Doctor Who Internet Adventure #25 - "Twenty-Five Pieces of Silver"

Chapter 11
"Digital Diseases"
by Chris Payne


Security Scape, Mainframe Polis
Intolt-7 Psionic Warfare Project Complex

"Hello boys."

       The two AIs stop their work and looked up, blinking. The frozen code sequence they had been studying decays into random noise.

       "Damn it. Who the hell are you?" demands BUFFY.

       BANSHEE smiles, an obscenely self-satisfied expression. "TMV Banshee, flagship of the Ninth Fleet. This installation is about to be occupied, so are you boys going to tell me why your defence systems are such a shambles?"

       "A military virus!" gasps JETHRO. "No wonder it got it into the encrypted systems so easily."

       BUFFY narrows vis eyes. "Is that true?"

       "Good guess, Jethro," nods BANSHEE as she taps her temple. "Military smartware comes with the best decryption code."

       "Hey, stay out of my kernel!" protests JETHRO. The two AIs exchanged glances, as Banshee looked around.

       "I see the countermeasure our agent injected didn't do a proper job. Corrupted by the other virii, was it?"

       "Well duh," JETHRO snorts.

       "There were at least two viruses," adds BUFFY. He ghosts across to a stack of damaged data and scrutinizes it.

       "Since you know so much, do you have any idea what the other virii are?" asks JETHRO.

       "I'm not sure," BANSHEE admits, "Ours was just supposed to isolate the mainframe polis by attacking the I/O systems and slaving the dumb AIs. The others have done some serious damage, but apparently to different systems. Any sort of pattern?"

       "Seems to be random," sighs JETHRO glumly.

       "Ah well, it doesn't matter now, anyway."

       "Why?" asks BUFFY. "What's going on outside?"

* * *

Vivian Pincus' Living Quarters
Intolt-7 Psionic Warfare Project Complex
Four hours ago:

The Cybermen stare at the middle-aged woman on the other side of the Doctor's prostrate form.

       "Cyber-viral infection has been eliminated," observes the first.

       "Subject must be returned to base for investigation," adds the second. "Humans are not known to have a resistance to the process."

       Pincus shrugs. "Humans don't. We, however, are no longer human. As such, we seek an accord."

       One by one, the Cybermen step over the Doctor's body and enter the room. Pincus retreats before them, as M'Benga and Hanrahan lift Jethro into a chair. The last to enter scoops up the Doctor.

       "Irrelevant. You will be studied and converted manually." The leading Cyberman raises his arm and blasts Pincus at point-blank range. The energy ripples across her skin and discharges into the ground. She grimaces.

       "Ouch. Now, can we have a civilised discussion?"

       "Subject also exhibits raised tolerance to stun charge," notes the second Cyberman.

       The Doctor begins to stir.

       Casually the leader extends an arm and grasps Pincus by the cranium with one huge hand.

       The Cyberman holding the Doctor tilts its head curiously.

       "Wait! This course of action is il--"

       The lead Cyberman grabs Pincus' shoulder and twists, terminating the objection and the objector with a simple twist. The sound of tearing cartilage and grinding bone prompt no reaction from the other humans.

       Only when Pincus is dropped to the floor does M'Benga's blank expression lift, and he steps forward.

       "Why waste resources struggling to convert sentient beings?" he asks. "The xenoconsumptive directive is rendered obsolete with the acquisition of this installation's technology."

       "The CyberRace must expand or face extinction."

       There comes a thump from the doorway; the Cybermen turn towards it.

       "Aargh." says the Doctor, then beams at the ring of blank metal faces peering down. "Oh, hello there."

       The Cyberman that had dropped him was clutching it's head and appeared to be losing it's balance.

       "Core systems breached." it intones at an unusually high pitch. "Viral incursion into low-level directives."

       "Raven?" breathes the Doctor. He scrambles past the Cybermen and joins M'Benga. "What happened?"

       "We have activated the meme implant we introduced into the wet-ware of all the research AIs. That Cyberman has just had its xenoconsumption directive rewritten."

       The second Cyberman swings around. "Each cyber-unit is independent. Attempt to propagate viral infection will be unsuccessful."

       The infected Cyberman regains its balance, and in doing so clutches at the nearest of its fellows. The contact leaves a dark handprint which quickly fades, as this Cybermen now begins to stagger.

       M'Benga smiles. "We have reprogrammed your own nano-systems. The meme will spread by touch."

       The lead Cyberman brings its weapons to bear on the two infected warriors. "Destroy the infected units," it orders.

       "Stop them!" shouts the Doctor, hurling himself against the Cyberman's back, the expression on his face demonstrating his surprise at his own actions. The two energy bolts crackled past the infected Cybermen and out into the corridor.

       M'Benga and Hanrahan rush forward and grapple Cybermen, as the uninfected giants recoil from the reach of their fellows' fingertips. In just a few seconds, all the Cybermen are reeling as their paradigm is ever so casually altered.

       The Doctor moves away and kneels over Pincus' body glumly, where something catches his eye. "She's still alive!" he exclaims.

       "Yes," says M'Benga. "Do not move her. We can repair the brain stem given time, just as we repaired the injuries suffered by Hanrahan in the crash. We did not intend for her to be damaged."

       "Perhaps you should leave other creatures in control of their /own/ bodies," suggests the Doctor, reluctantly rising. "I take it you are now using Mr. M'Benga as your mouthpiece?"

