HAKKER: dispatches

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Once I had a name. Once I went to school...

Hakker, Dispatch 005:

September 2003 


The latest big virus attacks have caused lag and crashes all over the World Wide Web, and it's made my work harder too. (And the guys causing it are most likely living in America, which is out of my reach. Pity. I'd rub'em out for free.) So while I was waiting for the worst of SoBig to blow over, I wrote down a little personal history, from when I still had a name and all those things you associate with "a life"...

Both my parents are dead. My sensei might be dead - I honestly don't know. My parents taught me to love computers from when I was five. My sensei taught me to kill people - and not to love it - when I was ten.

My father was from Israel, my mother from a Scandinavian country. He was tall and thin, had a short, dark beard and looked like a complete nerd the way he stooped forward. I guess he was. She was short, blond and nearsighted. They were both very bright. They introduced me to computers when I was five, and I was perhaps the first kid in the world to learn to use the Internet... back when it was this tiny network called ARPANET. (Anyone who wants to contest that claim, go ahead. I'm not fishing for compliments.)

My sensei might have been from Asia, because he looked like an Asian, but he had a weird accent I couldn't place. He was short, wiry and always wore sunglasses. When I first met him, I thought he was very old. But I was only ten, and anyone older than forty seemed very old to me then. He never told me his name.

My father had moved with me to my mother's country after that thing happened in Israel, and I had a double citizenship. My mother's relatives had stopped calling him - I guess they blamed him for bringing mother to the country where she was killed. He never spoke about them after we came back. The point I'm trying to make here, is that we moved to a small Scandinavian town where we had no relatives and knew nobody. Father worked at some research facility in a neighboring city, with plenty overtime. He was always a bit of a recluse, and it got worse after he lost my mother.

I'd spent a long time away from school while my mother tried to home-school me, and now I came back to the jungle that was a public grade school. When people grow up they forget what it was like. They have to. It's like Lord of the Flies: a tribal culture based on fear, herd mentality and pure predatory instincts. The adults and teachers don't care and don't want to know. There I was, a small precocious ten-year-old who understood the Internet before it became known to the public. What the hell could I talk to other kids about? I might just as well have stepped off a flying saucer.

So I kept quiet and to myself. It took about two hours for the predators to sniff me out. I don't know where you went to school, but this school had free lunches and a canteen. We stood in line and got our daily plate of boiled potatoes and meat/fish/lump-in-sauce. A much bigger kid from sixth grade with a hormone imbalance pushed me in the back. I picked up my lunch tray, but I could sense the blood in the air. Kids have an instinct for when they are hunted. All I could think of was to run.

But I didn't want to go home. Home was empty and lonely and too many things there reminded me of my dead mother. So I went back to the end of the food line and got another tray. I ate as quickly as I could and sneaked out through a side exit. It was no good; I lacked stealth training. The big kid was waiting outside the side exit with two of his older friends, who were skinheads. I had my back against the door and they made a circle around me. I could only think of watching their hands and feet, and tried to find an opening to escape.

"I heard you're a Jew, Ellison," said one skinhead. I hated him the moment I heard the way he intoned the word: JU-uw. "We don't like Jews."

"I'm not Jewish," I tried to explain in a pitiful, flat voice.

Hoarse laughter, breaking voices.

"Oh yeah? You got a Jew name."

"I haven't had... you know... the ceremony that makes you a Jew."

The other skinhead grinned down at me. I'd just made a big, nerdy mistake.

"He means he hasn't been circumcised. Let's check if he's telling the truth."

I was telling the truth. Fact was, my father had never even been interested in bar mitzwahs, rituals, traditions and stuff. His only religious principle was to never use the word God in vain. But all I knew now was that the older guys were going to pull down my pants and humiliate me. The terror I felt then was like the fear of death. So I ducked down and charged at the sixth-grader's stomach. He fell backward and I tried to punch him in the face, but that was it. The skinheads grabbed me by the collar. Then they forgot about my pants and started to punch and kick me.

I didn't pass out. Some instinct made me curl up and protect my head and crotch. They didn't hit me that hard. Someone shouted in the distance, and suddenly all three ran away. I thought, through the haze of pain and a blocked bleeding nose, that some teacher had spotted me and was coming to my aid. The janitor came, and brought me to the school nurse.


