Hakker, Dispatch 009:
More and more pieces of the puzzle are coming together. A picture takes shape... a map of my enemy:
At the outer edges of the map is the multinational company, Toys 4 Eyes Inc. (not the real name), producing harmless electronic toys for the global mass-market. Hidden within the structure of the company is a world-spanning communications network that produces altered humans... one might call them "cyborg wannabes." (How many are they?) Each one quite possibly connected to the company network. All in the thrall of EYE, the person who deleted me from official existence over a year ago... on a whim. Cyborgs in this group talk of EYE like a god... a digital, all-seeing, omnipresent god.
But the piece in the puzzle's center is missing. The EYE piece. The man behind the curtain.
I don't have a photo of EYE, no mapped location, not even a voice to identify him/her by. He/she must be powerful enough to have Universal Access to all interconnected computers, the entire Internet. Toys 4 Eyes' computer network might be the key to this Universal Access.
Maybe, if I blew up key nodes in the company's server network, it'd cut off EYE's access? I don't like wasteful destruction. Can't be sure it would even work. Because of the other possibility: that EYE's Universal Access is built into the Internet's very structure... that he/she is one of the founders, or has learned some secret ultimate back-door in the system.
I've got to find out more things, in order to understand EYE's might. And it just so happens, that chance recently dropped a major clue into my lap. It came with what the blinded cyborg said... I'll tell more about it later, when it's safe.
While I prepared to follow this lead, I had unfinished business with a young woman called Inti Fatah... whose friends had stolen my videotape of the blind cyborg's confession.
She left a message for me (guess where - it's very close!) after I left her. I checked one of my many e-mail accounts and found a note. (Yes, it IS possible to use e-mail even if you don't have an address or ID number. Easiest thing in the world.)
You told me you are not what I think you are.
Let me tell you something: I am not what YOU think I am.
I will be in (omitted) for a few days. Look for me at the (omitted) in (omitted) between 24:00 and 01:00. Look for a black Ninja motorcycle.
-The girl in the shower
I didn't send a reply. I went there straight away.
I arrived in the City of O, not so far from T, by taxi. A quaint old student town, full of bright young things, bookshops, universities, old buildings and churches.
I didn't bother to get a room, but stashed away my heaviest, most illegal items at an undisclosed location. One time, last year, I was sloppy and stashed things where they got stolen by some teenagers. Luckily, they didn't find my laptop and computer gear. (I wonder what those kids ever did with 20 meters of nylon rope, a wiretapping antenna, a survival knife and enough cash to buy ten new bicycles?)
I found Inti's motorcycle at the appointed meeting-place: a sleek black Japanese thing with the "Ninja" logo on the fuel tank. It stood parked in an old medieval cobblestone alley. I waited in a shadow, rubbing my legs to keep them from going stiff in the night. Young couples walked by, talking about their studies, about TV shows they'd seen, relationships, their families... normal life walked past me like I was a shadow, a phantom.
The world is real, and I have never doubted it. But there are occasions, like that ghostly moment in the alley, when I think that people only seem to be sharing the same reality. In my experience, we all live in separate false realities, worlds we'd been either raised or driven or escaped into. And when these separate realities clash, we treat the other as an intruder from a competing reality. Inti Fatah lived in her reality, I in mine.
After a while Inti came out of a house. In her biker suit, her helmet under her arm, carrying a bag. I hesitated, then stepped into the lamplight. She slowed her steps as she approached me.
Neither of us smiled. I think we were both too tense, too aware of our differences. Or what we had in common, such as a violent life. Inti went over to her bike, put on her helmet and unlocked it. (What, no welcoming hug?)
"Where's my videotape?" I asked.
"Don't worry. You'll get it... after my people have studied it. I'm going to a street race here in town. Illegal, of course. Wanna come along?"
"Uh... I can't show myself in public too much..."
"I understand." She attached the bag to the bike, and took a few objects from the bag. "Here, wear this." A long black wig, a baseball cap, and a cheap jacket.
I put them on and looked for her reaction. But she'd pulled down the visor, and was sitting on her bike, urging me to sit behind her. Which I did. I grabbed a firm hold of her waist, and she started the motor. I clipped the mirrorshades onto my glasses.
Inti is a careful, quiet driver, like someone who's scared of getting dents or scrapes in a beloved vehicle. We came to a dirt track, crossed it and found ourselves on a straight stretch of countryside road. Young people and cars lined both sides of the asphalt, mingling and drinking. Scores of headlights illuminated the road. I'd spotted street races from a distance before, but never visited one - until now.
