HAKKER: dispatches

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I was framed. For once, I didn't do it....

Hakker, Dispatch 003:

August 2003


This happened very recently:

After one of my daily Web searches, I found an interesting clue that might have something to do with EYE. Figured it was worth checking out. I'd hacked a mail server in the U.S., and found an e-mail sent from a computer scientist at Caltech.

Let's call her "Dr. Ada Lovelace," after the world's first computer programmer. Her mail, sent to a tech student in Scandinavia, read like this (with all names and details removed):


Thanks for your letter, (name).

I haven't really looked into the issue, but your hypothesis is intriguing. However, your grasp of fractal mathematics is a little shaky. I'll send you a better algorithm as soon as I've worked it out. If I write a paper on this, I promise to give you credit for the original idea to describe the growth of the Internet like the growth of a nervous system, using a fractal algorithm similar to the one that could describe the structure of a growing brain. Best of luck with your term paper.


Dr. Ada Lovelace


P.S.: What is that gibberish at the bottom of your mail? I refer to the line:

>The EYE is the EYE sees the EYE blesses the EYE is all is the EYE

I don't get it. Is it a student joke?


Dr. Lovelace's mail had been sent to the university server at the X University in the city of G-Burg, in my home country. It was reply to a mail from a student who'd probably read Dr. Lovelace's articles, and then asked for advice on his term paper. I made a note to read up on her work later. But what interested me now was that last line about "the EYE." Could be a coincidence. Had to find out. Had to find that student and ask him what he meant. Ask him hard, if I had to.

That student... let's call him Sven. I spent a few days traveling to the city of Sven's university, while I searched the Web for his history. He'd left plenty of traces on websites for computer nerds and tech-heads. My kind of people. Sven's postings dated back at least a few years. He seemed the curious type, always asking the same type of question to fellow nerds: "Is there anything you're not telling me about this subject?"

The more I read, the more eager I got to ask him the exact same question.

And so I arrived to the city of G-Burg: a nice, semi-large Scandinavian city with large industries, great parks and several universities. I dressed in "normal" day wear, stacked away my gear in a paid locker and walked straight into the X University area. X University... I almost went to it myself once. "Almost," because I wasn't accepted. Something about a report from sixth grade, saying I'd been involved in violence against other children. The report didn't mention the whole truth.

When I was ten, I hurt another pupil - just broke his fingers, and they healed fast - because he tried to give me a hard time. I had also killed a much older pupil because he'd beaten me up before and threatened to do so again. (The killing never made it into that report.)



X University was almost closed for summer - almost, but not quite. A few devout students were hanging around on campus, working on their projects. I found the university yearbook and Sven's photograph: an overweight guy with glasses and a bad case of acne. It could have been me.

I looked around and found Sven sitting in one of the computer labs, hunched in front of a flatscreen terminal connected to a cabinet-sized computer. I walked up to him and looked over his shoulder.


He didn't look up from the screen.


"Cool setup you got there."

He read me the specs. They were good. He had access to impressive computing power and broadband, too.

"Dr. Lovelace told me about your work," I lied. Sven spun around on his office chair and gave me a hurt stare.

"You're not a teacher," he said. "Who're you?"

"I'm studying abroad," I lied again. "And I work as an intern for a major software developer. Ada showed me your letter, because I was working on something similar. Not as advanced as your project, though."

I kept a flat tone and blank face. Stood still, looking alternately at Sven and the screen. He seemed a little insecure about me. I looked more closely at the image on the screen: it resembled a 3-D map of the brain's nervous system, but the shape was out of whack.

The text in the upper corner read: WWW LIVING MAP, V.3.09. I'd seen several maps of the ever-expanding World Wide Web before, but this was the most advanced so far. The bigger main "lobe" of the network had a name tag: THE AMERICAS. The other main lobe, a little smaller and differently shaped, was tagged EURASIA. The model could be rotated and zoomed. When Sven zoomed in on individual nodes in the map, their server addresses and names appeared in frames.

What most impressed me was that the map included both the shape of the world and the connections that didn't follow the Earth's surface. Nodes and telephone connections were shown as a neural network that followed the curved surface of the planet... while satellite and wireless connections passed through the "surface" and took shortcuts to other parts of the surface. I could think of many uses for this map. I wanted it.

"Is that it? Your fractal model of the Internet?"

"And what if it was?"

My greed and envy must've been palpable.