While the nurse patched me up (she looked bored, like she'd seen it all before) I thought about what to do. It never occurred to me to ask the adults for help. I'd already seen them kill each other senselessly in Israel, so why should I turn to them for protection now? The same moronic cruelty ran in all age groups. If I'd had somewhere to run, I'd run. But I was smart enough to understand I was too young and physically small to survive on the run. The knowledge I possessed offered little comfort. I'd read up on computer programming, science and history. I watched TV and I'd recently seen on the news how people were tearing down the Berlin Wall. Seeing that wall come down, it comforted me to know that bad circumstances could change. I wondered, sitting there on the nurse's couch with Band-Aids on my nose and hands, if I was going to have to tear something down to be safe.

The nurse sent me home with a note to my father. I lost myself at the home computer, learning more about the early Internet, and heated up some food from the freezer. He came home late, as usual, and read the note. He examined me and got very upset.

"Who did this to you?"

"Some older guys in school."

"Can you identify them?"

I nodded, not sure if this was going to help.

"It'll be all right. We'll talk to your teacher."

I looked at my father, his stooping gait and helpless expression, and suddenly I had an insight - as if my brain had been shaken into focus by the beating I'd taken that day. He doesn't have a clue. He wants to help, but he doesn't know how.

"I don't want to talk to them," I told him. "They don't care."

He shook his head and didn't listen. My problem was (but I didn't know it then) that I had not yet learned how to solve conflicts with opponents who were bigger and stronger.



Do you really want to know what happened next?

The next day, I went to school as usual - my father insisted on that. He talked to my class teacher. The teacher told him that the older pupils were not her responsibility. Then he went to the school principal. She said she was aware of the problem with bullies, and she was going to "have therapeutic talks" with the "troubled" children and try to find the roots of their problems. Apparently, in this woman's mind, every predator was a victim.

Then my father went to the bullies' parents. He told me later that the parents had refused to talk to him. One of them had claimed my father was "harrassing" them.

He promised to find me a private school, but it quickly turned out they were already overbooked for at least a year ahead. He didn't want to move us to another town, either. We lived in my mother's inherited house, and he was emotionally attached to that house in a way I didn't understand at the time.

So I continued to go to the same hated school, and those three guys went at me every day they could. Most of the time they didn't have the energy to beat me up, though. A usual day consisted of low-level bullying and mental violence. I got used to hearing them shout ugly, dumb stuff about Jews when I walked by. (It really pissed me off that they couldn't grasp basic tenets of reason, like: "Judaism isn't a race, it's a religion.")

I learned to carry stuff with me so it wouldn't get stolen. They learned to ruin stuff for me, like clothes, with spray paint. I tried to run away when I could. No use. My legs were shorter than theirs and I was in lousy physical shape.

After about a month, I took another severe beating and the bullies broke my nose. My father asked the principal to have the guilty pupils expelled. The principal sent him a written note - I read it - where she explained her "sympathy" with his concerns, but she was unable to "prove" who had beaten me up. It occurred to me then, when I read that letter, that maybe the principal was hoping for me to get killed. I slept badly, and dreamed about my mother a lot. So I decided never to go to school again, no matter what my father said.

Then, shortly after my nose got broken, my father took me to a judo class in another town. I came in a gym hall and saw these kids dressed in flowing white robes, tossing each other this way and that... on comfy padded mats.

My first reaction was to tell him: "Dad, this is useless. I can't fight three bigger guys like that. I'm not stupid, you know." But he took me to the teachers' office. A well-meaning white man shook my hand and told me he'd like to teach me the fine art of judo. My nose hurt and it made my head ache. I exploded at him: "Are you making fun of me? What is that crap? Ballet dancing? You want me to go to school dressed like that?"

The teacher got baffled and angry. I thought he was going to tell me to leave. Then I noticed the old Asian who was sitting in a corner behind me. I felt a cold shiver... because I hadn't noticed him the whole time before - as if he had willed himself invisible until I heard his slow, deep breathing.

