HAKKER: dispatches

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Hakker, Dispatch 002:

July 2003



It's the one-year anniversary of when I was deleted. When I found out that someone I've never seen wanted me dead. No, that's wrong... not just dead. Wanted me erased out of public memory. He or she goes under the nickname "EYE." I found EYE by complete coincidence. I was sitting in my apartment one summer night, exactly one year ago...

Around that time, I'd fallen into the habit of staying up all night and sleeping during the day. (For two reasons - to save up on phone bills, and because I used to sneak around the city at night, when I wanted to hack a server up close, or steal other stuff.)

That particular night, I'd had too much Cola and caffeine tablets. All hyped up and nowhere to go, I was trying out a new hacking routine I was working on. Other hackers love to show off their programs, to gain status in the "community." I never do. I do this for me, not for the other nerds. Ran a test of the program.

I can't go into coding details here, but for the first test, the program searched the Web for "sub-averagely common" words and phrases which appeared in text files. My pet theory being tested then was that (yes, I didn't know what I was doing) when people created passwords, they unconsciously picked neither the most obscure words, nor the most common words (such as "the" or "and") but basic words which occur with fairly predictable probability. Once I had established which words/phrases fitted my definition, I'd use variations on these to generate passwords and break into databases.

The program searched the World Wide Mess for a while... and the results came up on the screen. I noticed one particular text string that scored high on my "sub-averagely common" index: "eye am." It appeared randomly in all sorts of text files, mostly as a bad pun, or as an attempt to sound "deep." I typed in the letters "eye am" into my hacking routine, as the number one basis for making password variations. I opened the login page to a big military server I'd found earlier (not telling you where), and ran my little hacking program.

But... a bug in my code caused the program to send the exact password "EYE AM" without changes or variations. I had to go to the bathroom then, so I went away and just let the program run. It attempted to log on about nine billion times to the same server, using the "EYE AM" password over and over.

I came back, then I went into the kitchen to eat. Half an hour went by, nothing happening... then, when I came back into the room, my computer screen suddenly went black. A lone white cursor appeared and a chat routine started out of nowhere... we chatted for, what, 30 seconds? I type fast.

I've still got the chat log stored, because I have this screen-grabbing gizmo I always flick on when I've got something that I feel is going to disappear fast. I must've read that chat screen a hundred times, and it still makes zero sense:


-i'm a hakker. so who are you, the artist formerly known as prince?


-what do you do for a living?


-good for you. if you're trying to trace me, forget it.


-this is stupid. Start making sense or i cut the connection.


-you're breaking my heart.


-drop dead.


-i said you can't trace me. bye.

I reach for the cable plug to cut the modem connection - and then the screen is crammed with loads and loads of information, scrolling like crazy. All the info appears in a random sequence, but ALL of it is about me - H. Ellison - my ID number, my photograph, every time I'd bought something with a credit card, my bank accounts, surveillance camera pictures where my face is visible, chat logs with my lines in them, Web searches I've done, e-mails I've sent, my date of birth...

Seeing this scroll by, I tell myself softly: "I'm sleeping. Dreaming... a stupid dream." The show lasts about ten seconds - then the computer shuts off. And all the power in my apartment cuts off. The room goes dark. I fumble in the dark for a flashlight.

Then I recall a scene from an old movie, where the teenage hacker hero hacks into a military computer and sets off a dangerous wargame. I immediately reject the idea. "EYE" can't be a computer, I know damn well that computers are stupid and totally dependent on people. Someone is trying to screw me around. I get angry. And scared, no point denying that. I waited a minute, listened for the sound of footsteps. Heard only the muted noises from other apartments, and my own breathing. I thought I heard a distant, rhythmic sound, like quick footsteps... then I got it. Heartbeats. That minute passed. And I packed and left my apartment for good, drove off on my souped-up moped.

Don't know why I didn't wait around for the power to come back. My former home country is a stable place; you don't expect the secret police to come knocking on your door at 3 in the morning. Frankly, I can't say what I expected to happen, but I had to leave because I thought it wasn't safe there. Safe from what? Whom? I had no criminal record. I had a day job. I kept a low profile in my hacking activities, never showed up on hacker parties, had no name in "the scene."