"Look, I'm not going to take credit for your work. Honestly. I just happened to be in town, and I was curious. I think your project shows real promise."

He brightened up. I know the feeling: intellectual pride.

"This is not the fractal algorithm I told Dr. Lovelace about; I still have a bit of trouble with that. This is a much simpler thing... a realtime map of the World Wide Web. I got the idea while I was working on the algorithm for my term paper. What's your name?" he asked.


He shook my hand.

"Well, Roger, this isn't finalized yet. I'm going to a hacker party tonight, and by then I'll have a demo done. I want to show the map to some people there, wanna come?"

"If I've got the time, sure. Where and when?"

He handed me a small party flyer. I decided to wait awhile with the question about his "EYE" reference, but I glanced at his table for any clues. Only saw empty Coke bottles, a pizza carton, and some scrawled notes.

"See you then, Sven." I moved to leave, but I saw his map program was suddenly showing signs of slowing down. As he zoomed it toward Florida, the screen was filled with a clutter of branches and addresses. Sven cursed and punched a key to freeze the program.

"Is this what I think it is?" I asked, and pointed a finger at the screen, at the cloud of lines and server addresses that filled the screen like a swarm of bees. Sven shrugged.

"Damn spammers are messing up the search function. They keep switching servers and inventing new addresses and e-mail accounts all the time. Clogs up the map memory and the graphics grind to a halt. I'm never gonna have this demo working tonight."

"Have you tried a name filter?"

"Uh... no."

"Insert a filter function that screens out all the typical spammer addresses. They're all generated with the same identical system, so it's easy to fix." I showed him the basic system; I have it memorized. "Then assign fixed names to the spammers' actual servers. Oh, and cut out all e-mail addresses from the search function. All you really need on a map is the server and addresses."

A wide grin creased Sven's pale, pimply face: "Okay!"

He went back to work like I wasn't there. Watching people write code can get boring, so I left. Wished I'd had my screen-grabbing gizmo with me, so I could've taken an image of the map. A hacker party. I wondered how hackers were supposed to dress these days.

I drove my moped to the the locker and got out my stuff, then I drove to a cheap hotel and ordered a room for the night.




I arrived at the place of the hacker party around nine in the evening, dressed in a t-shirt and jacket from the local thrift shop. Hadn't brought my computer gear with me, just the little screen grabber and a mini-hard drive in a bag. Inside my clothes I concealed a li'l digital audio recorder. About 200 people were in there - six of them women. Some things change very little. (If women want equal influence in society, why are so few of them willing to pick the REAL power careers? In the near future, several of these hackers were going to be millionaires and influential people.)

Some guys played games with each other. Some showed off their demos. Most of them were watching Sven.

Sven had quite a crowd gathered around his table; he was demonstrating his 3-D fractal map on the most powerful computer setup in the room. The other guys made encouraging comments and asked him to demonstrate various functions. The smell of sour sweat increased as I entered the crowd. Most of the other guys were younger and dressed in black. I looked like a tourist who strolled in by mistake.

"Can I buy a copy?" I asked out loud. Sven, and the crowd, all stared at me like I'd said something obscene. Sven grinned at me.

"I haven't decided what to do with it yet. I was going to use it for my term paper."

"It has commercial uses too," I told him, "assuming it's easy to update the map as the real Internet grows."

"That's the best part," he said. "It updates itself automatically. Every time I run the map program, it checks the Internet and adjusts itself. Real fast."

I momentarily forgot all about Ada Lovelace's letter and the weird line about "the EYE." All I wanted now was a copy of that map program. Everyone in the crowd seemed to be lusting for it. Sven probably hadn't had time to make copies yet; this was the first functioning version he was demonstrating. Sven reveled in his status. And he kept one hand over the CD-ROM slot. Damn. He wasn't going to just give his invention away. Especially since now, after he implemented my advice, the demo was running smoothly as hell.

Just as I stood there among the crowd of sweaty young hackers, thinking about buying or stealing the map program, someone else took the initiative. One of the few female visitors, by far the best-looking one, writhed her way past the other hackers. Dressed all in black, click-clacking on a pair of high-heeled shoes, she wriggled her PVC-clad hips and pulled down her black shades.

