Raise the Stakes, Event File 03

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Event File 3
File Tag: Mission Briefing
Timestamp: 05:00-3-1-2156

“Kev? You up?”

Kevin’s eyes flicked open. He sat up, blinking at the indistinct shape of his boyfriend in the gloom. The other man’s face was a blue-lit blur in the dark, the light from a tab outlining his contours in Kevin’s weak eyes.
With the economy born of repetition, Kevin reached for his glasses with one hand and his gun belt with the other. “I’m up. Do we need to move?”
His glasses revealed a crooked, mirthless smile gracing his boyfriend’s face. Aidan waved a hand. “No, we’re good. It’s five-hundred. I was just…you know we said we’d wake each other up if stuff got bad at night?” He tapped the side of his head.
Kevin’s shoulders relaxed. “I do. I’m glad to see you remembering. What’s going on?”

Aidan dropped his eyes to his hands, fingers pleating the blanket.

 “I have to give a briefing later and it’s freaking me out. I woke up at three-hundred and started reading the files on it, and that made it worse.”
Carefully, Kevin replaced his weapon on its hook beside the bed. “Three hundred? Did something come up overnight?”
Aidan shook his head, brushing his wheaten hair out of his eyes. “Came up at Regional. When Hall sent you out of the room? Yeah. She had a mission briefing and a packet to give me, classified. She ordered me to wait ‘til I got home to talk. That was why I cut you off about it.” He drew a slow breath. “She was worried about leaks. Enough that she set a sound-box by the door of my room when she talked to me. That tells you how serious she was.”
Kevin felt his brows rise. “She turned on a soundbox…at regional? Well that’s worrisome.” Turning his head, he raised his voice a little. “Lights low.”
The scrounged strands of LED lights came slowly to life in their web across the ceiling, glowing like fireflies. The wall screen buzzed to life with a Monet painting as Kevin turned back to study his boyfriend’s haggard face. “What’s the mission? Does it have an execution date?”
Aidan shrugged. “Second week of March, we start working on it. We…” Aidan took three long, slow breaths. “Kev, she wants us to take point on a national op. To take the Citizen Standing system down. Entirely. For the country.” 

Kevin’s jaw dropped open. He felt the blood leave his face.

“Say that again?” His voice emerged in a whisper.

Aidan laughed, hysteria twining through the sound. “We’ve been ordered to shut down the entire Citizen Standing System, Kev.”                                                   

Kevin ran a hand through his hair, shaking his head. “That’s not…nobody can do that. They have supercomputers running their data encryption. They have backups of the backups. No human could break through that.”

Aidan’s smile was tight. “Right. I guess she wants to see if four bases full of humans can.”

Kevin gave a breath of a laugh. “Well, now I know why you were worried…” slowly, he laid himself out on the bed beside his boyfriend, hands laced behind his head, eyes staring blankly upwards.                                                                  

“The entire Citizen Standing System….good God almighty.”

Aidan nodded. After a moment, he lay down as well, his head pillowed on Kevin’s shoulder. “I don’t know how the hell she expects us to do something like this. Apparently she thinks I’m a miracle-maker, since I got this base working again. And you guys got the Folder done.” 

Kevin barely smiled at the remark. His brain was racing.

The Citizen Standing System. The aggregation of credit scores and Citizen Rankings attached to every citizen was the bulwark of the Corporation’s hold on citizens. Few people dared to commit actions that would drop their Citizen Standing Score. It cost too much: to fall down the Citizen Standing System ladder was to lose everything. Your right to your position within the Corporation. Your right to live in the neighborhood you’d been enjoying, shop in the stores you frequented. Fall far enough down the ladder, and you lost your right to be treated as a human being. To keep their Standings, people stayed in line and didn’t cause trouble. They hid what could harm them from watching eyes. And those eyes were everywhere. Automated systems embedded in the fabric of the cities recorded pedestrian infractions, from jaywalking to taking a long lunch break. Managers could drop a Citizen Standing Score for so many infractions. Neighbors could report you for everything from Standing-damaging faux pas, to what you read or who you had in the bedroom. And it all went into the Citizen Standing System, recorded and tied to every individual’s genome like stones tied to a drowning man’s legs. The Scores trapped people as surely as a cage.                                                        

To take the Citizen Standing System out…even the idea made him light-headed.

