Hakker, Dispatch 007:
You've got to understand how crazy my situation has become, the limitations I'm living under. Things that ordinary citizens can do, I can't.
I'm doing all I can to find out what the company Toys 4 Eyes (not the real name) is up to (because of its possible links to EYE)... but there are these limitations:
I can't just go to the police and tell them: "There's someone called EYE and his/her weirdo henchmen who are trying to kill me. Get a search warrant for Toys 4 Eyes, Inc." (And when the police asks the obvious question, "What's the motive for trying to kill you?" what do I say? "Uh... I was kind of rude in a chat room.")
I can't go to the U.S. military and say: "My apartment was blown up by a cruise missile last year, probably one of yours. Someone has Universal Access and can hack all your computers." (I wonder if their people are aware of the problem? If it only happened once, they'd likely think it was just a glitch in the software. And then they covered it up. You don't believe that? Look, computers are not as perfect as in the movies. I could tell you horror stories from people who code programs for the military. People killed by mistake? World War III almost broke out because of bugs in the code? Yep. Several times.)
I can't go to the security firms and phone companies of the world and say: "Someone with Universal Access can hack into all your camera installations, phone-cams and databases." (And in case you wondered, I do use disguises when I go shopping in the daytime. I try not to get my face on surveillance cameras. Or I use a middleman. Or I steal.)
I can't use my own cell-phone. I've got to move on immediately after I make a call from a pay phone. I can't go to a school. I can't go to the dentist (dentists make records of dental X-rays, which can be used to identify people)... I can't register a driver's license. (Which I why I still drive a moped.)
And of course, I can't tell you everything I do and know. That's why I describe events after they happened. When you read "I slept at such-and-such a place" it means I've already moved on. So far it's worked...
But it's getting harder. It's come to the point where I can't do much of anything without attracting EYE's attention. For a long time I concentrated on staying alive without an official identity, and tried to make as much money as possible until I could get an idea of what to do. EYE must've come to think I was out of the picture.
I realize that I've got myself to blame: as soon as I posted this journal on the Internet, EYE found out I was still alive and still very pissed off. And as long as I keep posting these dispatches, I'll send EYE and his/her henchmen clues to what I'm doing.
So you may ask: why didn't I just stay low, live quietly?
I TRIED to - and I felt my mind slowly coming apart. I simply had to tell the world my story, or I'd go insane...
This much news I can tell you:
After I escaped the hospital - minus 1 piece of intestine - I stayed in hiding until the scars healed. The doctor was right, they were very small scars and healed quickly. (In my hurry I forgot to pay the hospital, and I don't pay taxes. I'll make an anonymous donation later.)
By the time I had recuperated from the surgery, I'd located a few addresses and matched them with the Toys 4 Eyes server traffic I'd scanned. An employee with the company lived in a town not far from where I'd holed up, so I decided to go there and ask him a few hard questions.
Let me tell you some things I've learned about Toys 4 Eyes, Inc. It sells El Cheapo electronic toys for the mass market - night-vision goggles, laser microphones, metal detectors and such hardware for kids and amateur detectives. (I've bought some of their gear myself. It's good low-budget stuff).
But when it comes to specific data about the company itself, Toys 4 Eyes is the proverbial dog that didn't bark. Its shares aren't on the stock market, but its merchandise is for sale in the entire Western World.
The Toys 4 Eyes website sells products, and it has an e-mail address, but no personal names are mentioned on the site.
In the business registers, the Vice President and Chief of Marketing are listed with the same Russian phone numbers. Toys 4 Eyes does have a small Russian branch office - in St. Petersburg - and its phone number matches that of the CEO.
The company doesn't get ANY news coverage EVER - it keeps a low profile - and does not advertise itself. All its products are sold through big, well-known retail chains. On the product boxes it says "Made in the EU." The products are manufactured, warehoused and shipped, but there is no central HQ where designers and engineers meet.
All sizable companies that sell things have salespeople. I asked two of the retail stories that stock Toys 4 Eyes products: "I want to make a big order, can you give me the phone number to your local Toys 4 Eyes sales rep?" Both stores replied in the same manner, and it sounded dead earnest: "We've never had a visit from Toys 4 Eyes. They delivered free product samples through the mail, and we were so impressed by the quality and low prices, that we signed up at once. None of our customers have ever complained about or returned a Toys 4 Eyes product."
