Five Years After the Virus
“After we leave this vehicle,” Morelan Crim said, “we must assume that the virus is watching our every move.”
An hour before, the truck had driven Decker out of Firewall Zero. Now it was taking him back in. To anyone who wasn’t Morelan or the five Crim soldiers who were in on the plot, this was his official grand entrance.
“That makes me a little uncomfortable,” Decker said. “I don’t like anything watching me that I can’t shoot.”
“Meeting him won’t make you any less uncomfortable.” Morelan’s impassive, half-lidded expression didn’t change. “I need you to focus, Mr. Decker. The things I am about to say, you won’t get the luxury of hearing a second time.”
“I’ve been accused of being responsible for the Weedly virus. That is insulting, but a legend is something I have no power over.” Morelan rubbed his hands together. “However. I was designing a different kind of virus before Weedly was activated. Its purpose was to crash the entire Stratos Grid, permanently.”
Decker nodded, slowly. “That’d have to be one big virus.”
“My team and I, before Weedly was ever released, had completed the design for a virus that was capable of ripping apart the fabric of the Grid, erasing uncountable amounts of data and bringing down Stratos, permanently.” Morelan smiled wryly. “We were about to change the course of history. But Weedly beat us to it.”
Coming from most people, it would have sounded like a drunk trying to impress his way to a free drink. But there was a deadly edge behind Morelan’s words that made them seem less like a ridiculous boast and more like the true story of a very dangerous guy.
“Okay,” Decker said. “I believe you.”
“I didn’t ask you to,” Morelan said, with the same steady chill in his voice.
Silence filled the cab. Decker rubbed his kneecap.
“I named my virus Monolith,” Morelan said. “Through a series of events—the details are unimportant—Stratos came into possession of it. Obviously, this is a threat to Weedly; an attack against him, directly, he can guard against. But an attack against the Grid itself, leaves him more or less helpless.”
He’d never heard anything like this before, not from Hyrand or anyone in Stratos. A weapon like this Monolith, in the right hands it could bring down both the virus and Stratos Corp. Definitely too good to be true. There had to be some pretty serious catches involved.
“I’m wondering why Stratos hasn’t used this thing, if it worries Weedly so much,” Decker said. “Maybe because they still like their Grid and don’t want that bridge burnt for good?”
Morelan smiled thinly. “They can’t bring themselves to cut out the tumor that killed themselves. A deadly weakness.” He paused. “Weedly is going to ask you to break into Firewall One and recover Monolith.”
Break into Firewall One. George Hyrand’s fortress. A couple of pleasant thoughts went through his mind, like the opportunity to humiliate Hyrand by stealing a supervirus from under his nose. Or the opportunity to shoot Hyrand in the face, if he had a few extra minutes.
But also there was the much stronger likelihood of dying before he got within a mile of the thing he was supposed to steal, much less the part where he took bloody revenge on Hyrand.
“Okay,” he said. “I hope the thing you’re wanting me to do instead is easier.”
“Not particularly,” Morelan said. “I want you to break into Firewall One and recover Monolith. And then I want you to trigger it and burn both the Weedly virus and the Grid out of existence.”
Decker winced. “Crap.”
Morelan didn’t really expound too much after that, other than to hand Decker a pocket sized, mustard-colored notebook. The binding was splitting down the middle, and a good number of pages were trying to fall out.
“This is your key to initiate Monolith,” Morelan said. “Don’t show it to anyone in your team. Memorize these pages completely.”
Decker took the notebook and opened it carefully. A small, concise handwritten script covered the page in neat lines. He closed the book and slid it into his jacket. “Be nice to have something to read on the trip.”
“Written word is the only form of information that is safe from Weedly,” Morelan said. “If you have something to communicate or remember that you don’t want him knowing, don’t speak it. Don’t put it into a computer. Write it down.”
“So this conversation we’re having right now,” Decker said, “It’s not safe?”
“It’s safe as I can make it,” Morelan said.
The truck drove through the rubble that had been Firewall Zero’s front gate. A crew of tool-wielding Infects knelt and stooped and climbed over the wreckage, parting just enough to let the vehicle pass.
Decker looked out the window. Only a centimeter of glass and a few feet of air between him and the closest Infect, a slender woman carrying a large piece of twisted metal slag. She’d had ocular aesthetic enhancement—when she was alive, her eyes would have glittered with a rainbow of color. Now her eyes were gray and lifeless, webbed with a grid of inactive cybernetic filters.
A shudder went through Decker’s shoulders, the tiny jab of a long-submerged fear. At one time, he would have been walking into one of these places with Alice by his side and the constant knowledge that one slip-up would bring a swarm of these dead freaks on them like army ants. Now he was riding right through the front door, sitting next to the most-feared warlord in the west. And he was apparently soon to be on a first-name basis with the virus that had started all this.
A bitter chuckle flared and died in his chest as he thought about what he’d give just to go back.
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