Author Topic: A.F.R.I.C.A. Part 2: TRAPPIST-1 Run  (Read 255 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline Stormtrooper (OP)

  • Moderator
  • Captain
  • *****
  • S
  • Posts: 426
  • Thanked: 229 times
  • The universe is a Dark Forest
A.F.R.I.C.A. Part 2: TRAPPIST-1 Run
« on: November 15, 2022, 04:32:50 PM »
TRAPPIST-1 RUN

After a short period of relative peace and relief through the 2280's Solar System plunged into chaos again. Combat erupted in space and on the ground, Channel 9 News struggled to cover all the battles and stream them live. It wasn't their fault Neon Kamikaze organized a revolution in Neo Angeles at the same time as Exadev's fleets combined forces to evaporate some lunar android assembly lines, after all. What was supposed to be "easy and quick secret operation" escalated rapidly into all-out war because both main combatants failed at controlling their forces. On the one side, unleashed clones just wanted to tear down anything bearing corporate marks, pushing more companies to unite with Avalon Heights Inc with a common interest of not having all their property blown up. On the other, androids were more interested in communicating with the mysterious entity than to take part in human wars, expressing disgust about being employed into dirty affairs of the flesh that tried to imitate them by stuffing electronics into themselves yet displayed so little regard for their existence by sending them to war. Avalon and Exadev, apart having to sort things out between themselves, both ended up facing a clone and machine rebellion, doubling the amount of sides participating in the conflict.

Somewhere between a laser flare frying up the enemy transporter and artificial supernova of a critically damaged warship management of Exadev Space Industries realized time wasn't on their side. The war seemed winnable, but just plain too expensive to hold out against Mutant Alliance once they come into play. And their government might be rotten in the core in the exact same way corporations were - but to make propaganda example for the masses blasting a bunch of executive heads off wasn't out of the table. But if only the signal processed by the androids could be tweaked just a little bit to seize control of just a small batch of them... That'd help win the war cheaper. CEOs living more frugally and tightening their belts could also help. Some nonsensical ideas aside, it was the only plausible option. In addition, observing the process of interaction with the signal and those synths that had experimental pre-programmed memory implants installed could bring research teams closer to reverse engineering them and maybe even putting them into the cloned heads to better control the biological replicants as well.

Attempting to reach Trappist 1 with the present political situation was beyond stupid, but if there had been a physical entity capable of making a trip to Earth at this point, it would be as likely to attack Exadev as its enemies. And it was Exadev that still had an extrasolar spare colony just in case, not Avalon Heights Inc. And if there hadn't been such a thing out there, then an expedition fleet was a small price to pay for the potential gains.

With the final decision signed off by everyone important, a team of PURGE netrunners packed inside a lone Ultraviolet Clearance, with a few other ship of same class acting as an escort together with a squadron of CyberSurges and a single Synthetic Dawn for the long-range eyes, held their breath as the operating crew double-checked the course for Trappist 1 was optimal and powered on the Alcubierre Drives on each ship. The first jump warped the expedition force into Solar System, just for the sake of not arriving in an uncharted, likely hostile territory directly from the system that the corporation cared about most for the time being, the second interstellar flight was plotted directly into the outer regions of Trappist 1. Those 39 light years separating departure and arrival points suddenly tightened into an almost suffocating, narrow and very short passage as the physics of warp drives chewed through the distance at superluminal effective speed. When all FTL propulsion systems of the fleet came to a halt it was 10th December 2289 on Earth, but still 2120 for the Trappist 1, frozen in the cold void and in time...

Dim light of a red dwarf illuminated the boards like light effects of a cheap gore horror simulation module. For the naked eye there was no difference - the first impression would be the same no matter the state of the system. But the instruments on board of Synthetic Dawn saw it differently. Three planets in a habitable zone, easily terraformable. But all of it had been lost, just like the mutants claimed. Cities burned and then sterilized and preserved by the radiation, thick, toxic clouds engulfing the hopeless worlds, a significant amount of water vapour in the atmosphere hinting at the presence of liquid surface water before the war-accelerated greenhouse effect got out of hand. And debris, lots of debris orbiting the lost civilization. All this a testimony of just how tragic human condition could be - in the ancient history a thrilling discovery and hope of finding life and a new home out there. Later the actual expansion and dreams come true, but all of it only to end with destruction and decay, abandoned to its own devices, effort of all those generations wasted.

