Written by elDiablo
I write this now as I am - top agent for UplinkCorp, earning around 20 thousand credits a job. I have a custom made gateway that I designed, full to the max with CPUs, memory, the fastest gateway, with security. UplinkCorp gave it too me, on one condition - that I dont EVER log on to any of their machines (excluding their news server), and that I dont keep spreading rumours about them.
Confused? Read this, cos after this, I'm sure that they'll "retire" me, just like the others.
I woke up on monday, made some toast, feeling good about myself and looking forward to work. "Are you insane?!" I hear you cry. Well, probably. But I work my own hours, I get paid in credits so the government dont even see my income, and I enjoy it. I am "dead" in the eyes of the government, police, and anyone who would think otherwise, thanks to a little changing of the SSD.
Anyway, I'm giving too much away.
Woke up, monday morning, log on to UplinkOS. Read news: "HummingBird Solutions is now in liquidation due to a hacker". Excellent, reply to email, wait ten minutes, and then I'm 15,000c richer. Excellent. Look at other emails: "Can I borrow some cash? From, SomeNewbieHacker" (delete), "We dont like this competitor. Take them out. Reward, 22000c" (Ok, same old, same old), and finally "Reply to this is you want to know the truth. From, TechnoJunkie"
The name is what got me. I logged off UplinkOS start away. I sat on my bed in my one room apartment in the East End of London (or so the world though), and I past out.
I woke up at 3am. I had nothing to eat since yesterday, and that was only half a piece of toast. I felt sick. Sick to my stomach, maybe I should explain.
TechnoJunkie WAS one of my best mates. I knew him from when I was like 4. We went to the same schools, and he was the one who found out about UplinkCorp. We lived in the same apartment block (the same as I live in now). He didnt tell me he was a hacker to start with, so got 2 months practise before letting me in on it. He was one of the greatest in 3 months. I was close behind. If one of us couldnt do a job, we worked together, spilt it 50/50. But usually, we worked alone and bragged a lot. We noticed something, well, he did. All the top Uplink Agents only stayed at the top for a maximum of 4 months. The they would either get caught or commit suicide. We thought it was just strange. We joked about it and everything.
Then he got to the top spot. Suddenly it wasnt a joke. The guy before had been found in a canal. Well, more like 4 canals, if you get what I mean.
We talked loads for 4 months. I wanted to make sure he wouldnt suddenly disappear on me, not after 14 years. It got to the day before his 4 month on the top spot. We had a plan. He didnt work. He didnt accept any jobs, he was too scraed. I took every job under the sun. I needed to. I did destroying mainframes, framing people, even the easy copy a 2 gigaquad file missions. I got to the top spot 17 minutes before midnight, and it was the most tense day in my life. Techno was round my place, sitting on the bed, shaking for most of it.
That day went down in history. The Uplink News Service recorded that I had made the most money in one day EVER. No other hacker had come close, and they said I deserved the top spot. And sure, I did. I EARNT, not stolen from a bank or anything, 6 million credits from missions alone. I WAS the master. But I didnt care.
Me and Techno waited. Two days later, he disappeared. I woke up one morning, and he wasnt logged in to UplinkOS. I rang him, but no. Nothing. I felt sick that day too.
I felt worse this morning. I thought that TechnoJunkie had just run away, got himself "retired" as I now know it as, or got killed by someone who wanted to be top agent. I didnt know what happened. But the email from him yesterday had scared me more then his 4 month.
Then it hit me. He was a genius, always thinking ahead. A simple email wont be his style. I logged onto UplinkOS.
"1 new email" Open "So you opened my email :) I see you didnt reply yet. Dont bother, my tracker worked fine :P When you (eventually) wake up, come to the cafe" Delete. Bastard, I thought, he was always a joker. And yet he still is.
We also met in a cafe for lunch when we were "working". It was just down the road. Always at 12 noon.
I looked over at my calender on the wall. 3 days till it's my 4 month...
Ever seen a ghost? I could deal with that. See it, and you can run. What if you only hear it? Could you run? Yeah, I suppose so. What if the ghost knew everywhere you went? So you couldnt run. Well, I found UplinkCorp is even worse - they are the ghosts who CONTROL you as you run.
I got back to sleep with the help of 3 sleeping tablets half an hour after I read that last email. I just woke up now, and man, I feel like shit.