I stopped by an ATM and was going to take out as much cash as I could from my accounts. The damn machine chewed up my credit card! The bank screen told me the card was invalid. I got mad and bashed in the screen with the butt of my umbrella. Couldn't understand why I was suddenly laughing. Drove away, into the city night.

I drove to an abandoned house where I'd holed up once before (the first time I broke into an office to connect to a "perfectly protected" server), and tried to collect my thoughts. This wasn't supposed to happen. I'd never even heard about a guy called "EYE" who chatted like that and made threats like that. He/she threatened to "delete" me. Acted like a four-year-old. I had to laugh.

Okay, so he/she'd managed to hack into my bank account, and killed the power account for my apartment at the same time. Big deal. I could still go to the police... and tell them what?

"Officer! there I was, minding my own late-night illegal hacking business, when this individual hacked my account and made vague, absurd threats over the chat line... please arrest him, though you don't know his or her identity or whereabouts!"




My first plan was to visit my bank's nearest office and demand to get my account restored. I fell asleep, exhausted, and woke up late in the morning. Drove my moped to a bank office in town... and found that all the bank's offices were closed. On a Monday. I phoned the bank, and waited in line for thirty minutes. Then a clerk informed me, like he must've told a thousand other customers that day: the bank's computer network had shut down during the night. Their technicians were working hard to fix the problem, and the customers should get access back within the day.

I went back to the same ATM that'd chewed up my card - not close to it - and waited across the street to see if others had the same problem. It started to rain. I opened my umbrella. I love my umbrella. An old man put his card into the machine. The card was rejected. He cursed and complained, then he seemed to notice the cracked computer screen.

"Damn kids," he muttered as he walked past me. Yeah, I thought, kids. "EYE" couldn't be a kid, but he/she had talked like one... an English-speaking kid. Or a retard. Or an autistic adult. Didn't make sense that an autistic or a kid could shut down a bank system. The sensible conclusion had to be: EYE had nothing to do with the bank shutdown. It was a complete coincidence, just a case of "when it rains, it pours."

Then came the next ATM customer. The machine didn't spit out her card. She got her money and left. Then another customer. The system was running again. I straightened myself up and went into the nearest bank office to get my card back. The bank clerk politely asked me for my account number. I had the number on an old ATM receipt. I handed it to him. He checked it with his own terminal. The search came up empty.

"Are you sure this is your number? I can't find it."

"Don't you keep a record of accounts that were terminated recently? Maybe it got caught up there when your system crashed."

There was such a record, indeed - I'd hacked my own bank not so long ago, just to see if it could be done - but my account wasn't listed there. I stayed calm - or maybe I sounded threatening, couldn't tell - the clerk looked kinda uneasy when I looked at him.

"Look," I said, "just search for my bloody name. H. Ellison."

"There is no such name in our files."

"My ID number, then."

I wrote it down. He made a quick search. The look on his face - a kind of quiet, judgmental expression - told me there was no such ID in the bank's computers. This was bad. Bad, bad, bad...

"Could you please wait here," he asked, sounding much too formal, "and I'll go ask for help."

The hairs in the back of my neck stood out. I walked out of the office right there. He was going to call the police. Of course. I had to be a con man or a lunatic. Who'd ever heard of a bank account "disappearing overnight?"

But wait, I told myself, I'd left traces on the Internet, in registers all over the world. I had a driver's license. I'd made credit card purchases. I'd bought stuff on Ebay. I'd done military service just a year ago.

I took a lunch break at MacDonalds, and then I drove around looking for war chalks on the street. (War chalks, for those of you who live on Mars, are street markings that point out open wireless Internet connections.) Five minutes later, I found a chalk message on a wall: "FREE BROADBAND." I turned on the laptop in my backpack, using the miniscreen I'd wired to it (instead of the regular clunky, power-consuming flatscreen), turned on my wi-fi "radio" and logged on to the Web.

I searched and searched and searched...

Driver's license registers, credit card companies, phone directories, mailing lists, old passwords registered in my name...

Found: Nothing.

Not so much as a single e-mail.

As far as the world's computers were concerned, H. Ellison had never been born. My hands trembled so I couldn't type anymore, the sweat dripped from my nose and hit the miniscreen. I shut off the laptop and wi-fi linkup, and went back to MacDonalds for coffee.