The woman leaned down over Sven in his chair like he had the sexiest acne in the world. She was wearing a revealing black outfit with a black leather vest on top, and had her black hair set up real fine. She caressed his hands with her fingers and looked into his eyes in a most promising way. Sven's expression shifted from smug to stupefied. He took his hand away from his computer's CD-ROM slot. She put her lips to his ear and whispered something I couldn't hear. The way Sven tensed up told us enough. Some sweaty guy held up a cell phone and took a picture. Instinctively, I looked away from the lens.

And wouldn't you know it - Sven reached into his bag and gave him a CD, "his only copy" of the map program. She straddled his lap, kissed him, and then slipped away, wriggled through the crowd and away. A few of the young hackers moved to follow along, but they lost their nerve and returned to the safety of their computers. Damn, damn, damn!

I followed the woman in black - I'm saying "woman" because I couldn't quite place her age, she seemed anything between 20 and 30 - outside, where she lit a celebratory cigarette. I joined her in leaning against the wall. In my pocket I had a small roll of duct tape.

"Can you spare me a cig?" I asked her.

She smiled at me, and I smiled back. She reached into her purse for the pack of Marlboros - then I wrapped one arm around her neck, and zip! zip! wrapped the last of the duct tape around her mouth. I let go of her neck and dug in her clothes for the CD. I found it inside her short leather vest. I didn't smile at her.

"Thanks. Oh, and remember this: there IS a spoon."

"Mmmph! Mmmm-mmh!"

She tried to give me one of those only-works-in-the-movies dropkicks. I simply sidestepped her foot and she tripped over on her high heels - maybe she sprained an ankle, but I didn't stay around long enough to find out. In the next moment I jumped on my souped-up moped and speeded away to the hotel, whistling to myself. It wasn't the catch I'd planned for, but it was good enough to feel all giddy.

Back in the hotelroom, having eaten and showered and brushed my teeth, I had second thoughts. Damn, damn, damn. There was nothing to do but turn back and find Sven again. Any lead to EYE, no matter how far-fetched, had to be followed.




I stashed the CD away, changed to my night gear, put a stolen overcoat on top and left the hotel again. When I'd stopped the moped near the location of the hacker party, I left the overcoat there. I climbed to a low rooftop and waited for Sven to exit the building. The night scope was in my backpack, but I had to save the batteries for when I really needed it. There were street lights. Good enough.

The seen-The-Matrix-too-many-times woman I stole the CD from had probably come back to Sven, bawling, and asked for a new copy. And in all likelihood, he'd promised her one. She didn't matter now.

Around one o'clock, Sven left the building, carrying his laptop and hard drive in a shoulder bag. The woman in black was limping along, and he was holding one arm around her waist to prop her up. They were chatting. I found it kind of amusing. And yes, the way she wiggled her shiny PVC-wrapped butt made me horny. They strolled on foot; if she had a car parked nearby, she couldn't drive it with her injured foot. I quietly jumped to the street and ran to my moped.

This city is too damn well-lit; a fella gets too visible in the street. I stuck to the backalleys as I tailed them, driving with the lights turned off. I've not only upped the engine (everybody does that), but I've added a pretty efficient muffler to make it run quiet.

The couple crossed a small, dark park area. I put on the night scope. They were easy to see. I turned off the moped and pushed it along the path, following them. They stopped on a peak overlooking the city, and Sven tried to kiss her. The woman didn't mind. Fine, fine, I thought, get it over with. Go away, lady, so I can ask him about his e-mail to Dr. Lovelace.

I huddled down some thirty meters from the couple. Then, from the opposite end of the path, another figure came sneaking into my green-tinted, grainy night-scope view. It looked as if he too had a scope on his head. And a baseball cap, a bit like mine. Was someone playing a joke on me? I took off the scope and peered ahead. The city lights, and an illuminated fortress ruin nearby, gave me enough photons to discern the figure who was sneaking up on Sven and the girl. He was very thin, and his movements were odd - jerky, sort of, like someone was pulling his strings. I looked behind me, but I couldn't see or hear any other people there. I stayed very still.

I stayed quiet and watched. The figure with the night scope came up behind Sven and the girl, aimed an object and there was a flash... first I thought he shot them. They twitched and fell down, shaking like they were sick. I understood: a taser.

Another figure in a cap emerged from the other end of the path, also walking in that marionette manner, and they dragged the stunned couple away from the point where I was lurking. When they had disappeared beyond the side of the small fortress, I took my moped and pushed it beside me, following them downhill. Neither of the attackers said a word between them. They came to a van standing at the edge of the park, carried the couple inside, and drove away. I drove after, with the lights turned off, keeping a safe distance, hoping they wouldn't notice me and my night scope. I took a picture of the van with the phone camera, just in case I might catch the license plate.