I had the weirdest dream ever, but it's given me some ideas about retirement. I move the mouse, and the screen flickers as it comes into focus. I've been logged onto UplinkOS for nearly 7 hours and I havent looked at it once. The amount of emails I have is UNBELIEVABLE! The amount of junk mail from other hackers was enough to fill my screen with the little pictures. I hate them... I thought of getting a skin replacement, but never could be bothered. I delete all the un-interesting emails, half expecting another one from Techno.
But there wasnt. There was two emails from UplinkCorp. Strange, I should get one about now for the rent of the gateway, but what's the other?
"Please Read, from UplinkCorp Admin" Open. What happened next was so fast in happening, I had little time to react. Firstly, the trace-tracker started to beep, I instinctively went to the disconnect button, but I wasnt connected anywhere! It then said trace complete, and UplinkOS quit to the horrid black screen I had always feared. This had never happened to me before, I had never been found. Ever.
I started to think, I tried to log back into UplinkOS, but of course, that wouldnt work. I took out the remote transmitter from under my table. I had hacked into UplinkCorp once to find the frequency of my explosives transmitter. I had then got someone to make up a transmitter for me. A last resort, if you will. I pressed the button, and as i did i saw the most amazing thing. From my window I have a view London, quite a good one, actually. But there is a large warehouse about half a mile away. As I pressed the button, a section of that building was blown outwards, shards of concrete wall flew across the street.
Oh shit, I thought, that was a bad idea. Just then, the door came flying inwards off the hinges, and three bulky, well build men in black camo rushed in. Two had some kind of machine guns, which got shoved straight into my face. The third had a small black pistol with two prongs on it. These got fired into chest. At this point, I knew exactly what it was.
The sharp pain shot across my chest like a cat's claws ripping through my flesh without breaking the surface. Three word: That's gonna hurt. From then on I hated Tasers. They hurt. A lot.
I feel to the floor barely alive, but the grunts still had their guns pointed at my head. I tried to pull myself up, but I had no strength. I feel back to the floor, and this time there was blackness.
Before I opened my eyes, I felt the motion as I was driven to an unknown destination. I could hear nothing. No one speaking, no traffic sounds. All I could hear was the hum of the cars engine. As I opened my eyes, I tried to focus on something, anything. The chair in front was a blur of swirling headaches. I felt sick and someone next to me realised this. A plastic container was thrust under my mouth as what little food was in my stomach was emptied.
I hate the taste of sick as well, the way it lingers in your mouth, making you vomit more then once. The smell of stomach acid was almost unbearable. Serves the bastards right for shooting me.
I tried to stay awake, but could not. It hurt to think, but that is all I could do. As I fell back into the dream-thinking state of unconsciousness, I thought of ways I could get out, to live, to get back at UplinkCorp...
As I got dragged out of the car (which was in fact a van), I woke up with startling clear-mindedness. I could remember everything that had happened, the blur was gone, and I no longer felt sick. I looked up at the building.
Everyone who has ever seen a Bond film knows the building. Vauxhall Cross stood in front of me. And my god, for the first time I felt scared. If UplinkCorp WAS MI6, then they probably were the every other secret service in the world. Sod that, they were probably controlling the whole world if the MI6 HQ was theirs.
As soon as I was inside the building, I was not given a nice guided tour or anything. I was taken start past the reception area and into the elevator at the end of a corridor. The lift went to the 20th story in an amazingly fast time.
A small corridor lead to an even smaller room. A single table, a chair each side, and a window over looking the Thames. A man sat in front of a computer screen at the table. I was placed in the chair facing him. The two guards left.
The man at the desk turned to me and examined my appearance for a brief moment before standing up.
"Sit here," he said pointing to his chair. I stood up and sat down as he instructed. "Good, you know not to mess around. Do you know why you are here?"
"Cos you guys really work for UplinkCorp and have some orders to follow? What the hell do I care, I'm gonna be dead aint I?" The man was going to laugh, then stopped himself.
"We arent UplinkCorp. Sure there is probably some leaks to them from here, but your here to help us bring them down. If you do it right, then no, you wont be dead in 2 days." Oh turd, I thought, 2 days left. That isnt a lot of time.
"How can I help?" I asked. The man pulled out a gun and held it to my head.
