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TRACE - PART II

Written by Sam Miller

 

The guard behind you slams the butt of his AK-47 into the hollow at the base of your skull. Your neck snaps forward, and with a sickening splat your head decides to join your breakfast - in the bowl.

"Get up scum" the guard snarls. You sigh and stand upright, allowing yourself to be shackled and led off.

Another day, another beating.

Life's like that in a maximum security prison for the criminally insane. The name isn't the only thing that doesn't make sense around here either. Apparently basic human rights don't extend to cover the prisoners here. The priest gave you a pep talk once. It involved him repeatedly beating you with a cross while you were tied to a table.

A few hours later, when the swelling around your eye shad reduced enough for you to see again, they cart you back to your cell and throw you in. The dull clang of the lock closing seems to represent your life at the moment. Cruel yet empty.

But not for long.

The plan had been forming in your mind for months. Ever since the day they pulled you up in front of a court for a hearing. The whole proceeding was a joke. The state appointed a defence lawyer for you, who did more damage than the prosecution lawyer. The jury were paid-off, as was the judge. You were sentenced to spend the rest of your natural life here, rotting. You were never one to listen to authority though.

A state of the art prison this was. Everything locked and barred, and controlled electronically. A Smart System they called it, that could distinguish between a prisoner and a guard. Locked doors for the prisoners, opened them for the guards. One of the most hi-tech computer systems available, supposedly infallible.

Good thing computers are your specialty.

You've never been allowed near a computer since they threw you in 3 months ago. But you can tell, just from the way the cables run, the guard change, and the amount and concentration of technicians that the whole system is dependent on a single mainframe. The stupidest thing they could have done.

It's not easy to make friends on the inside. Your cunning and intelligence only gets you beaten up by the prisoners. But the promises you've made if they help you, clean records, new identities, plane tickets, have meant that a few are willing to help. They think that you plan on escaping in the traditional way. Tunnels. Disguises. Digging.

They obviously don't know this is the 21st century. All you need is access to the computer, you've told them, and they're all free.

It happened on Friday. As you eat your daily slop in the mess hall, a fight erupts between a prisoner and 18 guards. Guess who wins. But it's OK, you needed him to lose. As the prisoner is dragged out of the hall, his flailing feet manage to crack against the control mechanism for one of the doors. A short spark erupts out of the box before the mechanism melts, with a sad little wisp of smoke. That's the trigger.

4 prisoners, each at a different table, jump up and throw food around. Then they all leap onto one guard standing at the side. Before long all the prisoners have gone crazy, exacting revenge on the guards. Except you. You feel no shame hiding under the table as men die around you, because you know you are more important than any of them.

As a guard's helmet gets smashed and his dead corpse thrown next to your table, you make your move. Grabbing his gun, you step over the dead guard and make a dash for the broken door. Gunfire rips through the air around you as prisoners get torn limb from limb by supersonic bullets, but all the guards are too busy to waste time on you.

Vaulting tables, you reach the broken door just in time to shoot the two guards running downstairs to help. Racing up the staircase they are now slumped on, you reach a secure door sealed with a SensEye, a high-resolution digital camera linked to the mainframe. The blue glow on the control pad intensifies for a moment, to demonstrate that this door is locked, before a digitised male voice orders you back to your cell.

You fire the gun repeatedly into the wall nearest the SensEye, and the muzzle flash confuses the system. The bright flashes are more than the delicate technology can handle, and the door's lock flashes from blue to green, locked to unlocked, then back again. Waiting until the timing is perfect, you keep firing the gun but aim it at the SensEye instead, destroying the camera utterly. The lock was on green when the camera fried.

Opening the door, you step into a black-lit room with a fingerprint scanner and a voice-id system. Any hacker could get around these systems, using a number of clever tricks. Synthetic Voice-Algorithm's, Dermal Replicators, and a lot of finesse.

But you don't have the time for that.

You fire the gun on full-automatic into the second door lock and the explosion forces the door from its hinges. Wasting no time on hostages, you carefully kill all 5 technicians in the mainframe room without damaging any equipment. A burly black man you know only as Bubba bounds up the stairs behind you.

"I got your back man. Do you magic" he says. You gladly hand the half-empty machine gun over to him and flex your fingers, preparing for a complicated hack.

The outer layer of the system is generally controlled by another SensEye, which allows or disallows system access depending on what it sees. But there's a backdoor in there somewhere.

There's always a back door.

You remove the casing from the SensEye and trace the wires to a large green box bolted to the side of the mainframe. You strip the wire with your teeth sever it with a Swiss army knife one of the technicians had. Then you wrap a large copper wire pulled from one of the speakers around a bolt you take from a chair. Topping the whole thing off with some aluminium foil you had taken from the kitchens a day earlier, you attach one end of the SensEye wire to the bottom of your makeshift fuse, and the other end to the top. The system gives an almighty hum as power builds, then the green box gets blown clear across the room as the internals short.

