After gathering the source code from the plant, they did not want to risk loading it onto their implants to compromise their systems, so they were going through it manually on their computers. The code infrastructure reminded them of ELIM, yet it was written very differently. It seemed more professional with lots of bloatware removed. They checked the old coding forums for anyone else who had or could give them some insight. They found several threads started by the same user. They contained questions as well as raw data directly from the source code. The posts were already several months old, but the user responded within minutes.
“You will notice the bursts of data whenever you connect to a new receiver. Most implants have the same spikes, but if you have a rootkit running, you will notice that a large part of the data comes from storage and not from the OS. And it gets sent out to servers that have nothing to do with the OS connectivity.”
Attached was a magnet link to an encrypted messaging service. They made a throwaway account and added the mysterious user. While V was messaging their new contact, Z went out to buy some new DELPHI implants. A fancy store nearby sold them, and to the baffled look of the clerk and other customers, he cleared out an entire shelf.
Back in the hideout, he started spoofing GPS and grid data for the implants. The implants believed they were moving over the grid and sent out their data to the server they were connected to. It took not long to isolate the data-streams and decrypt it with the source code.
A small sub-directory of the OS was compressing and storing raw data as system files. Once he connected to a new receiver on the spoofed grid, the usual OS data was accompanied by the compressed data that afterward was deleted from storage.
“We know what is being sent over the grid.”
“Let me guess… Anonymized user data? Would DELPHI make billions.”
“Raw, un-anonymized data-streams.”
“You sure about this? That can’t be legal.”
“It is thanks to the regulations after 1B and explains the movements of capital in the market.”
“Are you talking about the investments in the outer city? The billions flowing into infrastructure projects and grid coverage?”
“Yes. You are months ahead in understanding the code. We need your help.”
V sent a video of the data streams. GPS data, browsing history, implant logs, eye movement. It took a while till he responded.
“What do you need my help for?”
“What do you know about Project Goliath?”
The connection dropped and the account deleted a moment later. V smiled. He had played dumb and knew a lot more than he made them believe. Now he was bound to run into their honeypot. All they had to do is wait.
Julio was only waking up for food and water. Salim had dropped all other clients and was assigned entirely to Julio. The first real case in years, and he would not let him die on his watch. Julio’s stump had a small infection that had flared up since the operation, and Salim had to clean the wound and re-cultivate the outer skin cells several times a day. One morning it suddenly disappeared, and Julio’s condition improved dramatically. He was awake longer than asleep, and Shana kept him company and improved his mood.
Julio had insured the building only weeks before it was blown to pieces and the insurance company was already halfway done fixing it. The concrete walls were standing again, although colored white and not dark yellow as the rest of the building. With Julio’s help, Shana fixed and handed out implants to the confused customers. Some asked about Julio, but everyone asked about the sudden redecoration. Just as Julio was getting used to having one arm less, Salim came to him with a large package.
“Your sponsors got you something.”
“Do they ever plan to come over?”
“Once we are done with this.”
Salim tapped at the package and started to rip it open. Inside was an engraved metal box that started to run a video ad on the small glass window. It was a mechanical arm. The video showed a person with the arm writing, typing on a keyboard, throwing a ball, measuring weights, balancing a feather. Julio was speechless. Mechanical arms were so expensive; he had only seen them in movies. Simple prosthetics were the norm, but this was the top of the line. Ready to use within a few minutes with military-grade strength and durability.
“This is way over my budget.”
“As well as mine.”
Salim was not impressed and open the metal box by pressing the few dots on its side. Next to the shiny silver arm that looked like it was hovering was an oval black ball which stored the update for user and doctor. Salim held it over his implant, and it downloaded the update.
Salim cleaned the stump, then took out the arm and pressed several small sensors on the side till something inside whirred up. Slowly the arm rotated and tightened around Julio’s stump till it sucked itself onto it. Weirdly enough, it felt warm and comforting. After the update, Julio looked at his new arm in awe. He slowly rotated it, moved its fingers, and made hand movements in the air.