But something must've been propagating the signal that reached Earth, and not for the first time in modern history. Most of the structures orbiting the planets were space debris, alongisde the ruins of a Dyson Sphere around the star - but a small space station seemed to be functioning. Devoid of life signs, devoid of life support, long airless and frozen to almost absolute zero - but with little drones still active and holding the structure together. It appeared very barebones - hardly any interior, no maintenance hangars, no refuelling spots, not much of a docking space at all, barely any defences, with some malfunctioning direct energy weapons of unknown design and origin being all. But the physical form of the station was just a tip of the iceberg. Deep in its core ancient quantum computing array had been buried, remaining turned on. Processing, calculating, simulating. The design appeared similar to what PURGE Elite Society members knew about the matrix hardware used in N.O.V.A. Bunker System. No physical beings in Trappist 1 - but a pure virtual one. Cyberspace of the Old World - as long as the hardware worked, the virtual world lived on, undisturbed by the events in meatspace. The military escort was unnecessary. The whole paranoia about dangers coming from Trappist 1 was like being afraid of ghosts - ghosts that really existed, but were stuck in the astral plane, unable to ever interact with matter.

Matrix array in N.O.V.A. Bunker System had been destroyed after the know-how had been lost to time, but before it had been rediscovered again. Trappist 1 encounter was different, because it was presented to the people thrilled to interact with the most advanced piece of the Old World discovered to date, not people wishing to destroy it as a sign of oppression. Cyberspace of Intergalactic Federation stretched as far as the brain could imagine, an opportunity like no other.
 

Offline Stormtrooper (OP)

  • Moderator
  • Captain
  • *****
  • S
  • Posts: 426
  • Thanked: 229 times
  • The universe is a Dark Forest
Re: A.F.R.I.C.A. Part 2: TRAPPIST-1 Run - Plug in
« Reply #1 on: November 15, 2022, 06:40:23 PM »
Plug in

The technology behind might have been roughly the same, but the implementation might have been not. PURGE netrunners floated in cyberspace, wondering whether it'd be faster to rewrite their programs from scratch to match required protocols or it'd pay off to keep them as they were, only creating some wrappers to adapt them to existing standards and run them via these. The initial enthusiasm slowly weared off not only because of this basic dilemma, but mostly because of the amount of corrupted nodes. Upon plugging in, they tried cluster after cluster to reach one that wouldn't ask them for authorization, just to start slowly and easily adapt to the new environment, but when they found out one, most of the data they came across was severely damaged beyond any sane recovery. Maybe that's why nothing asked for authorization, too - the firewall of that cluster might as well be irrevokably corrupted like everything else. But maybe it was for the greater good - less focus on data mining for the start, more on learning to safely navigate this particular network.

A quick glance around cluster's endpoints revealed rest of the cybersecurity was in much better shape - there was no branching out to the neighbours for as long as the thick ice surrounding this region hadn't been melted. On the other hand, such complex layers of isolation meant nothing was likely to take too much interest in the netrunners' little virtual outpost for the time being. It created an interesting opportunity of setting up a sandbox environment just to develop and test things out before the proper run. Netrunners nicknamed this pretend-it's-completely-safe haven Freezing Point - located on the border between unrestricted access and mean unintelligible ICE blockades.

Corrupted data, programs and constructs had the prime advantage of being easily removeable without triggering any defensive response from the system. Lots of incomprehensible resources meant lots of potential storage space and computing power. The first logical thing to do was to just clean up some node and settle there. Too afraid to run not tested software, netrunners had to manually review and confirm each data piece to be cleansed, but better safe than sorry. Their suspended biological bodies probably only experienced a few seconds of increased brain activity so far, but for them it felt like hours of menial labour. Everyone sighed with a relief once the space had been carved out from the hostile domain, allowing for the first test script runs and practices.

On the bits of Node Prime a first program had been developed. Made from scratch, a simple cyberspace crawler that should search the cluster around, scouting for potential dangers and opportunities. Too weak to download or safely remove the data on its own, but capable of indexing them for making future node cleanup faster and easier just fine. Not too fast, naked and afraid in front of whatever security construct demanding identification and not really capable of anything significant, but it had to do. Designated as Sand Crawler due to the fact it was supposed to crawl through a zone temporairly considered a sandbox area, it was ready to go.


