The walls came down in ways she hadn’t expected. One by one, the neon barriers evaporated with a hiss of static as her fingers danced along her deck. Security programs flared into life, only to be disactivated moments later as she blasted past them in her search for the data. She dimly registered footsteps racing towards her in the darkened corridor.
“Eliz. We’ve gotta go! NOW!” Roark’s voice filled her head and her concentration wavered.
“Almost got it.” She whispered into her throat mic. “Nearly there.” Her fingers sped up, working the deck like an instrument, deleting firewalls left and right, brute-forcing her way through Ares’ defences. She could see the server stack now, a glowing pillar of gold in this virtual space.
The heavy booming noise of Roark’s hand-cannon rang out twice in quick succession.
“ELIZ!” He roared in her ear. “NOW!”
She gritted her teeth and slapped the code-bomb into place, tearing out a section of the stack as she did so. The virtual world began flashing and shaking around her, emerald lines spreading from the code-bomb deep into the radiant obelisk. She turned and ran, her avatar moving swiftly back to the portal, back into realspace and her body.
Sensory overload threatened to overwhelm her as it usually did as the world reasserted itself. Gone was the sterile, illuminated void of the virtual world, in its place an air-conditioned breeze wafting from the ceiling vents in the office block blew against her skin. She blinked and shook her head, clearing the post-deck haze.
The drone in front of her whirred and clicked as it pulled the deck back into its body. Another one, slightly smaller with a bulb of sensors on its back, chirruped, its wide, white wings beating slowly to keep it upright. The display on the end of its swan-neck glowed gently as text scrolled across it.
“Project.” She said quietly, standing and glancing towards where Roark stood, his arms braced against the corner of the corridor. The display darkened immediately, and lines of data began reeling in front of her eyes, projected onto the HUD of her glasses. “Roark. We’ve got ghosts incoming.”
He glanced back at her, his wide face frowning.
“Sure?” She nodded. “Right. Exfil plan B.” She looked at him, still woozy from the reality transfer. “Eliz, now!” She turned and started running, stumbling at first, the weight of her body at odds with the weightlessness of virtual space.
Cubicles flashed past her as she made her way towards the emergency stairs at the back of the floor, wageslaves plugged into their terminals, their minds toiling away at the currency mines, harvesting byte after byte of cryptocurrency. Her drones, all three painted white with mechanical wings and long, graceful necks tipped with blank displays, flew silently behind her, the snub-nosed pistols built into their chassis extending in readiness.
“Lopez, you’d better be out there.” She heard Roark call over the radio.
“Sure am.” The elf’s voice was cocky, self-assured. Her confidence was well deserved, Eliz didn’t know a better pilot.
“Cyg, door!” Eliz called out as the door came into view. The drone with her deck in it sped up, spinning in mid-air and uncoiling metallic tendrils from its back as it did so. The tendrils slammed into the door lock, sending sparks flying, and text began scrolling rapidly across her HUD as the drone’s software began overriding the security protocols. There was a beep moments later and the text stopped scrolling as the door clicked open.
“We’re there, L.” She said.
“Sure thing, honey.” Eliz’s response was cut off before she could open her mouth by the sound of their escape shuttle’s guns spooling up and then punching through the hardened steelcrete wall of the office block. Dust and hunks of building material began flying through the doorway, the impact of larger chunks slowly pushing it open.
Eliz slammed into the wall next to it and closed the door, covering her ears against the sound of high velocity metal punching its way through the building’s external wall. Flashes of light caught her attention as Roark rounded the corner, his gun arm extended behind him, a bestial look on his face. She waited until he was mere steps from her and then slung the door open.
The cold night air rushed in, followed swiftly by the shuttle’s landing bay lights as the cargo doors dropped open.
“The party’s waiting.” Lopez’s voice cut into the artificial silence she’d created. Roark dashed through the door, holstering his firearm as he did so. Eliz glanced back the way he’d come, her eyes struggling to focus on the figures following him, their projected camouflage making them near invisible in the office hallway.
A few wageslaves, their minds disconnected from the crypto-mines, were beginning to stand up, looking over the cubicle walls as they realised something was happening around them. She recognised the pale skin and blown pupils of long-term virtual space habitation. The world would be a dream-like haze to them for hours yet.
She pulled a flash grenade from her belt and primed it, throwing it over her shoulder as she dashed through the door, checked her drones were waiting, and yanked it shut. She took as few steps backwards and then turned, sprinting down the stairs towards the hole in the wall, heading for the shuttle hovering in mid-air.
She watched Roark launch himself across the gap and come to a roll on the metal floor of the cargo bay.
She reached out with her hands as she reached the bottom of the stairs, resting them on her drones. She jumped, letting them carry her across the short gap and lower her gently to the floor of the shuttle.
“We’re in.” She called out, slamming a hand against the door’s close button.
“Hold on!” Lopez shouted back. Eliz and Roark were thrown towards the closing doors as the shuttle rapidly accelerated away from the Ares’ owned office block. They shared a look and she offered him a hand up.
“I don’t know what you were doing in virtual space.” He said, taking it gratefully. “But something went wrong.”