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fic - additive identity part 16 [novella] - the turnip patch
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fic - additive identity part 16 [novella]
Title:  Additive Identity
Part:  16

Additive Identity
sequel to axiomatic
Part 16

Quatre's laptop sat on the coffee table, staring innocently at me as I glared at it.  I had turned it on to find it updated with the latest news.  I put off reading it until I could decide for myself whether or not I wanted to read it.  The government had decided that I was more useful to them as a lab rat than as an agent.  Why would I want to help save them?

I stewed in my bitterness for a good twenty minutes, knowing that part of it stemmed from knowing that I was going to give in.  Relena was a member of the government.  She had some good allies.  They weren't all jackasses.

And the 'revolutionaries'.  Of course I had some sympathy for them, having been one myself and knowing many others.  But they didn't seem to have a plan.  I didn't respect people that didn't have a plan.  Operation Daybreak was a coup on a similarly global scale, but they'd had a government ready to replace that of the old Federation.  The radicals-turned-terrorists wanted to dismantle the global government, and then leave it at that.  After ten years of remodeling their infrastructure to fit into the international design, how many local governments would be prepared to fend for themselves?

Fine, I'd contribute to the cause.  And after this was over, I'd sic Relena and Quatre on the government.  That would show them.

I checked the newsfeeds to see what the public knew first.  Reports rolled in from all over the world, some countries for, some countries against.  Plenty of people trying to play both sides.

From there, I moved on to our project notes.  The files were protected.  I stuck my finger on the built-in scanner, then stared at the blinking cursor for a bit when prompted for the second part of the security bypass.  I didn't recall Quatre hinting at anything, so it would be something I could guess.  I guessed 'ZERO', and it worked.  "Ha, ha, Quatre," I muttered as the project workspace loaded.  "Very funny."

We had a lot of information gathered, but not a lot of conclusions.  Every politician and activist with known ties to the nationalist cause was being investigated, their attendance at events tracked, their trail of contacts followed.  There was an ever-widening network of sympathizers and organizers, but no clear leadership had yet been revealed.  We were currently operating on the theory that there was none.  There was no one person's charisma that was motivating this movement.  The nationalist spirit had solidified within each individual country, and over time they had joined forces with the groups in other countries to protest with a louder voice, but it was almost contrary to their vision to have a global force moving events along.

Of course, so far, all we had had to go on were protests, events, demonstrations.  Things that were powered by sheer numbers.  Now we were looking forward to precision attacks.  Somewhere, the game had changed, and we still hadn't located its nexus.

Once again, I left that task mostly to the others.  There was only so much that I could do from here.  I didn't have access to the information that they did, and it wasn't wise of me to surface long enough to get it, either.  Especially not so soon after my escape.  While I stayed within the confines of the apartment, I was under Quatre's aegis.  I had little doubt that he had and would continue to secure my safe haven.  If I wanted that to last, I'd have to uphold my end of the bargain and not do anything too stupid.

Failing anything else, I continued the work that had been interrupted.  My systems patches were still incomplete.  I hadn't had the time to check on their status and tune their performance before I had been taken away.  And there were still key systems I hadn't gotten to at all.

It was with a certain amount of relief that I dove back into the comforting realm of code and algorithms.  They were simple, when compared to human hearts and minds.  The results were predictable, and when something went wrong, it was easy enough to figure out the reason.  It wasn't so easy to debug a relationship.

::What's my sync ratio?::

::Sixty-eight to seventy percent.::

Well, at least there was one person in this world that understood me right now.

I tried not to be depressed that I took comfort from that, and got back to work.

Thirty-six hours later, I had the batch ready to ship.  Things went more slowly when I couldn't see the system that would receive the data.  We remembered things from the reports I had done before, and from the follow-up last week, but it hadn't been detailed enough to make implementation from memory easy.  I'd had to waste time making my work general enough to account for the things I didn't know.  It wouldn't be as tight as it would have been if I'd been able to tailor it to the system specs, but it'd be better than nothing.

Not having access to the systems also meant not being able to deploy my patches.  Last week, it'd been a simple matter of connecting and uploading.  I had the level of clearance to do that sort of thing, and obviously I didn't now.  I was still a wanted man, though I did wonder how they thought I was spending my time in hiding.  Did they really believe their story of my collaboration with the enemy?  Or did they fear it with a shameful hindsight?  It wasn't a wise idea to piss off a Gundam pilot.  I could do things to them, even in hiding.

