Hakker, Dispatch 006:
The ache in my stomach I told you about... it got worse. I took painkillers and stayed in bed... and woke up in such pain, I thought I was a goner. Had to decide fast: check into a hospital or die alone, in an abandoned countryside cottage. The thought of such an ironic death really pissed me off. I couldn't allow myself to be beaten by indifferent intestinal bacteria. I had work to do. Had to find EYE and kill him/her.
Staggering to my moped I left most of my gear behind, stashed away for later use. I only brought with me some cash, a small concealed weapon and my trusty reinforced umbrella. There wasn't time to construct a fake identity; the nearest emergency ward was miles away.
Now I understood how street trash felt when the rain flushed it into a storm drain...
With a bit of effort I drove to a bus stop, wrapped the moped in plastic sacks and hid it in the nearby woods. A bus arrived and drove me into the nearest city. When I stepped off the bus, shaking and soaked with sweat, I dizzily realized I had to avoid fingerprint identification. I still had a pack of first-aid on me; I used a needle to prick my fingertips, and taped band-aids around all ten fingers. Stupid of me, maybe, but it seemed like a clever idea at the time... amazing what fever and shivers can do for your good judgment.
When that was done, I entered the emergency ward and told the receptionist I had the symptoms of acute appendicitis. She made a quick phone call and asked me to wait for a nurse. After I sat down among the other waiting people, then... then... can't remember what happened. The next thing I can remember is lying in a bed, a nurse leaning over me, smelling antiseptics or something. The ceiling lights are hurting my eyes. I try to move, but the nurse tells me to lie still.
"They operate me yet?" That's all I manage to say, before I hallucinate a knife plunging into my midsection. I pass out again.
It WAS appendicitis. And I'd been so careful to keep my teeth clean... ha, ha. The doctors and nurses operated me in no time. I woke up in a hospital bed, with sensors attached to my chest and arm. That meant I couldn't sneak away without the monitors sending the alarm to the hospital staff. Besides, I was too weak to move. I hated this helplessness. Luckily, they hadn't found the concealed weapon among my stuff. Checked the bandage on my abdomen. Smaller than I expected (the bandage, not my stomach). Skin felt sort of numb, must be from the painkillers. Eyeglasses were on my head; I started to polish them.
It was early morning. I was in room with some other patients: a kid, an elderly man, some Arab guy with his arm in a big plaster cast. A doctor strolled in, checked all the patients in turn, and finally came to me. He said I had to stay there in bed for a few days.
"How many few days?" I asked. Sounding like a deflated balloon.
"Oh, nothing serious - you'll be fit to go home in a week, I think. We use peephole surgery nowadays, the scar on your stomach is really quite small. But... you look rather pale even for a patient who's recently been operated." (It hit me then, why I was so pale: I don't get out much in daylight.) "So we'll take a few extra tests and have you under a little extra observation... just to make sure there's nothing else wrong with you." He picked up a pad and pen, and I knew what was coming. "Where do you live, by the way?"
This was not the ideal situation to lie. The doctor - by the name badge and face, I'd say he came from India - didn't look like a fool. He waited calmly. I told him, too tired to fake an accent, that I was on a visit from a neighboring Scandinavian country. A pathetic bluff, and he'd soon call it.
"What's your name?"
"Roger..." (Idiot! Not "Roger Moore" again.) Roger Eliasson."
"Could you show me your ID, Roger?"
"It's in my clothes, I think... could you check?"
The band-aids were still on my fingers, amazingly enough. My clothes lay by the bed. He checked them and found no form of ID, as I knew he would. I burned my passport and ID cards last year, after EYE had made them as useless as a bad forgery. What's the point of having a passport if it won't match any computer register? Every citizen in Europe is registered on computer files, and the register can be opened from any hospital, police car or public institution. H. Ellison no longer exists.
"Shit! She stole my passport! And my cell phone!" I turned my face into a mask of embarrassment, and held up my bandaged fingertips as evidence of some unspeakable humiliation. "It's a long story. Look, I'm very tired and hungry..."
The doctor excused himself and called for a nurse to serve me some food. The Arab with the arm in plaster, who lay in the bed next to me, gave me a glance... one second too long. Thought my name sounded Jewish, did he?
"What the hell you lookin' at?" I told him, terse, showing my teeth for effect. "You want me to break the other arm?"