“If we pull this off…” he swallowed hard. “If we pull this off, everything changes. Everything…”

“I know,” Aidan muttered, squeezing his eyes shut against Kevin’s skin. He took a shaking breath. “Hall said that’s why she wants us heading it. If we can actually pull this off….”    

“Then maybe we start to win,” Kevin finished in a whisper. His brain was beginning to fizz, fireworks of thought burning when he closed his eyes.

He turned so that he was nose to nose with Aidan. “Which bases are we in with on this?”
“Base six hundred way up north, they run the US-Canada border,” Aidan replied quietly, “handle’s Wiigit Wings. Base one-forty halfway up the East Coast. The Riptides. And Base five-thousand all the way down south, the Tearaways.”

Kevin nodded slowly. “Wiigit I’ve worked with a number of times when I’m getting refugees out, they’re leaps and bounds ahead of most bases in action. They practically run the Maple Leaf Trail. And the Riptides are legendary. I’ve heard of the Tearaways as well, they did more large-scale missions down south than anyone believed possible…we’re working with legends and they want us to take point?”

Aidan shrugged. “We’re probably the most expendable.” 

“Stop that.” Kevin admonished, tapping a finger on the tip of Aidan’s nose. His boyfriend gave him a crooked smile.

For a moment, Kevin stared into Aidan’s blue eyes. Then he pulled Aidan into a kiss.

“We’re going to change the world, Aidan my love.”                                                                                                           

Aidan sighed against his skin. “We’re gonna try.”

………………………………………………………………………………………………….

       “We’re gonna die.”

Tweak’s high voice dropped into the silence of the canteen like a hailstone. 

Kevin sighed. Leave it to their techie to break the ice left in the wake of Aidan’s mission announcement by summing up the situation in the most tactless—and brutally honest—terms available.                                                                                                       

Luckily, that statement was put out so abruptly that Yvonne and Lazarus both gave barks of laughter. Their reaction gave everyone else permission to breathe again. The members of the base glanced at one another with weak smiles and made variations on the theme of the ‘going crazy’ hand gesture.                                                                                                                                                                

At the head of the table, Aidan shrugged. “We could’ve died putting out the Folder too. But we pulled it off. And that’s why we’re on this now.”

“Command does love to give the man who digs the best ditches a bigger shovel, you know,” Kevin remarked, doing his best to keep a little levity in the proceedings. He’d always liked that word, levity.  It was from the Latin levitas, if he remembered right. The opposite of gravity. And the mood in the room was certainly heavy enough at the moment.                       

“So how are we doing this?” Damian asked. 

Aidan shrugged. “No clue. Not yet.”
The silence this time was so complete that Kevin could hear the air filtration units in the walls humming. Water gurgled in a pipe over his head.

“Wait, what?” Lazarus asked, wide eyes fixed on Aidan. The smaller man met his gaze patiently.

“We’re the ones who have to come up with the plan,” Aidan explained, his voice uninflected. “Turns out Command was really impressed with what we did to get the Folder out. They want our out-of-the-box thinking applied to this. We’re developing the attack plan on this, not just implementing it.”

“Shit,” Yvonne remarked, wide-eyed. “Tweak’s right. We are gonna die.”

Kevin watched the uneasy, restless fear spread through the room. Sarah fidgeted. Yvonne chewed her cuticles. Lazarus was still staring at Aidan. 

Down the table, Blake caught Kevin’s eye and raised a brow in one of his signature ‘well, you are going to do something useful?’ expressions. 

Kevin gave an incremental nod. Carefully, he stood. “We’re not going to die.”

The eyes of everyone at the long table turned to him. “We are going to do what we do best,”  Kevin stated. Calling up everything he knew about public speech, he raised his voice to the perfect pitch, holding the eyes of everyone in the room in turn. “We are going to do impeccable research. We’re going to lay groundwork. We’re going to create a plan. And then we’re going to execute it, and when we do we’re going to rip the rug out from under the Corporate sons of bitches and land them flat on their asses. This is our chance. We’ve all worked for it and bled for it. Now it’s our time to take it.”