Quote
Sand Crawler class Survey Program      5 000 MB       126 Threads       1 452,9 BP       TCS 100    TH 200    EM 0
2000 GB/s      ICE Res 1-26       ICE Shields 0-0       HTK 29      Sensors 0/0/0/16      DCR 5      PPV 0
Maint Life 7,03 macroticks     MSP 908    AFR 40%    IFR 0,6%    1YR 32    5YR 482    Max Reconfig 150 MSP
Netrunner    Control Rating 1   BRG   
Intended Deployment Time: 60 ticks    Integrity Check Required   

Cyberspace Gliding Protocol  EP200,00 (1)    Power 200,0    CPU Use 6,92%    Cybernetic Signature 200,00    Critical Fault 5%
Cache Capacity 279 000 MB    Range 145,2 billion micronodes (840 microticks at full power)

Improved Cyberspace Sensors ( 8 )   16 Survey Points Per Tick

This design is classed as an Offensive Program for integrity maintenance purposes
This design is classed as a Survey Crawler for autonomous running purposes

Most data it scanned were heaps of junk, but sometimes it'd score something decipherable. While nothing was of any importance, it helped establish the ways of dataflow inside this cyberspace. It wasn't important that user with id 123490811231237182375 requested access to own simulation session from 14th March 2065 with id 2304912039120341234134, but it mattered that the data sent by this user to confirm ownership of the requested recordings appeared in a slightly modified form in three different places within the following five microticks. It seemed that all authorization data must'd come through the collection of smaller nodes in the center, where it'd change form via seemingly random patterns and then each node would propagate it further to more secure places, but this portion of the system remained inactive during confirmation feedback reaching back for the user. That meant that potentially all that mattered was catching and reprocessing the response early enough, not necessairly overriding whatever myserious rituals happened in the collection.



Some runners remained monitoring Sand Crawler's relatively peaceful journey, but most dug themselves in Node Prime, focusing on increasing accessible computing power and data processing capacity, preparing to start initiating transfers consolidating filtered information in the node, allowing for easy browsing and cataloguing for future reference. And write some proper icebreakers. Or wrap compatible protocols around existing ones, because the debate was far from being settled. Quite the opposite, in fact, as yet another idea emerged. Trappist 1's cyberspace was the exact opposite of its meatspace - the later was dead, still and eerily silent, but the former was bustling with life like Neo Tokyo during the night, with each little packet like a flying car travelling between the city's many levels. These packets were small and lightweight - in theory it should be possible to somehow shuffle them around, override the order - turning a fine dataset into disorganised mess, flooding the system's defences with cleanup tasks, decreasing its capability to respond to a well-organized opponent. This idea gained the least popularity, though, because it assumed less quiet approach right from the start - and the heat might be enough to not only burn the ice, but also netrunners' brains once the system figures out the real adversary and root cause of the sudden problems.

The most interesting node catalogued by Sand Crawler was Freezing Point I. It looked like some sort of supervisor for the collection of smaller nodes encrypting authorization messages, floating around it. If it could be overwritten, then all the previous approaches would end up obsolete - seizing control of this supervisor would mean to seize control of this cluster's side of ensuring the clearance level of users attempting to reach other clusters and branches from it. Its location remained more problematic than the difficulty of accomplishing such task in itself, though - Freezing Point I was the closest node to the cluster's center and was bound to be directly linked with it. No tampering with one without triggering the other. But at the very least two things could be tried: reading some logs off it and transfering sample additional data separately, without touching the existing content. Of course a defensive response might still be triggered, but that way it'd only be treated as a node attack, not entire cluster attack.

Preparations for that little experiment went full speed ahead. With little in terms of time and resources such safety precautions like watcher constructs for autonomous datastream anomaly detection had been omitted until completion of the more pending task. That's why it took so much longer for PURGE members to spot a particular group of packets circling around the nodes of Freezing Point, like predators around prey. Node Prime had already been generating quite some not properly concealed traffic and heat and mentioned group was drawn to it like animals to blood. Before anyone could react, one of the packets picked up superluminal speed (or so was the impression for the observer), only to disappear somewhere in a maze of glowing corridors and never return. Its place had been taken up by something of a more meanicng size and posture - a whole construct, though of unintelligible shape and size. It had the posture of a glitched program, faaling apart in front of a netrunner's virtual eyes. But it floated around for too long to be regarded as such, its shapeless shape but a disguise. It kept on waiting, its patience depleting somewhere along the lines of quantum algorithms.