He looked away. The nurse came in with a cartload of food for the entire ward. I asked her to put one of those screens-on-wheels between me and the Arab. The nurse was middle-aged and not particularly attractive, but it was ages since a woman had served me food. I tried a friendly smile. It came out wrong; she reacted with worry lines in her face.
"What's your name?" she asked.
"Would you like to borrow a phone, Roger? I'm sure there's someone who'd like to hear you're all right."
I ate faster, concentrating on filling my stomach, thinking of escape.
"Both my parents are dead," I said with my mouth full of jelly in different colors.
"Oh, I'm sorry."
I caught myself; if I didn't call anyone, it would attract suspicion.
"Wait... I do have a private call to make. Could I borrow a phone? And a phonebook? And a mirror."
A while later, the nurse returned with a cordless telephone, phonebook and a compact mirror. I didn't have my notebook with me, so I looked up a random private number far from the hospital, and made a prank call. Pretended to be speaking to a significant other. The guy at the other end must've been confused by what I said to him, but I soon hung up.
Once the nurse was out of hearing range, I looked up the Yellow Pages and the company Toys 4 Eyes: one of my very few leads on "EYE." Did me no good get all worked up, though; the fresh surgery stitches hurt when I tensed my muscles. So I tried to just lie still on my back with the phonebook on my chest, and did the breathing exercise my sensei had taught me.
I listened to the sounds of other patients breathing, the kid playing with a beeping Gameboy Advance, the Arab talking on his cell phone... the sounds of everyday life. It hit me then, how long it was since I'd been around ordinary people living ordinary lives.
Months of isolation, constant moving around, the creepy criminal people I'd been interacting with, it had all affected my thinking. Limited my thinking. Paranoid, circular thinking. Obsessing about who, who WHO was "EYE." Had tried to find traces of that specific character EYE on the Web, from other hackers, and failed. Questions, bribes, tricks, threats, no results. No one had heard of EYE, at least no one who was alive. (Well maybe that Dr. Lovelace, but she was in America where I couldn't get to her.)
I dropped the phonebook from its upright position, and it fell flat on my stomach. Cursing and groaning, I dropped the phonebook on the floor beside the bed. Of course! I'd been going at the problem from the wrong angle. Forget about "who" for a while, and concentrate on "how." EYE deleted... or at least is SEEMED like ONE user named EYE got into all computer registers and databases in a very short time... and deleted every reference to my official existence - all records, e-mails, mentions, addresses, images. But I ought to know that on the Web, several uses can share one identity. No, skip that. Never mind the number of eyes EYE had. Focus on the "how."
How was it done? I picked a pen and an unbelievably old magazine from the table by my bed. I opened up the double-page crossword, still unsolved, and read the little boxes with clues. The theme of the crossword was "The Movies."
"Muscleman," six letters. I filled in the empty boxes:
"Company Everywhere," nine letters. I wrote:
"Always runs forward," two words, seven and four letters. Tried "Running Man." Changed it to:
"Lawnmover Man Was Denied," six letters. I wrote:
Universal Access. That's the "how." The power to go into and freely change data in all computers that are connected to the big grids: telephone lines, wireless networks, the World Wide Web. But no one should have universal access. There were surveillance schemes like ECHELON, of course, and that other program the Russians had developed... but all those were SEARCH programs. They couldn't CRACK data, only HACK data.
"Outbreak Was A," five letters.
Could EYE be - or rather, be using - a computer virus? There had been a lot of those going around lately. I think I'd been in touch with some people who hinted they had created at least one of the recent virus epidemics on the Web. Or they were just trying to impress. Lamers. I love hacking databases and stealing data, but I utterly despise hackers who can't do better than just break stuff.
I turned the idea around in my mind as I solved the crossword puzzle. Viruses? Nah, too complicated. Trouble with viruses, like nuclear weapons, is you can use them only once. Then the antivirus programs are evolved, and the virus is stopped the next time. And I've never heard of a virus that specifically seeks out a PERSON and deletes his files - even pictures that don't have his name attached.
"Wet Flop," ten letters. W-A-T-E-R-W-O-R-L-D.
Remember that hacker party where someone phone-cammed the back of my head? A while later, when I asked anonymously for a headshot of myself, the guy who posted that photo said he HAD taken a picture of "that visitor's" face, but the image had vanished shortly after he stored it. Vanished from his PHONE, that SAME F***ING NIGHT. No virus could do that; it required intelligence.