The deep silence held for a heartbeat longer. His family watched him with wide eyes.  Then Yvonne pressed her hand to her chest and fluttered her eyes. “My hero.”
Everyone burst out laughing. Kevin rolled his eyes. “Yvonne, I hate you some days. You do know that?” 

“Okay, but seriously,” Janice added, tapping the plastic of the table with her calloused fingers, “this’s about as easy as fuckin’ a porcupine with a chocolate dong. How the fuck’re we supposed to do it?”

In her corner, Tweak bit her lip, staring at her boots. Her fingers fiddled with the bandages that hid her arms.

Aidan cleared his throat. “Like Kev says, we’re going to start with research. Commander Hall has given us upper-level passcodes, so we can read operational reports from around the country. We start on this on the eleventh. Tweak, you work with Kevin for two weeks learning about stuff like this that people tried in the past.  See why it didn’t work. Grab Billie to help when Andrea doesn’t need her watching the kids.”

“Don’t grab Billie, grab me. I know a thing or two about older operations.” Blake interjected.

Aidan nodded in the older man’s direction, shoving his rich blonde hair back from his face absently. “Okay, Blake you help out with that. Thanks.” He turned his eyes further down the table.  “Dozer, Topher. I want you guys working on chatter and drone patterns. All those extra drones that’re being produced have to be going somewhere. Laz, Sarah, I want you guys to start printing more stealth guns and explosives. Yvonne, you’re going to need to run physical requisitions on your own for a bit. Stick to vetted contacts only. You’ll be on getting Sarah and Laz what they need when they need it, along with the usual runs. And Damian, let’s make sure the med-bay’s ready for more casualties than usual. In case.”
“Well that sounds encouraging,” Blake grumbled.

Aidan gave him a long-suffering look, before turning his blue eyes back to the table at large.  “We’ll have another full-crew debriefing in three weeks and see where we’ve gotten.” Aidan added, “In the meantime,” he paused, meeting the eyes of everyone around the table, and gave them a crooked smile, “everybody else make sure the guys who’re working hard remember to eat and sleep.”

 

………………………………………………………………………………..

It took nearly their full allotment of two weeks, but between Tweak, Blake and Kevin they had something that actually resembled a plausible attack plan when they faced the table full of their teammates on the morning of the twenty-fifth. Everyone had decided to sit in this time; only Billie and the kids were missing among the curious faces.                                                                                                                 

“I’ve sent a file to everyone’s tabs detailing this attack plan,” Kevin stated as he brought up his own screens and moved them into place, “feel free to bring it up if you’d like to follow along.”

Holographic screens winked into life around the table. Lazarus gave a bark of laughter. “Christ man, you didn’t send an attack plan. You sent a book!”

Kevin gave his friend a small, acknowledging smile. “You’ll note that there’s a history section and a number of other details. We’ve got our reasons for decisions delineated in here as well as our plan of action. So yes, it’s long. This is what we’re going to send to Commander Hall, once we’ve refined and vetted it with you lot.” He held Aidan’s eyes across the table, pulling on his most confident smile.  “We’ll give you the bullet points in person.” 

His tab projected a series of boxes. He touched the first one, and it came to the fore and expanded into readability. “The first thing we’ve discovered is that any form of simple attack will certainly be torpedoed in short order.”

“Duh,” Tweak muttered under her breath. 

Kevin ignored her as he continued, “A number of simpler attacks were attempted in the past, and they all failed spectacularly. So we’re suggesting a layered attack.” 

The image walked through an animated scenario as Kevin narrated. The boxes traded places in the foreground as he spoke, showing their content as he’d timed them to do. Verbal information was always easier to retain with a visual supplement. “We’ll use a large number of pre-coded false Ids—and resurrect an awful lot of zombies—in the Systems to launch a massive Denial of Service attack on Natbank as a cover,” he explained as the visuals played. “It will look as if thirty million people have all decided to check their Citizen Standing Score at the same time.”

“Wait, zombies?” Damian asked, his ocular implants whirring.
Zombies,” Blake agreed with relish, “They’re profiles of people who’ve been dead a while. But it isn’t hard to re-activate them; we do it when we’re in a hurry. This time we’ll do large batches over several months. And the dead will riiiiiiiiise!”  