"Well smeg" was the most sophisticated thought anyone could form for a while. But then an idea dawned upon everybody: the shape might as well not be a decoy mechanism of some sort: if PURGE team was incompatible with Trappist 1 cyberspace, then so cyberspace must've been incompatible with the team, too, the ICE in front of them stuck on trying to communicate with intruders not appearing as intruders on its radars, but also as a shapeless shape. Unless of course it wasn't going to just, unable to tailor a better response, initiate purge sequence on this whole area, better safer than sorry. That'd end up as pretty ironic way for the runners to be defeated. Either way, the cloak of incompatibility couldn't last too long - with every move of any netrunner, the construct was reshaping itself. Listening. Observing. Learning. Adjusting. Customizing. Ticks were ticking and this must've been some damn solid ice to be able to reconfigure on the fly down to such deep level. But as it redefnied its form, it also inevitably exposed itself. Not voluntairly and not directly, but it did. Every movement it made could be traced to the corresponding movement of one of the netrunners, forming more dense array of mapped patterns as the process continued. For every own movement netrunners could see how it was being processed, and thus what the real form of the entity must be like for it process it the way it did and not the other. Slowly, but steadily, a true face of the construct could be uncovered from layers of deception and obfuscation. And it didn't have a face of a raw program: more like a human construct. Or humanoid android. Or human-emulating AI, only slightly twisted from the usual human form to appear more terrifying in the domain of customizable avatars. A mix of a soldier wearing power armor and a demon. Nevertheless, if it could be revealed, it could be understood. And if it could be understood, it could be fought.

 

Offline Stormtrooper (OP)

  • Moderator
  • Captain
  • *****
  • S
  • Posts: 426
  • Thanked: 229 times
  • The universe is a Dark Forest
Re: A.F.R.I.C.A. Part 2: TRAPPIST-1 Run - Quarantine
« Reply #2 on: November 16, 2022, 04:03:29 PM »
The avatar floated towards Node Prime at rather slow speed - Sand Crawler was much faster, but then Sand Crawler happened to only be a lightweight script, it was only so many bits to be pushed through the virtual tracks. There wasn't much to do but to prepare for impact, except no impact came. The program scanned Node Prime and left the vicinity of netrunners, leaving no output of any sort. It disappeared through the same invisible gate it arrived, but soon enough three other constructs of similar design took its place, again heading towards Node Prime. And they didn't seem like simple scanners anymore. The cyberspace visualization system processed datastream originating from their spots and displayed their reconfig as vessels speeding towards destination. When not looking at the visualization, but focusing on the internal strucutre and algorithms, some PURGE members took notice of their own cybernetic signature ingrained into subsystems of this particular ice.



It was crystal clear like a smooth cyberspace passage that networks of this scope would never ask the user for authentication. They simply knew by some internalized token given upon registration that could range from something as simple as random number associated with user's footprint, through sequence generated based on user's unique movement patterns recorded upon first access all the way to random bits of neural system composition obfuscated just in case it wouldn't already be difficult enough to crack. Which is why there weren't any options beyond either confronting whatever ice the network had prepared head on or preventing the system from attempting to check for illegal access in the first place. In this particular case authentication already happened and fighting this alien software in alien territory was like trying to become a blind marksman, so the third option of bracing for impact remained. Everyone prayed it was white and not black ice, so that the worst that could happen would involve getting dumped out, spewed back to meatspace and gathering focus for attempt number two. To much surprise, the ice was neither white or black - as soon as it touched the targeted node's structure, it started blasting its ports leading outside, trapping netrunners inside, but not doing any damage or preventing them for accessing whatever had already existed in the node. Like lasers blasting into every visible hole, the anti-intruder software forced all the connections closed and then wrapped itself around, entering passive monitoring state.



Judging from its behaviour, it was some sort of quarantine program - preventing people (or other programs) from exploring freely without valid access token. However, it had been written in a crude way - only lanes leading outside had been blocked, overwritten even, but the ones transmitting data into the node remained functional. That's why Sand Crawler had to shift into fully automated mode, unable to receive commands, but its output reached Node Prime just fine. Moreover, it hadn't been attacked at all, meaning the quarantine protocol didn't recognize it either due to too small footprint or being too far away.

The stalemate went on, during which the blocking ice had been regulary reinforced by more copies of itself, tightening the grip on its target, but not making any move. Any attempt to open the ports back up would simply make it awaken and repeat the first phase of surgically firing lasers into holes. But it didn't matter how many connections would be opened  - one or one million, the only difference would be whether it'd be one or a million closing strikes attempted. It shouldn't even be advanced enough to tell the difference between an original port or a makeshift one, assembled in a haste by rearranging parts of cyberstructure encapsulating Node Prime. This created an opportunity worth of investigating: between opening and shutting down of each port, a positive number of ticks would have to pass. This meant they'd remain open for a positive number of ticks, thus capable of forwarding a positive amount of data outwards. This data could be, for example, a subroutine written to lift the lockdown. Due to size limitations too weak to mean anything, but together with others launched through different ports, it could form a distributed system of quarantine counter-countermeasures, overwhelming the enemy's processing capacity.

Such micro programs would be too weak to survive anything but one tick, but all they needed to do was to collectively hold on for a while and unload enough at the blockers to lift the siege. Such microprogram had quickly been assembled - a static one, unable to glide through cyberspace, but capable of doing its single task, broadcasting a stream of corrupted data forcing the quarantine ice to attempt some illegal operations and crash it before it could recover.


