VZ Goliath [Sci-Fi Novel]

13

The water was marine blue, and barely any light was getting through to the seabed. Swarms of fish were swimming in between the metal trash, which occupied the sandy ground. Cars, bikes, packaging, industrial waste; all of them had layers of algae and corals on them. They had been there for many years and would be for many more.

The two divers passed a sunken ship as the cables of the plant came in sight. The plant was built on the water and held in place by thick cables drilled deep into the seafloor, moving slowly and rhythmically with the water and creating a deep harmony from contracting and expanding. The bottom of the plant was one thick layer of modified and buoyant steel. While it was a manufacturing plant, it had proper security and radar sensors for incoming objects. It would close the whole plant immediately and alert security if someone uninvited would get too close. Luckily, the divers were small and swam far below the plant. Their angle of approach was the spot with the least coverage, directly below.

They were both wearing dark military gear with fins and had small backpacks with them. They used a small air filter on their mouth and nose, not because they needed to breathe air, but because mentally, they were still too used to it. Their bodies and fins moved in rhythm with each other as they ascended towards the dark structure. The plant had several filtration tunnels that were sucking up the seawater to cool down crucial parts of the manufacturing process. They removed the filters that kept animals and trash outside and let themselves get absorbed into the dark tunnel.

The water started to accelerate as they reached the first turbine. The turbine was several times larger than the tunnel they had come out of and was sucking in the water from several tunnels around them. They used the magnetic fields in their body to stick onto the tunnel walls. Once they were synched to the slow swings of the blades, they swam towards them and hung themselves onto one. They decreased their sensitivity to the strong rotational movement that would have made them sick and dizzy and swapped from one side of the blade to the other, then let the blade go and floated further into the tunnel.

The layout indicated that the tunnel would split in front of them. One side was leading into the filtration system with dozens of turbines and assured death. The other was leading up into the water tanks providing additional buoyancy to the plant.

Sticking to the walls of the water tank, they climbed up to one of the hatches and burned the bolts that were sealing it. The hatch loosened and fell passed them into the large tank. The lower floors of the ship were made of grey and dark orange steel. It was cold and quiet around them.

The air filters got stored in the backpacks, and guns were taken out. Z unfolded an assault rifle, V strapped a tactical belt around her waist and took out a pistol with modified attachments. Both their guns were operating on air pressure and were therefore surprisingly silent. The loudest part was the impact of the bullet.

The plant had 18 floors, and they were currently on the second-lowest, designated for maintenance and crucial ship infrastructure. The more they moved up and towards the center, the louder and brighter the factory would become; the steel walls sharing the banging and hammering of the machines with the entire plant. Z took out a small drone the size of a bird and threw it into the air. It instantly stabilized and speeded off into the dark corridors. It had a scanner but was not picking up any life forms or moving objects. To keep up with its pace, they started to jog down the corridor. Z was leading with his AR, V covering behind.

They reached a ladder that took them up several floors. It was rusty and had not been used in years. They exited into a large storage room filled to its ceiling with containers. Several robots were moving the boxes and stopped for a moment as they jogged past them. They took a staircase up several floors into the next room.

The sounds of the plant faded. A metallic bridge expanded for several hundred meters over bright blue water, which was glooming up the room from below. The water was filled with a thick fog, and down at the bottom, something was slowly swimming around them. On the sides of the room, glass pipes were pumping liquids into the water. Blue, white, yellow, purple. The fluids were finding its way to the surface in small bubbles, and the fog was playing and merging with them. Different shapes appeared till they all joined the blue water. The smooth yet constant change of colors and light was captivating.

Closer to the core of the manufacturing plant, large machines happily stamped chips and electronics in rhythm. The reason the chips were built on the ship and not on land were the non-existent regulations for manufacturing off-shore. Nobody cared which dangerous chemicals were used or if the plant itself was way past its due date. It was also possible to instantly produce instead of waiting weeks for government approval.

A metallic smell filled the air as it was getting warmer around them. A few meters below them, large melting pots were boiling materials. The heat and steam were too much for their bird, and it had collapsed before them.

Water was forming on their faces from the steam and their clothes soaked up the fluid. Convertor belts filled with chips and strings of metals were running into all directions above them, while rows of machines were stamping and forming shapes out of hot materials.

It all looked like outdated technology. With modern techniques, there was no steam and no materials to stamp and shape. Materials were directly heated up in an isolated chamber and bend inside it. This plant was manufacturing from raw materials to the finished implants but had not been modernized in decades. Although current generations of industry 3D printers were energy and resource-intensive, this plant was even worse, unless you consider the advantages of manufacturing off-shore.