I turned and stared at the old man. He sat straight-backed on a stool - he didn't look big or full of muscle, but there was this aura of self-control about him. He didn't wear any silly judo costume, only a plain black t-shirt, blue jeans and a black suit jacket. On his feet were black Nike sneakers. I couldn't see the eyes behind his dark sunglasses, but I could feel him looking back at me.

Then he spoke, holding his hands on his knees: "Can I have a word with the boy's father?" He sounded completely emotionless. The judo teacher and I went outside and waited a few minutes. I gave the teacher a questiong glance, but he seemed... afraid of saying something.

My father came out and put a hand on my arm: "I've been talking to that teacher and he's offering to give you self-defense lessons. He said the judo teacher knows him." The judo teacher just nodded. My father looked uncertainly to me, then to the old Asian who still sat in the office. "If you're not happy with this teacher just tell me, okay? We can always find another one."

"Okay," I said. "Do I still have to go to school?"

"Not until your nose has healed."

"Okay. When do I begin my lessons?"

"Tomorrow. He said he'll come by and visit our house."

I wondered if that was such a good idea, bringing a total stranger into our home.


The next morning, before my father drove off to work, the old man with the sunglasses knocked on our door. He talked briefly with my father, they shook hands and Dad left. The moment the door closed, I felt threatened. The man just stood there in the hall, waiting.

After a minute or so, I lost my patience and brought out a big kitchen knife from the drawers. I held it with both hands and stood at a safe distance from him, staring at his immobile face. Can't say I felt very brave. He turned his head in my direction - and nodded in appreciation. Another minute passed. We stood there, me holding the kitchen knife, he with his hands down by his sides.

"What's your name?" I asked.

He said: "You can call me 'sensei.' It means 'teacher.'"

"What can you teach me, then?"

"First, tell me what you want."

He got me there. I tried to think of what I wanted, but I felt confused. The sensei didn't smile at me or anything. He sounded dead serious.

"You're still a child. The grownups, the ones who should know what you need to learn, they have failed you, you know?"

I nodded. He had me interested now. For the first time, an adult admitted what I'd been suspecting for a long time.

"But I'm not the one who's going to solve your problems for you. I can only teach you how to solve them yourself."

I sighed and said: "I'm just a kid, okay? The guys who did this..." I pointed at the band-aid across my nose. "They're older and bigger. So give me a bloody gun already."

"So you want to kill them?"

I thought "YES!" but I said: "I want to be left alone. I don't want to be scared of bigger guys. I want..." I couldn't think much further, and I was starting to shake.

The sensei smiled a little: "There. That's enough wanting to last you a while. And it's too soon to teach you that it's unnecessary to want things. Let us begin."

I had only vague expectations of what he was going to teach me. Something to do with kung-fu, I imagined. Was I wrong. Suddenly he pulled off his sneakers, walked quickly past me and stopped to look out the window. I jumped up on the kitchen table to see what he was looking at. A couple of moments later, seeing nothing except a few birds, I turned to ask him what was up... and he was gone. I mean, he'd vanished from where he'd been standing only moments ago, and I hadn't even noticed.

Then he was behind me, and wrested the kitchen knife from my hands before I could react. He put the knife back in its drawer and turned to me, arms folded across his chest.

"How did you do that? How did you turn yourself invisible?"

"I can teach you that, if you promise not to tell anyone - not even your father - about it. I don't give away my secrets to everyone."

I recall now, that I squinted at him in a distrusting manner.

"What are you after? You some kind of pervert?"

(I didn't know exactly what a "pervert" was then, but everyone had heard about older men who were dangerous to kids.)

"A good question," he said after a moment's pause. "If I enjoyed what I do in a sexual way, then I would be a pervert. I'm more like... the garbage collector. He takes pride in keeping society clean. I take pride in what I do. But it's still just... taking out the trash. It's wrong to think of it as anything more than that. The world needs trashmen, but no one gets all crazy about trashmen. You know?"

"I think so," I lied. "Tell me more."

"First, let's have tea."

"I don't drink tea."

"You should. Even I need to relax sometimes."

He made tea and poured two cups. I waited for my tea to cool down, and before I knew it, I began to talk about my problems in school. And then he stopped me - just held up his hand like a stop sign.

