Master Mold

May 27, 2019:

Sage and Iron Guard go hack a Sentinel, and find far more than expected.

Outkirts of Philadelphia

Industrial/Warehouse district


NPCs: Master Mold


Mood Music: None.

Fade In…

Sentinel factories and bases are mostly a secret. They are military machines on part with the stealth fighters and bombers in strategic value, after all. In fact the new Mark III Sentinels are more expensive than the most advanced stealth fighter models, which is why supposedly there are only a handful of them.

Both Sage and Iron Guard have a list of likely locations. They could go exploring. But it is not necessary.

It is no secret Trask Industries is based in Philadelphia. They still have many manufacturing plants in the outskirts of the city. Including some that built components for the Mark II. In fact, they still do, because the Mark II are powerful enough machines and much cheaper than the Mark III. They keep upgrading them, and there are no real plans to retire them. Likely they can keep upgrade the systems for twenty or more years, like they do with modern tanks.

And since Sentinels are so famous and were the key to turn Trask Industries from a small company into an important corporation, they do keep a couple Sentinels here on display, and for security (mostly for show, of course).

Security is actually pretty thigh around the Trask Industries. They are military contractors, after all. The Sentinels are overkill, although they might be useful if the Brotherhood would attack on force. Although in truth destroying these old factories wouldn't cause major damage to the Sentinel production.

And that is not the goal. What the mutant woman and the man from the future have planned is simpler, and yet much more complicated: Hacking into a Sentinel CPU.

Sage stood silent, as she usually did, and to the right of Iron Guard. She hadnt bothered much with any sort of disguise, save that she had added a blnde wig which made her look less severe than the usual black of her natural colour and she wore a hood on her usual jacket. As she stood, she slipped a hand into her pocket and retrieved a small silver case, which she handed across to the man standing beside her, "Before we go in, I need you to plug this into your suit." It was a small chip, not from the future, of course, but built so that Nate's future tech could integrate with the circuit.

Iron Guard is probably wearing his helmet. The holographic cloak he is using is hard to pierce even with Sage’s high-tech goggles. He looks much older, bulkier, sports a neat goatee and has a duffel bag with some electronic devices that look heavily modified Starktech board and server cores. "Thanks, let me see," the chip gets ‘eaten’ by his sleeve. "We need a place to set this up, I am going to send a drone to link us up with one of the Sentinels, but when we do we will have seconds to act. This… prototype neuro array, should accelerate your thoughts process once we are in cyberspace. Should. If I have figured out correctly how your cyberpathics work. I will be using my neurokinetic suit, but without an A.I. co-pilot I am at disadvantage. It is going to be quite different to how I interacted with… well, just different."

[OOC] Sage says, "Gives him full access to her neural and computer network. It's a circuit version of her sunglasses, basically, but her system also actively engages with her mind. I always pictured it as very much sort of a johnny neumonic/neuromancer thing."

Sage watched the circuit being slotted into place before she looked back and around, taking in their location. "I don't think you'll need to worry about lacking an AI." There was almost amusement in her voice as she felt the circuit come online, the neural network of her own mind springing into place, Sage's network accepting the upload of the slave circuit into her systems. "We can bunker down over there while we work." She did not seem to care one way or the other that Iron Guard now had full access to her neural network. In point of fact, the avatar of herself he would be able to engage with once they were inside looked almost bored. "We had better get to work."

"We should bunker down, yes," agrees Nathaniel, "although I do believe we will finish this operation in less than a minute. We will be operating in an accelerated mindscape. And it is not healthy to remain there for long."

In any case, he did the homework by renting a nearby warehouse space through a string of shell companies. A trick he learned by trying to unravel Roxxon's financial empire (no luck so far). In fact, a Roxxon sub-subsidiary has rented the warehouse due to some hacking. Thank you Mr. Agger. The Avengers will get you, sooner or later.

It is not the most comfortable place, bereft of anything but dirty concrete and long forgotten decrepit furniture, but as he said, it will be over in a minute.

If all goes well. (Famous last words).

