VerificationDeep Six looked no worse for our time apart. The green, gold, and white pinstripe art across its black case was just as I had left it. In fact it looked a little cleaner than when I’d seen it last. “You guys do anything after Net Warrior crashed?” Everyone shook their heads. All they did after was clean it inside and out, and ran disk utilities after that. Honest.
They stepped wide of me when I went to look ‘Six over. I’d like to think I did a good job keeping it, hardware and software, clean but judging by the fact I noticed drastic a difference in appearance I must have overestimated my abilities on at least the first count. On the software front I noticed that someone had rearranged my desktop and changed half my settings around, which was pretty Common of them to do to someone else’s system.
Messing with internals for better performance I could understand, but how the interface works should never be messed with unless you have permission. Couldn’t tell these people off on poor manners though because I had more pressing concerns. Net Warrior refused to connect even though I had a stable connection and my browsers all pulled up anything I tossed their way After emailing my general situation to Gibbon using roundabout language I closed down, thanked them for taking care of my computer and adding their network’s login and security information in so I could work where I pleased.
Normal methods for breaking into a given system involves a more subtle approach than I’ve described in this account. As I said earlier it is more often a case of sifting through garbage than sitting at a console. Other times it takes social engineering tactics to get someone to give me a piece of needed information, or to install something that will give me a foot in the door to get the rest of the way in. Compare that meticulous and often lengthy approach to wielding Deep Six like Thor’s Hammer Mjöllnir.
Miko looked at me and tried sounding firm, but reassuring. “Even if Gibbon can’t get back with you we have to go forward.”
I my train of thought, which had been stuck trying to find a joke that fit the punchline ‘...and that’s why you never divide by zero’ derailed. That caused me to stare over at her with what I guess was a look of dumb confusion, “Wait, what do you need me for if ‘Six can’t be fixed? Come to think of it, what did you need us for in the first place?”
“Well, if you can’t get Net Warrior back we can still use you for the big coordinated run we want to make.” Miko sat beside me as I checked on the more mundane aspects of my on-line life. I updated my Social sites, and was only half-listening because I was in the middle of a VoIP call home to check on things, let them know I was alright.
Turned out between the time I’d check in last and now been attempts to get me saddled with some sort of hit and run. My car was involved, sure, but my family had been quick to point out that not only had I not been driving it at the time, I wasn’t anywhere in the country. There had been some fumbling around where records were concerned.
Miko assured me they would take care of the gaps and ‘people are watching your family.’ Still, if ‘they’, whoever that might be, wanted me bad enough wouldn’t they make threatening gestures over my friends and especially family?
“Of course, why do you think your associates from Chaotic Realms went missing?” To cover for my reaction I busied myself trying to puzzle my way through Gibbon’s latest test. Without Net Warrior brute forcing my way in was a no-go, but finesse was an option. While trying to puzzle through the clues that had been left for me I wondered why Gibbon did what he did. He was smart, that much was obvious, and he had a good grasp of security. He must have seen me make a pass at his box earlier because a conversation window opened.
> Hey Hey. Look who’s back!
> Yea, England’s nice. Got to see Sekmet and Bast before my box blew up. Got any good news on that front?
> Good news is I have that backup you asked after. Bad news is, as you know, things change and it could’ve gotten corrupt between then and now. I think it’s fine, but it’s been awhile since I’d done an integrity check.
> Hit Me. I’ll take my chances. By the by I like the latest puzzle you dropped in my lap. Good distraction from the weather.
> Glad to hear. You seem to be the only one that likes playing ball. Had three others wash out since I got in touch with you last.
> So sorry to hear that. All it really takes is enough patience to Google around for a walk-through, and enough brain-cells firing at the same time to connect the dots.
> You know as well as I do that the puzzles I pick can go anywhere between child’s play, and ‘Absolute Bastard’. I think the ones I’ve been tossing out for the past week are definite ‘Bastard’ material. You?
> Won’t argue too much on that. I’m just glad I left a backup with you. Anything you want to do between now and when it finishes?
> You still have Gless installed?
> Sure. You want Magic or Technology?
> Figures. Be there shortly. Going to see if Miko or any of her friends wants to show up.
