSCODE TRACE AVAILABLE]
"Okay, I've got the passcode data freed up, so we can see who made
the alterations although not when or from where. It's probably a dummy
passcode like the one I'm using or something put together by a
gridrider, but let's just see..."
[DISPLAYING PASSCODE REGISTRATION]
"Tyler, what the--what is this?"
"Just what we were starting to expect," Melora answered. Staring at
the vidscreen display, Tyler could only nod in agreement.