What Big Eyes

Sergeant Harris sat on the edge of his seat and looked nervously around the lieutenant’s basement office. It looked like something out of a period drama. There were shelves with untidy stacks of paper files and not a single vid-screen or data tablet to be seen. There were even pencils lying scattered across the table. What kind of crazy old bastard was this Lieutenant Tilde? He shouldn’t have deserved a punishment detail this extreme – even for gross insubordination. Maybe he should have just quit the force after all.

The door behind him opened. Harris jumped to attention only when he saw the officer’s stripes on the uniform, for the lieutenant seemed no older than himself. She held a printed transcript in her hands and seemed not to notice him, instead rifling through some files with her back to the sergeant. Harris coughed. Without turning around, the lieutenant spoke. “So they finally sent help. You left your handheld in the box outside?”

“Ah… Sorry, sir?”

“Apparently not. Switch it off and do so immediately. I thought the sign on the door was clear on that.” The lieutenant turned and continued as Harris, bewildered, did as he was told. “She’ll have tagged your phone the moment it entered this location and has probably already cracked it. If you’re listening, Red – and I know you are – I’d appreciate a little privacy.”

Harris could have sworn he saw the screen blink in answer as he dropped it into the box.

“Surely that’s not possible,” Harris said as he returned, shutting the door behind him. “That’s police issue. The encryption is military grade. Ten times stronger than commercial models. ”

Lieutenant Tilde gestured for him to sit. “You have no idea who this operation is dealing with, do you?” She unpinned a photograph from the wall and tossed it onto the desk in front of Harris. “Have you ever seen this girl before?”

The picture was a school identity image. It showed a young girl, who couldn’t be older than twelve, in an old-fashioned minority uniform, a red hooded cape. The paper was brown and curling at the corners from its years in storage. Harris shook his head. “Why not just run it through an ident search?”

The lieutenant laughed, but there was no merriment in it. “They really haven’t told you anything, have they? We’ve run it through every database we has. She no longer exists.”

“I don’t follow.”

“There’s no evidence of her anywhere: no birth tag, no school record, no crime file. And every time we scan or upload anything, it’s gone by the next day. Turns out I’m investigating a crime that can’t officially exist, so they have to bury me down here to satisfy accounting.”

Harris couldn’t credit it. “This is a joke, surely. The census hub is, what, ten times more secure than…” He stopped, began again. “It would take our best people hours to crack it. And we could trace…” The lieutenant nodded wearily, and Harris hesitated. “Maybe this could be a mistake, somehow? I mean, the census isn’t perfect – especially on the dark planets. And I’d guess this girl is from the Schwartzwald.”

“Close. Other side of the language barrier, Boisnoire. But sure, maybe her records never did exist. However. These,” and she gestured at the files scattered around the room, “these definitely did. Reports on some of the greatest acts of cybercrime in the last six years. But try finding them on any of our systems. Some are simply crime reports on the deletion of even earlier crime reports, after the initial digital ones were wiped from the un-networked computers I used to use.”

“How could anyone hack un-networked machines?”

“She didn’t. She hacked the networked cleaning bots and used them to gain access. So now the room gets dusty. And you will always lock the door if neither of us is here.”

“Lock it with a physical key?”


Harris thought, and Tilde watched him. Finally, he said slowly, “And it’s is all the work of this girl?” He tapped the photograph. The lieutenant nodded. “How do we know?”

“First sensible question you’ve asked.” The lieutenant leant forward in her seat. “Two reasons. Firstly, she’s joined up with the White insurgency, and they love to brag on that damn radio signal of theirs. So when Tommy Thumb started to catalogue the achievements of their ‘Hack-meister’ Red Hood, it wasn’t too hard to put the pieces together.”

“The resistance? So why isn’t this a military issue?”

“They were sick of officers being murdered by their own autoturrets, or suffocated when the filtration systems were deactivated, or by any of the other hundred things Red could find her way into. So they shunted it to us.” The lieutenant indicated the photograph. “This picture was pretty much all I had to go on. I can only assume she hasn’t killed me because she doesn’t see this department as much of a threat.”

Harris was beginning to change his mind about this assignment. An off-the-records basement job it might be, but if they managed to catch the Red Hood it could rebuild his career. “And the other reason?”

The lieutenant hesitated, then pulled one more photograph of the wall. In it the same girl, this time with her hood shadowing her face, stared into a CCTV camera. Behind her lay an elderly woman in a hospital pod. An inserted caption read simply, “GRANDMA”.

“This is the one file I have ever found on a computer system that’s related to her. She put it there for me. Have you ever heard of the Wolf virus?” the lieutenant asked Harris, who was examining the photograph, nonplussed. He shook his head. “Good. That renews some of my faith in our security. Listen close to this, because you won’t hear it anywhere else. I had to pull in all my favours to get access to it.” Harris obligingly raised his eyes.

