‘Dax’ Viridis glanced at the terminal to his left and gave a slow smile, sucking on the piece of licorice dangling from his mouth like a cigar.
The trace-monitor he was running was reporting that the security personnel had begun to re-trace his crisscrossed access line back to its source – and they were a whopping 10% down the line.
He still had 90% left to work with, and he’d already been on their site a full minute.
The hacker opened the file database and began scrolling through the list of programs, halting at the one labeled, “search.exe”.
He highlighted it and pressed the Enter key.
A new screen popped up, demanding the name of the person he was seeking.
He paused a moment, checking the screen to his left again for trace progress, and gave a faint sigh.
Trace Percent Complete: 15%
They had speeded up slightly. He would have to hurry. “Don’t mind me, boys,” he commented wryly, turning his attention to the screen in front of him, “I plan on leaving shortly anyways.” He studied the search engine.
Search: Viridis, Mordax
He watched the database hunt for any records on him, wincing at the name on the screen.
It wasn’t exactly a common name, and, while he didn’t hate it, he preferred being called Dax. It was just one more thing he and his father hadn’t agreed on lately. His father and he were too much alike in temperament, and too different in thought to get along well. Besides which, he had committed the unforgivable sin, and his father hadn’t acknowledged his existence since.
Of course, since his father had been dead three years now, it didn’t matter much…
Better not to think of that now.
A quiet cough interrupted him. “Pardon lad. Are ye busy?”
Dax groaned inwardly. Some people you simply didn’t ignore, even if you were busy. Ian happened to be one of those select few.
“Nah, come on in.” He addressed the older man, not taking his eyes off the monitor. “What do you need?”
“I was talking to one of the new boys, and I believe I may have found ye a helper, lad…” The older man entered the room and stood behind Dax’s chair. The monitor bank faced away from the door, which was making it difficult for the Scot to judge his friend’s mood. “I though perhaps ye might be ready to try another - ?”
Dax gritted his teeth, ignoring the search program momentarily. “Not really, thanks.” Come on, hurry…
Ian winced at the blunt reply, which was also loud enough to reach outside the door, where he’d had the newest boy wait. “Lad, ye might be surprised. I’ve asked the boy to tell me all he knows about computers, and it appears that this one has a bit of experience with them.”
“Yes, and so did the last one.” Dax retorted. “Heaven knows I’d love some help in here, but the last ‘helper’ you sent me crashed the entire Mainframe! I spent a whole week’s time, from 8 am to 11 at night trying to reload the operating system. I had to recode all the search engines I designed, too. I’m sorry Ian, but help like that I don’t need. No apprentices, unless you can find me one that has sense enough to know not to delete unused files by wiping the entire hard drive.” He sighed, checking the tracer again.
Trace Percent Complete: 45%
“All right, lad. Come on then, boyo,” Ian addressed someone Dax couldn’t see, “ye ken help me with lunch then.”
Dax’s jaw went slack for a moment. Apparently the older man hadn’t figured on being turned down.
And the would-be-apprentice had heard every word he’d said.
You did this deliberately, Ian. He accused silently. I feel like a real heel now, thank you very much… “Look, Ian, I - ”
The computer beeped at him, indicating that the file on him had been located. “ – oh, never mind. Stand there,” he jerked his thumb at a spot behind him, “and don’t talk. I’ll be with you both in a moment.”
The frustrated hacker was too busy to notice Ian leave, or hear the instructions that he gave the ‘boyo’ on his way out. The boy moved to stand behind Dax silently, and watched with interest the proceedings on the screen.
Dax examined the file on himself that the government had compiled. It wasn’t horribly long; he made sure not to get caught whenever possible, but there was the occasion when they got close enough to recognize his style of hacking, or received a ‘calling card’ he left behind in some high security databank. He never touched anything on those sites, he just enjoyed leaving a ‘Killjoy was here’ type of note.
Juvenile maybe, but it was fun.
He went through the list and deleted three of the more suspicious charges, leaving a few small, no-account IP addresses there, so as not to arouse suspicion.
It really was a nice, short list. If he bothered compiling a list of the places he’d been in cyberspace over the years and giving it to the government, they’d either boost him up in the wanted rankings to one of the top 10 hackers in Maelstrom, or send an agent down to hire him.
He didn’t really want either, so every once and a while, it paid to check up on his warrant, to ensure that he remained a small nobody that no one worried about.
He switched over to the Log on the site and used the Administrator account he’d ‘borrowed’ to wipe his file-changing records clean, glancing at the Trace-monitor screen as he did so.
Only about 40% left. He’d wasted time talking…
He wasn’t concerned yet though; for a government system on criminals, for pity’s sake, it was remarkably slow.
“Is there a backup log?”
Dax winced as the question sank in. There was; he remembered that from his last infiltration into this system. “Yes, there is. Okayyyy…. new plan…”
He accessed the backup log, wiped it, and then started up an over-ride that would shut it down. C’mon, hurry…
Basically, back-up logs were a pain. Not hard to get around, but a pain. Each log kept track of all accesses and modifications to the system, but they also recorded any changing or wiping of the logs, which left behind a thumbprint to trace you by. You could wipe the regular log, then wipe the log trace on the backup, and the regular log would record the deleting, and so on. Sort of a death spiral set-up. You had to crash one, then wipe the other and log off to get away without leaving your IP behind.