"Hack, now, go. You have 6 minutes to get in, take a file User-DAT-009, get out and clear the logs. Starting... NOW!"
"WHAT THE F..."
"5 minutes 57 seconds. If I were you, I'd get started"
My fingers raced to the keys faster then my heart was pounding inside my chest. I didnt even think about it, my hands were controlling themselves, and it was working. It start as the usually UplinkOS screen, connected to machine, with the standard user log on screen up. I reached for the trace tracker, activated it, no trace. Next, password breaker. Failed. FAILED?! The breaker NEVER fails?! Fine, problem, find a solution.
"5 minutes 30"
HUD:Connection_Analyser. Aaaahhhhhhh, there we go, a firewall and a proxy, and of course, a monitor. Tracer tracker: trace started. Damnit. How could I have been so stupid. Those few seconds could be the difference between life and death here. Bypass, bypass, and why not, bypass. Done. Password Breaker. In. Easy.
File Server... File server...? Where's the file server? Hang on, where's everything? Admin section, Links, Console, and most importantly, File server? Oh damn, I hate LANs.
HUD:Lan_Viewer. Lan_Probe. Joy, 102 systems.
EVEN BIGGER JOY! Fine, terminal. Connect. Nothing of interest. Router, terminal, authenication server, lock. System after system went by as I got further and further into the tangled mess that was this beast from hell. I'd never seen a LAN like it before.
FILE SERVER! YES! At last! Connect. User id required. Bah. Passed. Copy.
"Time?" I ask, "1 minute 48 left." The man wasnt even looking at me. He was looking at the watch, ready to pull the trigger at any moment. Yay, 30 seconds to clean logs, a minute 17 to have some fun. Main server, admin section. [Admin has logged onto the system]. So what? These guys want a show, I'll give it to them. Console. Dir. Delete.
"1 minute" That's some useful files gone, now to see what this does. Shutdown. System error, re-stabilising system... failed. Oh, this is new, I thought. System failing. Disconnecting users. Oh, never mind. I wonder what the bounce route was. World map, load. Good, good, starts at InterNIC, and ends at... ops...
Connect to InterNIC, admin, delete, finished. "Done" I say with a sigh. The man pulled away the gun. "14 seconds left. the fastest time yet. You get the file?"
"But?" he question, taken out the gun again.
"You didnt say were I was connected to... So, I had a bit of a look around, you know, delete this here, piss around there..."
"What did you do?"
"Total system failure mean anything to ya?" The look on his face was priceless there and then. No other person that I remember has made that face. The face of someone who's done something so wrong, that they could be killed be a million people for it. He had just set the most dangerous hacker lose into the FBI's main LAN system, and this hacker has pissed all over it. He grab a mobile from his pocket.
"YOU STUPID BASTARD!" he screamed as he dialled a number. "Check the status of test IP." Pause. "Christ. You really did it. You fucked the most secure system in the world, and I'm the one who's gonna have to pay for it!"
"The second most secure system in the world, Captain. Well done agent, you passed this test." He said as he approached me.
"Who are you?" I asked as he lay a hand on my shoulder.
"Your new employer" he said as the needle went into my arm.
"What the...?" I thought as the blackness crept over me again, for the nth time today. Damnit, why do these guys love pissing me around? Who are these guys? All good questions, all forgotten as I drifted into a deep blue funk of a sleep.
"Unless you know WHERE you are, you dont know WHO you are." - Wendell Barry. Think of it, no idea of when it is, no idea where you are, and no idea at what your doing... What do you have left? Your sanity? You'll be luckly.
Without a reason, what's the point? With a reason, would you take the risk? If you did, would you survive?
"WAKE UP!!!" is I heard before my ear drum burst with the sound of an air horn in it from point blank... I was having a wonderful dream - I wasnt an Uplink Agent. I was an ordinary old Joe, working in an office, number crunching, and being bored. I payed my taxes without the Inland Revenue trying to catch me, and I helped my landlord put out the trash. And I thought, in this dream, how everyone is special, and how everyone has their own place in life, big or small, of which all are important in someway. And because of this dream, I laughed. Even being woken by the air horn, I laughed. And this seemed to annoy my alarm clock, as he blasted my again.