Quote
Overloader class Attack Program      1 000 MB       21 Threads       152,4 BP       TCS 20    TH 0    EM 0
1 GB/s      ICE Res 6-8      ICE Shields 0-0       HTK 6      Sensors 0/0/0/0      DCR 0      PPV 9
Maint Life 4,39 macroticks     MSP 47    AFR 16%    IFR 0,2%    1YR 4    5YR 59    Max Reconfig 46,6 MSP
Netrunner Virtual Assistant    Control Rating 1   BRG   
Intended Deployment Time: 1 tick    Integrity Check Required   

Cache Capacity 19 000 MB    Range N/A

Single 20 B C2,5 Data broadcasting endpoint (1x1)    Range 48 000 micronodes     TS: 10000 GB/s     Power 10-2,5     RM 40 000 km    ROF 20       
Dataflow Control R48-TS8000 (SW) (1)     Max Range: 48 000 micronodes   TS: 8 000 GB/s     79 58 38 17 0 0 0 0 0 0
Stream health monitoring subsystem R2 (1)     Total Data Output 2,5 GB   Critical Fault 5%

Hostile Construct Identification Sensor AS6-R100 (1)     GPS 120     Range 6,4m micronodes    Resolution 100

This design is classed as a Micro Program for integrity maintenance purposes
This design is classed as an ICE Punctuator for autonomous running purposes


Not too long after local test run of an Overloader against the lockdown structure, Sand Crawler, having already mapped entire cluster and having nothing better to do, approached Node Prime for shutdown procedure. This triggered something inside the enemy, which rapidly shifted all its instances towards the new entity appearing on the radars and dissolved it within a single tick. And then it repositioned itself above the corrupted code and started consuming it, leaving no trace of its existence within cyberspace and using eaten remains to learn about the new type of intrusion. The besieging entity let a few of its instances loose and then called them back into blockade during this process.



If the self-learning module was as crude as the rest of the problematic construct, it meant it should be possible to use the process against it by attaching a troyan horse into a decoy worm that'd be consumed. Unfortunately this had to remain untested, because Overloader was already pushing the limit of its window of opportunity to upload itself outside without any more functionalities slowing it down. Any additional waiting was uncalled for - within a single tick netrunners reestablished a myriad of connections and transferred a swarm of Overloaders to crash against the ice. Spikes of delete commands erupted from the attacked quarantine wall, instantly shutting down a good portion of the micro programs. The surviving ones were supposed to counterattack instantly. But they didn't. Instead they just floated out there, unable to shift position, while quarantine ice was picking them off, erasing from the cyber plane forever. The reason had been identified without too much hassle: a single instance of the Overloader primiarly overloaded itself, collapsing under own weight: the program required computing power to process its single attack command, but the tiny script was too small and simplistic to make a good use of it, dragging the time required to configure an attack on and on. Before even one instance could fire, all of them were fried and consumed.

Primary error in Overloader's design was lack of any mobility. If they could gain a bit of distance, hide between packet traffic, evade the incoming corrupt data, they migtht have stood a chance to last till the opportunity to strike themselves. A proper attack program, capable of autonomously gliding in cyberspace in theory was bound to fail miserably at the only thing Overloaders had accomplished - squeezing past the ports before they ended up blocked again - but if it was made to be faster than blockade could pursue it, it should have a chance of slipping past the detection range and reconfig itself out there, just like Sand Crawler could, and come back to strike. And PURGE team had all the time it needed to develop such program - Node Prime suddenly felt safe and cozy, shielded by the blockade and its occupants free to do whatever they wanted for as long as they wouldn't attempt stepping outside their little turf.

Work slowly progressed, resulting in new developments in terms of navigational algorithms to make the crucial part of slipping past detection range last as short period of time as possible. Additionally, analyzing the Overloader fiasco brought more understanding of the nature of the enemy and environment it operated in. Its exact detection range remained unknown, but it being a quarantine ice meant its offensive endpoints couldn't reach very far into the virtual void, so anything focused at relatively medium to long range strikes could target it without the risk of forced shutdown. Good gliders were a must - stay too close and something capable of enclosing a whole node would have little trouble dealing with a program. It'd take more instances than Node Prime could store at a time to overwhelm it at shorter distance.

Suddenly, for reasons beyond any understanding, the quarantine had been lifted, its constructs taking the shape of a demon in power armor again and one by one leaving, heading towards the unknown. Something must'd been given a higher priority during a limited resources scenario. And that something was out there, in the same cyberspace. Node Prime became a very good and safe spot.