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Connecting Outside the Network - Deus Ex HR

By escabatum_rip3

Scifi / Romance

Chapter 1

Freya Pritchard woke up to the gradually increasing tone of Beethoven's 9th symphony transmitting to her auditory center. She grinned as it grew louder and then decreased in tone as her alertness level reached functional levels. The latest add-on was a welcome change from the jarring mechanical BREEP BREEP BREEP of the cheap digital clock at her bedside table. She glanced over at the plastic white alarm clock, its red boxy digits displaying 06:05. She'd had the clock since college after receiving it in a silly "Secret Santa" exchange. She had been tempted to throw it away many times, but a quick glance around her apartment made it clear that she rarely threw anything away. The Sarif company housing at Chiron was pretty generous in space and accommodations, yet somehow she'd managed to cover the floor in wires, old mobos soldered onto thin wood planks, and numerous computer and augment parts in varying stages of reconstruction and deconstruction.

Tip-toeing carefully across her room around the bed to the shower, she paused in front of the mirror. She looked awful – hair disheveled, bags under her normally intense blue eyes, a plastic antistatic strap still fastened on her right hand with the grounding wire swaying along her bare leg. Sighing, she unfastened it and tossed it back into the bedroom, running her fingers over the reddish impression left from it being pressed against her fair skin all night. She'd gotten an urgent call from David Sarif, their CEO at Sarif Industries, just as she was leaving work the previous evening.

"Pritchard! The intellicams are flickering all over the place! I think we're getting pinged again!"

Sighing, Pritchard responded through her neuro chip's internal comm line, "Hold on one moment, Mr. Sarif, I need to get back to my office…" After all, it's MY job as the chief of cyber-security to determine whether we're getting hacked or just having an electricity fluctuation.

As she returned to the Tech Lab, all the screens were black with green lines of codes shooting through. It was a brute force attack. Somehow they'd gotten past her firewalls and were now chipping at the final security access password.

"Fuck," she cursed, dropping her grey Sarif-issued messenger bag in the doorway and pulling out her tablet.

"What's going on?" Mr. Sarif's voice echoed in her head. He was always concerned by even the slightest technical glitch. His attention to detail was admirable, though sometimes a hindrance to Pritchard. In this case, however, he was perfectly justified in his alarm. The rate at which the hackers were bombarding their security system indicated it was coming from a very powerful network.

"It's an attack, let me follow it. Nucl3arsnake is on the job."

"Whatever, Pritchard, just don't let them get through!"

"I'm working on that, Sir – they haven't gotten the password, for now," she answered, typing furiously, closing off all avenues of access including the unconventional ones. Meanwhile she started a back-trace to find the source.

"Do you think I should call in Jensen?" asked Sarif nervously.

Rolling her eyes, she shouted back, "What the fuck good is an ex-cop going to be in a purely cyber-attack? I don't need him here just for the sake of standing around looking pretty."

"Okay, I got it, any idea who these assholes are?"

The screens were starting to stutter in their onslaught – the barriers she'd activated were slowing them down. "No clue, my back-trace is running but they're well hidden – I've already traced them through a dozen different nodes around the world. It's looking like a wild goose chase right now. I've managed to slow them down but…I think I've pinned down the source of the problem. A gap in the firewall."

"I hope you're not talking about the one you custom developed that I'm paying you for to keep our research safe…"

"Don't worry, I've got a handle on it now," she said, her face flushing red with anger and embarrassment. "They aren't getting in. I just need to patch the weak spot now. It'll take a few hours but don't worry, Sir, I won't be leaving here until I finish."

"How long do you think it'll take, Pritchard? We're leaving for the Summit tomorrow to release Megan's research. We can't afford to let anything get through at this crucial time," he reminded her.

"Mr. Sarif, I really can't give you a time estimate, but I'll do my best to have it done before tomorrow morning. Pritchard out."

If Sarif defines morning as when the sun first comes up, then she kept her word – but when she plopped onto her bed still in her work clothes at 3:40am, her last thought was that the shortly arriving day would be long and unpleasant. After showering she threw on her black and orange jacket, her Sarif ID badge still attached to one of the lapels, and headed out the door. Soon she was walking into the lobby at Sarif Industries HQ. At the center of the lobby was the information desk, with space over it reaching up three stories. On each side, stretching down in huge banners, were the digitally enhanced faces of David Sarif, founder and CEO of Sarif Industries, and Hugh Darrow, the genius behind augmentation technology. The two fathers of Sarif. The floors wrap around the inside edges of the huge circular building, with Jensen's security office jutting out slightly from the third floor and Pritchard's own Tech Lab situated on the second floor. As she walked past the info desk, the young blond receptionist flagged her down.

"What is it?" asked Pritchard.