But there were advantages to my situation.  I wasn't acting as an official member of a government agency, so I could finally break a few rules to get the job done and not be reprimanded for it.  I would patch up the holes in their security nets, but not before I took advantage of them to hack my way in so I could upload my fixes.  The irony amused me at a time when little else did.  I knew and Quatre knew that a person in hiding maintained communications silence, but that didn't erase that human longing to know that there was someone out there thinking of me.  All I could do was keep an eye on the newsfeeds and guess how their day had gone.

Tensions were rising still higher.  Small scale violence was not uncommon.  No more deaths yet, though.  A coup attempt had been made against the government of one of the countries that supported the world union.  It had failed, giving rise to military force to keep the peace, which prompted more anti-government sentiment.  The local government asked for international assistance.  The world nation replied that they had their hands a little full at the moment; surely the locals could take care of the little uprising by themselves?  No doubt they didn't want to rile the natives even more.  The country's leadership in turn began to see how the global system could fail them at crucial times, and we were one step closer to losing another ally.

The PR war was their problem.  I'd stick to my own job and just make it harder for the malcontents to break things.

My first target was the government employee database.  A person could gain access to personnel records, and then use that information in some harmful way.  Home addresses and contact information were available.  Performance reviews, psych evals, disciplinary actions, even the identities of undercover agents, could also be found, if a person got really ambitious.

Zero and I jumped a few junctions and made our way through the holes in the net.  Before installing our patch, we searched the system to check on whether or not someone had already gotten ambitious.  The seal on the confidential information seemed tight, but someone had been skimming the regular files, leaving themselves a backdoor through which they could invade again at a later time.  We made a note of the records they had touched, then wrote up a bot to sweep up after we were gone.  The patch was uploaded and also set to deploy on a delay.  If someone got lucky and detected my tampering, I didn't want them connecting me to the file and thinking it was malicious.

On our way out, we saw the backdoor go active.  Coincidence?  Or had someone left a marker to make sure that no one was trespassing on their claim?  Someone crept into the system and poked around, but they wouldn't find me or the work that I had done.  I watched them check their own traps, seeing an interesting spread of information within their nets.  Deciding to take a calculated risk, I sent a ping in the socket's direction to let them know I was there, ostensibly as a professional courtesy between hackers.

The connection snapped shut, disappointing me, but as I made a quick check to see that everything was as I left it before seeing what I could glean from a backtrace of the intruder, a terse packet came from the same port, naming a server and point of entry.  Intrigued, I cleaned up after myself, re-secured my line, then took up the invitation.

I made no greeting when I arrived at the open forum, choosing instead to wait for contact.  I waited thirty-three seconds before a message came my way.  "Way old-school.  Don't see much of that around anymore."

Old-school?  I supposed it was, if only because the net these days was filled with amateurs that had no respect for tradition or order, far outnumbering the hacker elite.  The wiser folks were in it for the challenge of finding loopholes and exploits.  It was the immature that liked to go around wreaking havoc without regard for the consequences.  They didn't have enough respect in them to observe the niceties that kept the net civil, like notifying another of their presence.  It was a tip of the hat as we passed each other by, and at the same time, an agreement to stay out of each other's way.  I hadn't spent much time in the hacker subculture, dabbling only enough in the beginning to see what it was all about and establish a little 'street cred', but I believed in the principles of the elite.

"Kids these days," I answered, pondering the possibilities.  I wondered if this person was sympathizing with me, or insulting me.  I did a quick scan of the currently active users, but most of the names meant nothing to me.  Trix had been more involved in the scene than I had; that was why I had asked her to look around and see if there was any interesting news making the rounds in the underworld.  But maybe I could check things out for myself while I was here.

"Yeah...  Always going around, messing stuff up for everyone else."

"I didn't touch your stuff," I reassured him.  Whether or not he was fishing for information, I decided to pretend he was.  Why else would he invite me here?  It was a valid interpretation of his comment, and could hopefully serve as a good lead-in for my own investigation into his activities.  With my 'old-school' affiliations, I had a good chance of being believed.