"You should spend a few days in my mind, Nathaniel." And again, she was mildly amused, as they made their way from their previous vantage point to their bunker. Given the living conditions Sage seemed to feel adequate, namely a loveseat that she both slept and worked on and a warehouse full of MREs, the fact that there was more than one piece of furniture, decrepit or not made this a veritable palace. She did not, however, take advantage of any of the furniture. It wouldn't do to have anything collapse beneath her while she worked, and so Sage simply found a reasonable non-objectionable place on the ground and settled into sitting cross-legged, hands settling on her knees. "I am ready when you are."

"Why, Sage, are you flirting with me?" Because an invitation to spend time in her mind… so very telepathic. And once inside the warehouse, the holographic cover is gone and he is in his full armor. Tendrils of metal flow from his wristguard to link the modified Starktech systems, which should let them (mostly her) a level of protection and insulation against hostile mechanisms.

Possibly too many precautions. What could Trask Industries have that is more dangerous than Stark or Luthor? The only threatening cybernetic defenses Nathaniel has seen in the Twenty First Century were in Latveria. And Dr. Doom truly operates in a different league to anyone else.

"My drone," he states, a robotic wasp the size of a real wasp. "Neutrino transmission. Undetectable by current science. On theory." He adds warily, since last time Sage showed him some technology related to the Sentinels, it was actually A.I.M.

The drone flies away much faster than an organic wasp would. "Contact in 95 seconds, lets dive into the cybernetic sim."

"Yes, probably. But now isn't the time." Sage, having settled into a serviceable position, brought up her neural interface, allowing it to mesh with Nathaniel's. The circuit had been designed so that once he was connected to it, he had as much control over her network as she did, cutting down on the necessity for him to relay his commands to her and then wait the split second it might take her for her to execute it. And here, in het network, Sage did not need to pretend that she was anything other than what she was. A human machine, and not that dissimilar, once he had the controls, from the AI he might have used if time and the tides had given him that advantage as well as his armor.

The interlace itself, which overlaid and informed the sim rose up around them, a vast cityscape that converted the world of the virtual into a place that simulated the real world. And Sage was there, in the fibers of the city. In its streets and its buildings, in the people who were the visual manifestation of its programs and the roads and pathways that were the system's subroutines. Even her voice was no longer human, but the sound of her mind and her will made manifest. "Contact in 90 seconds."

The city simulation is easily accepted. An overlay of electronic communications is added to the display. People are barely there, although the cellphones and other electronics carried are shown, classified and contacted through the network. They can be used as relays or buffer.

The wasp drone crosses a mile in less than a minute, and the cybernetic grid around the Trask Industries factory shows a number of red lights. Powerful (relatively speaking) firewalls, IPS, IDS. Military grade protection that would be too much for most hackers.

Tempting target, but no the goal. The pair of Sentinels ahead are the targets. They stand 'silent' in the cyberspace, but there must be a way in, even if not visible on a first scanning. There must be communication among each other and with the Trask systems. It might require to break into the factory, but probably it won't. The 'wasp' has a few tricks.

Sage was silent, as their minds traversed the cityscape, and she collected data on all of the access points and replays that made up the city grid, marking the underpinnings of the network. She was even silent as they approached the two dead zones that represented the sentinels standing watch and currently inactive. Well, mostly inactive, as there was a latent sense of an energy field around them, a sort of cyberpathic static field that Nathaniel could sense because Sage could sense it. Once they had approached to a safe distance, she turned her mind to analyzing the visual overlay, the grid in places reduced to bytes of data, the visual representation pixelating and then rematerializing, data decrystallizing and recrystallizing as she worked.

"There." Came Sage's voice, the sound of it everywhere and nowhere, a hum of vibration that trembled the ground beneath their feet, like the sense of a distant train not yet visible on the horizon, "The culverts." The simulation pulsed, flickering a faint blue luminescence along a hitherto unseen series of tunnels that had lain dormant until she marked them on their mental map. A series of them, each a conduit for remote access to the Sentinels.