Now for the tech specs: Toys 4 Eyes has several networked servers spread across the world, and they are not kept secret. Toys 4 Eyes is the official registered owner of all its own servers. Tracking their traffic was possible because the servers are connected through the regular phone lines and Internet nodes - so the amount of traffic can be monitored without any real difficulty. All their data transmissions are encrypted, though, so I can't listen in on what's actually being communicated.
Judging by the intense network traffic between servers, it seems the entire company is run through the network. No paperwork. Every warehouse and its inventory is connected to the network. All parts are controlled as a single unit, very efficient - very little staff needed. So finding an employee in this country was kind of tricky.
Since I couldn't reach or locate an office employee, boss or sales rep, I searched for technical maintenance staff... the guys who keep the servers and network software in working order. The closest server was located in the small town of V, north of the capital.
I took the bus north. However, when I arrived in the town of V I got distracted by some stupid things that had absolutely nothing to do with my goal - but an interesting episode somehow...
I stepped off the bus in the town of V, an evening in October. A small inland sawmill town, walled in by hills and planted pine forest on all sides. The only other local industry seemed to be the big gravel pit just outside town.
By the bus station where I arrived stood a big sign-post, with the message: WELCOME TO SHIT-PILE - FREE PARKING! (Someone had spraypainted "SHIT-PILE" on top of the town name.)
The streets of Shit-Pile were practically deserted. In the distance I could hear music playing from one of the lit house windows. Clouds hung low in the sky and had that faint forest-on-fire hue from the town lights. (No, the forest wasn't on fire.) On the small plaza across the street, two old town drunks sat on a bench, chatting in their growling, wretched manner.
I was hungry, thirsty and tired, so I walked to the nearby open convenience store... thinking of where to stay, how to leave. This was a small place where a stranger couldn't blend in, so I had to be careful. I couldn't lean on my target until I had him cornered outside the town. I looked about me for escape routes - I always do in a new place. But it was so dark I could hardly see anything outside the cluster of houses outside the town center.
It was that kind of independent store where there's a door bell that goes ring-a-ling! when you enter. Not even a surveillance camera. Newspapers and magazines on the wall to the left, three rows of food and goods to the left, refrigerated shelves in the far corner. The clerk, an aging balding man, sat behind the counter reading a tabloid newspaper - the front page headline screamed COMPLAINED ABOUT NOISE - SHOT DEAD BY NEIGHBOR. He gave me a suspicious glance; did I look like I was going to kill him? I kept my cap on, and strolled down the aisles searching for food, drink, toilet paper, batteries for my toothbrush and other stuff.
Outside came the sound of a car that drove by and stopped outside. While I was opening the fridge cabinet, looking for youghurt, I heard a ring-a-ling-a-ling! Two people entered, slamming the door shut behind them. Then came the oily clicks of a large shotgun being readied for fire... plus a pistol... two men shouting at the clerk to step away from the alarm button...
And a loud boom from the gun. Then, the wet thump of a body dropping to the floor.
I was trapped two rows away, hiding behind a shelf and a pile of kitchenware on sale. Not enough space to use the umbrella or any other of my weapons. I heard the robbers move in behind the counter and open the cash register. One of them said he'd seen someone else enter earlier. If I ran for the exit, they'd gun me down in the doorway. Couldn't smash a window, either - they were blocked by shelves.
I looked up at the ceiling. One of the robbers began to move to the exit, shouting. I saw the power cable that ran from the ceiling light strips, down the wall right next to the fridge cabinet, where it ran parallel with the cable feeding the fridge lights. I grabbed a meat clever from the kitchenware sale and chopped the cables. Sparks flew but I didn't get a shock. (I was wearing leather gloves and the cleaver handle was thick plastic. Don't try this at home, kids.)
The shop went pitch black. The two robbers shouted at someone they couldn't see (me). I picked more kitchen knives and cleavers from the rack and crouched behind a shelf. Slivers of light leaked in through the blocked windows and the exit door. One robber came clamping down an aisle toward the darkened fridge cabinet. When he arrived I had a clear angle - and threw two knives at him - one - two - one hit. He didn't scream, but he tumbled against a shelf and I heard his pistol clatter against the floor. Threw myself to the floor and went for the pistol.