"No. You will not try to make me feel sorry for you. That is not part of the teaching. You must learn - without emotion - without anger, or pity, or fear coming in the way of knowledge."

"You mean, like in Star Wars?"

He laughed - a mean laughter, showing all his teeth, some of them looked real sharp. The laughter ceased abruptly, and his face became rigid.

"Not exactly."



Of course I'm not going to tell you how he taught me his most secret skills and trained me in the more obscure martial arts. I made a promise. But I can mention a few things, just so you get the overall picture...

One day he brought with him a suitcase full of masks. Old-fashioned Japanese papier-maché masks, the kind they use in traditional theater. We sat down on floor mats, and he picked up a mask of a grinning male face. It looked like a comic-book villain in a movie.

"What is this?" he asked matter-of-factly, indicating the mask.

Shrugging, I said: "A face mask."

"It is a face," he explained. "All civilized humans have masks for different occasions." He spread out the masks on the floor like a deck of cards. "Without the masks we stand naked, and people can see each other's true emotions. And the result is unmasked fear, hate, lust... chaos."

"So what you're saying is we must pretend all the time just to get along with other people?"

"Precisely. You don't go around saying everything you're thinking, you know? Then people will say you are crazy. The masks are good. The masks are useful."

"What about the guys in school who beat me up and pick on me? Are they using masks, or are they just being themselves?"

He nodded: "Very good question. I shall have to study them." He saw me start, and shook his head. "No, they won't see me. And no, I am not going to hurt them."

That emphasis he put on "I" frightened me. And exhilarated me, too.


"Laughter," he explained to me during next day's lessons, "can also be used as a mask. Learn the power of laughter. 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."

He put on the laughing mask.

"Then, when your enemy is confused and afraid, and you can see him hesitate... then you strike." He removed the mask and showed me a grinning face, all teeth. "At the exact moment of confusion. Practice this. Never give him a chance to strike back."


And I practiced. And practiced. I became particularly good at the creativity test. I shut my eyes for a minute and the sensei told me to look. I opened my eyes and saw that he had scattered a dozen random household objects on the floor before me. He was watching me with the stopwatch-function ready on his wristwatch. Next to him stood an upright shop-window mannequin. On the mannequin's colorless body, the sensei had marked certain parts in red marker ink: eyes, ears, the neck, the heart and so on.

"You have thirty seconds to create a weapon from these objects. When you have the weapon ready, you attack the mannequin and try to kill it. Go!"

And so on. The next time we did the test, the sensei gave me 25 seconds to create a weapon. Then 20. Then 15. Then 10, then 5... and finally 2. Every time I opened my eyes, there were different objects on the floor: umbrellas, water bottles, eggbeaters, papers, knitting needles, dice, a rolled-up newspaper, glass marbles, a tennis ball...

Sometimes he asked me to explain how I'd chosen to use an object. Such as the tennis ball. He laughed, a genuine warm laughter, when I explained how I was going to kill someone with a tennis ball. (Not that I'd tell you and ruin the trick.) I read up on anatomy books, to improve my skills.

The physical training was the hardest part - that, and changing my eating habits. But I had to, if I was going to stand a chance when I returned to school. No more candy bars or fast food. Out with the pasta and potatoes, in with meat and vegetables. He even taught me a bit of basic cooking. When my father came home, mostly late in the evening, he routinely asked if I'd learned anything new. I followed my instructions and lied: "Yes, today we trained judo," or "Sensei taught me to eat healthy food so I'll get stronger."

Dad was pleased. He said I was starting to look stronger, there was a spring in my step I hadn't shown before. I cooked dinner for us both a few times. He even asked me to demonstrate a judo throw on him. Then I had to make up a good excuse: "Sensei says I'm not allowed to use my knowledge except in self-defense."

I never asked the sensei where he came from, or how he ended up so far from home. And he never told me anything about himself. But on the day before I was going back to school, we were having tea and I asked the obvious question.

"Why me?"

(He always had those sunglasses on. They even covered the sides of his eyes; not so much as a glimpse of them was allowed. I dreamed once, that he took off the glasses and had no eyes - just black holes.)

