TUNE IN, LOGON, DROP DEAD Parallel Universe is a story in process. Writers are invited to write a parallel story which will be posted next to the first story. The Omniscient Moderator will decide whether the posts can go on as submitted or if they need editing. This will be two stories side by side in a parallel universe of our creation. Please enter your story elements as a comment and they will be added to the story in the right hand column. You can read the entire author story in the post TUNE IN, LOGON, DROP DEAD - the whole story.
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Turnstone begins: The streets were covered with cherry blossoms as I made my way downtown. I was tweaking pretty bad yesterday but had been doing OK mostly. The last two months were pretty good, actually. I thought I finally had a handle on it until I ran into Tiko down at the SportStop near Georgetown. We had a few beers, then decided to take in a Nationals game. He had two tickets somebody at work had given him, so it wasn't hard to decide. Tiko said, "Dude, I've got somethin' here. Come on," as he pulled me toward the bathroom. He took a paper packet from his pocket and poured it out onto a postcard and gave me a little straw. I said to myself, "Dave, don't do this. You been clean for months. Don't do this." But I did it. Tiko was my friend. I mean, well, ok . . . that's a crock. I succumbed to temptation. So we're at the game, the Nationals are ahead, and I'm feeling pretty good, pretty good except for the dread of how would I stay off the stuff, after giving in so easy, and this interview, and everything else. I don't know why the government wants to hire people who can 'think like the bad guys.' The only guys who can really do that are the bad guys! June 23, 2009 I went to a hacker convention down in Texas a few years ago. It was the most bizarre event because the whole thing was predicated on a vast scheme of illegality, that is, hacking into other people's computer systems. There were booths and vendors, speeches, seminars, parties, movies, the whole thing. There were spies from the government, spies from industry, spies from China, and spies who had no loyalties at all. The most interesting thing that happened to me down there was meeting Basil. Basil was a true intellectual in the hacking field. He didn't have any maliciousness in him, but he could write a virus program that would stop a train. He was totally without guile but he could spoof any online identity and could get root authority on any system from anywhere. The guy could hack into the Space Agency from a coke machine as far as I was concerned.
July 20, 2009 'S' I can't sleep. The Monsters won't do it for me, I... I can't sleep. The Monsters won't do it for me, I'm just fading. Thank God I don't have to drive. I turn on the light so my eyeballs don't get the screens burned onto them. Banjo is a freak. 50 bot network, yeah, right. He's so sloppy even Bsafe could notice. But he blocked me out, asshole. I reconfigure my router. My ipod vibrates a text: *Error 003* Cute. It doesn't take me long to find out where his server is tunelling from then I slam him with 100 million SQL requests sent from some idiot in SoCal who didn't even have basic protection. He's probably wondering why he can't get on Facebook right now. Too bad, civilian. The ipod wiggles: *ouch* I text back: *Where RU?* Now all my Firefox windows are showing "cannot find server". I glance at the linux machine, all ok there. wiggle: *UR so slow* He must have taken a nap. We've been at this now for 72 hours. I think I'm going to lose. Should I call for aid? No, we said solo. I reboot the windows machines and reconfigure my router through the linux machine. I know where he is now, just gotta find what port to block, then….No! All my screens show an eye, wreathed in flames, even the linux platform. Wiggle: *U lose.* *I wz lookg 4 ur port only a mttr v time* *nevah* I rebooted all my machines, but the eye was still there. *release me* *say th magic wrd* You are so immature…*goddess* *tku*In a flash I get all my systems back. *skype* he texts. I logon a video link. His pudgy, pimply face is right up to the camera, “You are such a loser!” “And you’re a minor—“ “And you still live with your mother, how old are you?” “Thankfully not old enough to be your father.” “Hey, did you see the notice about hackers being wanted by the feds?” He moves away from the camera, thankfully he’s clothed. “What’re you talking about?” “FBI wants to hire hackers to help them pwn hackers.” “Yeah, right.” “No, ‘strue. Here’s the link.” There’s a knock on my door, “Stan? Are you awake?” “Who’s that?” he asks. “My sister, don’t even—" “Oooo, what’s she—" I close the link. “Stan?” Knock knock knock. “Yeah, I’m up, what?” “It’s 7am, do you work today?” “Uh,” I scratch my head, “what day is it?” She opens the door, “What, have you been gaming again?” Light streams in, brighter than the lamp I turned on moments ago, the morning sun blazing in through the hall windows, “Agh, close the—" “God, are you ever going to grow—“ “Close the door!” She pushes it open wider, “It’s Friday, loser.” She goes on down the hall, “If you want a ride into town with me, be ready by eight. Make sure you take a shower, you smell awful.” “It’s just the room…” “Whatever…” “I’m not a loser, I’m just…” “Can’t hear you.” Friday? Ok, let’s see, oh no, I do work today, but thankfully I’m not opening. “I’ll be ready by eight,” I yell. “What?” She turned on the coffee grinder.