“I will leave you to it.”
Salim took the packaging and walked out of the room.
Julio did not tell Shana what surprise was waiting for her, and she ended up being even more enthusiastic about the new arm than he was. She had never seen one up close and spent hours observing it.
When Salim came back, he was accompanied by two weirdly looking specimens. Julio glanced at Salim as the two walked towards him.
“How’s the new arm?”
“How did you find me?”
“You downloaded the files from the Goliath thread. Old school honeypot, not really clever, but it worked. We got to you just in time. You would have died, would it not be for this old gentleman.”
She nodded towards Salim, who was standing in the back of the room and seemed ashamed as if he did not deserve such praise.
“What do you want from me? And why this?”
He held up his new arm and started spinning the hand clockwise around itself.
“I can’t afford it.”
“You are better off for all of us alive and with two working hands. Now tell me, what do you know about Project Goliath?”
Julio stopped spinning his arm and looked at Shana, slightly nervous. Shana had been sitting silently beside him. When her eyes met Julio’s, she noticed his look.
“Should I leave?”
The question was directed towards everyone, but Z answered first.
“You are a good addition. It’s better if you stay. And you both have to forget about the shop for now.”
“Are you hiring us or keeping us hostage?”
Shana was getting straight to the point.
“Julio, tell us what you know about Goliath, and we will tell you why we need you.”
“Goliath is a ghost program running over the OS of the DELPHI implants. It is monitoring the entire OS and has admin rights over everything. It can change commands, overwrite access, and sent or receive data.”
“Is it responsible for the data leak?”
“Can’t be anything else.”
“Can it blow up the implants?”
“Malfunction should be possible, but another 1B seems very unlikely. And shouldn’t they specifically avoid that?”
“The guy who did 1B created Goliath. He made trillions from selling implant data and is investing them, but his documents hint to some bigger plan that specifically involves Goliath.”
“What is his motivation? Besides 1B, it all sounds pretty altruistic. I mean, the guy is investing trillions to improve people’s lives.”
“His father was a billionaire, then he took over and became a trillionaire. His companies far surpass industry standards for sustainability and employee rights. If he is willing to do a 1B on us, then there is something way bigger than money involved.”
“Is his father still alive?”
“He had a brain injury from which he never recovered. He is being held in a private housing facility for mentally ill. Probably won’t talk to us.”
“What do you need me for again?”
“We came across some data a while ago. It looked like Goliath but in full action. You need to find the connection. Maybe that will make us understand what it is capable of.”
“What about my shop? And the guy who almost killed me?”
“The guy won’t bother you anymore. He even gave back what he stole from you, so you can let the shop rest for a while. We will get you to a safer location when you’re ready.”
She transferred Julio the wallet and its key. He was surprised, then unlocked the wallet he tried to keep hidden all this time. The wallet synched and showed him 2.93 million Eurodollars. He refreshed it several times until he was confident that it was not a joke.
“Are you serious?”
“We need your help, not your money.”
The mansion was only built recently but the style remembered of decades past: bright and dark bricks, a large tile roof. Sturdy and majestic, it was standing in the forest. Around the five-floors, a grass field was leading to a small stream. Two glasshouses stood at the end of the field, one occupied by plants, the other by the elderly having their afternoon cake. The senile and rich were accompanied by young nurses. Those who lived here could afford themselves a glorious lifestyle, even long after their brain had stopped working.
The mansion had a long driveway leading outside of the forest and was on no official map. None of the old would wander off here. Without help, most of them could not walk further than from their bed to the toilet, and the chip in their arm would always reveal their location.
It was peaceful here: Birds chirping, leaves crackling in the wind, the small stream flowing through the forest. Only occasionally a cough made its way through. It made everyone forget about the rest of the world: the megacities, the slums, the crowded apartment complexes. It’s what they had paid for.