Glest was a completely open source strategy game that has a stock package centered around Magic Vs. Technology in something akin to Tower Defense. Mods have been made depicting everything from ancient Rome to futuristic cyber-dragons and robotic warriors. I wasn’t terribly good, but then again neither was Gibbon and it gave us a chance to goof off awhile.
I saw Miko join as well as a few others. This account won’t go into detail of the game, or the conversations we had there, for if you are reading this than I am sure you are more interested in if Deep Six got fixed or not. The game allowed Gibb and I to speak more or less candidly with my hosts. Gibb openly stated he was not part of their organization, but was not opposed to helping if needed. They understood, and appreciated his honesty. Gibb also said something about being worried about what they had in mind for me, though he put it in far coarser language. Understandable, they had said, and they would do all they could to keep me safe. Gibb and I ended up getting steam rolled in spite of our alliance against Miko and her companions, but the tension eased somewhat.
The download finished about halfway through our third match and so I apologized for leaving Gibb to fend for himself before signing off. Restoring from a flashed image was straightforward, but time consuming. Miko spared me a sympathetic look from where she was perched; she was probably sending hordes of clockwork mecha to stomp Gibb’s summoners in at that moment. I smiled to her and babysat the restoration process. Sure I could have walked away, for there really wasn’t anything I could do to affect the outcome once it had started, but I’m one of those that just can’t leave an install unattended.
After a reboot I saw the desktop I had two months back; A game engine rendered version of a cyberpunk cityscape. The engine was almost a decade old now, but the image still looked stunning to me. The artist, whoever it had been, managed to fit in an amazing amount of detail into a single still image. Unfortunately that image also meant that I had to re-create my list of short-cuts that had been worked out since then. No real worries, it was just time consuming. While I did this my mind drifted.
Did they want something from me? Of course. Did that make them bad people? Meh. Not really. Shifty and close mouthed, but not necessarily bad. I needed to learn more of my situation and that of these people.
There is only one way for me to find out, one way or another, if I’ve been abducted or rescued, without Net Warrior I would have needed to go back to traditional methods. Even backed by the sort of power Deep Six had I had gotten spoiled, and didn’t want to have to go back if I could help it. Even if Net Warrior was repaired I’d have to go head to head against a group that rightfully could claim cyber-space as home territory. Still. I needed answers, and if hacking Legion was the best way to get them then so be it.
“Guy what’re you doing?” I smiled at her inability to see what I was up to. Gibbon’s daily challenge had been about a thirty on the Bastard Meter, but the tools he had gave me what I needed to have my way with the local network.
Euphoria hit as Deep Six hammered its way into first this box, then that. All of it was from the local network, so Legion would know where to look, in general. They just wouldn’t be able to tell where I was in that network when everything was linked together like this. At least I hoped that was going to be the end result. To take out some added insurance I got in touch with several ... Friends... And rented about an hour on their networks. I hated dealing with people that willfully made Joe and Jane user’s home computers into spam-slinging zombies, but in this I would need every advantage.
“Don’t worry,” My efforts might give me a little breathing space, but if anyone here suspected no amount of box bouncing would keep me from being up to my eyeballs in trouble. “Just stretching ‘Six’s legs a little. Any special requests?”
While Miko rattled off a few simi-obscure spots I worked on putting feelers out for what looked to be Legion’s largest server. WHYPERLINK "http://www.exosyphen.com/" earemany.net. Heh... I know I’ve said before they had to have the place up as a dare. I also know that whatever I find could be planted just to get me to be cooperative, but somehow I just couldn’t see a leaderless organization of hundreds, if not thousands, of people keeping a consistent set of lies together just to keep me in the dark.
First one port opened to me, then another, and finally I found things that looked interesting and relevant to what I wanted. Logs were being downloaded for later review. Company names were tossed about, as were documents about quantum processing. My stay wasn’t long, given I was being watched and could be sniffed out any time if I hadn’t already been. However it would give me information to look on later.
Time to back out, try filling the holes I’d made, and hope that either nobody noticed, or took my curiosity to mean I might be put in a helpful mood if I’m allowed to dig on my own. Miko saw me close down and offered to eat with me that evening. I told her I would love to, which was true, and that I needed her to tell me a few things, which was most definitely true.