Snorts of laughter greeted Blake’s theatrics. 

“It won’t have any particular effectiveness, given our resources,” Kevin cautioned, working to choke down a laugh. “It’s really only a smokescreen. Best case scenario, it overloads a number of servers, but it will at least grab some attention. While that’s going on, each of our bases will initiate a virus that we’ve put in place prior to the big day within EagleCorp and Natbank systems. This virus is designed to quickly and efficiently wipe the Citizen Rating Files that EagleCorp keeps for the other Corporations. We won’t be touching the financial element of the Scores originating in NatBank, for two reasons: we don’t want complete civic anarchy, and we don’t want to give the Corps an even bigger reason to crack down or—God forbid—impose martial law as they scramble to cover their asses.”

“How come?” Topher asked. “I mean, debt’s half the damn Score, isn’t it? So it’s half the problem. If we don’t get people all the way free, what’s the point?”

“It’s tempting, but if you think it through it’s a trap,” Kevin explained. “It would feel like freedom for a day to be completely debt free, but you’ll feel less of a glow the next day, when your bank calls to tell you that they don’t have a record of what you’ve paid on your house loan and you’ll have to start over. Or when your credit card fails to work and payday is several days away. Beyond that, let’s game it out. We don’t want the security and finance Corps in a position where they feel justified in taking extraordinary measures. We don’t want them asking Argus Corp to turn off the power to all homes and telling citizens that they must be genome-scanned and entered into a census in order to verify the patchwork of databases from other sources they’d use to rebuild the Standing System, or some such draconian ploy. 

“If we took down both Corporate records systems, that’s what they’d do, and the worst of it is that people would feel threatened enough to go along. We don’t want that. What we want is to put the Corporations in a position where they’re internally squabbling and desperate to hide their weakness. Again,” he added, smirking. “Therefore, we wipe every single Citizen Rating file that EagleCorp keeps. National Banking will pretend nothing’s wrong and instruct their systems to use half the data to assign Scores. The purely financial data, that is. In private they and every other Corporation will be excoriating EagleCorp for losing the Citizen Rating data. Both Eagle and Natbank will be set back on their heels, the other five will get into a froth, a lot of people will see their scores miraculously shoot up, and it’s a win all the way around. So our aim is to scrub the system of Citizen Rating Files. Thoughts?”

Around the table, heads nodded thoughtfully. “Sounds good,” Aidan remarked. “So what do we do after the virus scrubs the Net?”

“It won’t take them long to reload from their backup servers; about twenty seconds across the country.” Kevin explained. “But here’s the clever bit.” He raised a finger. “What they try to reload will already be gone.”

“We c-can do it l-l-like this.” Tweak stated, pulling up the next holographic window. “F-first we g-get all the deets on the backup centers. Physical and tech. Take a m-month at l-least. Probably three, safe side.”

“Plan A is for Tweak to hack in and snag us some schematics with those magic fingers of hers,” Blake interjected, “and plan B, which everyone hates but we can do if needed, is to get ourselves some maps of the maintenance tunnels under EagleCorp and establish a hard connection that’ll hack us directly into their system that way. Once we have the skinny, Tweak?” 

“We g-get into the physical backup l-location, we plant EMP bombs all over the place,” the little hacker continued with a grin. “V-virus should be everywhere by then.  W-wait for the other b-bases to do their b-backup centers. Lotsa w-work. W-wait four or five w-weeks. When we’re r-ready, we choose a day. Coordinate. Launch the DDOS. Set off the EMPs, r-remotely. Execute the v-virus. W-watch the firew-works.” The coder mimed an explosion with a grin, the white bandages encasing her arms glimmering in the overhead lights.

Around the table, heads began to nod. 

“So… we’re actually gonna get this together? Regional’s actually going to let us do this?” Lazarus asked, a slow grin unfurling across his face. He looked from Kevin to his cousin and cousin-in-law, the dawning grin spreading across all their faces. Yvonne grabbed Sarah by the lapels of her jacket and kissed her hard, then reached over and grabbed her cousin in a hug. “Holy shit holy shit this is gonna be amazing!”  

