Stella du Mort

Ariscene walked along a wooden-slatted rope bridge several hundred metres above the habitat floor.Vivid yellow parrotoids wheeled a little way above him, their fleshy wings stretched out to catch the air currents and thermals.  Frequent blasts of scent, parrotoid pheromones, assaulted his nose, pleasant at first but rapidly cloying.  He ignored them, breathing through his slightly parted lips to avoid the full strength of the smell, and paced his way to a waystation on the bridge.
    The parrotoids were a recent introduction to the habitat, retro-engineered from parrot genes to something more pterodactyl like.  The bio-engineers had supplied them with a thirty-five page contract, mostly saying that they had no idea if this was really something from the parrot's evolutionary past and whether it was or it wasn't, the purchaser indemnified them.  Ariscene didn't care what their provenance was, but he did like their strange, slightly ugly shape, and their lack of feathers.
    The waystation was a small, suspended transparent globe.  A path ran around the equator of the globe, and five rope bridges connected to it at irregular points.  It hovered in mid-air in the habitat using gravtec to hold its position.  The centre of the globe was solid and metallic, and almost everyone in the habitat supposed that it housed the gravtec.  Ariscene knew that the gravtec actually came from invisibly thin wires that enmeshed the globe.  He looked around, checking that there was no-one else on any of the bridges leading to this waystation, and then laid a gaunt, bony hand on the surface of the metallic core.  A tinny chime sounded deep in his ears, transmitted through his bones and would have been inaudible even to someone stood next to him.  His fingers tensed, and tapped out a code.  There was a pause, and then a second tinny chime resounded and the metallic sphere at the core of the waystation neatly revolved, a section of itself sliding inwards and opening a man-sized gap.  Ariscene stepped inside.
    The sphere revolved again, closing itself behind him and at the same time revealing a reclining couch.  The couch was covered in a leathery pale green fabric and lying on it was a helmet.  Ariscene picked the helmet up and slipped it on.  It had no visor, the face was open, but otherwise it was a solid construction and heavy.  His head drooped slightly until he compensated for it, and he quickly sat down on the couch and reclined, knowing that his neck muscles would start to cramp otherwise, trying to support the weight.  The couch adjusted itself around him, tiny hydraulic presses adjusting the couch to the contours of his body.  Ariscene looked up, and the ceiling of the sphere above him crawled with tiny lights.  He felt the sting of two hundred micro-fine needles shooting from the inside of the helmet and lancing into his head, burning tiny wormholes through his skull and penetrating his brain.  His scalp quickly numbed, the needles carrying a dose of local anaesthesia, and the synaptic connections formed.  Less than a second later the lights on the ceiling resolved themselves, responding to his mental commands.

    Stella, the commanding AI of the Stella du Mort noticed Ariscene's presence in the network immediately and detailed a sub-AI to locate his physical presence.  She had been noticing his intrusions into the network, and recording his data accesses for three weeks now, and it annoyed her intensely that he was getting past her defences and managing to hide his position from her.  By a process of elimination she had determined that he had to be using a direct access that allowed him to override most software defences that she could mobilise, but to her certain knowledge there were one thousand, four hundred and twenty-two such access points inside the Stella du Mort.  She longed to close off all the access points, and preferably booby trap them to mind-burn anyone who tried using them, but Stella, the owner of the habitat, refused to allow it.  Stella insisted that there be overrides.  Stella considered overrides to be dangerous and a threat to her own security.
    Stella ran a habitat check to see who was currently invisible to her sensors.  Whoever was invading the network like that had to be off-sensor, but there were many dead spots across the habitat too.  A little over three hundred people were unaccountable, and more than fifty had been unaccountable on all previous invasions.  Stella checked with the sub-AI, but so far it had nothing.  She checked the inventories and sent out a cadre of repair golems to repair the sensors in dead spots, and then waited.  Seconds later her orders were partly countermanded, the golems disallowed access to several areas around the habitat.
    Why? questioned Stella.
    Because, came back the reply from Stella.

The End

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