Inti cruised us through the crowd, saying hello to various people. Pumping music played the open cars. We arrived at a cleared part of the road, where a starting-line was spray-painted across the asphalt. She asked me to step off, and then joined the line-up of three other bikers.
The referee, a bald man with a mike and loudspeaker announced the night's first race. The girl next to him paraded the prize cup, which was stuffed with cash in the form of bills. (I assume the audience contributed to the sum.)
The referee did his "ready, set, go" routine while the bikers revved their engines and the audience cheered. He shouted "GO!" and four bikes took off in a cloud of fumes. The race was fairly short, on an almost completely straight 200-meter stretch. The referee looked to the other end of the track, and announced that Inti had won by a narrow margin.
She defended her victory in a second run with two new opponents - and won again. Friends carried her on their arms to the starting-line and she received the prize. She was happy. I envied her. "Congratulations!" I told Inti, avoiding the people who waved around their phone-cams and cameras at her. She shouted at me to wait by the bike, and the crowd carried her off.
I walked off the road to take a leak. When Inti returned, alone, I was waiting. The others drifted farther down the road, following an ongoing drift race. Inti stuffed the prize cup and money into the saddle-bags and put on her helmet. Her suit clung to her curves... how I yearned to zip it down. She straddled the bike and started it up.
I plopped down behind her, putting my hands on her thighs, greedily. Inti pushed her butt against me, teasing me even as she started to drive down an empty road. My hands went searching for her softer spots. She kept on driving, faster, on a steady course. The dark road rushed past us. I lost my nerve, calmed down and just held her waist. But then she reached back for my hand and firmly put it back between her legs.
Inti's body tightened up. She drove faster.
After a while we stopped by a night-open gas station. She went in and bought gasoline and some food. We ate outside, on a bench, and I asked her: "Where were you born?"
The question sounded like an accusation. Her eyes narrowed. "That's none of your business, Hakker. I live here, like you." The flush in her cheeks from the bike ride paled away.
"Come on, you live much better than I do. Citizenship, health insurance, community. I lost all that."
"I don't have citizenship." I faced her. Her eyes told me she was sincere, or she was as good a liar as I am. "I was born in a home, the authorities never learned about it. I was schooled at home. People from my parents' country came and taught me to fight. There were certain expectations placed on me. They wanted me to become a sleeper agent, a martyr for the cause. My father told me over and over that some day I was expected to walk into an embassy or a government building, loaded with explosives, and blow myself up. Of course, they fed me all this bullshit about being rewarded in Paradise."
"They tried to keep me isolated from the 'infidels' but I was too curious. I learned that there was more to life than reciting the holy book. I taught myself three languages on my own. I sneaked into university libraries, read school books, made new friends. I learned that my parents had lied to me about many things. I started dating a boy who was not a Muslim. When I rebelled, my family tried to stop me. They tried to force me to marry a disgusting old imam they had chosen for me. Of course I refused, and... and..."
I waited for her to say it. She crumpled her fast-food tray and tossed it in a waste bin, stared at her own steaming breath.
"And they tried to kill you," I said.
She nodded. The hate and bitterness stood out in lines across her forehead. "My own brother broke into my apartment and tried to stab me. By that time I'd learned to fight. I kicked'im in the crotch, and when he was down I rammed his own knife into his spine. But he survived. Now he's a cripple... can't even take a piss without help. I regret nothing. He was such a f***ing monster. He really wanted me to die, just because I wasn't obedient enough."
She put her fists on the table - and I noticed, for the first time, the thin parallel scars on both her wrists. Not deep, but they were there. And I said: "There's some part of you that wants to die. You're still risking your life for a cause, or to win a contest... not the old causes, but still... it's what you were taught to do. I don't like that. I was taught to survive."
Inti didn't flinch when I gently held her scarred wrists. "There's some part of you that wants everyone else to die."
I let go of her wrists. "I wouldn't go quite that far."
"Come on. I'm tired. Let's go somewhere warm. I know a friend."
We drove to a suburb, and Into made a phone call. A friend opened for us and we slept in a downstairs room. It seemed like Inti had a network of hideouts. I wondered if she still did work for terrorists, and what else her biker girlfriends did apart from busting prostitution rings.