As I lay stretched flat on my belly, groping in the dark, the second robber opened fire at the shelves over my head. Vegetables, snacks and shards of glass rained down over me. A curious mix of smells - food and gunsmoke - filled the air. The mist of gunsmoke made it even harder to see anything. My ears were aching with the noise, numb to all sounds. But my hands found the pistol on the floor. It was fitted with a silencer. I turned around, leaning against my backpack, and took aim down the shopping aisle. The second robber was a tall trembling shadow, outlined by the light from the doorway.
I squeezed the trigger four times, could barely hear the shots. He wasn't thrown backward; the bullets must've passed right through him. Instead he slowly sank down, the shotgun slipping from his fingers. I crawled to my feet... and slipped on the mess of blood, food and glass shards, tumbling into a shelf. I swore, and then the robber on the floor began to scream. He had a thin meat knife sticking out of his torso.
As I made my way to the exit, pocketing some food items on the way, I heard the robber on the floor scream - the noise coming through muffled, like I had cotton in my ears: "Who the hell are you, motherf***er?"
"Nobody," I said, dropping the pistol in a waste basket as I left.
No alarms could be heard when I came out in the street. The robbers' car was standing outside. I checked, and it was unlocked - but there were no keys in the ignition. Then I heard shouts in the vicinity and I ran for the nearest dark alleyway away from the store.
I came up against a fence topped with razorwire. The alley had been carefully fenced in... had a pair of pincers in my backpack, but no time to use'em. I turned around... and two cars screeched in front of the alley, blocking the way. Headlights and flashlights glared. I had a stick of dynamite and a few blast caps on me. But when I heard the click of guns from the cars, and men shouting at me to stand still, I knew I had to stay calm.
A figure emerged from the blinding light - a shadow at first, then a man as it walked closer... a middle-aged, fit man in a leather jacket, with the eyes of a confident lunatic. I was wearing the mirrorshades on my glasses, so he couldn't see my eyes. He stopped and crossed his arms. About my height. Unarmed.
"Nice night for a walk," he said.
"Just passing through town," I said, standing still. I could kill him, but then the others would just gun me down.
"There's been a robbery," he said. His phone beeped a Wagner tune and he held it to his ear. "Yes? Okay. Okay. I'll be there soon." He turned to me. "The owner of the store was killed. Someone shot one of the robbers and stabbed the other one. You know anything about that?"
"Do I look like a robber to you?"
He looked me over. There was blood on my sneakers, though maybe it didn't show from where he was looking. "Frankly, I don't know what you're supposed to look like. That uniform or whatever it is... are you on leave from the army or something?"
"Or something. I'm Roger. And you are?"
"In this town I'm the Major. I run the local vigilance committee." He grinned, like he was in charge of things and taking it for granted.
"Good. I'll just be on my way, okay? The second robber is still alive, he can tell you I'm not one of his gang."
"So you got those two armed robbers... all by yourself?"
"No! Are you crazy?" I lied. "The shopkeeper shot one of them. I was just caught in the crossfire, okay?"
"The shopkeeper doesn't have a gun. You know... Roger... I think we need each other's help."
The trembling in my legs stopped. I needed this Napoleon wannabe like I needed a hole in the head... bet he wasn't even a real "major." The Major gestured to the cars, and the headlights were switched off.
"You look tired," he said. "I don't want to threaten you, but we've got the whole central town fenced in and guarded. You can't run away. Let's talk."
This guy reminded me of why I'd been so bored by military service. But I came along. While the vigilantes kept their rifles and shotguns trained on me, the Major and I got into the backseat of his car. A hulk of a skinhead was our driver, and he took the car on a drive around the town center. Though it was dark outside, I glimpsed razorwire fences in all directions.
The Major explained: since the paper-mill closed down ("that damn cheap foreign competition, you know") the town's population and coffers had shrunk. They didn't have a police force, because the county had to cut down on expenses a few years ago. The police in the neighboring counties was supposed to come running whenever it was needed... well, in theory at least. The reality was that Shit-Pile lay in a big county of mostly forest, and it would take the police two hours by car to reach the town - four during winter.