A new message blips up on the mainframe screen.

Internal Malfunction Detected
Switching to Secondary Systems

Please enter username and password

That's better, much easier to deal with. An old-style hack. Not 5 minutes later you had outwitted the mainframe's security and gotten access. The first thing you do is access the communication's systems. You amplify the transmission coming from the microphone in the mainframe room and then order Bubba to fire the gun past it.

The noise erupting from the gun journeys into the mike, where the bits are reassembled and amplified to a thousand times their original noise level, then scream down the wires, get turned into radio waves and transmitted to the guards helmet, then get turned back into noise-

-just in time for you to hear the agonising scream of the guards as they go deaf, all at the same time. A roar comes up from the prisoners, who realize they've won. There was only 5 left, and they all come up to the mainframe room to congratulate you.

An hour and a half later new names and identities had been arranged for all of them, plane tickets hacked off the Internet and printed, new passports created due to the direct link the prison system had with government computers and a chopper called. You stand on the helipad on top of the prison, wearing a guards uniform, as a helicopter touches down.

Without a seconds thought you shoot both pilots, then the remaining 6 prisoners pile into the back and you take off, leaving the prison far, far behind.


* * * * *

3 days later you return, exhausted, to your old city. Your preparations were made well back in prison. You created a new bank account with 10,000 credits, a new name and a new history.

You manage to rent a small, furnished apartment in a busy area of town. Clean but Spartan, the apartment serves your purpose. You return from the shops with a brand new computer and some food, then get down to it.

All the time in prison, the plan for breakout you had concocted was nothing compared your plans once you got out. Someone had taken your old life, as they had taken many others, and landed you in that dank hellhole of a prison. Someone you trusted very much. Someone who had to pay.

The first part of your plan was to establish a new identity with Uplink. Accessing their public server from your computer, you sign up for a new name and gateway. It's ready only 5 minutes later.

The familiar welcoming screen of an Uplink Gateway looks more like home than any city on Earth to your tired eyes. Sleep has been all but forgotten the past few days, and looks set to be that way for a while longer.

Bringing up Uplink Internal Service's Machine, you combine your stolen credits with your maxed-out 4000 credit loan to obtain a Version 4 Log-Deleter, Password Hacker and a Version 2 Trace Tracker.

The next few days pass in something of a blur, as you accept hundreds of low level jobs for Uplink, stealing and deleting unimportant files on unimportant servers. A few Social Security and Stock Market jobs for the extra money they provide. These days are more about building money and secure systems you can retain access to than anything else. The list of systems you have hacked and retain access to is so long that when you bounce a connection to reach a certain server, you have enough time after wrecking their system to get a drink and come back, and their trace is still only at 6%.

Finally, you have enough money to buy a top-of-the-line Gateway and kit it out to the sky. 200 Ghz CPU's, and 10 GQL modems. HUD Upgrades, the best connection analysers, and every bit of software you can fit in your 1000 GQ Memory Banks. You use the 24 hour's it takes for the technicians to install your hardware to catch up on some sorely needed sleep. You'll need it.

When you awake, feeling refreshed and ready for the days challenges, emails from Uplink politely inform you that all changes have been made. Indeed the speed of this Gateway is apparent, it seems to do things before you've even asked them. But you need that, as you're going to be asking it to do a lot.

You bring up the mini-map and bounce your connection through every secure system you have access to in the world. The packet-trail looks like a snakes trail, if the snake happened to be on LSD. Finally you come to the first computer you need to hack. Saving the connection into memory, you access the password logon, defeating it in record time. Next is a voice analyser, also defeated thanks to some clever recorded phone calls you had previously made. The final system, an Elliptic Curve Decipher, is defeated most easily of all. The speed required to keep up with the remote host doesn't tax your gateway in the slightest.

Breaking in, you copy down exactly what you need. The name of every person involved in a monolithic scam. The location of the headquarters of the company where they work. And the IP address for that companies remote-access mainframe. You disconnect and open the mini-map again, loading the saved connection and adding one new IP to the list of servers. The one you just obtained. The one belonging to the people who ruined your life.

The one belonging to Uplink Corp's Remote Access Main Frame.

The first three security system's in a place are a mirror of the previous Uplink's server, and defeated in a mirror operation. After that things get tricky. The system still refuses to recognize you as having access until you can prove that your connection is secure.

Since your multiply-bounced connection is NOT secure, this will require what the best hackers specialise in most of all - finesse.