I checked my face in the mirror. Damn, I WAS pale. Needed a shave. Smelled kind of funny. And I really needed to visit the bathroom. After the second attempt to get out of bed, feeling like someone had stabbed me each time, I gave up and pushed the call-for-a-nurse button. Nurse's assistance... now that's a fine lesson in humility. I made sure to look away from the surveillance cameras in the hospital corridors, just in case EYE was looking.
Now that I had to force myself to relax in order to recover faster, I thought of talking to the other patients in my room. Seems we were all in the post-op ward for non-critical cases. The Arab next to me chatted incessantly on his phone.
I called out to the kid on the opposite row: "Hey... what kinda games you got?"
The kid crawled out of bed - he had a fresh bandage on his leg, and metal clamps around the leg. Took him some time to limp across to me. He showed me the Gameboy Advance; a puzzle game was plugged in, and he had two game cards in his hand.
"How long does the battery last?"
"I've got an adapter to plug into the wall."
"Don't you want a Nokia N-Gage instead?"
"Nah, I tried it and it sucked. I already have a phone."
"Cool. Um, what happened to your leg?"
"I was run over. Didn't hurt so much, but they had to fix the veins and pick out pieces of bones. Something like that. What happened to you?"
"Just appendicitis. Damn, I wish I could at least check my e-mail."
"You could borrow my cell phone. I got wi-fi. My parents are paying the phone bill anyway."
Yeah, why not? And why not ask him to do a Google search for "EYE AM?" I frowned, recalling that young couple who got killed by weird strangers. If those two people hadn't gotten involved in my business, they might have been alive now. Damn.
"Thanks, but no thanks. See if you can find a laptop or terminal around the rooms here. But you'd better not let those cameras see you."
The kid seemed happy to have something to do other than lying in bed. He picked up a crutch and limped out of there, after he'd checked no one was watching. As long as I stayed anonymous and no one took my photograph. I peered across to his bedside table. There was his phone. It didn't have a camera. I let out a sigh of relief.
A chuckle from the bed next to mine caught my attention. That Arab - or whatever he was - was peeking in at me through the wall screen draperies, leaning on the arm in the plaster cast. He was aiming a phone camera at my face. I pulled up my arm to shield my face. Too late. Damn! Couldn't reach out and grab the phone-cam because of the stomach stitches. I wanted to kill that guy then. I had a pen, I could kill him easily. Just ram the pen into his ear and twist it into his stupid brain...
My heart beat so fast I could feel the throbs in the stitches. No, not kill him here, not now. My whole body broke into a sweat, soaking the bedsheets. But a photo. A photo of me on a cell phone. Just like that night those two hackers got killed. A photo was all EYE needed. He/she would send out killers for me: thin guys in baseball caps and night-scopes, walking like marionettes.
The kid sneaked out around lunchtime, and when he came back he sneaked a gizmo into my bed.
"Found a PowerBook," he whispered, "Got Bluetooth, still logged on. Use it until the batteries run out."
"Thanks." I slipped him a few banknotes from my wallet, and whispered back: "Could you do me a favor? Guy next to me just took a prank photo of me. Could you borrow the phone while he's asleep or away, and delete all the photos?"
I slipped him another few bills. He nodded eagerly and went back to his own bed. The kids are all right. Hiding under the sheets, I examined the PowerBook; it belonged to a doctor. The screen contained folders like "Golf Scores" and "Patient Notes."
I opened the Internet and searched for combinations of keywords that associated with "universal access" and related subjects. (I won't mention the specific keywords here.) And I found something: a link to a paper written by... well, well... Dr. Ada Lovelace. (Again: I'm not using her real name.) The paper was published... a year before I was born! It never appeared on ARPANET. Come to think of it, she never appeared on ARPANET while I was using it as a kid. I had to get in touch with Dr. Lovelace somehow, without EYE and his/her weirdo killers finding us. IF she still lived. I made a quick Web search and found her latest official statement: it was dated just a few days earlier.
I hadn't forgotten that the last guy who e-mailed Lovelace about EYE, "Sven," got killed. But now I suspected his comment about "EYE" could've been pasted into Sven's e-mail by EYE, as a bait to lure me out, or to test what Lovelace knew. Anyone with universal access would be able to do that. Either way, she probably wouldn't know about EYE, but the clues told me that she had done some work on universal access. If I was going to contact her, face-to-face was the only option. But she was still on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
I finished the crossword puzzle and read the text at the top of the page: "Mail the entire page to... and you may win a copy of WATERWORLD." Snail mail! I could've slapped myself. Finding her address was easy. I wrote it down and spent the rest of the PowerBook's battery on www.playboy.com. Gotta have some fun in my life.