July 25, 2009 Turnstone Do you know how some people can just lose themselves in a tv show or a video game? Especially the video games. They must trigger the release of dopamines or something. Well, Basil can take that for only about one minute. Then he's got to figure out how they wrote the code for that waterfall or some such thing. He can be totally focused on a project, so much so that he can work through lunch and dinner. He could even work through the 4th quarter if the Redskins were in the Superbowl and it was a tie game.
August 2, 2009 'S' Nine to three shift at Star____'s, I love it. The morning rush is over, now it's the retirees, old and young, coming in to read the New York Slimes or WSJ, trying to look significant, even though they're out of action. Then there's the soccer mom's coming by for a skinny latte or macchiatto after dropping the kiddos off at swimming or VBS, then heading for the gym for a workout. Lots of sweats.
Millie is here, unfortunately. I wish this place would refuse to hire women over twenty. She's gotta be a rest home runaway. Talk talk talk, and all smiles for the customer, but behind the machine, well, just watch out for her elbows. Only skin and bone there, "Oh sorry, did I poke you?" She's as bad as my sister with the, "When are you going to get a real job?"
Of course, today my sister was all joy and support. Yeah, right.
"So are you going to the job fair at State?" "Uh..." "I told you about it last week, it's this weekend. All the Tech firms will be there." "They're only interested in students--" "Just because you dropped out doesn't mean--" "It was four years ago--" "It's not like I don't know that. I also know you still have a valid ID so you can get Library and network privileges. Just go and talk to somebody." "What, so I can get a job with some MS wannabe firm coding for appliances?" "You know, people actually buy appliances, so maybe that would be a useful thing. Ever think of that?" "People buy all sort of sh--" "Here's your stop, peehead." "Why do you have to call me that still?" "When you move out of Mom's place, I'll call you 'sir' if you want." "You still live there," I opened the car door. "Yeah, and I pay rent, go full time to get my PhD, and have a research grant for this summer that paid for this car, and I do laundry." "You were always the high achiever." "YOUR laundry, shut the door." "Have a nice day, sis," I said to the rear end of the cherry red Miata.
'S' August 5 Millie's irritated "Sonuva--" brought me back to the moment. "What's wrong, Millicent?" She always hates it when I call her that. So I call her that all the time. "The screen's gone." She was trying to enter an order for some skinny cappuccino sweat mom. "All there is is this orange eye thing." I look out to the corner of the shop where I know the goddess likes to camp and sure enough his pudgyness is there with a wicked smile. "Just hit the top of the screen," I say loudly. He shakes his head, mouthing, "Goddess." Millie obediently bangs the monitor. Nothing happens. "Can't you do something? You're the computer whizkid." I lean over and whisper in her ear, "Just yell 'goddess' right at the screen." She looks at me incredulously, as I pull back, nodding my head knowingly and turn away. As I bang out the last cup of grounds I hear her yell "Goddess!" at the screen, then a moment later, "Hey, it worked, whadyaknow?"