The hallways were decorated and filled with paintings, plants, sculptures, and places to sit down. A large marble sculpture of several naked humans touching and hugging each other stretched from the entrance hall to the third floor. It was surrounded by large windows from which they could see staff tending to the plant sculptures and the plants and vegetables in the glasshouse. A few human vegetables were helping them, having dirt all over their clothes and faces.
The ambient noise from the outside was hearable in the hallways. It made the walls feel transparent. A young doctor was rushing past them and respectfully greeted, then made her way downstairs.
The last room at the left wing of the mansion was his. It was clean and sterile without any painting or personal objects. The wall towards the garden was transparent and could be dimmed down or used to display different backgrounds. The old man was sitting in a large armchair and watched the statues getting freed of their leaves. They both stood beside him for a while and embraced the view. Up here above treeline, it was possible to see a lot more of the forest.
The old man looked over and grunted. His face was wrinkly, and only a few hairs were left on his head. Their presence annoyed him. Z took out the small implant from his pocket and walked over to him.
“We need to talk to you about Elias.”
No reaction from the old man. Z sighed and pressed the implant onto his temple. Anger filled his face as his eyebrows merged into one, and he fletched his teeth like an old dog. The wrinkles on his face started to dance and flap around as he tried to get towards them.
‘Did he send you to kill me? I’ve waited long enough. Give that abolishment what he wants.’
It seemed like there were more family issues present than they had anticipated.
‘We’re not here to kill you.’
He dropped back into the armchair and the expressions on his face faded. The small outburst of energy had exhausted him, and his mind wandered off. His eyes looked empty again.
‘We came to ask about Elias. What has he done to you?’
‘He took my company and burned it to the ground. Humiliated me, assaulted me, and left me here to die. He became the predator I once was, but with different intentions. He did not want the empire I had made; he wanted to burn it to the ground. Make me suffer. He used me as I used him.’
He moved his head to the small bamboo table next to him, and a straw extended itself out of the juice bottle. He took a sip, then continued.
‘He showed off how much better he was than I could ever be. He was more successful while upholding his ethical code. He wanted my anger and hatred, but it has been a while now. I guess I’m no longer entertaining enough.’
One of the gardeners had just finished cutting a tree sculpture. He looked up to them and waved. He was happy and smiled. Mister Kaiser was finally getting some visitors. He had been alone in his room for way too long.
‘Your son is not as different from you than you think. There is a reason why he did not show up in the past months. You remember 1B?’
‘Do I look like I have Dementia?’
They both streamed him Kaiser’s involvement in ELIM and DELPHI.
‘Your son is planning something similar with the new implants. He might have been an honorable businessman, but after what happened the past months, I wouldn’t be so sure anymore.’
The old man seemed to have gotten a boost from what he had just learned. His posture straightened up, and the fog in his eyes seemed to disappear. A slight smile came into sight. He grabbed the armchair with his hands and stood up. As he turned towards them, they looked an old version of Elias Kaiser into the eyes.
‘All his charade and years of pretending, but now he finally showed his true nature. He killed millions and would do it again for his bloated ideology. For his perfect world. It makes him not better than me; it makes him worse.’
He gave them his hand and shook it with a firm grip.
‘I won’t forget it.’
Z pulled off the implant and the connection dropped, but the expression on his face remained. They had given him a reason to carry on, even if it was some twisted way of family revenge.
After they left, a nurse came into his room, and he pointed outside to the glasshouse. Today, a victory had been achieved, and he would celebrate it with cake.
‘You think it was all just a charade like his dad?’
‘Kaiser still holds onto the same values but is open to extreme measures to achieve them. One way or another, his power corrupted him to go through with it.’
The reinforced door opened and they walked down into the basement. The dark walls had a thin green film on them, and the stairs were still dusty. They had not used this place in many years, but it was good enough for their purpose. A small backup generator was bouncing up and down at the end of the stairs.