"Cool... That stuff's so easy, though.  The way these days are, it's like not even a challenge."

Not if I could have my way with it.  But what was the purpose behind his words?  There was no reason to be conversational with me.  I'd already told him the most important bit of information, that I'd left his stuff alone.  Maybe he was just posturing?  Wanted to let me know that he was better than that?  Or did he still want me to give something away?  I went with a neutral answer.  "Can't everything be a challenge."

"What about MinFa?"

Not hoping to find much, I did a quick net search on the term, waiting for the results while responding as if I knew what my contact was talking about.  "What about it?"

"It's gonna be a blast."

"You're into it?"  I switched focus, and after wading through a lot of random acronyms and associations, I found a vague reference on a bulletin board about some sort of hacker games someone was organizing.  Looked like a proving ground of some sort.  At this particular point in current events, that couldn't bode well.  Games were only 'fun' when they weren't just games, and the world didn't need any more chaos than it already had.

"It's where it's at.  You in?"

"I'm too old for these games."  It wasn't intended seriously, but the words did make me recall my age.  Twenty-six years old.  Eleven years older than I thought I'd ever be.  Not feeling it as much as I'd thought I would, thanks to Zero, but still.  I really was getting old.  It was still a rather novel concept.

"Nah, you should try it out.  It's gonna be wicked cool.  Especially if you're in to this government stuff."

"Is that where it's at?"

"That's the word on the street, anyway.  Check it out.  It'll be great."  The connection was silent for a few seconds, and then he disconnected.

That was a stranger interaction than I had expected.  If trawling the government systems was such a boring exercise, then what had he been doing there?  And was he just making conversation, or had his purpose in contacting me been to try selling this 'MinFa' to someone he thought might be a sympathetic soul?  I didn't bother trying to trace his signal.  I knew I wouldn't find anything.

I was preparing to leave the forum and do some more research on this strange event when someone messaged me.  "Greeeeeeeeee~n!!!!!"

I stared at the shout-out for a second before glancing at the username.  Wysinwyg.  Trix.  Shit.  I had asked her to check up on things for me, but that had been days ago.  I hadn't expected a full report.  Just a little gossip, maybe.  She shouldn't still have been dropping in on hacker gatherings.

When I took too long to decide whether or not to respond to her, she took the initiative.  "Or you better be Green and not just stealing his handle, or I'm gonna kick your ass!!!"

The threat brought an involuntary smile to my lips.  I'd said once that I seemed to attract people that wanted to watch out for me.  I'd far too often found that to be true.  I really hadn't expected anyone to recognize the handle I hadn't used for so long.  I hadn't even thought about it.  It'd just seemed appropriate.  I'd chosen it in a fit of angst one night, feeling sorely out of place and wondering if maybe I could find my niche in the underground community Trix had recommended.  Stewing in yet another fog of melancholy, now had seemed to be a good time to dust the name off.

She was on to me, and trying to shoo her away would probably cause more trouble than it was worth.  No one but she knew this was my old handle, and there was nothing about it that would imply my identity.  Trix had rebuked me quite a few times for not having an appropriately intimidating name if I was going to go beating records down, but it came from what was secretly one of my favorite songs, and had reflected what I was feeling too accurately to want to let it go.  I would be safe.  Even if someone did manage to connect the dots, they wouldn't be able to trace my signal.  "It's been ten years, Wys," I answered eventually.  "If someone wants it, they can have it."

"Not when you're still up on the leaderboards.  That's a no-no.  Didn't I teach you anything?"

"No, not really."  Most of the rules were just common courtesy.  The rest were easy to determine from observation.

"Hmpf."  There was a short pause, then I saw the walls slapping up around us, closing us off into a private, secured session.  "That really you, Green?"

"Depends who's asking."  I wasn't sure how much she knew.  Word of my rogue status had surely made it to her ears, but I didn't think she would report me.  That wasn't her style.  Nor was she that patriotic.  And it was Tech Support's job to do the electronic eavesdropping.  They couldn't get the jump on us.  She probably wasn't even on their watchlist.

"Then is it true?"

"Depends on what 'it' is."

"Are you working with them now?"

No matter who 'they' were, the answer was probably 'no'.  "You probably shouldn't be talking to me.  Go to sleep."