At breaktime I go out to talk to Tony, aka 'Banjo'. "Not nice, Tony." "I thought you didn't like her?" "I like my job, dolt." "Barrista? Loser. Wanna hear something really scary?" "Oh please..." "No, seriously, you remember how I told you the feds are hiring black hats? Guess who turned?" "Spongebob?" "No, the Baron." "No way." "Way. Look," he turned his screen to me and sure enough NYTonline had a photo and everything: 'Computer Hacker Comes in from the Dark Side.' "I felt it was time to grow up and make right some of the things I have been responsible for in the past," I read out loud. "Can you believe it?" The Baron was one of the legends of the hacker world. Maybe not the best or the brightest, or the darkest, but one of the names that kept circulating around as a force to be reckoned with. A new thought struck me, "Tony, do you realize what this means?" "Uh-huh..." "He knows just about everybody." "Not me." "Huh, you're nobody. I'm nobody, but he knows the community, he could take down a whole lotta hacks." "Yep, and you know he's gonna do it, too. All the people that have screwed him in the past, bam, down they go." "Unless they turn white hat too..." "Yeah, but he won't touch taggers, would he?" "I dunno," I'm thinking fast, none of my machines are online, but there's a trail out there with my IP on it, somewhere. "You look worried, Jeff. C'mon, they're gonna be after the big guns, you know, guys who're rippin' off VISA cards and SSI's. They won't hassle with the fringe. It'd take forever to get all of us." "Yeah, maybe. Still, I'd lay low if I were you, Pudge." "No dueling tonight?" "I got opening tomorrow, sorry." "The man's got you, man." "Grow up." "You grow up."
Nothing happened. At least right away. I mean with the Baron. Apparently they didn’t want to make a big splash with a bunch of high level hacker arrests. In fact, it was eerily quiet. I went to the tech fair, to quell my sister’s nagging, and actually made some decent contacts in the industry. None of the big boys, of course, but I met a guy who was developing iphone apps and trying to put together a team. He showed me some of the code, which I’m familiar with anyhow, and I took his card. He was having a meeting later in the month which if I remember I’ll try attend. Also met a guy from a local networking services company looking to expand his business. Sounded like long weeks, good money, but little flexibility. Took his card too, and left a resume. There was also a booth there from the feds, getting lots of attention.
Turnstone August 5 The guys in the fed booth were the kind of government characters with drab clothes and a sort of harried enthusiasm. Anybody with any creds in the dark world would be leery of this outfit, so very few people came by. Probably the really sincere applicants had already hacked the Department of Homeland Security database and submitted their resumes on-line. That would be impressive. It would piss them off but would prove something. But what? I’m really good. I can fool you and get inside your network. I am the king of hacking.
'S' August 11 My bedroom door opened a crack, “Jeff, are you…what is that light?” “C’mon in Sis, it’s called the sun?” She pushed the door open, “Uh, you took the black curtains down? What, oh my—“ “Why so shocked?” She stepped inside, “It’s, well, not clean, but, I mean, relatively…” “Hey, I’ve been working all morning, and I’ve already taken three trash bags outta here, one was all recycling. I’ll probably make twenty bucks—“ “You can see the side yard from here?” She had reached the three sash windows on the far side of my room. Two were open, and she sat down on the sill, after making sure it was clean. “All I see is the top of the garage and the alley out my window.” “Yeah, but you have a separate entrance, and your own bathroom.” “Thankfully.” She looked back into the room. “Are you going to shampoo the carpet?” “Prob’ly should, huh?” “Are you, uh, what prompted all this?” “Pretty strange, eh?” “Bizarre? Frightening? Abnormal?” I laughed quietly, “I took your advice and went to the job fair.” Her eyebrow raised skeptically, “And?” “And I now have two jobs, well, actually three since I’m going to keep the barista job.” “That’s…” she blinked a few times, “unbelievable. Who would, I mean, who hired you?” “This one guy writes iphone apps, so he’s having me write some subroutines for his projects.” “Has he sold any yet?” “Uh, I don’t know, but if it goes, well, he could make tons of money—“ “And you? What do you make?” “Well, we’re working that out,” I slid a big stack of paper into a box on the floor, clearing a spot on the desk. “Uh-huh. And the other job?” She looked down into the garden again. “A network guy who needs extra help occasionally. He’s got a server upgrade on Wednesday he needs help with, so I’ll work on that. After that, we’ll have to see.” She looked back at me, “No wonder you’re not quitting starjerks. So all this purging was prompted by two tenuous job prospects?” I sighed, “You know, I’m just—“ “Hey, look,” she stood up smiling, suddenly apologetic, “you know, this is great, I mean, anything to motivate more, cleanliness, and—“ “Thank-you, sister.” “No, I’m really glad, really.”