The Sentinels are not inactive, but their internal systems are heavily shielded. Despite that Nathaniel's armor can detect the energy output of the fusion reactors. Crude for his standards, perhaps, but still powerful enough to turn the robots into deadly threats.

There is plenty of electronic activity inside the Sentinels, but no external communications. The drone can force one, though. But before Nathaniel gives the command, Sage discovers the 'tunnels'. Perhaps maser or infrared laser links? Yes.

The 'wasp' moves to one of them, and starts gathering data. "Ah, standard military codes. I think I can tap the signal. Then we will be 'inside'. Going in three seconds. Two. One."

Time slows down. And they are in the Sentinel's mind.

When the mindscape of the Sentinel sprang into being around them, it was a cityscape unlike anything which existed in human consciousness. Escher himself might have been lost in such a landscape. Up was at once up and down, left was right, the cardinal directions leading everywhere and nowhere. It was a mind, but one so alien to the human one that it beggared understanding. It was, at its heart the mind of a computer, a place where the logical and illogical shifted and warped with need and necessity. Sage made no sound, as they appeared there, and yet, the sensation was all around, like a held breath, finally allowed to escape from between the lips. For the woman, the mutant, it was like waking in a place she had not known she had been searching for until she had found it. And as that realization hit her, as she, for lack of a better word 'came online', a glimmering of ethereal light began to pulse in the distance. "Tracking."

"We are in. And in bullet time, as they say in this time and age," states Nathaniel, his avatar a being made of light and metal. "Grab all the code, I want to see the programming. This is much, much better than expected. Trask must be a genius at Stark's level," he goes straight for the log files. He wants to know the 'wheres' and the 'whos'. Where was this thing built, and when, who did it, where has it been.

55 milliseconds. Still undetected. But it won't last.

Despite the apparent bizarre landscape, Nathaniel seems to know where the information is stored. An array if de-crypting and viral programs is launched, quickly eroding the safeguards and defenses around the CPU and the machine's memory.

"Just don't expect me to bend over backwards in obvious defying of physics." Of course, such a thing was possible here. Anything was possible here. Still, her voice soon returned to that inhuman tone, flickers of nearly imperceptible energy radiating along the lines and planes of the city, "Download in progress." As one part of her mind worked to follow on the heels of Nathaniel's programs, another moved through the space, and that second voice drifted back as well. "All programmers leave a signature, even if it is not intentional. All we need to do is identify that signature."

"No such physics here," comments Nathaniel, going over the Sentinel logs at high speed. Place, place, people, names, interesting conversations, what are the Twelve? He pauses. For a few milliseconds. But this is not the time to stop and think now, because there is no time. 89 milliseconds. The Sentinel becomes 'aware' of the intrusion. 91 milliseconds, it tries to terminate the connection, but Nathaniel's programs override. They are deeply hooked into the Sentinel running programs.

It is going to call for help, but they have some time.

There are signatures. The Sentinel main program looks like a Frankstein monster. Obviously hundreds of programmers have added code there. Deleted code too. But the core programming seems both old and unusual. It is also huge. It will take many seconds to download even through that hyperfast neutrino stream they are using.

Sage turned away from where Nathaniel was working. She focused all of her attention, at least all of the attention she had placed in this particular subtoutine into the Sentinels. Detection was not a problem. At least, it was not her problem. Not for the woman who had spent most of her life learn, using and refining her ability to infiltrate and take control of computer systems both alien and terrestrial. The shape of her virtual body shifted, losing its outlines as she descended, taking on the shape of a sentinel program herself, reaching into those places where the machine consciousness lived and enterfacing with it, rewriting those aspects of itself that recognized that there were intelopers in its machine Eden. If there was a cost for the woman to do it, she made no mention of it. Like all good soliders, she did not ask the cost before she acted.

The Sentinel program is much larger than expected. Endless terabits of garbage, still there because probably no one really knows what it does or if it does anything. There is a large, but not insanely large core, mixed everywhere. It takes Sage several seconds to identify this 'Master Mold' program that must have been the original Trask work.

It is more alien than some alien code she has seen. Small wonder the whole program is so long because very few human experts would be able to deal with something like that. It is an amazing and disturbing thing. Mad genius at work.