He finished his tea, folded his hands around the cup, and looked at me. "I'm the last one. There aren't any others left. I wanted to pass on my knowledge to someone who had the proper motivation, and wouldn't abuse the teachings."

I didn't get it. "The last what? Self-defense instructor?"

"The name of the art has become a joke, so I never use it." I saw the furrows on his brow get deeper, and he was tense. "I'm leaving today. You've been a remarkably apt pupil, but from now on you're on your own. I expect great things from you in the future. But beware... stay cold in your heart. Do not take pleasure in the art. Never let yourself be seduced by bloodlust. Because if you do, you will become your own worst enemy and destroy yourself."


"Wear your masks well."

He rose from his chair and went for the hall. I wanted to stand in his way and hug him, cry like the ten-year-old kid I was. But I just sat there and followed him with my eyes, as he walked out the door, quietly, leaving no trace of his presence... except the fingerprints on his empty tea cup. I picked up his cup and examined it up close. I could clearly see the grease marks of his fingers... but the marks had no line patterns. They were blank surfaces. It must mean he'd had his fingerprints removed with acid or surgery.

That's the rational explanation, right?

When Dad came home that evening, I had stopped crying. I was wearing a mask of calm. I knew what I had to do.



When I returned to school and my nose was whole, I felt tired. Had been preparing all night. In front of the mirror, practicing faces. Preparing gear. I'd planned, but not too much. Had to leave room for improvisation. Two cups of tea with breakfast helped me stay alert.

The sixth-grader with the hormone problem came after me the moment I stepped into the main corridor. I was in better physical shape now. How clumsy that bully seemed to me now. His movements were so awkward, he almost toppled over with each step... how could I have let him frighten me? But he still did. He gave me a dumb, smug grin and homed in on me, while other kids looked on. I recalled what the sensei had said: I studied these... bullies. They do not wear masks. They really are that stupid, that primitive. Anyone, anyone who is determined enough can defeat them. But one should go after the henchmen first, and then the leader.

"Hey, Jewboy!" the sixth-grader called out when he was about three meters from me. I ignored his face and watched his feet. And tossed out the glass marbles from my pockets. He tripped on the marbles and fell forward. I felt an intoxicating surge of power, and it almost ruined the whole setup. My opponent saw me smile and bellowed in rage, snot running from his ruddy nose in uncontrollable flows. Other kids dared to laugh at him now. He crawled back on his feet and lunged at me. Any ten-year-old in my situation and without the sensei's training would have frozen in terror, or tried to run. I knew now, that I was too short to run.

I got out the little spray can just in time and sprayed the blue paint right in his face. He went blind, and didn't even see me sidestep him as he raged forward, eyes shut hard, screaming. I tripped him and he fell on his nose. Someone cried for the teachers. I quickly stuffed the spray can in the writhing bully's jacket pocket, and ran off. No one tried to stop me.


The school principal was nothing like my mother. Especially the face; it lacked intelligence. She offered me a seat and paced around her small office, not looking at me. But she talked.

"I have several witnesses who saw you attack that boy with mace."

My face was now a mask of dumb innocence. I pretended to be unable to speak.

"The nurse had to rush him to a hospital for emergency treatment. He could go blind. How does that make you feel?"

It made me feel great. That meant he'd be forced to be nice to people, because as a blind man he'd be totally dependent on others. I said nothing. The principal slumped into her cushioned leather chair and regarded me with contempt.

"I shall have to talk to your father. The parental board, too. Do you have anything to say to explain yourself?"

"Uh... it wasn't me."

"What do you mean?"

"I didn't spray him. He did. Call the hospital and ask if he's got the spray can on him. He tried to spray me, but he aimed it the wrong way and hit himself."

"Are you sure?"

"I'm much weaker than him. You think I could have taken the can from his hands? He'd just beat me up. Ask them at the hospital. Check his pockets. Ask the school nurse. He has the can. He did it to himself."

The principal hesitated. Wear your masks well. I used the mask of a blank expression. She made the phonecall to the hospital and used the loudspeaker, so I overheard the conversation. The hospital staff confirmed that the injured boy did have a can of spray paint on him, and it matched the paint that'd gotten into his face and eyes.

"You can go home for today," she said. "I'll have to investigate this before I talk to your father."