"As if.  Where the hell have you been?"

I was tempted to spin her all sorts of flippant excuses -- 'telecommuting' came to mind -- but there was no reason to prolong this conversation.  "I'm serious, Wys.  Disconnect, go to sleep, and then go to work tomorrow like you never saw me here."

"Screw you.  You wouldn't.  That isn't like you.  You wouldn't turn your back on all that stuff you believe in.  And your snugglebunny, too."

Severing the connection was easy, but I was pretty sure she would kick up all sorts of dust trying to find me again, now that she had a clue.  "The snugglebunny and I aren't talking right now.  Go away."

"I have your report."

She managed to make me reconsider.  She could have information that I needed, all ready to go for me.  "Tell me what you found."

"Hey, why should I tell you anything?  You could be working for terrorists, for all I know."

"I'm not working for anyone right now, Wys."

"Then why do you need to know what I found out?"

She had a point, more or less.  "Because I'm an idiot.  What did you find?"  When she didn't respond, I elaborated.  "Look, there's just been a bit of a disagreement between them and me, okay?"

"Disagreement!!!??  They have people looking for you, you know."

"Which is why you shouldn't be talking to me."

"But you're right, and they're not, right?"

Well, of course I thought I was right.  But that wouldn't prove anything.  "I haven't switched sides.  There are just some people with some agendas."

Her answer was long in coming.  "Word on the street is that there's some group out there working together doing I don't know what yet.  But it's something illegal and secret and they're having a lot of fun doing it."

I breathed a sigh of relief that she was going to cooperate with me.  "But not enough to talk about it?"

"They're too good to talk to the little people.  There was a little of the usual hacker crap, anarchy, down with the oppressors, hackers of the world unite, and all that, but it's hard to tell how much of that is just the normal shit they're always screaming."

"What is MinFa?"

"Another big hush-hush thing.  The kids eat that stuff up.  Some sort of pissing contest.  The prize is rumored to be getting in on the big illegal secret thingie.  Supposed to be like the ultimate hack or something stupid like that.  Why have you already heard of it?"

She didn't really tell me too much more than I already knew, but it was good to get confirmation.  "I was just minding my own business when someone decided to come up to me and talk about it."  If the guy was really a promoter of some sort, then that could imply that they weren't just out there for fun.  They didn't want to miss anyone they thought could be useful to them.  I didn't like the sound of that.  "When's it going down?"

"In the next week sometime or so, I think.  It takes a bit of hoop-jumping to get in on this.  What are you even doing here, anyway?"

"Just minding my own business.  Thanks for your help, but it's probably time for you to get going."

"You just going to disappear again?"

"It's necessary."

"What if I find something out?  How will I be able to tell you?"

I didn't want there to be any more contact between the two of us, but she had a greater mobility and closer connections than I did.  "Send it to my alumni account.  I've never used it before, but I did activate it.  It'll forward somewhere safe."

"Shit, Green, I always knew you were all supercoolguy or something, but this?"

This was just par for the course for me.  "Sorry.  If something big happens, don't hesitate to go to one of the others.  You've met them all before.  I trust them.  They'll take care of it."

"They know where you are?"

I didn't want it going on record that anyone knew anything about my current situation.  "It goes without saying, keep this to yourself, right?"

"Hey, I may be greener than you when it comes to this stuff, but I've watched enough movies to know what I'm doing."

"You better be kidding."  If life worked as the movies did, I'd never have found a safe place to roost for a while.  There'd be special forces dropping in with helicopters right about now, blowing holes in the apartment without the slightest concern for civilian casualties, and then afterwards, it wouldn't even be in the media.  But thinking about the silliness in the movies made me think about the great fun Duo and I usually had mocking them, and obviously that didn't cheer me up in the slightest.

"I better see you around, Green.  Stay safe."

What was I, green?  "We'll see.  Thanks again."  I cut the connection after that and flopped back onto the sofa with a sigh.  It was nice to know I had friends I could count on, but it just made it worse that I couldn't count on the people I thought of as my brothers.

