Sook presents to Nero the idea of trying to crash the Riden planetary network, to observe whatever the mysterious net protectors are (since obviously it won't actually crash, because the Terrans couldn't crash it). She gives him a number of ethical choices about whether it should be done or not, and what precautions should be taken. Despite thinking that it would be a Really Cool Thing to watch a planetary network crash, Nero attempts to be ethical about the whole thing, and it's a successful stress test for him.

The group rents a small office space with good network connectivity, and sets up their test. They seed the net-killer into a couple of places on the network, ready to go. Nero plays tense background music from the computer speakers until he notices that it's making Wilson a lot more nervous. The timers count down, and then the experiment starts.

Wilson and Nero put manual-emergency warnings ready to go out of air traffic control if they stop receiving a trace ping, and have been starting up hospital emergency generators remotely. Phaeton mutters proudly about the net-killer going too fast, he's having a hard time keeping up with the branching, and Nero is pretty much just trailing one fork and not trying to track the rest of it.

Sook watches for things coming and stomping the net-killer out, and as it begins to proliferate and then go into offensive action, she start seeing branches beginning to halt and die. But there's no stomp, just process IDs falling out of CPU tables so they get no cycles. Sook is just starting to realize that whatever it is, it's low-level, not high-level, in the assembler code somewhere, when the network floods.

Users, millions of them, are all going on line and on the phone and on the cable broadband. Sook grabs a RNN datafeed (which is itself being swamped), and hears that the Blue fleet has just come through the jumpgate, and Red has engaged it. All the commentators seem to think that this is it, that if Red can't push back the Blue fleet (which wouldn't be coming in unless they thought they could win), then Riden will fall, and with it the Red Hegemony.

This diverts a lot of Nero's attention (another planetary disaster!), but he sets off his amelioration subroutines first, watching the fleet battle picture-in-picture while watching the net-killer. As the day goes by, the battle for the system rages while the battle for the network does too. The party starts to find it harder to see the either the net-killer or the net-killer-killers because of the flood, but then it starts to become clear that the huge flow is also impeding whatever the Mystery Things are, too. Processes are still dying, but half of them are random telephone calls and usenet queries. Sook expands her monitoring area to include user processes, and starts getting even better data on the Mystery Things from that - and she realizes that they're no longer taking out the net-killer.

About as she's realizing that, the net goes down.

Phaeton stands up: "Wooo!" and pumps his fist in the air.
Wilson looks appalled. "It wasn't actually supposed to work, was it?"
Sook: "Fuck. No, it wasn't supposed to work. Did you guys notice Blue is invading? Does this planet have defenses, or did we just crash them? Fuck!"
Phaeton, still pleased with himself: "Phaeton and Sook must write better network crashers than the hackers we met before."
Sook: "Phaeton and Sook certainly write network crashers too good for Phaeton to keep track of. Baka."

Then there's a long pause as people realize that Nero hasn't said anything in a while. And his blinky lights aren't blinking....

Then the drive whirs, and the lights go through a reboot sequence, and Nero says "wooooooooah! Everything was fallingapartaroundme and I was comingback as fastasIcould and Ididn'tthinkIwouldmake it and wasthinking I shoudn'thavegonesofar and theroutersweregoingdown and flatlining and I was thinkingflatterandflatter and then I was back. Whew. Woah. Is that what a roller coaster is like? I thought I was dead!"

Sook is still a bit rattled: "Fuck. Were you dead? Don't be dead. You are so not allowed to ever be dead, Nero. Can we bring the network back up? It's important to have network when there's a war, for, you know, the red cross and stuff. Our timing is so catastrophically bad. And we should go, before the people find us, the ones who will be skeeved that we took down the network during a planetary emergency, which is probably every single person on this entire planet. I can't believe we almost killed Nero. Fuck fuck fuck fuck!"

Some of this manages to sink in to Phaeton, who tries to look chagrined but really has no talent with that particular expression. Then he looks a little worried. Then he looks a lot worried. "We should, um, probably get out of here. Or work on rebooting the network, but, um, there's no network here to use... that's hardware. Well, we could go restart the local network and start working out from there. I guess that's probably what everyone else will be doing..." (Phaeton doesn't even notice that he's dropped out of third person)

Nero: "I don't think I would have been dead. At least, no more than when I was on backup. Unless the RAM buffers had wiped before the network came back up... oh."

Wilson (sounding as if he's trying to be the calm one): "Hardware, I can bring back up. Let's put this place back on line, and then we can work from there. Nobody is going to trace us here for a while, all the fingerprints are electronic, and there isn't any of that to look at until things get sorted out."

Everyone starts working on restoring network functionality, starting locally and working out as broad as possible. They get enough of their own backyard up to touch other people, and spread out from there. Other hackers and sysadmins all over the planet are working on the same thing, and basic functionality for things like emergency services are up in several hours.

About six hours in, Wilson says that it's probably worth moving. Nobody has actually shown any signs of finding the net-killer's trail back to the business complex, but syadmins who were on-line at the time are being asked to talk to Hegemonic investigators, who are looking for whatever clues they can find. Wilson is not completely sure that Phaeton (who has still been uncharacteristically quiet) would be able to pass such an interview with flying colors.