This is illogical, I thought, heart pounding as I sat completely still with my hands folded on the table, there's no reason for this, it can't be connected to an infantile weirdo like EYE, no way he/she could have that kind of influence. Had I mistakenly insulted a high-ranking NSA prankster? The head of Microsoft? Impossible. None of their people would talk and act like that. I looked at my driver's license. It looked and felt authentic in my hands. The photo was ugly, but real. I realized that I'd forgotten the passport in my apartment.

I was completely alone. Around me, children shouted and ran around; busy office workers and parents stood in line for burgers and ice cream. It'd stopped raining and the sun came out. A nice summer afternoon. I wanted to tear my hair out, shout to people: THIS IS WRONG! I'M NOT CRAZY! I EXIST! I sat there, staring at the surroundings, while my coffee cooled off.

I don't know, I'm not a psychologist... at that moment, maybe it would've made a difference if I could've talked to another human being, a relative or a friend, a co-worker... anyone. I beat my own forehead with my bare fists. What a fool I'd been. During the past few years I'd shut myself off from virtually all physical, face-to-face, social interaction with other people. At some point in the past, I'd decided: People, who needs'em? I'd taken a stay-at-home job. I'd gotten an unlisted phone number, so even old school friends couldn't find me. Not that I could remember any school "friends" (but that's another story).

Mother was long since dead. Father killed himself a few years ago, in another country. I didn't come to the funeral, and I hadn't talked to him for years when I got the news of his suicide. Yeah, that's when I decided to cut out human interaction altogether. Some distant relatives existed, in other countries, overseas.

I had an old phone number in my notebook. Couldn't remember exactly whose it was... some aunt or distant cousin. I went to a pay phone at the train station and dialed the number.


"Hi, I'm H. Ellison. Son of M. Ellison. Have we met?"

"Uh, no. The Ellisons don't live here anymore. They moved out three, four years ago."

"Okay... you got their new address? Or number?"

"No. Sorry."

"Okay. Bye."

I hung up. It was still possible to do a worldwide Web search for relatives, but... it was like I feared they would also disappear or be "deleted" if I tried. Maybe they already were deleted.

Let the philosophers argue whether a man really "exists" if society doesn't recognize his existence. I felt very real. The smell of stale sweat in my clothes felt quite real. Already I was thinking about how to arrange practical matters while on the run: laundry, clothing, money, where to sleep, and so on.

Funny how things work out without planning. About the same time I cut out human interaction, I gradually became obsessed with the philosophy of survivalism. Or rather, the idea of survival had always been with me since I was a kid. The outlook that life is a war, there is no safe ground, and you always lose in the end. It seemed almost as if... as if I'd been preparing for this crisis all my life. Not that I ever expected anything remotely like this to happen.




By late evening, I stopped by the office of my employer. Normally I'd only show up here occasionally, to get stuff for my home-office work, or to pilfer office supplies.

At the entrance door, I ran the office key card through the key slot. The little lamp went red. I ran the card again, and again. Still the red lamp. It took an effort not to scream in anger or kick the door. A security guard came around the corner and shone a flashlight in my face.

Right then I was carrying a backpack with a rolled-up sleeping bag on my back, I was wearing gray sneakers on my feet, gray cargo pants and a gray jacket, the moped helmet on my head, and my military-issue, thick-rimmed glasses. I looked like a lost, short nerd. I was one.

The security guard asked me something, but the words went right through my head and didn't stick. I held out the useless key card, as if that'd explain everything. He stiffened and walked faster. Maybe the look on my face had upset him. How could he know that I'd learned to hurt people badly long before I did my short, uneventful military service? No one knew that except my sensei, and he had disappeared without a trace years ago.

While I thought about my sensei, the guard put a hand on my moped and tried to get me to listen.

"Hey, I'm talking to you! What're you doing here?"

I sighed and made to leave. He wasn't satisfied. A paranoid impulse flared up in my mind: HE'S IN ON THE CONSPIRACY. THEY'RE COMING TO DELETE ME COMPLETELY.

"Back off," I hissed. The guard grinned and grabbed his nightstick. I shouldn't be getting edgy. I'd been in street fights before, just for kicks, to stay in shape, to fight the boredom. I'd always gotten away with it, because I'd never revealed my identity, never showed up in the same place twice, never gotten in trouble with cops or security guards. This was the first time. I had to laugh.

"Show me your ID."