But then, in the hideout, we were left alone and could see just each other, not the agendas and the past. There was only our faces, lips and hands all over our bodies. This wouldn't, couldn't last... maybe that only made the passion more intense. Our kisses were hungry, desperate. He skin tasted of salt and her own wonderful scent. I bit the flesh of her neck, just hard enough not to harm the skin, and she gasped with delight.
We did our best to satisfy each other. Inti is beautiful as she is. In her climax, her beauty became almost too much to watch. For a brief, brief time I could forget my worries and only think of her. I know we didn't say much. We looked at each other, between sex, as if to try and hypnotize each other. As if we tried to erase our thoughts and memories with the purity of passion.
We slept late. Then we showered and ate lunch, no one else around to bother us. We both helped to cook the food - old habit, I suppose. The mutual silence was heavy and full of foreboding. The glances we exchanged were cautious. We were afraid of getting betrayed, hurt, suckered - MURDERED - at the last minute.
The old "I just want us to be friends" routine could have spared us both a lot of agony... but I couldn't bring myself to lie. I wanted her so badly it hurt. At the same time, I caught myself checking she wasn't putting something in my food. And it made me ashamed.
Damn. How I wish that two people could sleep with each other... and then, like, all their mutual doubts and suspicions and lack of communication would just go away. It's never like that in real life.
Then there was time to part ways. We stood by the door, waiting for one of us to open it and walk out first. Out of the blue, I asked her: "Where did your gang get their training?"
She frowned. "Whaddya mean? I mean, of course I taught them what I'd been taught."
"Your girls are too damn good as a team. You're a leader type, but I can't picture you instructing young women in group discipline. And the military doesn't train private biker gangs. Who do you work for, Inti Fatah? The PLO? Hamas? The Al-Aqsa Brigades? Fatah?"
Inti glared at me, her large dark eyes narrow and hostile. My eyes became a mask, like my face - a defensive mask of stone-cold calm. I had trained that face since I was ten. It was unreadable.
"F*** off!" she said, and went into a combat stance. So did I, reaching for my umbrella. We both froze still, sizing each other up.
"I don't want to fight you," I said quickly. "I never hold back in fights."
She took a quick, impulsive step away from me. I wasn't proud that I'd made her flinch. Inti's breath hissed in and out of her nostrils.
"Maybe I hate my family for what they did to me. But I still support their cause - to defeat Israel - in my own way. In return my gang gets military training. What do you care about that? Have you got allegiances to someone? Or something, besides yourself?"
I blinked. Allegiances? To a mother who was murdered by the kind of people that Inti and her kind call "martyrs?" To an Israeli father who rejected his heritage and made science his god?
"Are you an anti-Semite?" I asked, putting one finger against the tip of my nose, pulling it down to resemble the ancient caricature. My face doesn't look "Jewish." But neither does Inti look like an "Arab." Those are just stupid labels. When people say race, they really mean culture. And to be honest, I don't like Inti's culture or her support of it. It's the kind of allegiance that makes a girl untrustworthy. She may be a rebel on the surface, but the roots go deep... too deep.
"If you were a Jew it wouldn't matter to me," she said, flatly and without emotion. "Besides, I know you're not. You're not circumcised."
"Anyone who's involved with, or supports terrorism is my enemy," I said. "You won't get a second warning."
She sighed, like she'd had this discussion many times before. "And state terrorism, that's okay, huh? Soldiers shooting kids who throw rocks at tanks, whaddya call that?"
"If your sponsors asked you to blow up a bus full of people, would you do it?"
She turned away. Her silence was a loud, ugly reply. I strode past her, to the backdoor, and walked out of the house. Looked back, once. Saw no one at the door, or in the windows. Looked ahead. No biker girls following me.
All right... back to the war.
I returned to my gear where I'd stashed it away, and donned a new disguise. I'd found some great make-up advice on a website for people who work in Hollywood. When I was done, I appeared taller, a different age... even thinner. (Corsets are uncomfortable as hell. I'll never wear one again.)
Then I visited one of the several university buildings in the City of O. What I'd heard from the blind cyborg was something he'd picked up from internal "corporate chatter": Toys 4 Eyes was looking to hire a scientist from this particular university. Whether he meant "hire" as in "regular work" or as in "kidnap and enslave" I couldn't tell.
This place was a center of research. I walked past some very interesting shiny labs, and read notices about fascinating lectures. If I'd had a normal life, I'd love to be a student here.