The van took a route leading out of the city center, toward the industrial area down south, and drove into an open garage in a darkened warehouse. I parked the moped one block away and took a look at the building through my little spy glass. I could spot several surveillance cameras on the walls and around the entrances.

These guys were good. It was too risky to try and sneak inside now. I wished I could've come close enough to see what went on inside, but... too many unknown factors. I waited. Ate some. Drank some. Took a caffeine tablet. Put on a nicotine patch to stay alert. (No, I've never smoked. The patches are much more convenient.)

Around four in the morning, the garage door opened and the van left, driving fast. The garage door began to lower itself down, slowly. I could hear the electric motor. I acted on an impulse, revved the moped and drove straight for the closing door.

I wasn't going to make it through; the opening was only just about a meter. I braked, let the moped go and rolled in under the door, only moments before it shut completely. (Luckily, my backpack is padded to protect the equipment inside, and I wear knee and elbow pads under my night clothes.)

I rolled back on my feet, umbrella ready, hands on the shurikens in my thigh pocket. I lit a small flashlight and scanned the floor. In a corner lay Sven and that woman. I bent down and put a tiny mirror over their nostrils. No breath. No signs of bleeding, but the smell of ozone and burnt hair stung my nostrils. They'd been electrocuted - possibly after the strangers had interrogated them.

Apart from the corpses, the warehouse was virtually empty - it contained boxes and crates with various goods, and a forklift truck at the big garage-style entrance doors. I took a few pictures of the corpses and the order notes on the crates, and left. I had expected to tamper with the electric doors, but they opened easily from inside; they weren't even padlocked from outside, there was just the opening mechanism. For a moment I considered stealing some of the merchandise, but I changed my mind; if someone found me possessing stolen goods from a murder scene, they'd make the obvious connection.

I found my moped and escaped the scene with a bad gut feeling. Not only because of the young corpses. It had been too easy to get out of there. Either the kidnappers didn't care about locking the warehouse, because they weren't coming back... or someone wanted to attract me there. Maybe, I thought as I drove through the empty streets in the gray light of early dawn, maybe EYE had planted the weird line in Sven's e-mail just to lure me out of hiding. If that was so, now he/she knew where I had just been. And if those kidnappers worked for EYE, Sven and the girl could've told them about the man called "Roger" who talked to Sven and stole his map program. Right now, Sven wasn't going to answer my questions.

In the early morning I returned to the hotel (wearing the overcoat) slept a little, changed, cleaned up. I wanted to leave right away. but I logged on and did a search for the address of the warehouse. It turned out to belong to a well-known multinational company that manufactured and imported toys - let's call it "Toys 4 Eyes." The order note I had photographed was addressed to the same company. Match.

I found no lead to the two kidnappers with the tasers and night scopes. They didn't look like salespeople from Toys 4 Eyes. They must've taken Sven for something he knew or did that they didn't like. Or because he had met me, but that was too much of a long shot...

I got an idea. I turned off the Internet connection and ran Sven's map program. The program menu asked if I wanted to run the map without automatic updating, and I chose "yes." So it was an "old" version of the map that appeared on the screen of my laptop. I used the map's Search function and typed in the name of the company Toys 4 Eyes. The program responded to the listed addresses on the CD (the map display didn't use lots of graphics, just stark colored lines connecting the addresses and nodes)... and the nodes and addresses owned by Toys 4 Eyes lit up like stars in the universe of dots and lines. The map program could not show the exact geographic location of a node, which was probably just as well, since the wi-fi revolution had started.

But one could still see, from vast mass of ground-based lines and nodes, a hint of the real planet's cities, coastlines and borders. The highlighted nodes belonging to Toys 4 Eyes provided a hint of where to look for next. I made a mental note to check up more of Sven's past when I could. At least HE hadn't been "deleted," just killed.

I stored the 3-D image with the selected highlights on the laptop and shut off the program. It was time to change address. Of course I'd checked in under a false name, but as a rule I never stay too long in one place.

I drove north, on the small country roads that don't have roadblocks, toward another city and another stakeout - or another job. Goodbye for now, G-Burg. Rest in peace, dead hackers. Too bad you got involved in this... but when there's a war, civilians are going to get hit.


Continued in Dispatch 004..























"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.