I wasnt laughing. I looked at his security pass. "Harry Stonelake". Big mistake. One - dont piss off a hacker who can ruin your life. Two - dont let him know who you are. It makes it too easy.
I was pushed forward, out of the single, unmade bed, still in my clothes from monday to a shower room where a pair of jeans, a black T-shirt, and some underwear was laid neatly out. All my size, which was a bit worrying for the underwear. A warm shower, a new set of clothes, and a short walk later I was in yet another room. It was exactly the same as where I had my "test", but it was on (as far as I could tell) the top floor.
"Good Morning. Sleep well?" asked the guy with the needle from yesterday.
"Depends," I said. "How long I been asleep for? I can see it's half nine now from the clock."
"Well, that's all that's important." he replied with a smile. A very smug smile. I looked for another security pass. None. Damn, pissing with his life would have been a challenge, I felt.
"Time to see if your ready, I think."
"Time for what? How you gonna see if Im ready?"
"With some fun, of course. And you'll find out later."
Again, a keyboard was infront of me. Sod this, I thought. They wanna see what I'm made of, I'll show them. The taping of keys started, and I was already on the net. A nanosecond later, and I was at the British Criminal Database, admin account and all. A few years back, an idea to make a "Global Criminal Database" was announced. Next year it would be ready. I couldnt wait.
'Search name' I clicked. 'Harry Stonelake'. 'Suspected Uplink Agent' My eyes went wide. This meant a lot. But it still didnt stop me from wanting to ruin that guys life.
"Having fun?" asked the bald fat bastard what sat across from me. He was about 40, colour, black or whatever the political correct term is now. I aint racist, but if they change the name every 3 minutes, then how the hell should I keep up? No distinction would be better - a lot more like equality, if you ask me. Anyway, he wasnt smiling, and nor was I. I knew this system like the back of my hand, and I could type without looking. 15 seconds later, I found out that the poor bastard was called "Hektik Sniper", had been caught twice, and all the info about his gateway, and everything.
I bought him a new/crap gateway, had him break parole, had him break a few/all gun laws, and asked the SAS to come pick him up at the MI6 HQ. They, of course, agreed.
I didnt bother clearing the logs, it aint my computer, I wont get busted for it. This then, Harry came in, and gave baldy a piece of paper. Baldy smiled at me, and I saw the title. It was just what I had done. I looked at HS. He didnt have a clue!
Baldy gave me some small chat, and asked HS to stay. Questions like what I do as a living etc, where asked. I told the truth. They wouldnt hold me here if they didnt know. I said something about civil right, which was answered by laughter. After 20 minutes, 5 black clad people burst in, and took HS away in a matter of seconds. Badly smiled.
He called in his secertary, and told her to get him released.
"I have one more test for you, agent."
"Easy," I replied. "I've do that most weekends!"
"Not their main File Server LAN."
"Maybe cos they dont have one?" More smiles. Wow, I thought, this could be fun...
"Lets have a break."
"Why do you want me to hack UplinkCorp?" I asked as he finished a story about how his kid got locked in the garage as he put the car away. He looked at me with a straight face.
"Cos you the best, and we need that info."
"So why not get some number cruncher to do it, fail, try again, etc?"
"They wont like us hacking them."
"They know we're on to them. We need some info to prove that they are trying to control everything - government, businesses, art galleries, private labs, everything."
"More then you think." I looked at him with a look that said, you ARE joking? He picked this up. "Seriously. They want to control all forms of entertainment. Whats the best way to get to the people? Easy. Get to something they all enjoy - entertainment."
"Why do they want to get to the public?"
"That question, among others, is why we have you."
"We'll only have one chance at this, and then they'll probably come after us."
"Us? Who is 'us'?"
"The british secret service of course. If we get this info, everything the government has will be thrown at UplinkCorp. If not, they'll slowly rule the world."
"So why should I help you?"
"Tomorrow you get retired. You help us, we'll keep you alive. You dont, you can go back to your appartment." Um, suddenly this deal seemed good for me.
"Ok, so, what you want me to do exactly?"
Badly smiled. I hate that smile. The smile of someone who has just won. I'm doing this to save myself. He's doing it to save the world. I hoped he felt proud. I didnt have a clue what UplinkCorp where up to, and nor did I really care. But i didnt want to die, which is a nice reason, I think.
Uplink is a trademark of Introversion Software