"Sage. This is interesting. It is not receiving instructions from Trask or the army, or even the D.E.O." comments Nathaniel. "There is an override, all commands come from someone called the Master Mold. Even Trask himself could not command the Sentinel without this Master Mold authorization."

Thankfully, between Sage's mutation and Nathaniel's genetic manipulation, melded to his future tech, they would crack the programming eventually, even if it would have to be after they extricated themselves. And seemingly with that in mind, Sage increased the speed of the datadump, freeing other sectors of her mind to handle the datadump. Goodbye chess game. And right when she was winning too. "I take it this isn't someone or something you've heard of before?"

"No. I knew about the Sentinels, but the historical files were very scarce in details," he explains without going into the details. It is not the moment to talk about the violent ending of the Heroic Age. But he is starting to realize that in his past maybe the Sentinels did manage to destroy SHIELD and most of the great heroes and were not just blamed for it. There is much more here than he had expected.

"Ah, get ready. We have incoming countermeasures," communication channels are opening and the Sentinel has contacted whatever network they use. But still, uploading the programs is going to be slow. Seconds. And they are still very fast.

But that is not what happens.

The programs are not uploaded. They are 'awakened'. And whatever it is, it insanely fast and clever. It crashes against Nathaniel's own programs, which are some of the most sophisticated things Sage has ever seen. Easily on par with the best Shi'ar software Xavier adapted to Cerebro and other mansion computers. It crashes and shatters. Then returns with improvements. It crashes and shatters. And adapts, grows and returns. Harder and better.

"It is not a program!" Warns Nathaniel. "It is a self-aware artificial intelligence!"

Sage spun, if a mental process could be said to do such a thing, as the programming came online, "Ex-filtrate yourself. I will deal with this." Freed of her body, allowed, as she was in the simulation to simply be, Sage moved at the speed of her mind, which was as fast as the most sophisticated super computer, her image doubling, trebling as she mirrored herself over and over again, sending her avatars off to combat each of the programs that the Ai was bringing online.

"With the due respect," replies Nathaniel. "I think my armor safeguards are better at handling a cyberpathic backlash than your naked mind. And I have still many resources to deploy."

But in truth he is also wary to show that A.I. his best tricks. If it adapts and learns, it would put all other networks in danger, including the Avengers systems. That means he has to fight with a hand tied behind his back.

It will be fun. "We really want the whole program, Sage. Please do not expend too much energy fighting. We only need to delay It a few more seconds." He is launching more specialized programs, they look the same, but they are subtly different. So the next attack gest stomped hard. Then he begins saturating the communication channels with fake responses. Millions of them, forcing the attacking A.I. to spend processing power on illusions.

Sage direct cyberpathic attack is also neutering the A.I. best efforts. It is not so easy to adapt to a psionic effect.

Mutant detected

And there is that.

"Your safeguards were built in an age that, I think, had forgotten precisely how powerful mutants could be." Sage moved with a speed that would have been surprising to anyone but the mutant herself, sending out trojans and countermeasures that were designed to bring the AI's attention to her. Within the interface that the circuit allowed Nathaniel, a pulsing beacon lit, downloading her biometrics, and the exact placement of that nerve cluster that would reboot her system. And with that done, Sage dove in, something in her avatar smiling as she heard the warning crashing through the system. Perfect. "finish the job. I have it right where I want it."

Every programmer has a signature.

This is the Master Mold signature: It is a brute. It believes in overwhelming strength. It is focused. It is relentless. It is probably very smart from a human perspective, but it is not very imaginative.

There is a point (and quickly) it decides to ignore Nathaniel fake messages in a way a normal computer couldn't ignore. Then Nathaniel does send some real nasty virus its way. But Master Mold destroys them quickly. He keeps adapting, but the variable tricky defense Nathaniel presents seems to confuse it. Too stubborn, it keeps trying when something has already failed because it 'looks' it should work. Wasting time.

On the other hand, Sage's presence seems to drive it into a frenzy. Her avatar-programs become a prime target even when it is illogical to attack them.

