A breach warning blared from Level 10. Thirty-two minutes later and Goncalves hadn’t heard from Junior on 10 or Iglesias on 9. He reviewed the portals between his level and Level 8. Everything was secure, but the breach in Level 10 concerned him.
His communicator chimed.
“Level 7, Level 8 reporting a breach in portal 1-2-8,” Henry said. “Intruder has cleared and disabled Levels 10 and 9. Recommend you—.” The communication ended.
Goncalves jumped at the sound. Something hit portal 2-4-3 between Level 7 and, Level 8. He poked at his communicator, fumbling and hitting Level 9. A screech echoed through the halls before he keyed in the correct code.
“Level 8, report! What is the status of the intruder?”
No reply. Goncalves turned away from the mic. He would have to enable the defense protocols on Level 7 and warn Fredricks on 6.
The portal shook against the attack.
Goncalves began opening the communication line for Level 6. Before he could finish, the communicator crackled and spat:
“Goncalves,” Henry said. His voice was broken and weak from the intruder’s corruption. “Recommend… seal portals to Level 6. Warn them.”
He didn’t waste time replying, and instead began the work of sealing himself in. Nothing would exit Level 7.
The noise continued as Goncalves worked. The intruder dug its way in, focused on portal 2-4-3.
Sealing this one portal would buy him some time, but leave the rest of the portals vulnerable.
It will have to do. The intruder had been on 2-4-3 the entire time. It must be single threaded. That made sense. Devoting all of its energy to one location allowed a smaller package to infiltrate a thicker defense.
He initialized the level 7-side seal on the portal, just as the doorway began to split. Green light poured through the crack. A flash of blue and red sent him flying backwards as the intruder encountered the rising Level 7-side shield.
This one is strong. The shock had disoriented him.
He jumped up and headed for the Level 6 portals. They must be sealed and the others warned.
“Level 6, this is Level 7 reporting,” Goncalves said.
“Go ahead Level 7,” Fredricks replied.
“Intruder has breached Levels 10 through 8. Breach of Level 7 is imminent. I have initiated Level 7 defense protocols and will begin hard sealing portals 3-0-0 through 3-5-4. Recommend you seal your end and prepare for possible breach.”
“Understood, Level 7. Level 6 is beginning lockdown procedures. Good luck.”
The noise from the Level 8 barrier grew as the intruder’s attack intensified. Goncalves made it halfway, sealing portal 3-2-6 before a bone-jarring explosion ripped through Level 7. The shock knocked him across the corridor, slamming him into the opposite wall.
A monstrous cry echoed through the halls of Level 7 as the intruder broke through the barrier. The thudding of the monster’s footsteps brought Goncalves to his senses. He shook his head and blinked to clear his vision.
There wasn’t enough time to seal the remaining portals. He would have to hold the corridor here, trusting Fredricks to seal the portals from Level 6. He powered up his wrist interface and entered his password. The emergency J-Arc Defense System began its loading procedure.
Level 7 darkened as power was diverted. Goncalves looked in wonder at his left hand: it faded away, exposing a cannon-like hole at the end of his wrist. Blue bolts of energy jumped from the walls, feeding into the interface on his left arm. Data flowed through him as the J-Arc instructions were loaded into his memory. He looked down the way he had come. The hall glowed green as the intruder turned into the Level 6 barrier corridor.
He stood up and ran toward the beast: a massive fury of tangled green and white electricity. He reached his left arm up, sighted down his forearm and relaxed his mind.
The intruder roared when Goncalves charged down the corridor. A green tentacle blasted toward him, accompanying the beast’s cry. Before the green light could reach him, Goncalves stopped. A wave of blue light erupted from his arm, meeting the intruder’s attack like a shield. The shock of the impact numbed his left arm, forcing him to support it with his right.
The last lights blinked out as more and more energy shifted into Goncalves, increasing his available power. He felt the intruder’s attack give. Groaning against the strain, he stepped forward. The light in the corridor — now supplied only by the crackling, spiked green-and-blue energy of the battle — flashed with a blinding strobe effect. Electricity arced away from the joined beams, exploding tiles from the walls and ceiling.
Feeling returned to Goncalves’s left arm, freeing his right to use his wrist interface. He began powering down the shield walls between levels 7 and 6. Each lowered shield increased the flow of energy into his arm, pushing him closer to the intruder. He advanced on the green-and-white monster, himself now ablaze with blue electricity flowing from the walls. He knew his own systems had well exceeded their voltage parameters. He smiled as he met the intruder.
“You have encountered a fatal error,” he said.
A flash of light filled Level 7, then darkness.
Level 6 reporting, platform secure. Intruder has been neutralized at Level 7. Please replace security modules 7 through 10.
Joan smiled at the text on her screen.
Lucky number seven.
Those damn Eastern European virus coders were good. The Green-Worm had been wrecking systems for months, but she had found a way to stop it.
The J-Arc System was a sacrificial module. It isolated and neutralized any threat beyond the capabilities of the standard systems, burning itself out in the process. It was a fail-safe against unknown and powerful new bugs. Joan had designed it herself.
She liked to imagine that this was all a big game they played: the hackers versus the security developers; the space marines versus the aliens. The constant back and forth kept them all happily employed.
Joan looked down at the time on her screen: 8:32pm. She ran her hands through her hair and groaned. Anticipating the evening’s success, she had planned to stay late — but not this late.
Looks like it’s Chinese for dinner again.
She locked her terminal, stood, and stretched.
Brilliant piece of writing. Definitely deserved to be published here.