I hid in a closet outside the principal's office, until she left. With no one looking, I ran back into her office, and checked her desk for passwords. I found a couple passwords under the blotter, but then I almost laughed: in her infinite wisdom, the principal had left her own computer logged on. This was around 1990, when computers in schools were few and bulky. This school had a database. I spent a minute looking up the names, addresses and other info about the two skinheads, and made a printout on the dot-matrix printer. (I still feel nostalgic when I think about the sound those printers used to make...)

I knew that word would spread quickly among the kids about what I'd done. They wouldn't be fooled as easily as the principal. The two skinheads were going to crave revenge. I stayed home and prepared my gear. Dad wouldn't know what I used the stuff in the garage for.


And so, come night, I sneaked out the window, and walked to the skinhead who lived in a house, in a suburban area where one-story houses lay in endless rows. I hid among the bushes where he wouldn't see me but I could see the front entrance. (The other one lived in a block of flats, which meant too many witnesses.) I was shaking and sweating when I glimpsed him on the back porch, looking much older than his 16 years with that beer can in his hand, drunkenly screaming the national anthem.

My tension didn't ease when I saw him receive two late guests - his pal from school, and a grown woman in a shawl. There was something familiar about her. I assumed it was a parent. But that guy's parents were away on a trip that night, I'd checked that.

I couldn't believe my eyes. It was the school principal! They were best buddies with her! Talk about a match made in Hell. How did that happen? If only I'd had a camera. But that wasn't the plan. I wasn't prepared to go through with the plan if she was around. I couldn't kill a woman old enough to be my

So I waited. It got colder. My teeth chattered so that I feared it'd wake up the neighborhood. For an instant I thought I saw a thin, short man with dark sockets for eyes, peeking out from behind a house nearby. I blinked, looked around me, then back to that spot... and the figure wasn't there. Had to be a hallucination, though.

Finally, the principal left, shaking hands with the two skinheads in the doorway. She'd left the car at home, so as not to wake up the neighbors and attract suspicion. I'd have to deal with her later, but I didn't know how. I remembered what my sensei had taught me. When the principal was well out of earshot, and I could hear the skinheads play loud music from the house, I sneaked up to the house itself, and planted the home-made firebombs at the back porch and the front entrance. I could hear the music from the windows, some hysterical German screaming over a blare of machine-gun drums and electric guitars. The two skinheads shouted along: "Oi, oi, oi" - and I caught a glimpse of them from the porch window. I poured flammable fluids from one bomb to the other.

I was about to light the "fuses," when I caught a glimpse of the skinheads between the curtains. I thought I saw - I'm still not sure what I saw, I was trembling and sweat kept dripping into my eyes - they were hugging and kissing each other. It was only the briefest glimpse, a second at most.

It didn't change anything. I was still determined not to take another beating. So I lit the fuses and ran. Seconds later, that house turned into a giant bonfire. No other house was damaged. I ran home, threw away my clothes that smelled of kerosene, and fell asleep - exhausted. I dreamed of my mother, woke up chattering my teeth several times, like I had a fever.


The next morning, Dad woke me up: "Breakfast's ready."

I got out of the bathroom fully dressed, and joined him in the kitchen. My joints were aching.

"Are you feeling better today?" he asked me.

"Much better." I smiled. Didn't know if it was me, or a mask I was wearing. "I want to go to school again."

"Good. Even a kid as bright as you need to get educated in the 'school of life.'"

"Is my sen... will my self-defense teacher come back?"

Dad frowned over the morning newspaper he was reading. How old he looked to me now; how haggard he was getting. I sensed how badly he missed my mother, and... I wanted to say or do something to make him feel better.

He said: "I talked to his colleague over at the judo class. Your teacher's traveled abroad. I hope he taught you something useful?"

"Yes, Dad. He really did."

"So you're not worried about the other kids in school?"

"No. He told me... that he expects great things from me in the future."

Dad was pleased. Then he went to work, and I went to school. It was a good school day, that Wednesday. I still think about it. And the principal? She quit her job a few days later and later she moved out of town. Something must've scared her.


(There's an ache in my stomach now. Not because of what I just wrote. I shouldn't have eaten that stale sandwich...)


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.