Intrusion is a bleak, dystopian tale(1) of cyber-crime, featuring computer hacking, tentacle monsters(2), robot ninja(3), sultry yet dangerous Latina lesbians(4), a troubled hero with a dark past(5), gratuitous product placement, black helicopters(6), and at least one reference to System Shock(7). And possibly a happy ending, at least for some of the characters.
(1) For certain values of 'bleak' and 'dystopian'.
(2) But no Japanese schoolgirls, you’ll probably be glad to know.
(3) The robot ninja may not appear in the story. But that’s the thing about ninja; just because they don’t appear doesn’t mean they’re not there…
(4) Actually there’s only one of these in the story, not several.
(5) Which, to be honest, applies to just about every major character in the Buffyverse, so there’s not much actual information in this statement.
(6) See (4).
(7) Click me. (note: plays a sound file.)
The warm wind sidled in from the desert and twined around the city by the sea, snaking through the cement canyons and staining its purity with dust and grime and the fumes from a million car exhausts. As the sun sank towards the greedy waiting ocean, streetlights flickered on and the freeways became gleaming rivers of silver and red.
High above the scurrying ants'-nest, insulated from the noise and heat and dirt by a triple-glazed picture window and the distant hum of air conditioning, a young woman gazed out towards the western horizon. The setting sun glinted redly off her Diesel sunglasses and sparked matching highlights from her hair. Stretching out her hand, she rested it flat against the cool, smooth surface of the glass as if saluting a dying adversary, before turning back towards the darkening room.
Behind her, the faint imprint of her palm and fingers remained, marring the crystalline perfection of the window.
Scattered over the desk set near the adjacent wall was an incongruously colourful jumble of cheap clocks, bought earlier that week from a wholesaler in Chinatown. Each one was moulded in the form of a famous landmark: Big Ben, the Taj Mahal, the Statue of Liberty... and probably none of them had ever been within a thousand miles of the place they represented. Still and unexpectedly, they told perfect time to the tenth of a second, each set to the time zone of the country they claimed to be a gift from. The redhead was confident of that; she'd made sure of it personally. Now her attention was drawn to the tacky model of the Eiffel Tower telling her that in Central Europe, the workday was just beginning. She'd never been to Paris... at least, not in the flesh. That wasn't necessary.
Removing her sunglasses and laying them carefully down on the desk, she turned to her companion, who lay sprawled comfortably if inelegantly on her stomach on the king size bed, watching a movie on the large plasma-screen TV. It had Spanish subtitles, and the sound was turned off, making it pretty much incomprehensible to the redhead.
There was a late-model PowerBook on the desk next to the clocks, and the redhead bent to plug it in and power it up. On the bed, the dark-haired girl swung herself around to sit cross-legged and grabbed the remote control.
"D'you want me to turn this off? Will it distract you?"
"No. And thanks. Uh, for, y'know, asking. Are you sure you can even follow it like that? It's all in foreign and stuff."
"Sure. It's good practice. Keep in touch with my traditional culture, that kind of thing."
"Sweetie, you never even met your grandparents."
"Didn't mean them. All the help spoke Spanish, back when I was a kid, and it was fun talking to them. Learned all kinds of stuff. Plus it pissed off Dad, which was always a bonus."
Such casual acceptance of wealth and privilege - not boasting about it, any more than a fish boasts about being able to swim, but just living it, being it - still bothered the redhead sometimes. Not that it didn't come in useful at times. Take last Sunday, when they'd first checked into the hotel...
The reception clerk had turned unexpectedly difficult at the idea of two women requesting a double room for themselves. He'd started making bland excuses about over-booking and rooms being closed for renovation. She'd felt flustered and hurt, knowing what he was doing but not wanting to make waves. Avoid confrontation, swallow the anger and store it up for later: that's how she'd always worked before. Not so her companion.
The younger woman was almost physically incapable of backing down from a fight. She'd laid down the law in no uncertain fashion – insisting on her rights as a paying customer, demanding to know if her money wasn't good enough (and waving a wallet full of gold and platinum credit cards under the clerk's nose to emphasise her point), hinting briefly at the possibility of lawsuits before casually mentioning exactly how much business the various corporations her father owned did with that hotel chain. In a state of near-panic the clerk summoned his manager who hastily upgraded them to a penthouse suite at no extra cost, apologising profusely all the while.
That was a week ago; a week spent preparing, researching, acquiring supplies in a dozen different shops. Curiously, the names on those credit cards hadn't all been the same... although none of them were stolen. Not exactly, anyway. And now they were ready.
The redhead sat down at the computer and opened Firefox, clicking on one of her stored bookmarks. When she first started this game - Goddess, was it more than ten years ago now? - there'd have been the squealing and clicking of the modem as it made its slow connection. She missed that noise sometimes. Not the slowness, of course - but the sound had always thrilled her. It meant she was leaving the confusing, frustrating real world and entering a realm where she had the power. Where she could slide around the confining rules and order everything to her liking. Sometimes she thought about getting a recording of the noise and setting it to play whenever she opened her web browser, but then decided that would be too geeky even for her.
Not all the software she was running on this laptop was off-the-shelf. Not all of it was legal. In fact, not all of it obeyed the rules of logic that ought to apply in this dimension, and some of the people who'd helped write it hadn't exactly been human. And some of the websites she was passing through as she constructed her false backtrail – following links that weren't supposed to be accessible to the public – didn't exactly appear in the standard listings. Still, they were just tools. She was the artist, weaving her scarlet thread through the electronic tapestry.
And at the end, it brought her to a dull corporate-looking website in German, all muted colours and serious serif fonts and a discrete log-in box in the top right corner. She sighed, and leaned back in her chair, stretching out the cricks, startled to see how late it was, how dark the room had become. Moments later, a soft arm crept around her waist and she felt her lover's chin resting gently on her shoulder. She leaned gratefully into the warmth.
"How's it going? You in yet?"
"Mmm. Getting there. I think. Or maybe I'm just about to download the last five years' annual reports from a German insurance company. Or, y'know, make my computer blow up."
"I'd go for the explosion. More fun."
"And probably less dangerous to our health. But seriously, sweetie, things could get all ooky pretty quickly now. They've probably got defences on their defences. And I'm gonna have to go all Matrix-y to get past them, and things could go wrong, or they might have something I don't know about, and there might be traps set for me, and I - "
"Hey! You can do it, Red. You're the best there is, and they can not keep you out." A giggle. "Any more than I can. So c'mon. Anything I can get for you before you start back in?"
"Lots and lots of alcohol?"
"Drinking and hacking: bad idea. Afterwards we can party. But now," - she smiled at a shared memory - "I'll make you some tea."
The steaming hot cup appeared at her elbow a few minutes later, but the redhead was already rapt in her electronic world once more. She sipped absently as the cracking program tried to break through the site's security, tweaking the parameters every time it came up blank. Since she'd already used that same program to break into the FBI's main database two days ago - just as a test, no ulterior motives - it was clear that this site enjoyed a level of security nothing merely human could have produced.
"So probably not an insurance company, then."
She sighed. She'd known this moment was coming even as she'd hoped it would never arrive - but here it was. No choice now.
She looked over at the younger woman who was sitting on the edge of the bed, watching her at work with an anxiety that her native insouciance tried and failed to cover up.
"This is it, sweetie. Can you help me? And please - be careful. I don't know what I might do if things... go wrong."
"They won't". Brown eyes looked deep into hazel as her lover sat down in the chair on the other side of the desk and rested her hands either side of the laptop. The redhead covered her hands with her own, gave them a gentle squeeze then breathed in deeply.
"OK. Not nervous. Here we go."
To be continued.