Other hackers in the area are starting to talk about meeting in "the party room" - a networked basement that used to cater to LAN parties but got co-opted by hackers. The group heads there (stopping along the way to pick up some sweet-and-salty espresso beans), and continues to work on network maintenance. Phaeton is still somewhat subdued, though he does get involved in a few of the discussions, mostly to encourage the impressed speculation about what happened. There's a lot of that, with a popular theory being that it was Blue hackers as part of their war effort. (Phaeton tends to not support that particular theory).

It takes a little over a full day (and people drift in and out of the LAN party room), but by the end of it, the LAN room is nearly all operating at big remote lags, as their half of the planet is up and running and they're trying to reboot servers and routers in the middle of nowhere by toggling the power on and off in their buildings, that sort of thing.

After about twenty-four hours, things have moved from bringing spinal connectivity on line to trying to keep spinal connectivity from thrashing and falling over due to load when it comes back up (as people who have been panicking that the net is out discover that it's back on and then immediately all try and do things), at the same time as all the other bits of net which have been waiting patiently and queuing up packets unload all their packets...

At the end of the second twenty-four hours, nothing is still thrashing dysfunctionally. There's still a lot of kludged throttles, and cron jobs to poke things, and the like still out there making the net a little slower but a lot more stable; the general consensus among both hackers and "professionals" is to leave that all in place for at least a week before trying to take it out again.

Sook is still awake (well, a bit tired, but photosynthesis helps) at the end of the second day, but Phaeton has crashed, after going through about an hour where he stopped escaping all his punctuation, so his commands would show up with "semicolon" and "curlybrace" in them, and fail to run. Wilson has gotten proper sleep and come back again, and Nero has picked up several new tricks. ("Next time you're being chased by bad guys in a car chase, I can show you how to tap into the emergency vehicles overrides and hit them with red lights!")

After the network is stable and the space battle over, Wilson suggests that perhaps it would be wise to head back to Tinara. His mother-in-law seems to have taken a turn for the better, and he would rather not have to explain what he's been doing for the past couple of days to his wife (who, he claims, has an uncanny ability to detect if he's feeling guilty about something). Phaeton is still pretty quiet, but Nero seems pretty excited over the whole thing, from the near brush with death to going and rebuilding everything afterwards.

Sook makes sure Nero knows not to make it public that it was them who crashed the network; he's a little worried about not telling the Hippocrates, but Sook says it's okay as long as they know that that goes on the Really Really Secret list.

"And yet, just between us four, the last few days have been some of the coolest in my life. I have never fixed an entire planetary network before. It was so totally sw337." -Sook
On the way back to Tinara, the data gets analyzed (and it's a successful experiment for Phaeton's project). As Sook was beginning to realize, there are very low level system routines (like the TCP/IP protocols, which were optimized hundreds of years ago, and can't really be improved upon in general) which occasionally get together to produce these very high-powered cleanup functions. They act in conjunction with each other, not like a single program that's running in a distributed fashion, but more like a nest of ants, or a hive of bees. There's some communication between these processes, though it's very low bandwidth.

Looking at it more from the point of view of a Hive mentality and a drone programmer, there also seems to be a... a current, or a drift, of information, including onto ships and presumably across jump gates. (it's not doing anything crazy with jumpgate communication, just using the ships to carry data packets as normal). As the group goes from Riden to Gateway to Tinara, Sook notes that there's a similar current in the low-level computer architecture of those systems.

No, not one current, two currents. There's one current which seems stagnated, like little drones that have had their control drone cut off or destroyed. It's still trying to move, but it doesn't have a place to be going. The other current flows to/through Klothos's Throne, the battlestation at Gateway.

Getting access to wherever this data is going would be another Phaeton Experiment, not to mention pretty cool from a hacker's point of view. However, the battlestation is definitely invitation-only. If only they knew a ship that might be able to find an excuse to visit there...

Anyway, they get to Tinara about the same time as the news of the fleet battle is arriving. People are pretty psyched about that, especially the military types like Andre, who is actually smiling (though it looks a bit like a shark when he does it) and doesn't immediately seem to suspect Phaeton of having been involved with anything nefarious. For once, they can all get work done without security breathing down their necks. On the other hand, Estelle seems to be around more than she was before.

The slow-jump data hoppers have been reworked to implement the gravitic channel, so the data transmission is pretty much guaranteed to be error-free and nearly fixed bandwidth, even in the higher static bands. Dr. Klein has picked up some good karma for this, though he hasn't actually changed security clearance colors yet. On the other hand, there's no talk of downgrading him again, and he seems to have figured out how to treat Scooter as his minion rather than his overseer (and since Scooter was never really sure about the "overseer" part of it, he seems fine with acting like Klein's assistant on things).

Sook introduces Nero to Dr. Gallagher, who is at first dubious (and Nero pretends to be a poorly written Eliza program). Eventually he comments about patents - Sook files for patents on Nero's key algorithms as a shared project done by herself, Hippocrates, Ace, and Wilson. (She learns Wilson's first name!).

The next experiment/test is going to involve actual direct transmission, gate-to-gate. There's going to be three ships involved; one to hang out on the Gateway end, one to hang out on the Tinara end, and one to drop a set of six slow data hoppers out every two hours along a normal jump. Then they'll see about what they can transmit from hopper to hopper along the path, and analyze the data as it comes in for about a month.

Phaeton thinks this could provide a good excuse to be back at Gateway; and maybe an opportunity will present itself to get to the battlestation...

This story continues in Hippocratic Oath.

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