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I was suffocated by a swirling cocoon of data, and it wouldn’t let me go. I was forced towards the ground, a foreign entity, unable to eject. As I struggled to get free, a high shrieking sound filled my ears. The dazzling white source of the sound, an electric blast so glaring it hurt my eyes to look at it, streaked towards the nape of my neck. “NOOOOOOOOO!”


My body ricocheted into a sitting position, sheets falling down me like water down a cliff. I was drenched in cold, clammy sweat, feeling like somebody had dumped an ocean on my head. My eyes probed the tiny, cold metal room that I called my bedroom, at least until I finished this job. Although NueroTech’s brain damaging security gave me nightmares about waking up in a mental hospital, or an asylum for hackers, the reward justified the risks. If I discovered their intentions, and the means that they were using to complete them, I would be able to retire for the rest of my life on the reward alone, at least in a middle class home, not to mention coming out of my notoriety in society. Hey, that was the dream right? I got out of bed, grabbing a fresh pair of pants, and a shirt.


I threw my clothes on the floor of my small bathroom; no, not small, more like claustrophobic. It was barely big enough for one sink, a toilet, and a shower, with just enough space for me to stretch out. I got in the shower, turned it on and letting the hot water run over me. As I rubbed the shampoo into my hair, I grabbed a can of Shock off the sink counter and took a swig. The dopamine coursed through my brain, faster than an electro-magnet powered bullet train. I put the blue can with the yellow lightning bolt design back down on the counter, my mind buzzing with ways to get past NeuroTech’s newest walls. I needed to test them out. I downed the rest of the Shock and cleaned out my mouth and teeth with some Qwik Clean. I slipped into my clothes on the way out of the bathroom and headed across the ninety square foot bedroom to my kitchen. I entered and turned to the right into a small black cell, just big enough for one person. I sat down on the small black ledge sticking out of the wall and jacked in, putting my feed into the back of my neck; suddenly, I was in the net.


The net is a gigantic blue ball of data; if each byte in it is a molecule, it’s the size of the Milky Way. I searched with my mind for a server, localhost NewGen, and entered it. The music pulsed in my head, and the purple lighting of the room pulsed along with it. I glanced round the room, trying to find Æthor. I was going to need some new programs to crack the labyrinth. I saw him across the room; he was in a djinn overlay. “Well”, I thought, “that gives me an idea of what the program will be today”. Æthor loved to show off his new virus ideas with his costume. I knew djinn usually grant wishes, so I guessed it either installed viruses or upgraded them. I used my mind’s eye to imagine myself next to him and re-appeared there. I opened a one-way trade window.


It looked like his program was called Genie. That was just like Æthor. He loved to name his programs synonyms of the original name of his costume, rather than what the creator of the costume intended. Æthor was odd. He loved asymmetry. But that was why he made such a good programmer, I guess.  His mind worked on problems in a different way. I zoomed in on the program file.  It was 10 credits according to the price tag. With rampant inflation, that wasn’t all that much, I remember when everyone dealt in partials, when the credit first came around, but like all dominant economic currency, inflation comes into play. From the snapshots of code I could see, it looked like it was a very unique installer, one that would modify the virus. Seemed worth it. I hit enter, and bought ‘Genie’.


It was time for the run, and I was hardly ready, but I’d done enough research to know that today, the day of the biggest event of the year I had the best chance of getting away without getting hit by an electromagnetic pulse. It was the 50th anniversary of the net. The human debuggers were taking the day off, so the way out should be a lot easier, because they’d be unable to act on their tags fast enough. Yes, today was the day.


I jacked out of the net, taking the feed out of my head. Before I could attempt the hack, I had to get ready. I entered my password into the cabinet above my head, calibrating my tools. All of them started up at once. I installed Genie through my modded, or modified, installer. It would check for viruses before completing installation and modify general class types to fit with my viruses. I pulled out my Holoscreen and opened my “Virus” folder, they all looked ready. I had my cloaker which had been modified against NeuroTech’s typical programming procedures.  My InfoSyphon had made sure I had more than enough code snippets from their monitors for me to figure out how to be static to them. My controller was ready, so I could get into their HQ database if I got that far.


I picked up the green feed, which was specially made for hackers and meant to prevent distraction from holograms, in order to focus on the code. I had modded this one myself on a sleepless night from scraps I found at the junkyard, and a few super expensive parts, mostly neural connectors I saved up for by doing menial programming work. It’s gotten me out of more jams than I can count. I set my destination to the coordinates that “WES”, my employer, had given me for the hub at NeuroTech and jacked in.


The server for NeuroTech is designed to keep interlopers out.  To the random visitor, it feels like an endless, claustrophobia-inducing tunnel.  But a true hacker is too determined to be stopped by how a Holo might look. Besides, once you have a mod plug, you can just get rid of the distractions. I turned mine on and suddenly the hallway was reduced to flowing green lines of code. Now I could get down to business. I started by pulling up my newest program, Genie, on my Holoscreen, and used it to install a Decon, short for code deconstructor, in the base. Man, Aethor’s newest invention was great.


The code lines flowed through the filter on the Decon, like krill going through a whale’s baleen. Lines of key code floated out from the decon, surrounding me with the green code. I scanned through the code by moving my finger across, trying to find its purpose. There! “if UO dist_core <= 750: init eject sq”. Their code was only operational if an unidentified object was close enough to their core. Now this I could test.