'S' August 13 It was 2am. It was the third time we were trying to migrate to the new server. It was the fourth Monster, or was it the fifth? “Chocolate,” I murmured. A smile flickered for a moment on Val’s face, then disappeared. “Not until we get this, and I’m thinking it might not be much longer.” “Yeah, it seems stable.” “Not much traffic now, but what’s coming in is being handled fine.” He closed his eyes, and shook his head, “what a f___-up.” “Huh?” “Roger. The guy I had start on this, two months ago.” “Oh, yeah, right.” “The guy who kept saying, ‘No problem, done it a bunch of times, know the OS inside and out.’” He rubbed his forehead. “Well, I appreciate you being available for this kind of thing.” “Glad to have the work—" “It’s not many guys who know how to configure a router like that.” “Uh, you pick up things—" “Got your CCNA?” “No way, I mean, I’ve studied for it, but the threshold is pretty high.” “It’s a good classification, if you like that stuff.” “Yeah, I don’t know if I’d want to do that all the time.” I stretched and stood up, “So you think we’re about through here?” “Yep,” he was still watching the traffic. “So you available for more of these?” I smiled, “Oh yeah, this is what I live for.” He smiled too, “Pays the bills man.” “No, really, yeah, just give me a little notice and I can usually re-arrange my schedule.” I started packing up my stuff. He turned in his chair and leaned back, “You done much hacking?” I tried not to overreact, “Hacking? Oh, not really. I mean, in high school we always tried to get onto the school’s site, you know.” I laughed quietly, “One guy I know got on there and photoshopped a bunch of teachers to naked bodies.” Val didn’t laugh. “Uh, yeah, but, no, like I said, not really.” He let out a breath, kind of a sigh, “Taggers.” “It’s not that big a deal, is it?” I zipped up my case. “If you’re not the guy shelling out a hundred an hour to have me remove it, no. Why do you do it?” “I’m sorry?” Fatigue made me sound a bit more irritated than I would have, normally. “You’re a tagger, right?” “No, like I said, I haven’t done anything like that since high school.” He was still rocked back in his chair, eyeing me. He shook his head, “Ok, whatever, I wasn’t—" “Hey look, it’s late, we’re both tired, we hardly know each other, let’s just—" “You heard about General Dynamics, haven’t you?” He looked back at the screen to see how the server was performing. I shouldered my pack, “Uh-huh, cracking down on the bad guys. They’re working with the Feds. They had a booth at the same job fair—" “Did you apply?” It was my turn to sigh, “Look I told you—" “Yeah, I know, not since high school.” He spun in his chair to the other side and began gathering up his things, “Jeff, I really appreciate the help on this, I don’t know if I’ll have anything more for you, but I’ll keep your card.” He put his brief case on the table in front of him, “But if you have any hacker friends, I’d let them know these guys are serious. From what I hear they’re going after everyone. Scammers, bot networks, taggers. People are really fed up with the anarchy on the net and want to be protected. Tell you another thing too, they’re going after bank accounts.” “What do you mean?” He stood up and slipped his laptop into its case, “Anyone involved is going to pay big time fines, maybe get audited, possible jail time, even for taggers. They’ll make ‘em pay back what it cost to get it fixed.” He smiled, “I might just raise my rates.”