Mutant detected
Mutant detected
Mutant detected
Mutant detected

One could almost imagine It is an angry computer.

In many ways, this was what Sage had been made for. To live, and exist, and work within this landscape of computer systems and interconnected networks. And every angry pulse of that warning seemed to enliven her. And somewhere in there, she stopped simply trying to destroy the programs the AI sent at her. Instead, she did what she decided would make it the most angry. She took from it. She crafted an interlace of programming, a butterfly's net, if you will, and she began to allow the interlace to absorb the enemy programs, subsuming them as they fell under her net. She took from the AI, a piece at a time, hoping, perhaps, to feed its anger. Hoping, perhaps, that seeing the things of its own creation being stolen from it would make it angrier than simply seeing it destroyed. "How much longer do you need?" Even as she asked, she drove herself forward, heading inexorably towards the center mass of the AI, as it existed in this sim space.

Nathaniel does not answer right away. How much longer? He could stay here for hours. But his mind (and hers?) can't work at this accelerated velocity for too long without risking an aneurism. His biology is more efficient than a normal human, and he has been trained to interact with machines since the crib, but he still has limits. There are some fields organic minds can't compete with artificial intelligences no matter how clever they are.

At least not without super-powers. But as formidable as Sage's mind is, she has a human body as 'hardware', not a fusion reactor.

So Nathaniel makes a swift risk-reward calculation. "17.87 seconds."

Which means they will probably, almost surely, not surfer from aneurism, and escape just very exhausted and with killer headaches.

Who knows? Maybe Master Mold will have the robot equivalent to an apoplexy attack or something.

The nod that came in answer to Nathaniel's response was more felt than seen, a sort of ripple in the sim as she made use of those captured programs, rewriting them, before she sent them back at their maker, like a cell, whose DNA had been rewritten. She did not seem to consider what damage she might be doing to herself. Perhaps, in a real sense, because she did not consider such trivialities, or perhaps because she understood that it was Nathaniel who needed to make it out of this sim alive and well. "Is this the part where I tell you I will see you on the other side?" She did not wait for a reply, as she propelled her avatar forward, all of her avatars, seeking to breech the boundaries of the enemy AI.

"I suppose it might be proper," and Nathaniel is watching, because he can do the multitasking pretty well, too. Only his is just training and brilliancy. "But perhaps attacking is less efficient that defending. It doesn't seem a very good tactician. He has fallen in all the traps I set."

And Sage is punching a giant angry robot, pretty much.

Regardless, he does not insist. Seventeen seconds should be safe even if Sage is foolhardy, and she doesn't seem the foolhardy type. Maybe she can cause some real damage to the Master Mold, although Nathaniel doubts they could exploit whatever advantage they gain today. They are not ready for it yet.

As for the Master Mold, he seems to consider Sage's offensive particularly 'offensive'. The battlefield is going to suffer. Which means the Sentinel is going to need to replace a good deal of its electronics. Oh well. On the other hand, Nathaniel has free reign to copy, download and even leave a couple dormant Trojans for maybe later.

"If we are defending, we are allowing it to set the rules, to have the time to craft its attacks to penetrate those defenses." Sage did not lessen her assault, doing everything she could to invade the avatar's 'space for lack of a better word.' It was very much like purposefully stepping onto grass that had a clear and brilliant neon sign that said keep out. And then pissing on it for good measure. Each of the Sages seemed to move, and act, and respond independently. And that was, more or less precisely what they were doing. Each was a visual manifestation of a segment of her mental computer, a manifestation of her ability to multitask without needing to sacrifice one process for another. And all the while, as she hammered at the AI, she was exploring what she could see of it, looking for some avenue that would allow her to find the pathway that would lead to its core.

"I am going to disagree, it did not pick the battlefield, it came to us," explains Nathaniel calmly. "And since I was here before, I could set the defenses. We are not here to win a battle, we just need not to lose. For 'Security against defeat implies defensive tactics; ability to defeat the enemy means taking the offensive', says Sun Tzu."

And quoting Sun Tzu in the middle of a hacking operation is the thing to do. Clearly.