Even with all the equipment, the cellar still looked huge. Two rows of desks covered both sides from the entrance. They had dozens of packages on them: a 3D printer, several bioanalyzers, scanners, medical equipment, and a few new weapon attachments from the black market. A large chair for implant operations was standing on the side and had not been connected yet.
When they were still young, they had explored the lower city and found this place. It was close to one of the entrances to the upper city but hidden from plain sight. Not even animals had found the place. Over the past days, they had turned it into their new base. It had more than enough space for all of them and could still be used for storage.
“Look at this.”
Julio seemed tensed up, looking at a monitor screen and sitting in a rusty chair. They walked past the fridge in the middle of the room and looked over his shoulders.
“It took me a while to understand the stuff you gave me.”
On the monitor, data was displayed as different colored liquids, moving through another and merging at certain parts.
“This is normal code activity as it should be, but once I command Goliath to become active, this happens.”
The liquids got drowned in a sea of green that moved into every part of the code until everything was infected.
“Whoever has the encryption key to control Goliath can activate it over the grid.”
He walked over to another monitor that also showed the flow of code. It was covered in the same green fog, but every few seconds, small bubbles appeared on the screen that bloated up to all sides, fully submerged the code in it, then popped and disappeared again without a trace.
“Isolating these bubbles of code took some time. They are created by Goliath and quickly take over parts of the implant. The code only makes sense when you don’t think of it as a technology but an organism. Shana came up with the idea, and we did some research on brain receptors. Whoever has this code running through their implant gets tortured by it. The code is hammering the pain and fear receptors of the brain through the implant.”
“That would explain his behavior.”
“The guy with this code. Killed a bunch of people then self-mutilated his own body.”
“Can the code access more than just pain and fear receptors?”
“I mean, I don’t know. I don’t have any idea how to test it, but those two alone should already cause many problems. Imagine being in pain and fearing for your life for no reason, at an intensity you have never experienced in your life. People would kill themselves to make it stop.”
“Can we stop the code from executing?”
“This is hardware bound. You can’t get rid of Goliath that easily, maybe lessen its effect, but not get rid of it completely.”
“We have to try. This will get activated sooner or later, so we better have something ready. Send us the code structure and the research you mentioned. Isn’t Shana here?”
“You specifically told me that this is a secret location, so I told nobody. Should I get her?”
“Once we start this, it can get ugly really quick, and you could get a target on your back, which also means there will be one on her. You can still walk away if you want. Just help us out with the code, and we will do the rest. If you care for her, you better get her down here. There are already two beds in the back room that you can use. The sooner you decide, the better.”
Julio slept in one of the beds, and once he woke up, he knew he wanted to stay. They saved his life and gave him the chance to participate in something bigger than himself.
Shana wanted to stay as well. She calibrated his arm and examined both V and Z’s bodies. She only knew about body swaps from books and movies and was unaware that technology had already advanced to this point.
With a lot of work from Julio, they managed to merge Goliath’s inputs. Instead of sending out pain and fear, it would only focus on one. They quickly ruled out pain as the remaining input, as it was much more likely for people to not only kill themselves but also get violent and start a killing spree. It wasn’t a great tradeoff, but if they wanted to stop it altogether, they had to get to Kaiser and manually stop it.
They created an update for DELPHI implants that would stop sending the raw data and change Goliath’s code. If they got lucky, Kaiser would not notice them having tinkered with Goliath’s commands. It would give them time, but they had to make their move before he did.
The pods alongside the last components had arrived just in time, and all four of them were busy assembling the two fresh bodies. It was their failsafe for the inevitable. They were short on time, so the new bodies ended up being a budgeted downgrade. Nonetheless, Julio and Shana watched in awe as V and Z connected and controlled all four bodies. However bad it would get, these two had some pretty awesome tech.
After a night of rest, Julio and Shana moved the update onto the DELPHI servers. All the commands Kaiser could use for Goliath were monitored and would immediately let them know the location of his severs, and therefore also Kaiser’s location.