The whirring of several drones echoed through the room. They triangulated their direction and checked which network the drones used to broadcast to another. The connection to the grid was too weak on the ship to use Z’s video editing software on drones and security cameras at the same time. A mobile version for only the drones was way too processing intensive and would delay their video signal significantly, either crashing them or raising an internal alarm.

They jumped to the side and landed between machines and converter belts. Their trans-clothes changed color to fit the dark-grey floors. The drones did not notice them but gave access to their flight paths and security network.

Z noticed some abnormal behavior; not only drones were connected, but implants as well. Usually, the networks of machines and humans were separated, but here they shared one, which meant they had to be extra careful when probing the system. They were not only dealing with AI but also human security. Any detail an AI would overlook could be easily spotted by a human.

Past a few empty rooms and corridors, an extensive outside area opened up before them. A rectangular shape in which rusty bridges and ladders connected the different sides of the plant. Above them, the sky, water below. It was the part of the plant where they could be spotted the easiest. The metallic sounds were calmingly drumming while seagulls were flying above and observed from the upper floors. The water below splashed against steel.

They had no other option than to cross the long bridge ahead. Running would trigger the pressure sensors on the bridge and alert security. Not because of intruders, but because the bridge could easily collapse if too many people would walk over it at once. The ship was way past its due date, but nobody wanted to repair or renovate it. It was cheaper to install sensors instead.

Past the first bridge, a randomized security check started. Several drones were on their way and would have them in sight within the next minute. Not enough time to get to cover on the next bridge and not enough time to go back. They both knew the angle the drones would pass, so they laid down on the bridge, then carefully climbed around it till they were hanging below. The drones were not programmed to look under bridges, and from the angle they were approaching, the two would be invisible.

A slow minute passed until they started to hear the drones coming down from the upper floors. With angry shouting, the seagulls moved out of their way only to return to their spots a moment later. The drones moved from floor to floor, scanning bridges and ladders. The trans-clothes had adjusted to the metal strips of the bridge, but Z was starting to notice a particularly problematic part of the ship that was decaying.

‘Hey, V.’

‘Hmm?’

‘Top left. Forty-five centimeters from your hand. Can you see the screws?’

‘Oh shit.’

The part of the bridge they were hanging on was loosely connected to the next part with a bunch of finger-thick screws. All of the screws were shaking and slowly removed themselves from their connection. V moved her hand forward as the first screw fell out. It dropped several meters, smacked with a loud bang onto a bridge, then disappeared in the ocean.

The drones above them had not noticed. V had to act quickly before the other screw would loosen as well. She climbed with her arms and feet forwards, and as the second screw was about to fall out, she reached it and caught it mid-fall. She started to punch the screw back in one at a time while trying to make as little noise as possible. She smiled back at Z when she was done and gave him a thumbs up. His expression was nothing close to hers, and she could hear why just a moment later.

All the screws she had just punched in loosened at once and simultaneously started falling. They all smacked on the bridge below and alerted the drones. Hovering around the bridge, they could not determine the cause of the sound until a loud screeching came from above. The bridge V and Z were hanging on was too stressed under their weight. The other side of the bridge was starting to bend and ejected the remaining screws. They had no time to react as the bridge screamed up and removed itself from the connecting part with a loud bang.

With their heads up front, they fell alongside the bridge towards the water. The next connecting part of the bridge snapped as well, but the third was still sturdy enough to stop them. Another loud bang and they both flung around. V managed to get a grip on the last piece of the bridge and caught Z with her other hand. The drones whirring around, catching them with their pants down. Z had his AR wrapped around his chest but instead pulled out the small pistol from his pocket. He shot the drones and they stirred off towards the water, their electronics sizzling as they splashed into it.

Dangling from the half-broken bridge, their mood was somewhere between adrenaline-packed action and ironic comedy.

“Jesus, why are we doing this again?”

“Definitely beats sitting around all day.”

The bridge made another loud screeching sound and notified them to stop chatting and start moving. They let themselves fall onto the bridge ten meters below, and their bodies smacked onto the bridge. Z managed to land softly on his feet while V landed flat with her whole body.

‘Smart girl. Distributing the force of your body evenly onto the entire surface.’

With her face still smushed onto the metal bars, she smiled.

‘Fuck you.’

He pulled her up and they sprinted across the bridge. Their new route would be significantly longer, but they had no choice. The rest of their old bridge disconnected, dropped onto the bridge they had just walked on, and took it to the depths below.