Writing 256 characters of junk code into the pass box, you include a console instruction embedded on the end that will shutdown the mainframe's trace analyser. Since the pass box is only 256 characters long, when you hit proceed all characters past the 256 mark, in this case the console command, get lopped off and sent to a new memory block, where they're processed. Foolish design.

The command is run and the trace analyser killed. Finally the security system admits defeat and gives you access. The fileserver is huge, well over 600 GQ. Good thing you bought a lot of space on your gateway. Their trace is only 78% complete as you pull the last of their files onto your system, and only 89% complete as you delete the last of those files from their system.

As the trace ticks over to 97%, you remove the last of your logs and exit the system, leaving only one file on their fileserver. That file is bound to cause trouble.

You spend the rest of the day talking to 40 local news services, setting up secure connections and rigging a program to send them data. Then you get up and arrange an airplane ticket to the location of your gateway. You grabbed the location from the first Uplink server you hacked, along with the phone numbers and contact details of the top executives at Uplink.

Arriving, you head straight to the gateway location. An armed guard at the door refuses to allow you entry. Luckily he didn't notice your fake entry card has razor sharp steel edges. In fact he never noticed, even after the steel has ripped through his larynx and killed him. Dragging the body to the bushes, you take his gun and pass card and give yourself access. Your gateway isn't hard to find. Its bigger and meaner looking than the rest of the machines in that room.

Stripping the case, you pull the hard drives directly out of the machines, removing their memory banks. Another quick plane trip home to connect the memory banks to your home computer, and then you're back on a plane again, headed for another location. Uplink's HQ.

On the way, you dial Uplink's CEO on his mobile directly. He races the call of course, but after you've told him if you die Uplink's entire database will be sent to 40 news services he declines to act against you. Instead he agrees to remove all security barriers and grant you access into the building.

You laugh to yourself as you lounge back in the airplane seat. Revenge is sweet.

* * * * *

Humming softly to yourself as the steel lift ascends 150 floors, you try to think of what to say to them. The people you trusted, your employers. The people who ruined your life because you found out what they were up to. The people who sent you to a hellish jail for the rest of your life.

The door squeaks open with a hint of trepidation. Suddenly you feel scared yourself. What if they don't believe you? What if they kill you on sight? But reassurance comes in the fact that if they do, Uplink's entire history and every evil deal they've ever done will be released to the world.

The massive oak doors to the private office are reverently pushed open by men who get paid all day to push doors open reverently. They're very good at their job.

Your feet sink into the 6 inch high shag carpet as you pad over to the ridiculously oversized desk where 5 men in ridiculously overpriced suit's wait with ridiculously forced smiles on their faces. They gesture for you to sit in an over-plump chair.

"Let's get straight to it." you say. "Of course agent." one of the executives purrs. You lean forward and speak in a low voice; "You. Are. Screwed. I have every file from your database, and my computer will release them all publicly. Unless you give me what I want now." The executives exchange glances before one speaks.
"Agent, lets be reasonable." His oily voice is grating on your nerves. "We can easily fix a price -"

"No we can't! this is non-negotiable." The harshness in your voice surprises even you. "I know what you've been doing. You have been routing money from legitimate companies into your own, and killing any people who found out. It's all documented, and it will all be made public. Now give me what I want." You lean back into the plush chair. "You are all businessmen. You do business. That makes you happy." You steeple your fingers and look at each executive in turn. "All I want is a fast gateway and a lot of money in my account."

You spend the next hour arranging things with the executives. They give you, on the spot, a new house. The best gateway you can buy. 250,000 credits and everything else you want. In return, you agree to hand their database back to them. By the end of the discussion you are almost friendly with them, shaking hands and smiling. As you walk out of the building and into your new life, you allow yourself a small smile.

Back in the office, the executives are doing anything but smiling. One of them bends down and picks up a small device. "The idiot dropped his cell phone" he snarls.

The small smile turns to a wide grin as the minute bomb detonates, destroying the top half of Uplink's Headquarters and killing the people who've made your life a living hell. You begin to laugh, the laugh of joy and of contentment.

You walk briskly away from the burning rubble behind you, ready to go back to your old life as a hacker.

PROLOGUE:

The blue room is abuzz with noise, seeming more energized than before. Your reflection looks back at you from the highly-polished walls, a puzzled expression on it's face. The round, black opening in front of you is gradually glowing lighter.

You spin around, not surprised to see another black opening in the smooth walls. But this time you decide not to run, turning slowly to face what you know lies ahead.

The green light grows steadily, permeating everything in the room. A soft 'beep' emerges from it, filling you with a sense of power. The light begins to envelope you, the whole world going green. The light gives you energy, and the beeping gives you power. When finally the green light envelopes you completely, it doesn't swallow you. It enters you, giving you a wonderful feeling of power and control.

You no longer run scared of being traced. Now you are the tracer.

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