And wouldn't you know it - town's crime statistics went through the roof. Robberies every month, hard drugs sold to kids, corruption, murders, people being threatened by dealers to sell their homes at rip-off prices. It was a takeover attempt. This small town in the middle of nowhere was rapidly becoming Crime Central of the north.
So the taxpayers of Shit-Pile decided to take matters into their own hands. They pooled their resources into an unofficial vigilance committee, with armed patrols, and set up fences around the town center to prevent criminals from escaping. The only roads in and out of town were guarded by surveillance cameras and men with night-scopes.
The Major bragged to me about his military credentials. He claimed that under his leadership the vigilantes had "taken care of" several gang members who had tried to establish a stronghold in the county. This small gang war hadn't been in the national or even the local news. (There was no town newspaper.) I asked the Major how many gang members his vigilantes had killed. He said nine.
I asked him: "And the bodies?"
"They just... disappeared."
I thought about the gravel pit just outside town. If I didn't watch my back, I'd "disappear" too.
I asked the Major if he knew anything about the local Toys 4 Eyes office, but he said he had nothing to do with it. The company didn't hire people; it only had one employee, and he was out of town.
"You said we could help each other," I told the Major. "Here's what I need help with. Find me someone who knows someone who works for Toys 4 Eyes. No questions asked. That's all I need." He gave me a searching look, as if he was looking for an angle. Then he shrugged.
"So what can I help you with, Major?"
"I want to hire you for a little mop-up job. Very hush-hush. The gang that's tried to take over town has a leader and they gather to meet, but we've never managed to find out who their leader is or how they meet."
"Where exactly does this gang come from? Are the members from here?"
"A few, but we know that the main body are Russians or Lithuanians. They sneaked in from Russia across Finland. It's pretty easy to bribe Russian customs officers. We have to lure them out in the open and wipe them out..." His eyes glared past me. "Wipe them out, like the rats they are. Or they'll just escape to safety behind the Russian border."
I didn't ask the obvious question: Why are you so damn eager to keep the cops out of this? I had a hunch I'd find out soon enough. I had a hunch that the Major's crew was the rival gang competing to control town.
I'd kept watching where we were going. The car had done a route around town - not much to see - and it drove into the driveway of a two-story wooden house. It said HOTEL on a small sign over the door. Only a few windows were lit. We went into the lobby.
"You'll get a room to yourself. Don't worry about paying the bill, I know the owner."
"Does it have Internet? TV?"
"Only TV. Fridge is full of booze. Drink as much as you like, but we'll need you tomorrow. Ulbert will stay here and keep watch."
The big skinhead - Ulbert (not his real name) - followed us all the time. I felt his dull, piggy eyes stare at me, and he had a pistol holster in his belt. No, I didn't like him either. They showed me to my room - it was good enough for one guy, had a bathroom - and locked the door from outside. Great. At least they didn't search me (then I would've used the blast caps and blown their faces and hands clean off).
I used the bathroom, took a shower and changed underwear, tossing the old one. Started to yawn, but I couldn't afford to sleep just yet. Too much uncertainty. Checked that all my weapons gear was in place and ready to use. Sharpened knitting needles. Throwing stars. Blast caps. Dynamite stick. And my modified umbrella (I just love it).
The fridge did contain some food, but it was mainly stuffed with clear, full bottles... the labels read "Smirnoff Vodka." Looked closer. The labels were shitty copies. The clear liquid in the bottles smelled distinctly of mash. The clues were so obvious, it was almost funny. Maybe the Major wanted me to understand, without having to say it.
I drank some beer and ate the food, then I knocked hard on the door until the skinhead came and locked up. He didn't look happy.
"Tell the Major I want to interrogate the robber from the store. I know how to make people talk."
"I have my orders. You look like you're just itching to leave town."
"You read my mind, Einstein. I'll leave as soon as I'm done here. Will you tell the Major, or am I going to tell him that you're obstructing him?"
Amazing, that such small dumb eyes can express so much hate. Ulbert made the call. I collected all my stuff and put on the backpack.
The surviving robber had taken a knife - I stand accused - in the lower torso. The vigilantes had grabbed him as he tried to escape the store. It was fairly likely that he, too, would "disappear." But he was injured, so the Major's men couldn't beat him into talking.
