“Well Mr. Johnson, our logs show your machine making a number of attempts at accessing IP addresses registered to DinoDonkeyDicks.com, FatBlackCocks.com, and GayFuckCity.xxx.”
The man on the phone noticed the audible gasp that United States Commercial Debt Recovery's client recovery manager Richard Johnson exhaled when he heard the news. He patiently waited for a response.
“Now listen Ted, I don't know what you're trying to tell me, but I can assure you that I had nothing to do with any visits to inappropriate websites.”
Theodore Allen noted the slight upward inflection in Richard's voice, the breathy panting that escaped from his mouth between sentences, and the increased speed he was talking at.
“Oh, I wasn't attempting to imply that a man of your position would use company resources to view prohibited content. Virus related hacks are a very common issue. These issue's happen all the time. I will just have to do a standard password reset for now and sometime later this week I will send somebody to your office to clean your machine up.”
Theodore listened as Richard recited his current password and the one he would like to use from now on. He gave a formal goodbye, hung up the phone, and vanished into the telecom void. In his place sat N0R4D, an ambitions up and comer making waves in the hacking community. He sat at a small wooden desk that had belonged to his mother, a desk that could once be described as utilitarian in appearance, but was now so enveloped in decals for various political causes and parts manufacturers that looked more like a fringe left wing rally car. His jet black uniform varied only in the large Korn logo embroidered on the front of his shirt and the skids of grease running around the thighs of his pants. His face was utterly unremarkable save the triumphant grin that currently adorned it. The current standards in computer defense are the result of billions of dollars in research and development by the best minds in information security, and all that money spent ensuring the safety of confidential computer data managed to do was draw the eyes of the enemy to the one link that no think tank of M.I.T. Doctoral candidate can control, human vulnerability.
N0R4D stared at the fluorescent glare emanating from the centerpiece of the technological altar that stood before him. He registered and processed the array of boxes in front of him with trained precision, expertly amalgamating the various pieces of data before centering his cursor on a window that containing what an outsider might construe as some sort of alien language. He aligned his cursor with the flow of the text and began pummeling the keyboard in bursts that reminiscent of an AK-47's firing pattern
N0R4D was jolted away from the screen by a high pitched wail that reverberated through his body and seemed to settle in that weird spot in the front of your skull where you feel a migrane.
“Michael, we're going to be late for your honors dinner, stop fooling around on the computer!”
“I'm be down in a sec mom.”
Michael Anderson listened to his mother's splintering call three more times, along with two knocks on the hallway wall and one threat to turn the power off in his room before he was ready to leave. He walked down the stairs in the same clothing he had worn earlier and found his mother dressed in her purple business attire. She stared at his attire and frowned.
“This is an important dinner Michael. It wouldn't kill you to dress up a little bit.”
“This is fine mom. We're going to Friendly's, not the Aquaturf.”
“It doesn't matter, this is a big deal, the school superintendent is going to be there. You've worked really hard for this and it wouldn't hurt to have that show a little in your attire.”
Michael wanted to tell his mother that he hadn't. That all the time he told her he spent studying in his room was actually passed sitting in IRC chat rooms communicating with friends from Prague, Tennessee and Mexico City. That he never gave his schoolwork more than the 45 minutes of free time during his study hall and the occasional rollover work on the bus ride home, but he relented. He reminded himself that those two and a half hours were the only times during the day that he was free from her harpy wails, and he relented.
“I'll go upstairs and get changed.”
“We don't have time anymore. We're already late as is.”
Michael walked to the car with his mother. He waited outside for her to get into her seat and move her briefcase and tissues from the passenger seat. She started the car and changed the radio from the top forty station that provided the backdrop for her commute to their local classic rock station. Rhiannon by Fleetwood Mac came on the air, prompting a discussion concerning the relative merits of Rumours, his mothers favorite Fleetwood album, versus their self titled album, Michael's pick as the groups magnum opus. The fourteen minute drive to the restaurant flew by, with Michael enjoying the reprieve from the harassment that seemed to characterize most of his conversations with his mother, and she relished what was perhaps the only facet of their lives that they seemed to have in common.
Michael tried to turn his attention towards the mountain of french fries that remained on his plate as the superintendent bloviated on an on about success, the future, and the infinite potential of the young adults seated around him. The capitalistic excess of both the massive portions that filled the plates of all the attendee's at the schools honers awards dinner and this superintendents speech made him sick to his stomach. He looked around desperately for something that didn't make him want to vomit, finding no luck in his mothers watery eyes or the eagar stares of the classmates that surrounded him. He looked at Jacob and Rory, the two students he was sharing a table with. They stared at the superintendent with glowing eyes, buying into all the charlatan promises of happiness through wealth and honest hard work he was hurling at them. Jacob caught Michael's gaze and responded with a smile that seemed to emphasize how proud he was to be sitting there.
Michael wished Blackhat was sitting at that table so he could listen to him mock the sea of idiocy that he found himself drowning in. He wished subATOMIC were sitting with him, and he imagined how she would tear into that asshole at the podium for his corrupt and destructive bullshit ideology. Michael couldn't wait to get the fuck out of this town. Maybe at M.I.T. there would be people who actually gave thought to something besides how to ride the rails laid out by a corrupt world as efficiently as possible. Michael was jolted out of his train of thought hearing his name announced over the microphone. People were staring at him. He stood up to a sea of applause and walked to the front of the auditorium, where he was handed a pseudo gold statuette featuring a boy sitting at a desk earnestly working on some assignment.
