Monday, 27 May 2013

The Digital Pirate

by Wai Chim. 

The green glow of the screen hummed in the blackness of the room. Numbers and symbols scrolled upwards, spewing nonsense. John gazed on, his eyes vacant, twirling a pair of scissors around his fingers.

There was a bright green flash and a pixelated box rose up and spread out across the monitor. ‘UPLOAD COMPLETE’ it said simply. A wry smile crept across John’s face, first on one side then the other.

‘It worked,’ he murmured. The softness of his voice didn’t quite mask the sense of excitement that was rising in his body. He leaned forward and peered at the screen as the cascading rows of nonsense trickled down to reveal the pleasant blue hue of a desktop screen.

John’s fingers moved swiftly, striking keys with marked precision as he quickly navigated through his options. In and out in two minutes and 13 seconds flat, that was his method. Not a second more or less to avoid arising suspicion. Just long enough for any typical user to log in and open an email program. Or to pull a file from a remote machine. Or in John’s case, just enough time to gain access into the main network and upload his homemade weapon.

It was packed into a neat 25 byte file that would sit harmlessly on the system’s mainframe, copying files a single byte at a time, sending them through the stretches of fibre optic cables that ran under the city’s streets until that single byte of information travelled up the five stories of copper wires and telephone lines and reached John’s personal old school wireless router – still just an N generation as he hadn't bothered to upgrade to the newest model when it was released two months ago. And that single byte of information would be beamed through the airwaves of  his tiny studio and somehow be set into a marked place on his hard drive, like a single wedge of a jigsaw puzzle that went up to millions and trillions of pieces.

It was a simple idea but a complex enough feat that not very many attempted it, which explained why John’s services were in high demand. Companies from all walks of life were willing to pay him hundreds of thousands to break into the rival’s secure server system and draw down top secret files, formulas, schematics, diagrams, mailing lists, customer information - anything that John managed to  get his  hands on. Most of the time, he didn’t really know what sort of loot he would get, whether it was the information equivalent of gold bullion or cheap trinkets, trash and rubbish – but more times than not he managed to plunder something worthwhile enough that his services were retained for another go around.

Two minutes and 13 seconds later, John tapped a final key stroke and the screen went black. Perfect, as usual. Too easy. Sometimes, he wondered about going further, about changing permissions, maybe going into password protected firewalls just to see if he could. But he knew it was too risky and he'd left those amateur hacking days behind. He'd done it all once. Just to show that he could.

It all seemed like a lifetime ago.

A blue bubble bounced eagerly on his screen, interrupting his thoughts. John swallowed and put on a nervous smile as the video screen crackled to life.

‘Jonathan?’

The connection was bad, her image staggered but she was still a beauty to behold. He sucked in a breath and she leaned forward towards the screen, her dark silky hair cascading smoothly off her shoulders as she frowned into the lens. ‘Jonathan? Can you hear me?’

‘Yeah, babe.’ His voice cracked and he swallowed and quickly readjusted the camera above his screen. His room was too dark so he was sure she would see nothing more than a grainy green silhouette, nothing like the lightness and beauty that lit up his monitor. ‘I'm here,’ he called out to her.

She laughed a little breathlessly. ‘It looks dark. It's late. You sleep no?’

To his ears, her broken English was musically sweet. It had taken him awhile to get used to her turns of phrase and funny ways of pronouncing words - her 'dark' sounded more like 'dork' at first but he had persevered, every giggle and blush of apology spurring him on. He wanted to encourage her, to lift her to beautiful heights so that she would be ever grateful.

And be his.

‘Not yet babe. I've been working.’ He put a hand out to the screen, yearning to brush the pink cheek that he knew would be soft. ‘How are you? I've missed you.’ It had been almost 5 days since they'd last 'talked' and John had been a little worried that maybe she was really cutting him off this time.
She batted dark eyelashes and glanced down shyly. ‘You so silly boy. You make funny of Natalia.’
‘No, of course not. I'd never make fun of you.’ His heart soared as he did his best to reassure her. She needed that a lot, it seemed, which he was always happy to oblige. ‘I just was worried. That you weren't going to come and see me anymore.’

She dropped her gaze and he could hear a quick sharp inhale of breath.

A cold fear gripped his heart as he leaned forward, his voice raspy, accusing. ‘You’re not coming are you?’ He swallowed the rage that was building up inside, churning a fire in his belly.

She looked into the camera, her eyes wide and frightened. ‘No. Jonathan. I want to come. I want to see you. You believe me no?’

‘I thought we’d settled this. You were going to buy tickets yesterday.’ His hands seized the edges of the monitor as if to tear the image from the screen. ‘I gave you the money. You said you’d go to the travel agent. You promised.’

‘Of course I go!’ her voice rose to a feverish pitch and he could see the blush creeping up her neck in little red splotches. She placed a hand over her throat as if she could sense their presence. ‘I go. I buy ticket yesterday. But,” she hesitated and her head dropped. ‘It’s Papa, Papa is old. He is old. I cannot leave him.’

‘Natalia,’ John’s voice softened. ‘Natalia. You don’t need him. I’ll take care of you. I promise.’
She nodded eagerly. ‘Of course, darling Jonathan, of course. I know, I love you, you love me. We will be very happy together. But Papa, he is alone. Mama, she is gone and Papa is alone. And he has a store. I have to help him run the store. He is too old.’

Natalia’s doe eyes were melancholy, her brow slightly wrinkled and she pouted at the screen. His heart melted. Even though she was adorable like this, all feminine and demure, John realised he would do anything to make her smile.

And then her face brightened and her perfectly shaped eyebrows lifted. ‘Oh Jonathan, I have the best idea.’ Her voice was breathy with excitement as her thoughts took form on her lips. ‘My cousin, Darya, she no work now. She can help Papa at the store when I go. She is a good worker. She work very hard.’

John heaved a sigh of relief. ‘That sounds like a wonderful idea, Natalia. I’m sure your cousin would be happy to help.’

Her nose crinkled. ‘Yes. Yes. Only trouble is, she need money to work but poor Papa cannot pay. He is old and the store not so good but is his life.’ She cocked her head to side, her look playful and wanting as she bit her lower lip, feigning confusion and trouble.

John nodded, used to the game now.  There was only ever one thing in the way. He sighed deeply and heavily at the cute pixelated girl on the screen. ‘Yes, of course. I’ll help her, my dear. I’ll help her.’

Natalia squealed in delight, clasping her hands together and bouncing up and down so that John couldn’t help notice her ‘assets’ strapped in the tight ribbed singlet that she wore. Her eyes were shining as she gazed adoringly into the camera.

‘Oh that is such good, good news. I tell Darya and Papa right away. You send money for her work. Then I come - to Australia!’ She held her arms out to a virtual hug.

John smiled sincerely. ‘I can’t wait, sweetheart. It’ll be magical.’ He brought his fingers up to brush her face again.

Natalia bent over and gave the camera a big sloppy kiss. ‘You are my knight in shiny armour.’

And with her sign off, the screen faded to black. And John smiled to himself as he sat silently in the dark.

Image Credit.

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