I slipped out a decoy, basically a self-cloaking ball of code, and held it in my hand. I threw it towards the core, a big blue ball in the distance. A flash of light shot out of the ceiling, vaporizing it instantly. It looked like a code dematerializer. All I had to do was avoid the sensors. Yeah, right, easier said than done. My cloaking device obviously wouldn’t work, the decoy had shown me that much. I had an idea. They obviously wouldn’t want to destroy their own code, so there must be a function that prevented the beam from destroying it. Maybe if I set Neurotech as my program’s author. It was worth a try.


I took out a decoy and opened up its code. “_Author_ = Shock”, the first line of the program. A few strokes later, the author was NeuroTech. Perfect. I threw it across the hallway. It crossed with ease, not a single trap fired. I was surprised the programmers had chosen such a hackable requirement. It couldn’t have been easier. I changed my cloaker’s name the same way as the decoy and crossed the hallway without anyone noticing. Or so I thought.




I watched, the only guard on duty. Why did I have to stay in on the 50th anniversary? This sucked. All the other guards got to go out but I was stuck watching screens in a cold clammy room. I popped a pellet into my mouth and chewed; it woke me up, kept me going. Did HQ really think somebody would attempt a hack today, when it was the best day of the year? I better get paid way more for this. But what did I have waiting for me anyway? Just a messy home, and a void where Cammy used to be.


Wait, what’s that? A foreign bit of code flew across Cam 16. It got vaped, or vaporized. HQ was right, somebody was on the move. I scanned the cameras, looking for the visitor. I only got a brief glimpse of blue hair before they put on their cloak, and they were gone.




I walked towards the core, like a moth towards a flickering flame. I could almost feel the pulsating beat of the code’s center. Just as I reached out to touch the code and access it, the whole server I was in went on alert. The server disconnected from the web. Walls of red code streamed down from the ceiling, locking me in. I was trapped.


I sat down and wracked my mind, trying to find a way out; trying to figure out how this happened.




I hit the red alarm button for the central server, shutting it down. Whoever was trying to hack in wasn’t getting anywhere. I called HQ. Told them someone was in the central server and I had shut it down. They said they would be there in a few seconds to take the intruder down. I had better get a raise after this.




No, no, no! This couldn’t be happening. There was always a way out, a solution to every problem, I looked through my programs for the fourth time in a minute. None of them could get me out, but my cloaker could buy me some time. I plugged a decon into the red code to give me the necessary information as I worked. I sat down and began to write a program to get me through the wall.



The head honcho from HQ came. I wondered what his stake was in all this. He said I’d be getting a raise. He told me I was dismissed and he got up to the microphone, a confident sneer. He started speaking to the intruder. He said that the game was over and he’d caught them. Not only that, but it was he who had hired them to try to infiltrate Neurotech, and that Neurotech’s child experiments would remain secret. I thought about Cammy. Was she part of it? I had to know more.


So instead of continuing down the hallway, glad for a raise, I ran back to the room. I stood in the hallway, listening to their conversation, trying to figure out what to do.




I heard a voice come through the speakers. It was my employer’s voice. the voice of “WES”. He said he was the CEO of NeuroTech. That he’d been trapping hackers for years with fake servers, fake “safe days”, and defenses that were all too easy to pass. He said that the rumors were true, NeuroTech’s R&D had been performing morbid child experiments, putting jacks into them surgically at birth. But it didn’t matter if I heard him or not. I was dead meat, just like the innocent children.


I heard a struggle over the speakers. A crash, a scream. A different, raspy voice came over the speaker. It was a debug, the same guard who locked me in the server. He’d heard everything in the hallway. His child had been taken when she was only 1 month old. NeuroTech told him it was a kidnapping. Now he wanted the truth. He let me into the real server. I accessed and downloaded the data, putting it onto my drive. He asked me to look through the data about his child. She was probably dead, but he had to know.




The boss said that he had killed dozens of innocent children with his experiments and laughed, describing the experiments down to even the most minute of details. It made me mad. I couldn’t take it any longer. I walked into the room quietly, trying not to make a sound. The boss was too engrossed with his bragging to notice anyways. I picked up a black, light metal chair from the ground. It screeched against the ground.


As the boss spun on his heel, I threw the chair down at his head. He tried to stop it but it crashed down on his head all the same, forcing him to the ground. I jumped on him, tears flooding down my face as I hit his face again and again with my fists. As my fist came down on his windpipe, I knew he realized what a big mistake he had made with his choice in guard. It was the last mistake he would make.


I went up to the microphone. I told the hacker that they were safe. That I understood everything now. I helped them access the data, communicating through messaging. It turned out the hacker was a girl. I asked her to send any data about Cammy she could find. She said she would, and we agreed to send the data to the press the next morning.




I walked down the street with Cammy and Ryker. I never thought my life could turn out this well.  The newsboard at the side of the street showed the news, our news. “This just in!” the newscaster said. “Security guard Ryker Guij and hacker Nadia Yang reveal secrets of NeuroTech.”  The news companies have been playing that for weeks now. The children, at least those who weren’t killed yet, were returned to their parents. Now, at least, the future is looking brighter than ever.

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