Ulbert drove me to another house in town, and we went down into a large concrete basement. Downstairs, the Major was waiting with two other men from town. The robber's lower torso was in bandages. They had tied his wrists and ankles to the iron bedstead where was lying. The robber stared up at me when he saw me coming. He did look like a Russian "gangsta" - especially with the expensive leather jacket, gold chain and gaudy wristwatch he was wearing.
The guy was pale. There was a big red spot on the bandage. Damn. Couldn't even tell how long he'd last.
"Leave me alone with him. Fifteen minutes and he'll sing. You got a tape-recorder?"
He did, but it wasn't the type that could record speech. (I had one, hidden in my pants, but I certainly wasn't going to show it to them!)
"Don't hurt him again," the Major said. "He's bled too much already."
"I won't hit, cut, stab or kick him."
"Fifteen minutes." They walked out and locked the door. The Russian was alone with me. I did some stretching exercises on the spot, and took off my cap. It was cold outside, but in here the radiator was making the room too warm. I turned the chair away from the doorway, picked up the things I needed from my pockets, and got to work.
"Do you recognize me?" I asked, moving in on the bed where he was tied. I could hear his quick, tense breathing. "From the store. You killed the shopkeeper. How much money did he have?"
He said something in Russian, angrily.
"Speak English, please," I asked softly.
He continued to speak in Russian. I took my electric lighter, and a long piece of fuse. Then I showed him a blast cap. It doesn't look much - like one of those plastic containers you find inside Kinder chocolate eggs - but he understood when I connected the fuse to it.
"This is a slow fuse," I explained calmly. "It takes about forty seconds. The charge in this cap is not strong enough to kill you, but if I place it close to your body it will burn a hole, a bit smaller than a fist."
I quickly stuffed the blast cap down his pants. He made protests, shook the bed, but with those tied ankles and the wound he wasn't going to make a break. I laid out the fuse toward the door, and turned the light switch. In the total darkness, neither of us saw a thing... until I turned on my lighter and lit the end of the fuse. The fizzling, very small flame started crawling toward the bed.
I waited, said nothing. His breathing quickened. I could just about make out how he writhed in the narrow bed; the bedsprings creaked loudly. He said something in Russian.
"In English - please." I didn't sound so nice now. "Your name, your boss, the time and place of your next meeting with the boss, and/or your crew."
And did he talk... always with reservations: "I don't know more..." then: "It's all I know, I swear..." then: "They'll kill me if I tell!" And finally, he told me all I needed to know. Plus a little bonus: the location of his personal cash-'n-dope stash.
The flame was a few inches from the Russian's crotch when I cut the fuse. By that time he was screaming incoherently.
"Calm down," I said, yawning. "You're making me deaf." I had a headache. It was late.
I switched on the light and opened the door. The Major and Ulbert were waiting in the doorway, smoking cigarettes. Now, how much should I tell the Major? Did I want him to succeed or not? It all depended on how crafty he and his associates were. The dumber they were - and so far, they'd been very dumb - the easier it was going to be to get away from them. The last thing I wanted was the Major to realize how much that Russian had told me about the Major. I felt no admiration for his little vigilante committee. Any idiot could have done that, and he still didn't manage to prevent the store from being robbed.
I told him the robber's name, the name of the boss, and the time and place of the gang's next meeting. It was soon - the same night, out in the gravel pit - and in that meeting the gang would decide whether to bail out and leave town... or launch an all-out assault on the vigilante committee.
The Major was pleased. "Great work. There's money in this for you. Have you thought about staying here a while?"
"We'll see. These guys are tough. How many people are you sending to the pit tonight?"
He frowned, apparently thinking, and said: "Just you, me and Ulbert. Ulbert's and mine military training give us an advantage. We'll lay an ambush for the Russians. And we've got hardware from the local Home Guard. You got a piece?"
"We'll lend you an AK with a laser-sight. Ulbert mans the machine-gun, I throw the grenades and we use night scopes. They'll never know what hit them."
The Major didn't want witnesses. You know, this used to be a pretty peaceful country. What happened? When did it go bad? Was it when someone shot the Prime Minister, the first such crime in this country for almost 200 years? It's gotten... colder. The outside world is pressing on.
"What's in it for me?"
The Major grinned. He had expected this.
"Ten grand now, plus all the cash and dope we find on the gang members. And a car if you need one."