But at the end it doesn't matter. Sage does indeed manage to bring the fight out of the Sentinel into the Trask factory servers, which crash and burn faster than the sturdier, tempest-hardened Sentinel’s computers. But Master Mold is not there either. The A.I. is connected from somewhere a few hundred miles south. Which is interesting information, definitely. It is not close, but it is not very far either.

"You cannot set defenses against something you did not knew existed in the form it exists until after you were inside. Next time, perhaps." Sage continued to assault the AI, 'sacrificing' some of her mental avatars in an endless game of cat and mouse, allowing the AI to think that it was winning some engagements and not others. "Maybe next time." Now was wholesale destruction on the digital realm, as Sage fed her destructive subroutines into the factory, setting off the security tracers her avatars carried with them, creating an infiltration loop within the factory, its systems now believing themselves to be under full, assault from some collective or another that their engineers might spend months hunting on the deep web. It was Anonymous, but not a collective that could ever be found. "Did you pick up the trace on its location?"

"Of course I can, I am always ready to fight," replies Nathaniel. And it is true. It was one of the reasons he did not fit in his future utopia.

"No solid trace, it is careful. But I can narrow the possibilities from the delay," offers Nathaniel. 17,876 milliseconds. "We are clear. Killswich protocol activated." The Sentinel is forcibly shutdown. That will eject Nathaniel out of the cyber-construct. Sage… maybe. She was not really dependent on the technology.

Also, back into flesh and bone (and metal) Nathaniel discovers the second Sentinel has been sent to kill them. Supposedly it is not armed. But of course it is a fully armed and operative Mark II. Now five seconds away from blasting the warehouse to dust with its laser cannons and heavy machine guns.

"Never a dull moment," comments the young man through the headache and physical exhaustion. He needs two seconds to gather the electronics in a forcefield. Two second to grab Sage's body. One second to fly out through the window as the warehouse explodes behind him.

Debris and smoke make for a good cover, as he definitely does not want Trask to suspect an Avenger was hacking their Sentinels.

Sage did not eject herself as Nathaniel did, though she did feel the voice his mind left behind as he exfiltrated himself. Instead, she continued the fight, leaving a few programs behind that would mimic her presence, hoping to keep up the illusion that they were still working inside the warehouse, offering some cover to the Iron Guard as he made his escape. When her mind did finally eject itself, a split second before the warehouse exploded, it was her voice as much as the feeling of her body no longer being dead weight that alerted him, "You're missing a cape. The superhero always wears a cape when they're carrying off the damsel in distress."

No capes. Okay. Maybe. It works for Dr. Doom, so maaaybe.

"I will take your advice under consideration," he decides. "It found us in less than thirty seconds. That is worrisome." Something else to figure out. Maybe they set up mutant detectors around the facility. That would be clever, and it means Nathaniel underestimated them.

"I think we have several days of data to analyze, now," he adds, sounding tired despite the synthetized voice. "But once this is over, I believe I would love to spend a few days in your mind."

"It's much more deeply imbedded into the systems than we previously assumed. It may even be the system, the house on which it is built, as a terrible metaphor, and so it noticed when we climbed in its attic. Which would make sense, as it's an Ai and not just a highly advanced computer program being directed by some outside force. It can respond much more quickly, I think, because it's always running, always existing in the background and is relatively autonomous, as we saw." Sage, seemingly accustomed to having been flown around a time or two, as she came back online, as it were, shifted to make her weight a bit easier to carry. "At least we know the hatred of mutants is not just a cover. I don't think even the most sophisticated AI could simulate what I felt in there." Sage nodded, not closing her eyes, as she was still analyzing her HUD, but she did seem to relax, "Just as well. I think I need a few days to tidy up the place." Beat, "It's not often I have guests over."

"Rogue A.I. are very dangerous," agrees Nathaniel. And this also explains all the anti-mutant propaganda going on, and the D.E.O. failure to control some Sentinels. "This one seems to have declared war on mutants. But we might have better insights after analyzing the code. Lets return to New York and get working."

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