“If we put in the work and the planning to pull it off,” Kevin admonished pointedly, watching the Three Stooges with the most censorious expression he could manage. The last thing they needed was three enthusiastic loose cannons on something this big.
“Yeah,” Tweak snapped from her cross-armed slouch against the wall, “and don’t die.”                                                             

Sarah shot the younger girl an impatient look. “Tweak, quit saying we’re gonna die. It’s depressing.”
The tiny girl rolled her black eyes, giving a wordless grunt.

Aidan gave his team a patient smile. Then his eyes moved between the screens and Kevin’s face. Eventually, he nodded. “It sounds like it could work. Couple of things, though.”

He ticked off points on his fingers, his tanned skin looking even darker in the overhead lights. “First thing: we’re on our own schedule and we’ve got three other bases to coordinate with, so we do this thing slow and steady. If you don’t have specs on a building, don’t enter it until you do. Take all the precautions.” He lowered another finger with a lopsided smile. “Second off: get me full write-ups on your plans at each stage, so I can talk to the other bases and Regional like somebody who has a clue. And third: remember we’ve got time. We don’t get second chances. So take the time and be careful. Okay?” 

Most of the Logistics and the Munitions team acknowledged the call on their impetuous habits one way or another: a refuel grin here, lowered eyes there. Kevin wondered if that warning wasn’t aimed mostly at him, after the stunt that got their base the seeds currently sprouting in the hydroelectric maintenance room. But then again, Yvonne and Lazarus both had their own streak of impatience. They all needed the reminder, really.                                                                                                                           

Aidan let that sink in a moment, then nodded. “Okay, just remember. Last thing, if Tweak’s going to be talking to all these other bases along with us, she needs a real code name.”

“Oh shit, we forgot!” Yvonne exclaimed. She turned in her seat. “Janice, where’s the deck?”                                    

Janice stood. “Cool your tits, I’ll get it.”
Crossing the canteen, the older woman slid open an access panel in the plastic of the wall and pulled out the analog deck they always used to name new Grid-operating members. Methodically flipping through the battered deck, she extracted the cards that were already taken: The King of Hearts, Kevin’s own card. Liza’s Queen of Clubs, followed  by the Ace of Spades came out, which Commander Taylor had held before and Aidan had inherited. The base had thrown an absolute fit when Taylor’s own call sign was given to someone new, but since the other nine hundred and twenty Duster bases across the country already had that down as the handle to reach the Wildcards through, it couldn’t be changed. It seemed right, these days, that Aidan held it.

The Ace of Diamonds was pulled for Blake and the Nine of Hearts for Yvonne, the Two of Clubs for Dozer and the Four from the same suit for Topher. The Seven of Spades was pulled out for Jim. Janice found the Joker card and tossed it to Lazarus, who caught his card with a grin. There was Sarah’s Queen of Diamonds, Janice’s own Ace of Clubs and Damian’s King of Clubs. Alice’s Jack of Spades was pulled. The Jack of Hearts, the Two of Spades, the King of Diamonds, the King of Spades and the Three of Hearts were pulled out last. Those cards Janice set aside with elaborate care, face down. The remaining cards in the deck were spread out in front of Tweak.
“Pick a card, any card.” Kevin drawled in the tones of a Vaudevillian from a Bob Hope movie, hoping to keep things cheerful. 

Tweak looked down at the cards with panicked eyes. Then she looked around the room.“Y-you all g-got one?”
“Anybody who talks to other bases does,” Janice agreed quietly. “You don’ wanna keep bein’ who you was on Grid forever, see.”

Tweak blinked at her. “Yeah. Guess not.” The little coder lowered her head, her body still as a lizard on a rock. Then a tiny hand darted out and grabbed up a card. “This.”

“Deuce of Diamonds.” Janice observed, drawing the words out. 

Kevin leaned back. “Quite apt really. They do say Deuces are wild.”

Tweak actually gave him a flicker of a teasing smile as she insulted him this time. “Freak.”

Two smiles in one week had to be a record for Tweak. He returned the smile, miming the lifting of an imaginary hat. “At your service.”

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