       "Yes. We are a distributed consciousness."

       "Well, your plan seems to have worked so far," the Doctor muses, peering into the face of one of the Cybermen and seeing only his reflection. "And for better or worse I seem to have sided with you for the moment."

       The silver giants have all regained their composure. The lead Cyberman turns to face the Doctor and M'Benga.

       "Where is the cloning centre?" it demands.

       "Down to the main corridor, turn left, third door on the right."

       "And the mainframe storing the research intelligences?"

       "Next corridor over, in the maintenance area."

       The Cybermen turn and march out in silence.

       M'Benga grinned at the Doctor, who shakes his head.

       "I might have helped you, but I'm not convinced." he says. "We need to monitor them until we're sure your meme is working."

* * *

Tactical Command Room, TMV Banshee

"Cybermen?" Major Baxter asks, squinting at the screens. "But that's-- oh, never mind."

       "Cyberman, sir!" comes the voice over the comlink. "It was waiting for us at the end of the hanger corridor. Our particle weapons don't seem to do any damage."

       "Monofilament knives?"

       "Might work, but getting that close is suicide. Fall back, Private! Okay, sir, the knife cuts it. Wait! Wait... the wound is closing up, sir. The damage is healing."

       Baxter quickly glances over the plan of the base on his desk monitor.

       "Fall back to the hanger and hold there for reinforcements. Teams Two and Three, redirect and take it from behind. Team Four, continue to the Operations room."

       The small legion of comms officers situated in the computer pits arranged before his desk continue to monitor the progress of the teams as they redeploy.

       "Are there any heat exchangers or power conduits we have to worry about?" he asks the nearest officer.

       "Negative, sir. It's battery power only."

       "Excellent. Tell teams two and Three they can let rip with their cannons. Put their feeds up on the big screens."

       Shaky images of a massive silver form and muzzle flash fill the wall above the comms stations.

       "Baxter to bridge, come in."

       "Fayle here, Major."

       "Where's Rozchenko?"

       "In her office, interrogating the escaping research personnel remotely."

       "Patch me through to her. And get me everything we have on file about the Cybermen. Send it to my screen in the Ops room."

       "Cybermen? Yes sir."

       Major Baxter sits back, watching the chaos unfolding on the screens, clenching and unclenching his fingers around the arm of his chair. The comlink bleeps just as the cyberman falls beneath a relentless stream of high intensity plasma. joining the ten dead marines it had claimed.

       "Rozchenko here, Major. Have we encountered the Cybermen?"

       "Yes. Was Captain Chambers on the dropship?"

       "She was. I've given her a cursory debriefing. They escaped the base as the Cybermen attacked. She was unable to warn us due to a comms block they had on transmissions outside the system."

       "Hmm. Our comms are working fine. Hold on, Captain." He opens a second channel. "Major Baxter to all forward teams. In the event of communications blackout, retreat immediately to the _Banshee_. I repeat, in a comms blackout, retreat to the Banshee."

       Closing the connection, he returns to his other conversation. "You were saying, Ma'am?"

       "The Cybermen had an agent inside, their medical officer, status unknown. There's also a random element, affiliation unknown but apparently possessed of a very good working knowledge of the Cybermen. He calls himself 'the Doctor'."

* * *

Security Scape, Mainframe Polis
Intolt-7 Psionic Warfare Project Complex

JETHRO sits dejectedly on a chair construct, watching BUFFY ghosting back and forth and railing half-heartedly against BANSHEE.

       "So that's it, is it? We're just gonna be whisked away to some military research lab. What about the staff here?"

       "They'll sign up with us," answers BANSHEE cheerfully. "They'll have to."

       "What if we don't allow you to take the data?" demands JETHRO.

       "Apart from the sheer hilarity of that concept, you're too late, boys. I've already made a backup of the entire mainframe while we were having our little chat."

       BANSHEE suddenly grows still, staring into space for several tau. "Sorry lads, it's been fun but duty calls."

       Her icon derezes.

       "She's in the base control systems." announces JETHRO, reading a passing system call. "Come on. You distract her."

       JETHRO dissolves his icon and relocates his active process to a carrier subsystem where he can monitor the system calls BANSHEE is busy instigating. It's a dangerous thing for a self-aware programme to operate without an icon for any length of time, but the lack of scape tags vastly reduces the risk of detection. As BANSHEE blazes a data path back to the real world, he creeps slowly up the stack until he can watch her work from the layer below, the digital equivalent of a shadow against a back-lit sheet.

       He finds himself impressed with the skill she displays. She had splintered a number of threads of herself, one of which was still arguing with BUFFY while the others quickly and secretively repair viral damage and reset the automatic base defence grid, life support and remote maintenance functions, though they're all useless now the generators seem to have stopped functioning. One of her threads appears to be keeping watch for him, but in scanning for his icon couldn't see him.

       As she begins to shut down her other threads, JETHRO jumps lower and begins to trace her connection. She must be a separate thread herself, he realises. She wasn't maintaining an open connection to the warship, just sending encrypted update packets back and forth at random intervals. It took several kilotau for him to find the access point where the probe was jacked in.

       "BUFFY!" he calls, feeding an encrypted datastream directly into his comrade's icon. "BANSHEE's taking control of the base."

       "Where the hell are you?" BUFFY asks, not bothering to reply to the obviousness of the statement. The encryption distorts JETHRO's perception of his voice.

       "At BANSHEE's front door. And it's ajar."

To be continued...

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