The Arab next to me limped off to the bathroom. The other patients slumbered. I peeked at the floor and noticed the stockings of a kid moving beneath the screen. I lay still and watched the door. The kid sneaked back to his bed and gave me the thumbs-up sign. I thumbed back. Maybe the Arab had already passed on the photo of me. Maybe not. I put the Power Book on the floor and let it slide in underneath the Arab's bed. When he came back, he grinned at me, like he was thinking "Who's the man now?" I smiled back.
A few moments later he started swearing, pulled aside the screen-on-wheels and yelled at me that I'd been tampering with his phone. I pushed the nurse button, and when she arrived I urged her closer.
"That guy tried to steal office equipment," I whispered in her ear. "I saw him hide something under his bed."
She found the doctor's PowerBook and told the guy to wait while she found the owner. The Arab went pale and stared at me as the nurse left with the PowerBook.
"You still want me to break the other arm?" I asked him. Not smiling. Asking. He stayed quiet after that.
In the late afternoon, the nurse on that shift told me that someone wanted to see me. I froze up.
"He's from the police. The immigration department."
"He's waiting in the lobby."
"Did he show you his ID?" I made an effort to look like I was in pain but trying to suppress it. "Did you ask to see his ID?"
"No, but... relax. I'll tell him you're not feeling well. He can come back tomorrow."
She left. The other patients were eating and watching the news on an old TV set in a corner. I felt at my stomach, checking for bad signs. The stitches hurt, but not much. If I was real careful, I ought to be able to walk out of here. There were no security guards posted in this wing of the hospital, and why should there be?
My own clothes, shoes and umbrella lay in a plastic basket under the bed. I picked them up and walked out of the room. The kid waved at me, I waved goodbye. As soon as I was out of the room I rushed into a broom closet and changed from hospital clothes to my own clothes. The odds were stacked against me, so I searched the closet for more weapons. I took a mop and a bucket. In the bucket I poured the most dangerous detergents and chemicals I could find on the shelves. Then I put on a pair of long-sleeved yellow gloves; I didn't want any of those chemicals on my skin.
I peeked out to check the coast was clear, and strolled out of the closet with the mop and bucket in hand, gray cap on my head, umbrella hidden in my jacket... just another cleaner on the late shift. A nurse walked past and didn't bother to look at me. I pretended to mop up something from the floor and looked around. There were surveillance cameras around the main entrance; the lobby had a security guard. I turned and followed that nurse - she'd had a pack of cigarettes in her hand. We were on the ground floor, so she was probably going out a back door for a quick smoke. (Smokers. They never fail to open locked doors for me. What am I gonna do when smoking is outlawed?)
She unlocked a fire exit, and I sneaked along unseen, just like my sensei taught me when I was ten. It's really quite easy to sneak past people, once you learn the trick (which I'm not going to tell you). Parking spaces surrounded the building on all sides; the bus stop was just a few meters away. I wanted to just run away before the hospital staff started looking for me, but it was a long walk from the hospital, I was in no shape for exercise, and it was getting real cold outside.
So I waited in the shadows for the bus to arrive. Cars came and went, plus the occasional ambulance. No one came to the bus stop. I wondered what the immigration police might do to cause me trouble. They couldn't find me in any register, I was sure of that. I caught myself looking at a newspaper in a trashcan. Pick it up...? No... it was probably dirty. If I started digging in trash, I'd enter a slippery slope where I'd end up a bum who talks gibberish and spends his days rummaging through garbage cans.
A cop car cruised around the hospital and stopped by the entrance. I hid again. The lone driver got out and entered the hospital - a male figure in a long coat. He'd find out I was missing and sound the alert. Where was that f***ing bus? Then I thought: The nurse said the man from the immigration police was ALREADY waiting in the lobby. I saw only one cop car parked outside the entrance - the one that'd just arrived. So who was the first guy? No, wait. The second guy could be another cop who's not going to see me. I couldn't automatically assume that every police in the world was looking for me... (Perhaps I'd end up a smelly, muttering homeless man after all.)
I heard the rumble of a bus in the distance, and saw its headlights approach. I stood up, put down the bucket and mop, and began to remove the rubber gloves... then I stopped. Someone was running toward the bus stop from the hospital entrance. A thin male figure, just a dark outline in the waning light... running with strange, jerky movements. And he was putting something over his face: it looked like a night-scope. One of them. They were on to me from the moment my phtot was taken.