“You could have just asked.” They let me keep ‘Six even after they’d left a message on my box telling me they knew I was behind the ‘attack’ earlier that day. I should be grateful they didn’t take it personally, but still, I hoped I had gotten in and out without anyone realizing what I’d done.
As Miko talks my mind drifts. This manuscript, a thing that had not been written – yet was already forming in my mind, has done those closest to me a disservice. My friends, four of them, had been missing by this point for two months. I am repeatedly assured that in spite of documented history showing that without an explicit ransom note kidnap victims are typically killed early. They have not been mentioned by name, and though I have total control over how the story is told, I dare not go back and insert their names before now.
They all have names. They had known me for the past five years. In one way or another each had been valuable in both my working and social lives. Yet here I am setting down the events to one of, if not the, most pivotal point in my life and I have not mentioned any of them as more than an out of sight and almost token reason for me to have risked imprisonment, fines, and being barred from any computer, networked or not, for no less than a decade. I can assure you, they are worth risking that sort of punishment.
I looked at Miko with one of those looks that my Father hated, claiming that it looked like I was both looking down and through someone. Unlike other times I know I am giving her this look, and I find that I do not quite care how upsetting it must be. “You have me chained up in here, for my own protection. I have been treated well, yet I have been told little of why I am kept here and what part I am to play that is supposed to be vital.”
Miko waited for me to get to the point, obviously annoyed, but willing to wait till I had finished before cutting me down to size.
“A man blind to his part in the greater whole, or even the details to his own small portion of the task cannot do anything other than fail.” My voice was calm, or at least I remember it being calm at the time. For all I know I was screaming at the top of my lungs. “My attempts at getting your attention so that we could speak had, so far, been ignored. You will either give me answers, let me go, or stop with this charade and lock me away. Because my movements are restricted and I am not told why I do not care which of these three options you pick, but this half-state I am currently in stops Now.”
Miko seemed to consider what I had to say, my posture and tone, as well as other factors I could only guess at. She then spoke to me. This group that they were shielding me against believed that as a species we could not survive many more leaps in technology and that the breaks had to be placed on progress. When asked how long they thought their proposed solution would last their only reply was ‘as long as it takes.’
In some ways I could find myself agreeing with them. Give people a chance to catch up and adapt before moving on. It was somehow seductive. On the other hand what gives them or anyone the right to tell others that they cannot work on ways of improving the lives of everyone around them, or find a niche to fill in the global market. We might be able to adapt to a stagnant world, but what sorts of innovations, what cures would be missed, what breakthroughs in energy sciences would be overlooked or deemed too far outside of what was then taken as normal?
Quantum computing was only the latest thing that this group had hoped to oppose. My friends had all been taken to get at me. There was no note because they had thought that such a selective disappearance would grab my attention. I didn’t buy it, so I had to look for myself.
Each side knew roughly what the other was capable of, and through a combination of flexibility, money, or knowledge each had remained in a stalemate situation. Legion was able to hold its own through numbers, anonymity, and guerrilla tactics. This other group, whom my associates have dubbed Red Queen, also has numbers and is savvy to the general workings of the Internet, but they rely more on use of the law and fear of punishment than Legion does. The humor in this given name is not lost on me, but unfortunately the joke wears thin almost as it forms.
My part in this struggle is straightforward and easy to guess. Given that my system can run rings around anything Red Queen has built defenses to protect against. I am to find documents and other reports that they have of suppressed technologies, anything incriminating against these people as a group, and locations of anyone they are holding prisoner against anyone’s good will. It is a general consensus that if possible I should find something that can be used to tie enough of Red Queen’s leadership together for RECO to take effect.
I cannot say exactly what it means, save that those laws were created to prosecute organized crime, so that a Capo, or Don, or whoever couldn’t wring his hands and go ‘I don’t know this guy. He killed and extorted, not me.’ Not if enough was found to tie the two together. I was no criminal attorney, but we had a few of those. Outside of the fact that anything gathered would be obtained illegally it was generally thought I would find enough to hang these people in court. Even if legally they weren’t touched, the court of public opinion is a harsh body, and sometimes their judgments are harder to overturn than any laws written in dusty tomes.