The hardest part of Nano, if I had to say so, is keeping yourself motivated. It is easy to pick a story idea, and realize quickly that you have no idea what you want to do, or how you ever planned to do it. Personally, my last two NaNos have had completely different levels of planning.
Last year, at this point, I had a moleskine full of notes on the world, characters, gods, society. Everything I could want to know, I had it written down somewhere. Sure there were still things I had to make up, phrases and names I had to decide on, but the heaviest lifting was already done. I would end up adding most of my notes to the finished novel after I finished it, bolstering the 50,000 words to around 66k.
This year, my only prep was a short story I wrote when I first started this blog, and a lot of nerd activity in the meantime. My ideas are lifted wholesale from Neuromancer, Shadowrun, Android: Netrunner, and I don’t apologize for that. So when I decided to write some hacking, imagine my surprise when I didn’t know how I wanted to portray it.
It was a difficult situation, since I didn’t want to lose the interest of the reader (which in this case is effectively, me), but if it felt too technical, that would be easy. At the same time, I wanted to avoid hollywood hacking, like the infamous ‘two users on one keyboard’ scene from a certain cop show.
This is a piece of what I came up with.
(Once again, excuse the lack of editing.)
“Talkback,” He said as he stood, “Give me, Red Bait.”
“Yes, Sir,” Talkback said, vibrating again as another construct began to appear between the two of them.
It was like a man, sort of, more like if someone tried to build a man out of meatloaf. It was chunky, and wobbly. It was bait. Fuller pulled up a display, touched a few points to adjust the program, then closed the display.
With a spasm, Red Bait ran toward the Blustar server. It looked like a shambling scarecrow, now possessed.
“No activity,” Talkback said.
The point was simple, he wanted to know how long it took for Blustar to react. The bait program manifested on the net, hijacked a random dumbserver, and went about running the gunline of ICE. Simple, effective.
“Trace started,” Talkback said.
Fuller could see it. Out of the ground, a shadow form flashed into the sky, it spread out a pair of wings, flicking off digital feathers. It was a hawk, maybe an eagle. It followed the fast moving bait program, diving to catch up with Fuller’s meatloaf man.
It didn’t attack though, that wasn’t its purpose. It wouldn’t do to fry a random user’s connection because they ventured the wrong way. They wanted to know who they were frying first. Then they could remove the threat, and note it as one more scriptbaby threat removed.
The bait was getting close to the server now, and still no sign of the defensive ICE. Fuller recognized the trace ICE, it was old school, something he would have dodged in his free time as a kid, using a jacked deck half-duct taped together.
The bait was almost to the server itself when the hawk dove back down into the ground. The trace was complete. A wall rose up around the server, like a massive chainlink fence constructing itself on the spot.
The bait man ran into it, fell to the ground, and flailed there.
“Not too bad,” Fuller said, “I think we can handle that.”
Fuller pulled up a display, and typed up a message. With it sent, he pulled up a program, and then shifted toward the server.
The area around him barely seemed to move, as if the server was getting smaller as he got closer to it. He didn’t let it disturb him, and instead focused on the first line of defense. Talkback was floating right next to him, no matter how fast he moved.
When the eaglebird popped from the ground, Fuller kept his pace. He knew that he didn’t need to speed up, his connection was already better than Red Bait. The bird followed, swooping down from above to get closer.
Fuller reached out and touched Talkback, “Go with Multiball.”
As he said it, his body split into 5 copies of himself, each spreading out as they raced toward the Blustar remote server. The hawk swooped in closer and dug digital talons into one Fuller, and it popped like a balloon, leaving scattered lines of energy.
The bird was undeterred, and moved to the next, striking it just as hard and failing just as fast. Fuller number three and four ended the same. There was one Fuller left, getting closer to the server itself. The bird streaked forward, chasing after Fuller and his small speck construct.
Its beak passed straight through him as it dove, and then his body bloated and exploded. The bird stopped, circling in place as it tried to figure out where to go next. Eventually, it dove down into the foundation of the net, and was swallowed up by the terrain.
The small talkback construct streaked toward the server, stopping just in time to meet the rising chainlink wall of ice.
Talkback grew exponentially in size, morphing and shaping until it was the avatar of Fuller. Then a new Talkback formed beside him.
“We don’t have long,” He said, “Give me the Portable Door.”
The Net was all about interpretation. While the world looked like avatars playing games with other avatars, the truth was a matter of code that behaved close to what it appeared to be. A fence was simple, it didn’t let you pass through, it was effectively a wall. While you might imagine to be able to see past it, Fuller knew it was rather that it was porous, not strong enough to stop anything tough. It didn’t let foreign users past it without verification, and those who were verified were either never stopped, or given a door.
A small latch appeared in his hand, he recognized it as the opening latch for a chainlink fence. He tossed it toward the fence, and saw it waver on contact. The latch slid into place, and a crease began to form, forming a square shape in the fence itself. A fence gate.
As it finished, the fence opened, and Fuller slid inside.
No sooner than he passed the threshold, there was a distinctive grinding noise. Fuller turned in time to see a forming crank cannon.
He ran the line, the weapon firing at him as he moved, several shots striking his digital representation.
It hurt, in a different way. It made his whole body feel distant, like his brain was detached at the base of his skull, his vision going blurry, and his limbs moving sluggish. He needed to move, get a little further.
As he touched the building itself, he heard the weapons fire become distant. He was out of its range. His hand that was touching the server gave off a faint glow, and as Fuller twitched his fingers, a display opened up on its side.
“Talkback,” He said, “Search for transmissions on the date of our mission, and the day before. Make it quick.”
The construct hummed, and he could see information flowing past his fingers. It was all useless garbage, work schedules, HR payroll, building entry codes.
“I have it, sir,” Talkback said. The display began multiplying, and sound recordings began in unison.
It was a chaotic noise, but he tried to concentrate.
“The second one,” He said. The other recordings stopped.
“If you move,” The voice said, “I’m out of there. That’s it. I’m not going to be caught in the middle of that.”
It was the skinny man.
“You’ll be taken care of, Dedrick,” Another voice said, this one unnaturally deep. Maybe modified.
“I’ve traced the source address to closest location, Sir.” Talkback said.
It was for the best. His head felt like it was stuffed with cotton. His digital body was full of holes, and he didn’t want to risk losing everything over some idiot on the phone.
His digital body vanished, and he opened his eyes to his desk. He felt sore, but that was the worst of it.