Passing by an auditorium, I saw a notice at the entrance. "Guest lecturer: ADA LOVELACE" (not her real name). The date was... THREE DAYS AGO. I wanted to scream and kick things, including myself. I should have hacked the university server before I went here! Inti Fatah had distracted me.
I pretended to be an American student on a visit from California, and approached a group of teachers.
They told me that yes, Dr. Lovelace's lecture had been videotaped. I brightened up... and then they explained that the tape was mysteriously missing. I dared to ask if Dr. Lovelace had returned to America. One teacher said yes. Another one, who claimed he knew her, said that she called him yesterday to ask for directions. Apparently she was still in the country, in the city of M, on a vacation or something.
I probed for details: Had people from any company met her at the university? Or asked to hire scientists? That teacher said (quote): "There was this man from some tech company... at the lecture. He asked a few questions during her lecture, but he didn't talk to her afterwards. Not as far as I know, anyway. He didn't talk to anyone else, that's for sure."
The teacher gave me his own phone number and asked me to call him back: "I promise to tell her where she is, when she gets in touch with me." I wrote down the teacher's phone number and promised to call him. Evidently she didn't have a cell phone, so he couldn't find her that way. (What kind of scientist doesn't own a f***ing cell phone? I didn't trust that teacher, but he didn't seem to have wires in his head or cameras in his eyes...) I thanked them all and left.
My intuition was that EYE's cyborg henchmen were as camera-shy as I am. It stood to reason that they'd avoid any public scrutiny... so it was extremely unlikely that one of them was going to work in a university. On the other hand, universities have always been important recruiting territory for cults and extreme movements. There could be spies here... or just paid informers.
I checked around for any signs of students sporting suspect slogans or symbols. The students had plenty of t-shirts, stickers and buttons: "THE WHITE STRIPES", "ROCKY" (a local comic-strip character, not the movie), "THE MATRIX", "THE ONE WHO DIES WITH THE MOST FILES WINS", "STAR TREK" (duh)... and far too many "LORD OF THE RINGS" images and logos. Not a single piece of "EYE" propaganda or Toys 4 Eyes advertising/merchandise. Where's the creativity in kids these days? It's like a cartoon I saw once - a crowd of identical drones, all thinking: "I AM UNIQUE."
That teacher who claimed to know Ada Lovelace was my only hope. I had to ask him more. Ask him real hard. I used the free wireless Net access in the campus library, and found his address.
When he came home that evening, I was waiting for him. In the shadows.
He told me he had a wife and family - a number of times - after I'd worked him over a little. He never saw my face (I wore a sock over my head). He answered all my questions. Turned out he'd lied about a few things: he didn't really know Dr. Lovelace... didn't have a wife and family... and the Toys 4 Eyes representative HAD talked to Dr. Lovelace after her lecture. The teacher had not heard what was said, but Lovelace had said goodbye to the company man shortly thereafter.
I asked on: What was the name, title and appearance of the company representative? How old was he? Did Lovelace seem to know him from before? Had he given her anything - money, an object, a document? Had she told you about traveling to the city of M, BEFORE or AFTER she talked to that company man?
The representative's name and title were (omitted). He looked to be (omitted), about (omitted) years old. She didn't seem to recognize him. He'd given her an envelope. Lovelace had told the teachers that she'd visit M... only AFTER the company man left.
Another thing - and I swear this is true: After the first round of questions, while I searched this teacher's home for information, I found a large collection of indecent photographs - of children. In situations they couldn't possibly want to be in. This made me very angry. I really had to restrain myself not to enjoy hurting the bastard. My sensei had warned me: Stay cold in your heart.
Finally, when I'd caused him some serious pain, the teacher remembered - talking very quickly - that Lovelace had responded coldly to his repeated advances. She hadn't given away her phone number because she didn't want him to call her. But she had mentioned going on a brief vacation in the city of M, before returning to America. He had overheard her, and she had said something about "cult research" and an "invitation."
I was in a really bad mood. And I admit I took it out on that teacher... a complete stranger who happened to be a menace to all the world's children wherever he went. I knocked him out with a blow to the neck, then dragged him into his car and drove it away.
The car was later found crashed and burned few miles from his home, with him behind the steering-wheel - or should I say inside the steering-wheel. I had made sure that the police would discover his photo collection and draw their own conclusions. (Suppose the bastard had had a family - would I have spared him then? I'd rather not think about that.)
Feeling nauseous, pissed off and stressed out, I set off to the city of M - right after I posted this dispatch...
continued in Dispatch 010..