"A note from Athene, Ms. Pritchard. Sarif's worried about security after last night."

She took the yellow post-it from the receptionist and scanned the scrawled writing – Mr. Sarif wanted her to run a check on their science team's Global Positioning Locator chips. Yet another added security feature aimed at keeping their scientists safe from harm. Sighing, Pritchard thanked her and dropped her bag off in the office. She found a hair tie sitting on her desk and pulled her long brown locks up into a loose ponytail. Crap, I didn't even pick up coffee this morning. With that last thought, Pritchard went up a few stories to do some routine system checks, and then pushed the elevator call button to head up to Sarif's office.

When the doors opened she saw Megan Reed, their lead researcher, and Adam Jensen their chief security officer, standing in what appeared to be a tense conversation. She caught the tail end of what Megan was saying, but couldn't infer much from it as she stopped speaking the second the doors were half open.

Jensen politely acknowledged her, "Pritchard."

In a weak attempt to pleasantly diffuse the tenseness, Pritchard started, "So are we all ready for the trip?" She even offered a smile. That alone should have earned her a gold medal considering she'd been up late fixing their system and had no caffeine in her system after 2 hours of sleep. Megan seemed to be avoiding everyone's gaze, glancing instead at the plane outside on the pad. She seemed relieved when the doors opened and practically ran for the exit, "There's Faridah. I'd better hurry. See you at the helipad, Adam."

"Sure," he growled, his brooding brown eyes revealing little.

After the doors shut and they continued up towards the penthouse, Pritchard felt a knot in her stomach, "Did I...interrupt something Jensen?"

He stonily shot back at her, "You fix that firewall yet?"

Okay, that's it. "You don't 'fix' an entire firewall. You find the loophole and plug it," she explained, not wanting to relive the previous night. I guess Sarif already briefed Jensen on that debacle.

"Then did you plug it?" he asked sarcastically.

"Yes I did. Want to know how? Oh wait. I forgot. Ex- cop. I doubt you'd understand," she spat back at him. She immediately regretted taking that shot. She knew it was a pompous cheap shot and that she only went there because after the attack last night her ego had taken a huge hit. Her impervious firewall had been less than impervious. It had fallen apart. When she got down to fixing it, the hole she patched was a fairly large one that she should have accounted for when she first built it.

Jensen's angular brows furrowed together and the corner of his mouth tightened almost imperceptibly.

"Ex-SWAT. And you'd be surprised. Sarif ask to see you too?"

She was a little shocked he didn't jump at her more after what she'd said. Usually they were constantly pushing each other's buttons, but he was readily leaving that topic alone. He must have forgiven her for interrupting his discussion with Reed.

"Athene. She wants me to show her how to track our scientists' implanted locator devices. In case your security plans in Washington don't measure up."

The two of them approached Athene's desk. The demure, matronly woman looked up from her screen and smiled at them. Athene was one of those wonderful people who felt like the company grandmother. She could always tell when people were upset and knew every employee by name.

"How wonderful to see you both. Go right in, Adam. He's waiting. Now, Freya, did you bring me the specs on the trackers?"

"Of course," she said, handing her a tablet with the blue text already illuminated. "This is the newest in encrypted GPL trackers, Athene. It transmits data to our dedicated satellites every 10 feet or five seconds."

Athene graciously took the tablet from her and began scanning through, asking questions here or there. The caffeine withdrawal was starting to hit Pritchard already and she could feel a pounding headache coming on. Suddenly, the elevator locked down, as did the door to Sarif's office, and red alarm lights flooded the foyer.

"Athene, the whole system's been locked down, I need to use your computer," she said, pushing her way between Athene and the screen. Another attack so soon? But I fixe-…plugged that hole!Pritchard quickly logged into her account and pulled up the intellicam system. Every video feed was static. If it were really just an environmental problem, the security cameras would still be working.

"Pritchard, Sarif wants to know if you can disable the alarm sounds," Athene said gently, knowing Pritchard was already working to get the rest of the system functional.

"In a moment…" she said, when Jensen's deep voice flicked on in her head.

"Pritchard, where's Megan? She report in yet?"

She pulled up the GPL trackers on the screen and answered, "Her GPL implant shows her moving through the micro-chem labs...I think she's running!" Pritchard saw the other GPL signals clustered in one corner of the lab, a couple were moving erratically, one wasn't moving at all.

"Damn, must've been a serious equipment failure. Can you get eyes on her?" asked Jensen, a frantic tone emerging in his normally composed voice.

"I'm trying, but the intellicams aren't responding. There's interference coming from somewhere. Find out what's happening, Jensen. Hurry! I don't think this is just an environmental problem. The cameras…they look like they were physically disabled. Be ready for anything down there."

She heard a faint trickle of static in response, "Jensen? Jensen, are you there? Fuck."
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