What, and hear that my ID "wasn't valid?" I grinned at him with all my teeth, and the hairs in my neck bristled. All the day's frustrations seemed to come to a head with this very moment. Like a crazy person, I thought the security guard was the one to blame for the mess I was in. I displayed my molars in a grotesque Joker grin, as the sensei had taught me when I was a ten-year-old, lonely kid.

Learn the power of laughter, he'd told me. Laugh and smile like a mad predator, show your enemy your fangs. Make your face into a frightening mask to hide your true emotions, and you will unbalance him. Then, when your enemy is confused and afraid, and you can see him hesitate... then you strike. At the exact moment of confusion. Practice this. Never give him a chance to strike back.

"Stop that smiling! You on drugs or something?"

He stared at my face. He ought to have watched my hands and feet. I drew the umbrella from my backpack and shoved the butt into his midsection. He didn't expect the umbrella to be reinforced with a concealed steel rod. Vomit sprayed from his mouth as he staggered backwards. I hit him on the side of the head and he dropped like a rock. Then I jumped onto my moped and raced away. I feared I was finally going insane, reacting like that. Worse still, whoever was after me could now lie back and wait for the police to arrest me. This was going to be in the papers tomorrow. "Disgruntled Employee Attacks Guard, Police In Massive Manhunt."

Turned out I was wrong about that, too...




I drove to within fifty meters of my apartment block and waited for the police to show up. The night passed. No police came for the "disgruntled employee." I got a few mosquito bites. The itching bites reassured me that I wasn't dreaming. Some drunken teenagers passed by, laughing and jeering at me. I went off to pee. Dawn arrived.

And it dawned on me that the police weren't going to issue an arrest warrant. Why would they come looking for someone who now didn't exist? What on earth were they going to do about me if they by chance arrested me? A person who claimed to have his official identity erased by some unknown, immensely influential person? Send me to a mental hospital, maybe. Or, more likely, they'd question me for a while, look for birth records and not find any - in any country.

But what about written birth registers? Not anymore, not in my thoroughly modern country; all files on births and deaths were now computerized. As for the birth certificate, it was written in another country, because my mother happened to be abroad at the time. School records? (H.Ellison, 8th grade. Computer Science: A+.) Then I remembered: my school burned down in 2001, and all the old paper documents went up with it. (Wasn't me. Honestly.)

I was still feeling paranoid, so I didn't quite trust the authorities to check for written birth records. More likely they'd decide I was an illegal alien, and send me off to... wherever they thought I'd come from. I spoke the country's language without an accent. I wondered where I'd be shipped off to. Or whether I was going to stay in prison forever.

Then again, they might make it easy for themselves and make me "disappear." I had no particular bias against cops, but I've witnessed police brutality... while I was spying on the street from a rooftop and testing out a new night scope. The news said the victim - some drunken guy - had "jumped out of the police car" while it was moving at high speed. I could imagine the same cop who did it, all hyped up on amphetamines, trying to beat a confession out of me, before he'd lose his temper completely and push me out of the moving car. I'd learned back then, as an invisible witness in the night, how little one's life was worth if one's place in the social fabric couldn't be determined.

No cops around. I started to go back to the apartment block... slowly, then faster, hope filling my mind, that all wasn't lost. I'd get my passport. I'd prove my citizenship to the authorities. I'd go to the media with my case. My identity was going to be restored. I jangled the door keys in my pocket...

And then the most peculiar thing happened.

I heard this strange noise, like the sound you make when you blow air out of an open mouth. In the space of a second, I glimpsed a cruise missile in mid-air, no more than fifty meters away and thirty meters up, illuminated from underneath by the lights in the street. I thought - maybe in my imagination - that I clearly discerned the letters "USAF" on the side. The apartment block in front of me was lit up by an enormous flash, and a shockwave tossed me backward. I hit a couple of garbage cans and instinctively wrapped my arms around eyes and ears. The blast shook the entire area; windows shattered in several apartment blocks. When I looked up again, dizzy and choking with fright, I saw that my one-room apartment had been wiped out. The exact spot of my bedroom window was just a smoldering big hole, and the whole building was on fire.

About fifty people in that building were killed, or so the media claimed - but not a word was mentioned about the missing H. Ellison. He no longer eixsted in any records - and of course all his immediate neighbors, the ones who might have seen him live there, had been wiped out in their sleep.

