Will & Jordan: Cyberhunt

Prologue – Cybertack

by Paul du Preez

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Through December and January I’ll be serializing this YA novella. Enjoy! (Its available in stores right now – scroll down to the ‘announcements’ panel for retailer links.)

In virtual reality, Spacebook’s firewall loomed over him, a shimmering cliff-face that towered to infinity.

On the other side of the firewall, Spacebook’s secrets. On this side, public-access data, tumbled like rocks at the feet of his team-mate’s crawler-bots. Above and to the rear, their leader’s dragonflier hovered, hanging back, inspecting the data entry port – a vast, leathery throat that pierced the firewall.

Their way in.

But protected. The throat was ringed with shark-like teeth and fringed with restless, swivelling eyes. And inside it grew tongues: a wheel of six, reaching towards the centre like spokes, their pink and slimy tips entwining. And, behind the first tongue, another, and then another, six ranks deep – they would digest anything that made it past the teeth.

The leading raptor, light and wiry, leapt, its talons wind-milling, raking. Its jaws snapped shut and one of the dragonflier’s glittering wings exploded, shattering into glassy fragments.

Behind him, drifting closer above a silent, virtual sea of data were membranes – they reminded him of empty crisp packets blowing ashore at Brighton Beach, floating above grey, shushing waves.

Fluttering towards him in the breeze, in slo-mo.

The membranes were software coded to blind the eyes to their approach. It seemed to take forever before they reached their target, crumpling softly over the moist and bloodshot eyes, snagging on the jagged, triangular teeth which tore through them, anchoring them in place.

Hiding him and the team from Spacebook.

On command – text only – the team boosted their crawlers, leaping for the throat. Past the teeth, the first bot scuttled for the tongues on centipede legs. The first tongue dipped, feather soft, and tasted its carapace, and whipped its tentacle tip around the scrabbling crawler, hardening, retracting, snatching it to destruction; the base and breadth of the tongue enfolding its dissolving prey as it curled in on itself, clenching tight. The second crawler scrambled over the digesting mess and into the clutch of the tongue behind.

His crawler was number six: when all six tongues in line were busy, the leader’s dragonflier would flit through the passage cleared and deliver its virus payload – an infiltration package that would burrow deep into Spacebook’s crypto-currency vaults and crack open a back-door for them to plunder its billions.

But, before he could steer his crawler down the throat, a red icon began to flash.

Threat!

Motion at the edge of his screen.

A pack of metallic dinosaurs racing towards him, fast, their movements glitching as his state-of-the-art gaming PC struggled to keep up. Perspective twisted and bent as they bounded closer, razor claws scarring the tumbled data blocks beneath their thrusting feet.

Velociraptors? Or Giant tyrannosaurs? he had time to wonder. But only just…

The dragonflier – hovering above him at the mouth of the throat – tried to gain altitude.

Too late!

The leading raptor, light and wiry, leapt, its talons wind-milling, raking. Its jaws snapped shut and one of the dragonflier’s glittering wings exploded, shattering into glassy fragments. Clawing in, locking together, raptor and flier tumbled – wings, crystal eyes, jewelled tail disintegrating as the remnants of the dragonflier blew and vanished like smoke. The raptor fell heavily to the rocks. And howled with rage.

All around him the snarls and roars of dinosaurs became suddenly audible. Someone…something had switched on the sound!

“Sod this!” he yelped, and instinctively tried to steer his crawler away, leap from the throat to the rocks below. Escape!

And found himself tossed and tumbling, hooked claws grappling his underbelly, piercing, grasping, lifting him. Above, a gaping reptile mouth grinned its vicious welcome, teeth glinting.

Then, as he waited for its jaws to rip into him, a text message scrolled across his monitors, giant red script glaring.

‘ABORT. SHUT DOWN. NOW! TRACKERS INCOMING.’

And, in that split second, over the tyrannosaur’s shoulder he glimpsed deformed hounds: Trackers. They would trace the attack back to its source. Back to the team’s coordinating server. And from there, back to the individual team members.

To him, in his bedroom, in front of his PC and his twin monitors.

In the flesh.

But, before he could do anything: before he could log off, or hit the reset button; even before the tyrannosaur gripping him could slam its jaws shut, shearing through carapace, muscle, tendons and viscera…

Blue-screen!

His monitors went blank – an unbroken, unchanging blue, calm as death.

The team’s mission controller had shut down their attack, hard.

Somewhere an incendiary device had detonated instantly burning out the server the attack had been routed through. Within seconds the net-trackers reached the burnt-out server, but could pass no further. Milliseconds later, triangulating from the trackers’ virtual pathway a Domestic Security Coalition computer identified the server’s physical location – a cottage in a rural English village. Space-borne cameras overhead sent back high-resolution pictures (even the garden gnomes were identifiable to the Artificial Intelligence coordinating the response – by product, manufacturer, retail outlet and purchaser). Automatically, an ultra-high-altitude supersonic drone armed with Executioner missiles was re-routed for the village: it retracted its glide wings, and afterburners kicked it across the sound barrier in seconds. Also automatically, the nearest tactical reaction unit was mobilized, pending further orders.

And, in an underground command centre somewhere, analysts were at last summoned to put a human finger on the trigger. Because the server was already unresponsive, they ruled that a missile launch would be excessive. Indeed, counter-productive – in an English village, the probability of collateral casualties would be high no matter how surgical the strike. The drone was stood down and, returning to station, resumed its lazy figure-of-eight cruise pattern, while the tactical reaction unit was ordered to deploy a reconnaissance team to investigate and assess the situation on the ground.

╬╬╬

Image Credits

Tyrannosaur – freepngimg.com

Cowboy – needpix.com

Curly-headed boy – pikist.com

Blue glass grid – needpix.com

Disclaimer, Copyright and Permissions

Will & Jordan: Cyberhunt is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events, and incidents are the product of Paul du Preez’ imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

All rights are reserved, including without limitation, the right to reproduce Will & Jordan: Cyberhunt and the original art or music associated with it, or any portion thereof in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of Paul du Preez. Copyrighted 2020 by Paul du Preez.

The reader may download from this site for his or her personal use.

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