And it took more time…
Backup Log has been shut down. Preparing to reboot…
Dax grinned, the piece of licorice still clenched between his teeth. Leaving one log down made people suspicious, so he’d coded something to simply restart the log he chose, and he wiped the other and disconnected while it was still waking back up. Worked like a charm… most of the time.
The Mainframe beeped, and he glanced at the left screen again as he wiped the other log again.
Trace Percent Complete: 75%
Okay, now he needed to hurry.
He had programmed the Tracer to sound alert him when his safety net reached 25%, if it got past 90%, it would play a two-second siren clip.
Sound alerts were useful when you didn’t have time to look away…
The boy and Dax both breathed a sigh of relief as he disconnected, 15% away from detection.
“Next time, the heck with diplomacy. I’ll apologize to Ian later. It’s not worth getting caught - ” The hacker, now free from the time constraints of borrowed access accounts, belatedly remembered his guests.
He spun in his chair, only to find Ian gone, thank goodness… and that, from his vantage point in his swivel chair, he was staring at the waistband of a men’s pair of jeans.
Dax tilted his head back slightly, taking the strawberry licorice from his mouth, and caught sight of a young, apologetic-looking teen with a mop of light brown hair peering down at him, the kid’s hair resembling the styles worn by the ancient heartthrobs, the Beatles.
He remembered this kid… he’d always been hanging around Dax’s Lab during his Trial. He hadn’t talked much, just watched and listened to what he was doing, until finally Dax had told him to leave. He never really got to know him any better after the kid had joined a month ago – his old helper, whom he’d had for a grand total of six weeks, finally ran through the last of Dax’s patience – and crashed the Brotherhood’s Mainframe. He’d gone into isolation trying to fix it, and was only just getting back to a normal life. It had only been two weeks since he’d gotten it back up and running, and already Ian had found another one…
Stars, he was tall… granted, the kid was standing, and Dax was sitting down, but he was only about 5’8”, short for a guy.
This kid was at least 6’7”
He’d never been close enough to the kid to have to look up, instead of over.
Dax felt a bit like David meeting Goliath.
“Uh, I’m sorry I spoke up.” The brown-haired giraffe apologized. “I didn’t mean to…”
“It’s all right. Uh… you’re Smoke?”
The teen looked pleased. “Yup. That’s me.” He replied, shoving his hands in his pockets and grinning. His voice was just starting to deepen, and he spoke with an easy-going emphasis to his words.
The Security member of the Council continued to study him, wishing the kid would shrink a bit… or at least look less like a tall, gawky scarecrow.
“For Pete’s sake, sit!” Dax motioned to one of the chairs scattered around the cluttered room. “Um, look…” He fumbled as the teen sat down, making himself merely a head taller than the hacker, rather than 2 ½ feet. “…we’re gonna have to saw you off at the ankles if this is gonna work, kid!”
The ‘kid’ gave a good-natured smile. “Sure thing Dax, uh, I mean… sure thing, Sir.”
“Don’t call me Sir. I’m 27, not 50.” He examined the boy again. He must’ve had a giraffe in the family; there was no other way to explain the height… “Your name’s Smoke?”
“Nickname, Sir, ah…”
“…Dax.” The teen finished. “Real name’s Shawn. Got the nickname from a cooking accident…” He blushed a bit.
“Your parents were Scottish or what?”
Shawn looked abashed. “I don’t really know, Sir. I never really worried that much about it, and now it’s too late to ask either one of them.”
Dax winced. For all his protests, he genuinely liked the boy. At least he was polite… “I’m sorry.”
“Kay…” He searched for something positive to say. “Well, uh… you seem to know a bit about Net security measures, anyway. I appreciate you reminding me about backups. I was too rattled to remember at the moment.”
Shawn shrugged modestly. “Don’t know much, Sir, but it’s a real nice setup. Runs like a dream. Makes my old hookup to the wire look like I was using a PC.”
Dax chuckled at the mention of the antiquated computer. “Wanna give it a try?” He offered, a faint grin appearing as he switched to a practice program he’d designed.
“I’d love to… are you sure though?” Shawn studied him anxiously.
He could practically feel the kid’s enthusiasm. “It’s a tutorial, so it won’t hurt.” Dax gave what he hoped was an encouraging smile, bringing up the program, and trying to remember if there was anything remotely vital attached to it.
The things I do for Ian’s sake…
He stuck the licorice back between his teeth and grimaced, watching the program load. At least if Smoke managed to crash the system, he’d have an excuse to refuse any more of the Scot’s good intentions…
The program popped up, asking for the access code and difficulty level.
Dax eyed the boy distractedly, entering the necessary information.
