Breaking the Ice
by Chris Ewels

Watching him glide effortlessly through the matrix, any Cyber Jockey could tell you that he was a pro. He moved silently between the huge glittering constructs, his fingers lightly breezing his keyboard somewhere far away. As computer generated shapes drifted towards and past him, he banked and curved his way through the matrix with the style of someone who has practised all his life. The odd pulse of light flickered along grid lines below him as data transferred from unit to unit, and on the edge of his vision it was possible to see the cold simplicity of protective I.C.E. patrolling the databanks of especially sensitive systems.

Soon he approached his destination. Floating some distance in front of him was a huge pyramidal construct bearing the name "Sci Ind Corp". lmpressive in its simplicity, it nonetheless conveyed a sense of power and bearing, and the silvery efficiency of the I.C.E. was visible even at this distance. Using the keypad, he flipped his terminal sideways and did a full three hundred and sixty degree skim around the unit. The I.C.E. was visible from all sides, whirling and spitting as it waited to be unleashed. To all intents and purposes it was inpenetrable. But he knew that it had been done.

He circled again, frustrated at his continued inability to crack the system. The Sci Ind Corp had been his project for well over a month now, and despite the ridiculous number of hours he'd been putting in he was no nearer a solution. Every so often he was forced to jack out in order to eat and drink, but sleep had hardly figured in his life recently. He'd tried standard I.C.E. breakers and had nearly been flatlined for his efforts. Trojan horses allowed some approach to be made, but if you tried to mingle past the I.C.E. it blew your cover every time. Data was being leaked, he had that information from reliable sources, but he had no idea how it was being done.

His circuit of the construct complete, he allowed his terminal to gradually sink downwards. The pyramid loomed higher as his angle of vision increased, until he sat on the grid lines and looked up at its impossible height. Then he panned his vision down and surveyed the base on eyelevel.

Suddenly his terminal bleeped - another terminal in the vicinity. He flipped vision, panned along the grid lines while trying to home in on the source. The matrix flashed past him as he shot at impossible speed away from the pyramid, his fingers flying across the keyboard. There, some disturbed pixels at the edge of the horizon. He panned in, and again, and the source grew to fill his screen. Before him was a simple orange cube, probably a Mark Two Ono Sendai deck. lt was centralised on a grid line, and was gradually disappearing. No time to ask questions, he thought, just follow it. lnstructions typed as fast as the keyboard would allow, disk drive whirred, and he pulled some hand written software into the net. A small rectangular slab, orange on one face, the blue of his prism on the other. Fingers fly, run the program, and it moves, slides towards the cube, unaware of their presence. Places itself behind the cube, merges with it, while he spins his terminal through manouevres impossible outside the net. Aligns with the cube, merges onto the blue backed software, joins with the terminal he is tracking. He slows temporarily, breathes deeply. Speed is now no longer so imporant, he can sit back and watch the show.

As the rows of disappearing cube approached his terminal, he first noticed an apparent mistake in the matrix. The grid in front of the cube was thicker than it should have been, the fine tracery of lines more pixelled than normal. As his merge software started disappearing, he saw the grid grow thicker, until each grid line was a large cylindrical rod. Now he could see the rest of the cube he was attached to, as the huge tubular grid line pulled him into itself. Somewhere, his body emitted a long whistle, as the gridline snapped solid around them. Some trick! Then they were off, sliding through the gridlines towards the pyramidal construct. Through his merger software, he carefully sent out small feelers, checking out the deck in front. There was no apparent corporate I.D., so the decker was probably a free lance. Then he found the backup R.A.M., and carefully extracted the gridline expansion software. This was it, he thought, as the adrenalin raced through his system. This was what all the waiting had been leading up to. Then, with the press of a single function key, he deployed the main routines stored in his merger program.

He imagined the sound of rushing air as his terminal ejected off the back end of the code. Then he watched with satisfaction as the merger program grew round the Ono Sendai, tendrils of data enmeshing it in a fine web. He saw the deck stop, imagined the decker frantically trying to jack out. But he was too late. The code started contracting, squeezing the deck's cubic data construct, destroying both the computer and its owner. Flatline you bastard, he thought, as the cube shrunk into a small irregular ball, it's all your type deserve. As he watched, it flared brightly, then abruptly disappeared from the net. He chuckled, then jacked out.

Back in his living room, he pulled the terminals off his forehead, and stood up. He was slightly disgusted to find that he'd urinated in his pants, but he never bothered jacking out of the matrix unless it was really necessary. He walked stiff legged across the faded carpet, and pulled a beer out of the chipped white fridge. He drank deeply, then went over to the phone. After dialling a number, he leaned against the wall while he waited for the call to connect. "Hello, Sci Ind Corp? Yes, can you put me through to Mr. Hobson, security division please? l've got a bounty to collect".