"Okay. Let's go." I turned to Ulbert, who was looking restless, and gave him a predator grin. "You up to it? Wanna kill a few people tonight?"
"Sure, no problemo." The slight tremble in his voice was excitement. I wasn't excited. This was a complete waste of my time. I was supposed to look for Toys 4 Eyes' local server and staff.
We arrived by car a shirt distance from the gravel pit. The site was lit by a battery of yellow floodlights; machines and trucks stood silent, as if they were asleep and this was their nest. We unpacked the weapons from the car trunk. Ulbert and the Major put on bulletproof vests and Kevlar helmets. We got one pair of night-vision goggles each. The Major took the lead, Ulbert went behind me with the big machine-gun. The unspoken threat was in his piggy eyes: if I tried to sneak away or turn my gun on them, he'd shoot me.
This was going to get bloody.
We made our way through the woods at the edges of the pit, and set up positions. Spaced twenty meters apart. I got an extra ammo clip. When the others weren't looking, I checked that they hadn't given me blanks. The ammo was live. The laser-sight worked. The AK seemed to be in order. I lay down and waited - and planned what would come next. My main worry was Ulbert and his machine-gun.
Four cars and a van drove into the floor of the big pit, all at once. They stopped and some men came out, talking in Russian and bad English.
The Major made a gesture. Ulbert opened fire on the pit floodlights. All went dark around us, while we pulled down our night scopes. My world was grainy green. I took careful aim and shot the car tires first. Bam. Bam. Bam. Bam.
Then the drivers. Bang. Bang. Bang. Various Russian swear words and cries.
Then the gas tanks on the vans. Blang. Boom. Snap, crackle, pop.
Ulbert wasn't so subtle. He riddled the car windows with bullets. The pit echoed with noise and screams. The major didn't throw any grenades. He pulled a submachine-gun on where I was lying, and fired the whole magazine at my head and my AK.
Except, of course, that he only hit a gray baseball cap on top of a stone. I had already rolled out of sight. Next to the cap lay the AK, still warm. From my hiding-place I saw him pick it up and rush for Ulbert's position.
Ulbert stopped firing. From the gravel pit came the faint plea from a dying man... then, silence.
The Major called out for Ulbert. The big skinhead didn't answer. The Major took off his night-scope and reached down to Ulbert, who was still lying down by the machine-gun. A gasp from the Major told me that he'd noticed the small, sharp knitting-needle that was sticking out of the back of Ulbert's neck.
"Did you use up all your ammo, Major?" I asked from the shadows of the woods. "You won the battle, but you lost the war."
He tried to fire his gun again - click-click - and tossed it. He took my AK, it still had bullets in it.
"You bastard. You killed him."
"I knew you didn't want any witnesses. All this noise and shooting? The cops were bound to find out. I was the perfect scapegoat. The cops would call it an internal showdown among the Russians. And you could go on with your booze factory."
"I'm just supporting my town," he said, voice hoarse and full of tears. "I protect this town, this country from foreigners who come here to take over!"
"I'm going to collect my bonus. Then I'm leaving. Don't try to stop me." I picked up the machine-gun and carried it over my shoulder, turning my back on the Major. He raised the AK I had left behind and opened fire. Bang-Bang. Scream. I turned around and saw him drop to his knees, holding his hands over his bloody, ruined face.
I guess someone must've poured sand into the gun. The bullets blew up in his face. He kept screaming as I went back to the car and drove down into the pit with the headlights out. All was green and grainy in the night-scope view. I picked up whatever cash and useful things I could find on the dead Russians, and drove away.
I slept in the car that night, at an undisclosed location. The next day I found a telephone pole, out in the forest. I climbed the pole and used my equipment for connecting the phone cable to my wireless modem. (Yes, I do run the risk of electrocuting myself. No, it's not that easy. Yes, of course I use gloves.)
But then I found out the bad news: fierce solar activity had caused disturbances. The Toys 4 Eyes company's Internet server in Shit-Pile County was temporarily shut down.
I said "F***!" a lot that day.
continued in the next dispatch..
"HAKKER: DISPATCHES" is (c) A.R.Yngve 1989, 2003.
This is a work of fiction. The characters and actions described herein are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons and events is coincidental. This work of fiction is not intended to incite to the violent and/or criminal acts described herein.
H.Ellison no longer exists.