“It was one of our side’s more inspired ideas: a virus that would infect our own systems, determine which were unnecessary for the war effort and shut them down to conserve resources. A way of diverting energy from civilian luxuries to military necessities while hiding the hand of the government. It was supposed to be intelligent, to be able to evolve by itself, and operate with the minimum of supervision. Successful trials were deployed to some of the dark planets when White’s insurgency began operating in that sector.”

“That sounds a bit dubious,” Harris interrupted. “Aren’t we supposed to be supporting the dominion’s citizens, not cutting their living standards behind their backs?”

The lieutenant shrugged. “War requires sacrifices. Sometimes cuts to non-essential services are necessary, but try explaining that to people who’re used to getting everything they could want… No, that wasn’t really the problem.”

“Then what?”

The lieutenant grimaced. “It’s not pleasant. The virus began to change in ways the engineers weren’t expecting. A rogue evolution broke the ethics logic that had been guiding it and began to take the cuts to extremes. For example,” and she gestured at the photo, “it cut life-support in the hospital pods of anyone who would never be again be of service to the military. The disabled, the seriously ill. The elderly. ”

Harris blanched. “No, I can’t believe that. If something like that had ever happened…”

“You’d have never heard of it,” the lieutenant cut in. “Morale is low enough already. News like this would only damage His Majesty’s Governance, and strengthen the rebellion. War, remember? We’ll apologise and make reparations after it’s all over.”

Harris shook his head, unwilling to accept it, but didn’t argue. Instead, reconsidered the photo, “So, Hood, this is…”

“She was with her grandmother – or whoever this is – at the time the virus struck. Apparently she patched into the pod’s computer systems and began fighting the virus as soon as she realised what was going on. Her grandmother didn’t make it, but she did manage to tame the virus before it had spread planet-wide.”

“How is that even possible?”

“I didn’t say it was possible. I just said she did it. And just like that we’d given her the perfect weapon – a virus expressly designed to access Crown security. She turned it onto the Royal Fleet overhead, which had been transmitting the code. She brought down the HMSS Huntsman before the other ships realised what was going on and firewalled themselves completely. It fell like someone filled it with rocks. The weather systems on Boirnoire are still in turmoil from the impact.”

There was silence in the office for a while as Harris digested this. He was staring at the photograph, and the lieutenant was looking at him, appraising his reaction. Finally, he looked her in the eye. “And now she’s using this weapon against the Crown? For revenge?”

“That seems to be the way of things. She’s taken out four behemoths, flown another carrier straight into a star, cut all the power to a military hospital, wreaked havoc in a couple of stock exchanges… We know the source code of what she’s using, of course, so the team in charge of cyber-security have managed to turn all her probes back from our core systems – it helps that the virus was never designed to attack biomechanical technology, seeing as how there’s no civilian use for it – but she’s proving a major spanner in the works. At times she’s been pretty much all that’s been keeping the insurgency afloat.”

“So what do we do?” Harris asked. “If she’s as good as you say, we can’t trust any reports we receive digitally, if we receive them at all. And hard copies would take weeks to reach us from the front lines. Not to mention the fact that any information we do acquire, we have no secure way of distributing unless we risk putting it through our computer systems. What use are we? Do we just sit around writing reports, hoping some soldier who’s never even heard of the Red Hood gets a lucky shot?”

Lieutenant Tilde’s eyes hardened and the sergeant sensed he may have overstepped himself. “Of course I’m aware that the chances of the two of us catching her from this basement are slim. But someone has to try. And on a more practical level – every report I file, she has to delete. Every infostream I send, she has to intercept. I don’t know if it takes her hours, days, or minutes, but I do know that while she’s doing that, she’s not murdering our troops. And I’m content with that. If you are not,” her voice was quiet, “I can arrange for a transfer to somewhere where you can try and take that lucky shot yourself. ”

Harris held up his hands in a placating gesture. “I apologise, Lieutenant. I’m quite happy with the assignment. What do you need me to do?”

Tilde smiled for the first time he entered the office, and Harris’s sinking feeling returned in full force. “First of all, I think it’s about time all of this paperwork was properly alphabetised. And we need to properly document our photographic evidence”

“Why, sir?”

“All the better to see her with, Sergeant.”

While Operation Ôkami did achieve some success in its intelligence work against the Red Hood, it ultimately failed to apprehend her. Sergeant Harris was killed in action during the insurgency’s final assault on New Constantinople. After a period of imprisonment and rehabilitation, Lieutenant Tilde was reinstated and struggled with a commissionership before her assassination by a powerful crime syndicate. Little more is know of the Red Hood than what is set forth here.