The drone network got busy, and dozens were en route to their location. None of them were armed, which turned them into simple cannon fodder. Z stopped running, took a stance, and shot down all of them from afar with his AR. One precise shot, one hit. He was swapping so rapidly between targets; it looked like he was using an aimbot from a videogame.

The next wave of drones would be armed, but still no issue. The issue would be the soldiers that just got woken up and deployed across the ship, alongside the limited ammunition they had brought with them. Even if they managed to take out every soldier without covering fire, their ammo would still not be enough. They had to improvise, but for now, keep moving and get out of the open.

V jumped off and landed on another bridge. They were back on track towards their destination. She heard Z drop down behind her. In the center of the open space, dozens of bridges were coming together, forming a tower across all levels. It was providing enough cover to fight off the armed drones. They sprinted the last few hundred meters way over world-record pace and arrived as whirring filled the air.

They still had access to the drone network, which meant they could see where the drones were and on which path they were moving. They would be easy to shoot, but the machine gun attached at the bottom of their mainframe had not only a high rounds per minute output but also a big error range. It was more likely that the drone managed to hit them by accident than because of the tracking software.

V was one floor above Z and climbed the tower vertically to stay in cover and out of sight. The first three drones came around from the left side. Bang, bang, bang. The bullets were piercing through steel and mainboard and made them light up. The other drones noticed and flew around the tower. Both V and Z adjusted their position, but the drones started to fire regardless.

‘This is not standard protocol. Drone software never reacts this aggressive without an identified target.’

‘It seems like somebody has his eyes on us.’

Several drones far away were standing by idle. They were not on the network, and their model not assigned to the plant’s security.

‘Let’s give him a nice show.’

‘You think he is watching?’

‘Who else?’

V swung herself up to the next floor, while Z was getting under heavy fire. The tower was made of steel, but would not handle hundreds of bullets penetrating it for several minutes. The drones were running fully automatic, would never reload, and never give them an opening. Z quickly ran around to the other side of the tower and shot a few of them till they adjusted their fire. The rusty steel turned into swiss cheese every time he repeated the maneuver. V was still climbing the tower while carefully shooting drones that did not have her in sight.

Z had to move up the floors as the cheesy tower was providing less and less cover. The drones had adjusted their plan and flanked him from several sides. There were still about a dozen drones left, and once the second wave would arrive, both of them would take more than just a few bullets.

V checked the bridge that would get them towards the exit and shot down the few drones that had a direct angle on it. The smoke grenades she threw right after smoked up the bridge perfectly, and she was dropping another smoke beside her on the tower. Z got covered in smoke and sprinted over the bridge towards the exit. V primed an EMP grenade on top of the tower, then injected a digital copy of herself into the drone network they would focus on. A moment later, she was covered in smoke and rand after him.

Hundreds of bullets hammered into the tower until the EMP went off. A moment of silence embraced them, and the seagulls came back to the scene of crime, watching the drones drop into the water. Halfway to the exit, the tower in the middle of the structure started to collapse. Cables and bridges snapped, and tons of steel fell into the deep blue. Their bridge was one of the survivors, but not for long. The further they ran, the wobblier the bridge became. They finished the last 400 meters, checked the corridor ahead, then watched the bridge collapse behind them. One segment after another snapped and fell. They both were breathing heavily until they became aware of it. There was no need to breathe in their bodies, and they immediately stopped. They smiled at each other. It would take a lot more time to get rid of the hard-wired human processes running deep inside their brains.

“Two intruders, armed, moving from west to east. Just passed the open connector in sector B12. Their destination is the laboratories. Three teams scheduled to intercept, four teams setting up positions.”

The ship’s interior changed into mint green. The steel doors were replaced with digital security doors, which in return made it easier for them, not harder. They locked two of the intercepting teams into different rooms. There was no way for them to get through the thick triple-layered glass besides blowing up the entire wall.

One team approached them from the front. The vacant server room they were in was tranquil. Several small red lights from the shelves were the only light source. The soldiers entered and were clearing the space quietly, only communicating through encrypted connections on their implants. V was standing above the doorframe and Z beside an empty cabinet. The soldiers split themselves into several teams, making it a lot easier to take them out. They could have completely avoided them, but more soldiers approaching from behind would disadvantage them later.

V dropped from the doorframe without making a sound and snuck up on the soldiers standing near the entrance, observing the room and providing cover. She aimed at the neck, and her hand silently broke it. The other soldiers encountered the same fate. The team closest noticed the noise of guns dropping on the floor. As they reached the source of the noise, the bodies and guns were already hidden. The soldiers were sending out messages, but the jammer on V’s belt made sure they would not reach their destination.