User name: Student
Level of resistance: 2
Access Code: *******
“Okay, see these net addresses?” Dax asked, getting down to business and tapping the computer screen. He waited for a nod, got it, and continued. “You can access any one of these five addresses on the list. You’ll want the password cracker program to get on an Admin. account, and the Trace-Alert software to tell you how far back they’ve traced the connection to you. The more sites you route it through, the longer it takes. This is basically like the real thing, only you won’t be hacking into any actual websites – just shells I made. Any questions?”
Shawn thought for a moment. “Is there anything you want me do on a site?”
“Access it, get on the Administrator’s account, do something interesting on the database once you’re in, delete your log records, and get off before the program catches you.” Dax ordered.
“And how many files should I route it through, Sir, um… Dax?”
“Sites.” The hacker corrected. “For something like this, about 10 should be enough. It depends on how long you want to fool around. Figure about 8 seconds of access time per site for a level 2.”
The teen nodded, examining the monitor layout, and tapping in a few commands experimentally.
Dax leaned back, resisting the impulse to hover. Everything would be fine, there wasn’t anything destructive the kid could do on a shell program…
Something was bothering him though… he’d just now recalled the password for the Student account on this program, and he’d messed it up – added an ‘s’ on the end. It must’ve been an acceptable code, as the computer had accepted it instantly… but he was still slightly concerned.
I should’ve checked the list I have for all the access codes to this program; it’s been long enough since I last used it…
The problem was, he could remember that all access codes were singular for normal mode, and pluralized for special mode – he just couldn’t remember what special mode actually was. He’d unfortunately adapted it from another piece of software to do what he needed, which meant that he didn’t even know, much less use, all the codes regularly.
Oh well… It probably just makes the sites trace a bit faster than normal… I’ll have to look that up later…
Meanwhile, Shawn, oblivious to the uneasy musings behind him, had taken the extra precaution of routing his connection through twice as many sites as necessary, and was checking the software quickly.
Satisfied with the result, he studied the list of sites and chose outcastmainframe.M, studying the pass code box the site gave him.
Welcome to the Outcast Mainframe
This site is not open to the public.
Please enter your user name and password.
Beneath that there was a small Login button to click when ready.
Shawn thought a moment, entered Dax into the user slot, and set the password cracker on the other slot.
He watched it click away, and jumped a bit when Dax interrupted his concentration.
“You’ll want something to let you know the trace progress kid. And, just out of curiosity, why access the Brotherhood’s own computer?”
“Just out of curiosity.” Shawn responded cheerfully. “The Mainframe isn’t really hooked up to the web as an actual site at all, so it’s my chance to explore.”
“It isn’t the real thing.” Dax reminded him as the password popped up in its slot. “It’s just a copy of it.”
“I know, but it’s still interesting, Sir.” Shawn hit the Login button and, once inside the domain, he activated the Trace-Alert program Dax had asked about.
The hacker smiled slightly. The kid had routed through more than enough sites – something like 20 – and he had waited to start the Trace-Alert on purpose. By not starting it immediately, he’d allowed the computer to focus entirely on cracking the password, which meant he got in faster.
Something he’d done himself on tough sites, as it bought nearly 5-10 more seconds of time to use – and those seconds added up. It wasn’t really necessary to use all the precautions Smoke had employed so far though – not on a level 2 access trial, anyway. Dax grinned. The teen was showing off…
Shawn studied the directory calmly.
Administrator: Dax Viridis
You are logged on as: Dax Viridis
Your access level is: Ultimate
The Brotherhood of Misfits
He clicked on the hotlink to Offices, and glanced at the four options:
Duke Kempach – Leader:
Rules, Rankings, Contacts, Rm. Assign., Classes
Ian Campbell – Grandmaster:
Member Records, Inventory
Dax Viridis – Security:
Security, Codes, Site Maintenance, Lights
Jason Vandlo – Doctor:
Medical Records, Supplies
Shawn selected Dax’s name, glanced at the Tracer, selected the “Lights” heading, and scrolled through the files there, copying a few into his memory banks, and deciding to play around a bit, since there was still 50% to his Trace.
He selected one labeled “Fuse box” and started the computer on deleting it, then highlighted another marked “Generator” to be deleted.
Dax winced. He knew it was just a test program, but still, watching his “files” get sabotaged was not a pleasant experience…
Shawn started clearing his access logs, and, while the hacker watched, the teen waited for the files to vanish so he could disconnect. “Almost done, Sir.”
The 27 year-old smiled slightly. All protests aside, Smoke did seem to have a magic touch with computers. Maybe Ian had been right about him. “Good job, Smokey. I’m glad this was a test program though – if it had been the real thing, we’d be experiencing some difficulties right now.”
Shawn grinned. “Like what?” The computer beeped at him, and he checked the screen, logging off. “I just deleted a few files - ”
The lights went out, plunging the room into almost complete darkness – except for the monitors that bathed the room, and its two surprised occupants, in an eerie bluish-white glow.
“Uh… I guess I shouldn’ta messed with those files, huh?”
The hacker didn’t bother to answer, staring at the computer that had betrayed him.
Duke was absolutely going to have his hide for this…