The bus came closer. I could make a rush for it, but the stranger would easily get on the bus too. Or he could just tail me with a car. I had to stop him first. I crouched down behind a van so that the bus driver wouldn't see me, and waited for the stranger to come close. When he did, and he saw me, I tossed the contents of the bucket in his face. That stuff ought to burn like acid.
He screamed and dropped the night-scope on the asphalt, but he just kept charging - lunged at me with grasping, claw-like hands. I dodged his lunge and whacked him over the back of the head with my reinforced umbrella... hard enough to knock out a normal person. He stumbled forward, bounced up like a string puppet... and got back on his feet at once. Again he grasped at me - and in the dark I saw a blue flicker of electric discharges between his fingertips. Very small needles were sticking out of them. Implanted under his fingernails!
I backed off. Couldn't believe my eyes. His face was only dimly visible, the flesh still smoldering from the chemical attack. I could hear the bus stopping just ten, fifteen meters away from us. Had to make a quick, quiet kill. The next time he cherged at me, trying to reach me with those electric needles of his, I opened my umbrella and pulled off the rubber tip. Underneath, I had filed the metal tip into a very sharp pike. I shoved the open umbrella against his body, so that his hands flailed at the edges, let myself slide in under him, and let his weight fall onto the sharp pike. He didn't make a sound as the umbrella stabbed him in the stomach. I kicked the body over and away from me, and I rolled up on my feet, ready to stab him again. He didn't move; I was breathing too hard to hear if he was still breathing.
Then I caught a glimpse of his face - just a brief glimpse - and I decided to run. The chemicals had burned his skin, and blood streamed from his nostrils.
And from one nostril, a copper wire - insulated with a thin plastic peel - was poking out.
I pivoted around, ignoring the pain in my stomach, and ran for the bus. I nearly forgot to put back the rubber tip on the bloodied pike. A passenger stepped off the bus and I almost ran him down.
The bus driver gave me a curious look. I made an effort to look calm, but I was too upset to hide it. I paid the ticket in cash and went to the back of the bus, shaking like a Parkinson patient. Of course the hospital staff would look for me - maybe they'd find someone who matched my phony name. I wanted to eat Paracetamols for my aching stomach, but I had to avoid eating anything acidic until the surgery scars had healed.
As the bus rolled away, I looked through the windows, trying to see if my pursuer was coming after me. I saw nothing move there in the dark - but I saw smoke billowing up from among the cars, right where he had fallen. Thick gray smoke - as if the body of the attacker was literally dissolving. I shook my head to shake off the insane idea. Human bodies did not dissolve. The smoke had to be something else. Damn! I should've taken his wallet and ID, at least, but I screwed up big time. I missed the opportunity to take him alive, to question him - about EYE, about the other weirdos who killed the two hackers, about the connection to Toys 4 Eyes - about Dr. Lovelace.
Writing this down, after the event, makes it seem a little bit more real... less like some crazy hallucination. My life's a mess, but I haven't lost my mind, not yet.
I knew what I saw.
I saw a man move like a string puppet, with electric needles coming out of his fingertips. Wires were poking out of his head. He was some kind of very crude, amateurish cyborg; I've never seen or heard of anything like that before.
I knew what I saw. I just can't explain it yet - not the "who," not the "how," and most importantly: the "why."
Somehow - don't ask me to explain - I made it back to my moped and the abandoned house. I slept for two days, living on canned food and rainwater. I took some antibiotics but stayed off the painkillers, because I didn't want to risk complications.
I wanted to go back to that hospital and ask questions about the attacker... I wanted it so much it hurt... but this was simply out of the question. I could never go back there. A thourough search of the local and national news revealed nothing about the incident. No news about a dead man found outside the W hospital. Nothing about a missing man. It was like he had really dissolved... or an accomplice had removed the body during the night.
For now, all I've got is a bunch of leads to follow. I've got to get in touch with Dr. Ada Lovelace. I've got to investigate the Toys 4 Eyes (you might have guessed by now: it's not the actual name of the company) offices more closely.
I could try to hack Toys 4 Eyes. I've got Sven's Internet map program. I could tweak it a bit, so that it tracks only Toys 4 Eyes servers and their amount of traffic. Any server that sends the most amount of data traffic ought to hold the most interesting secrets.
There are so many ways to hack a server. I'll try a few.
You didn't get me this time, EYE. I'm coming to get you!
continued in Dispatch 007..
"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.