One team passed Z’s cabinet. He jumped out and smacked one of them over the head, then disarmed the other and send him flying with a kick to his chest. As V came in sight, she saw the mess he had made. The first soldier had his skull bend in and was lying motionless on the floor, the other had a curved in chest and could barely breathe.

‘If you kill them, at least make it quick. Look at this poor guy. His lungs will collapse any moment.’

She shot the desperately breathing soldier in the head while looking somewhat disappointed towards Z. From the ventilators on top of the ceiling, they could feel the last team becoming frightened. They did not manage to turn around in time towards the sudden rush of air coming from above.

‘They are using new implants, but something is different. I can’t get any access. It’s like they are not sending out any data at all.’

The moment they kneeled to examine one of the soldier’s implants, the last team primed to intercept entered the room. They both jumped up and made it out of sight just in time.

“They are in here!”

The soldiers had noticed the bodies, and one of them reached into his pocket. He threw a small drone into the air that had several small antennas around its body. It would scan for all movement in the room.

‘Oh shit.’

They both aimed, synched to another, and started shooting. The first few went down without any trouble, but the remaining ones had noticed and took cover. Z shot the drone, but the soldiers already knew that they were above them and fired blindly in their direction. V let herself fall in front of the soldiers and used the closest one as a shield. She swung his AR around and blasted the entire clip through the room, then dropped the body and took cover. A bullet had strafed her along her chest, and another had gone through her upper left leg. Both had not destroyed any components, and the trans-clothes already started to regenerate the damaged cloth.

Z had circled the last ones from above, but their reaction was too slow to compete with Z’s. He flew towards them, and bullets went through their heads before he smacked against a cabinet mid-air. Confused and annoyed, he got up to V’s amusement.

The lab of the plant was not just a few rooms, but an entire complex with slick and modern design spanning several floors. Large open spaces were connected by ascending and descending walkways out of glass. Lab rooms for testing were behind reinforced transparent windows, built on top of each other. Most of the cells were vacant, but a few had some desperate individuals in them. Dressed in white coats, some were lying sedated on their bed while others were in the middle of harming themselves.

It was almost too obvious where the soldiers would position themselves to defend the perimeter, but it was too risky to go in guns blazing. While examining the architecture of the plant, they noticed the ventilation shafts poking out of the ceiling. They checked the schematics and found a route towards the control room, which had the implant code and encryption keys.

Crawling through the ventilation shafts turned out to take a lot longer and be a lot more annoying than they had anticipated. The shafts had drops of several meters they had to slowly climb up or slide down, with additional fans and blades at the top or bottom. V had her toolkit, but it still took a while to dismantle them without making any noise. The soldiers were confused by the long waiting time and started to spread out. Z released the two teams they had locked in earlier to create even more confusion. They evaded several teams and entered the control room without anyone noticing.

The room had one large screen all over the back of the wall and a control panel with dozens of modified keyboards in front of them. On the sides of the dark room, cabinets were filled with documents. V connected a small drive to one of the keyboards and had admin access within seconds. The project folders of the new implants dated back an entire year, and several documents mentioned the project even before then. This plan was long in the making, and there were many more people involved than just Kaiser. Unfortunately, most of them had died during 1B. She found the source code for the implants. With it, they should be able to decrypt the data from the psycho.

She joined Z, who was looking through the folders of the cabinets. Dozens of multinational corporations and even governments were interested or helping Kaiser with his efforts. Of course, none of them officially. It took a moment to find the connection. They were all companies whose primary interest was data collection. Kaiser was selling raw implant data of tens of millions of people. The money for it was not in the million or billions, but trillions. He must have already collected the data when he worked at ELIM, but with DELPHI and the new software, he had full access to raw data.

The code, in addition to the emails and documents, would bring down a bunch of companies and governments; the only problem was that most of them were too big to fail. No government would take blame voluntarily, especially if they had supported a genocide on global scale. Releasing it to the public would get it censored and drowned out in the void.

The boat pinged as it arrived near the entry pad covered in algae. The waves were hitting against its sides and water covered the soldiers.

Once all soldiers had left the military boat, the next one was already approaching behind them. The two commanders dropped into the boat and sat next to the captain. A cargo helicopter was flying over them, carrying a container that disappeared inside the plant.

The boat turned around and raced back to shore. At the small pier outside the city, dozens of military vans were parked with soldiers unloading equipment. The commanders briefed the approaching soldiers, then walked outside the pier gate. After a few hundred meters, the commanders threw their ARs over the fence into the ocean, and as they approached the small fishing docks, their clothes changed into a stylish fisherman outfit. They followed the afternoon sun slowly descending into the city before them.