“Now here is a young man with the whole world in front of him. Graduating with a 3.8 GPA and going to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study Engineering this fall. Middletown High School is proud to award you it's highest honor in academic achievement."
Michael contorted his face into an expression of shock and awe as best as he could. He walked back through the crowd and sat back down, addressing the hands put out by the fathers sitting all around his table one at a time. He looked at the expressions on the faces that surrounded him, then he looked his award, taking in the earnest expression adorning the boys face, his dedication towards a future he must have felt would be special. Michael thought about what he would give to feel the way the boy felt.
The car ride home felt ten times as long as the ride over. Michael wanted to discuss the intricacies of The Who's slow decline through the 1970's, but felt that his mother would consider that banter inappropriate given the evening's events. Finally his mother's voice broke through the awkward silence.
“I know I've been hard on you through the years, but I want you to know that I've allways had your best interest in mind. I know it might not allways seem like it, but I'm so proud of you and what you've become. I know how hard it's been without your father, but I know he'd be proud of you if he was alive to see this. I love you honey.”
“I love you too mom.”
For the first time all evening, Michael felt something besides contempt for his surroundings.
The next day at school. Michael could not get his mind away from the contents of Richard Johnson's hard drive. He sat through his first five classes, absorbing the congenial remarks of congratulations without much regard, his objective locked firmly in the cross-hairs of his consciousness. 12:35 came slower than it ever had that day, and each class along the way seemed to grow exponentially the closer it came to that sacred hour. By the time his 11:25 math period rolled around the thoughts were unbearable. Even Jessica Moore's short skirt couldn't take his mind away from his goals. He watched the second hand mock him click after click, and he seriously considered the possibility that something was actually wrong with the clock today. He breezed his way through his asignments and sat idly through the last twenty minutes of class, his homework completed, his ambition as sharp and deadly as the blade of a sword.
The bell rang, and Michael was the first out the door despite the handicap being at the back of the classroom provided. He wormed his way to the side of the surging mass of students to snake his way down the hall as fast as possible, and practacly charged through the double doors of the William Howard Taft High School's library. He rushed over to the computer against the far wall and sat down. He entered the login credentials of Jay Wood, a classmate who had taken to insulting Michael whenever they passed in the halls ever since he had the audacity to correct one of his mistakes during Junior year English class. He pulled out a flash drive from his pocket and plugged it into the machine, then ran a sockpuppet program to bypass the school's network restrictions. He then ran a remote login program, as well as his chat client. At long last Michael was home.
N0R4D went to work. Most of the files were run of the mill stuff. Records of debts picked up over the years for pennies on the dollars, employee call logs, including time spent per call and dollars made in collections. Pretty straightforward stuff. Then N0R4D noticed something strange, a file that had a name that didn't follow the standard naming conventions Richard seemed to use; it was as if somebody threw a bunch of words they knew related to spreadsheets onto the title of a word document. N0R4D clicked on the file, and was greeted by a list of instructions that appeared to be for the managers of the firm. As he read through them he realized that a number of things blatently clashed with a lot of debt collection laws. He thought back to when USDC representatives blew up his mothers phone in the wake of his father's costly funeral. He remembered the sobs his mother thought he couldn't hear when she laid in bed at night. His righteous indignation at peak levels, he switched over to the chat program.
N0R4D thought about that statement for a good five minutes, but somewhere in the back of his mind he knew what he was going to do. True, an arrest would bury his ambitions for higher education, but it wouldn't bury his future. Hackers who get arrested for stuff like this get a maximum of a decade in jail, and being under eighteen meant that he would probably get half of that. From there there were plenty of security firms willing to pay good money to anyone with a proven record of experience in security. Most hackers come out of prison with a six figure salary waiting for them. True prison wasn't MIT, but something deep inside told him that either one would leave him alienated and alone. But maybe, just maybe, once he finished his sentence, he might be able to find a world with people who are just as alienated as he is.
Two days later, N0R4D was taken out of school in handcuffs. The sea of bodies crowding the hallways split as the police officers escorted him into the cruiser. He smiled at the handful of photographers waiting at the front gates as he passed. Later that day the evening news ran a story about a promising young student at a local high school who was arrested for computer hacking. They interviewed teachers and administrates, all of them giving the same surprised reaction. Spouting the same bullshit people spout every time something like that happened. Crap about how he never seemed like the kind of boy who would do something like that, how he was so full of potential, how he had wasted his life away and how they didn't understand any of it. Of course they didn't understand. Their dulled eyes could do nothing but turn away in shock and fear at the blinding light of a corrupt planet. Of course N0R4D was torn apart when he saw the front page photograph of his sobbing mother from the desk of the officer in the cell block. He thought about how proud she had been of him, he felt the pain of disappointing her. The N0R4D felt something different, a warmth that ran from the pit of his stomach all the way up into his chest. He wondered about this alien sensation and the sense of contentment it seemed to bring him in his cramped cell.