There was a lot of speculation on the Web and on TV for a few days. Everyone assumed that the explosion was somehow connected to terrorism. Never for a moment did I believe that. This was personal. I looked for military sources to leak information about the attack, for instance that a "computer glitch" might have caused a cruise missile to be fired from a ship. Nothing of the sort was leaked. Or the military was just as confused as everyone else. Or "EYE" worked for the U.S. Air Force. Which didn't make sense.

For the next few days, I slept in abandoned buildings and country houses. I wrote down a basic survival plan. I started to steal cash at night. Once I sneaked into a little old lady's home and stole money and valuables. (Didn't touch her, though. One part of my survival plan reads: PRESERVE A CORE OF INTEGRITY.) I lost some weight. I could still find ways to log on to the Web with my laptop - war chalking, public libraries, unemployment agencies and other places had free computer access, whether they wanted to or not. I could steal electricity from outlets and cables. I could sleep in houses that were abandoned, condemned or for sale. I could still find the connections to people who needed to get work done, databases hacked into, information stolen, digital secrets shared... and, in my present situation, the dirty work of "removing problems."

I could make money, only I couldn't put it in a bank or buy a house, a car or an airplane ticket. As long as I kept a low profile in the daytime and didn't stand out in a crowd, I could count on my short, nerdy, pale, blond, bottle-neck glasses appearance to keep the cops off my back.

Maintaining a decent outward appearance was important. I created a rigid scheme of personal hygience, shaving every day, throwing away clothes and underwear that I couldn't wash immediately, buying new ones in thrift shops, from the Salvation Army and army surplus. The worst part, during the first few weeks, was the paranoia. Every waking moment, every time I tried to sleep, I waited for EYE to make his/her next move. Maybe another crusie missile. He/she had to know I was still alive. If he/she knew everything about me, he/she could identify me from surveillance cameras in public spaces. But there were no more cruise missiles. Maybe EYE thought I was dead. As long as EYE still lived, though, I wasn't safe... so I had to find him/her and kill EYE.

I tried putting on a shoddy disguise once, but it just felt stupid and I gave it up after one day. My face doesn't stand out in a crowd anyway. What mattered was keeping a low profile, sleeping in the daytime, working in the field at night.

The night is cold and lonely, but there are nice things about it. The peace and quiet. The early morning mist. The stars. People ought to look at the stars more. The real ones, I mean, not "stars." I take comfort in the stars. Maybe "regular" people find their comfort in "stars." The real ones give me light, and they can be trusted. I can see satellites and aircraft among the stars, like little red and white dots gliding past, and I wonder if I'm being watched, if EYE can monitor satellites and recognize me from space. Perhaps... if he/she knew what to look for...

Surveillance is getting better and spreading every year. I can't keep this up much longer, this life on the run. All too soon, every person on the planet will be under 24-hour surveillance - by the military, by the police, by their own neighbors and phone cameras. Cameras and sensors are already monitoring much of humanity, as if watching over them could somehow make us all "safe" and under "control."

Someone, somewhere is taking comfort in all the cameras and sensors, allowing him/her to play God with my life. That someone has to be "EYE." I'll find EYE. And that'll be the death of him/her. And when that's done... I'll figure it out once I'm done.

This is how you find someone you've never seen, only chatted with once: you keep searching. Web searches, anonymous queries on newsgroups, hacking into restricted research databases of big software and hardware companies, even the military ones. Somewhere - maybe up high in the hierarchy, maybe low, or maybe in the middle - sits the person behind the nickname, who has found a way to hack into all computers and erase all traces of H. Ellison.

That name "H. Ellison" seems to belong to another guy. Names, who needs'em? They're just masks. As if "Joe" or "Mary" actually means something unique, personal and profound. "EYE" is just another mask for me to tear away.

False dawn has arrived. I'm sitting on a rooftop in a big city typing this, my laptop with the miniscreen connected to an exposed phone cable. Birds scatter around me. The planets up there are fading out. The city is waking up: the hard-working people first - street sweepers and garbage collectors and bakers - then the office workers, then the schoolchildren and the elderly. I'm not saying I'm above it all. I'm part of it. Like a rat is part of a building, living between the walls.

Time to disconnect my laptop from this cable - the owner is waking up soon and he'll want to use his phone.

If you can read this, EYE: "hakker" is still alive. Still going to kill you.


continued in Dispatch 003..























"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.