::She is a security risk.::

And I could count on Zero.  ::If they're watching anybody, they'll be watching the others.  She's probably not even a blip on their radar.::

::Your optimism is unwarranted.::

::At worst, we relocate.  That's all.::  I blinked, and saw the image of Sherwood going after her in my mind's eye.  ::They're not OZ.  If they take her in for questioning, she won't know anything.  They won't hurt her.  She was just doing her job.::

::Your optimism is unwarranted.::  This time, I was treated with images of our holding cell.

He did have a valid point.  But I had a better one.  ::Granted, that did happen.  But I'm a much more severe security risk than she will ever be.  Your predictions are based on a single datapoint, an extreme one.  That's not normally their MO.::

Zero ran the calculations again, this time with a larger range of data, and I went back to my calculations.  So there were people on the lookout for people that might be interested in joining the cause, were there?  Hm.  Well, I was working with a time limit.  It would be more efficient to have them come to me, rather than going to them myself.

If Sherwood wanted a rogue agent, I'd gladly give him one.

I danced my way into the database that kept track of city blueprints.  It was all too easy to find the floor plans for buildings in the city.  It was alright if a person wanted to see what their neighbors were up to, but not really alright when people were looking for access to places they weren't supposed to be.

The Zoning Commission was right there near the top of the list of people that rarely listened to me.  They had a pretty good system in place for the data they stored of local buildings, but for everything outside of the BZC's original jurisdiction, it was just... a mess.  They could never decide how they wanted to file their data, and all the frail little add-ons to their system showed it.  Maybe it was about time I personally pointed out to them some of the vulnerabilities I'd reported so many months ago.

But business before pleasure.  I swept through the system looking for the kind of doors and worms that had been present in the personnel files, and tried to feel only satisfied and not also vindicated when I found a few.  I dutifully took note of their hooks and composition for later analysis, and then I trashed the place.

I lingered for a few minutes to watch the results of my handiwork ripple through their system.  I knew they had solid backups of all the data, even if it was still more unorganized than the actual database was.  And if there was an emergency, they would still be able to access their local data.  That little network operated outside of this one.  So I was really able to enjoy the system's downfall with a fairly clear conscience.  I was just doing my job, after all.  There was more than one way to keep the bad guys away from the data.  This way was actually more foolproof.

Three minutes, twelve seconds later, I got my first message.  "D00d, what did you do that for?!"

Ah, so I'd stepped on a few toes, had I?  Excellent.  "It offended me," I answered quite truthfully.

"I was using that, you little fucker!"

I snorted.  "Put a sign up next time."

Another message filled with toxic invective came my way, but before I had the chance to piss him off any more, another one came from a different user.  "Nice work," it said.

A level-headed soul.  This one I could work with.  "Wasn't hard.  The thing deserved it."

I got an invitation to another server.  When I entered the channel, there was already a message waiting for me.  "Too easy, huh?"

That seemed to be the main thrust of their advertising campaign.  It was a pretty surefire way to get the attention of some of the upper tier hackers out there.  I wondered how organized they were.  Were they like the rest of our government-toppling conspiracy, a loose gathering of people with similar goals?  This was the second time I was being contacted.  I assumed there wasn't a higher power cataloguing the recruits.  "Wasn't the point."

"You got a beef with the gov?"

"Who doesn't?"  Though it seemed they had more of a bone to pick with me lately.

"I hear ya.  Bunch of idiot bureaucrats weighing down the system."

"The bureaucrats are the system."

"Break the system?"

A clever turn on a hacker catchphrase.  "That's what we do, isn't it?"

"You playing the game?"

"There seem to be a lot of games going around these days."

"THE game.  There's only one real one."

But he wasn't specifying by name.  Discretion, when the first hacker I'd met tonight had been so casual?  A test, perhaps.  More evidence of their haphazard campaign?  I could exercise caution as well.  "Thought about it.  Not convinced yet.  You?"

"I'm in.  What's the hold up?"

"It's just a game."

"Not if you play it right.  You make it through, and I hear there's some good shit on the other side."

"Breaking the system?"  He threw a devilish smiley at me, but otherwise sent nothing.  That was confirmation enough.  I took a calculated risk and made a good guess.  "Not much time left, is there?"

"You should just get your creds in.  Give it a shot.  Maybe you don't like it.  You can leave.  But if you like what you just did, I think you'll like it."

"What are you, a salesman?"

"Nah, I just have faith.  It's about time we shook this place up."  Another horned happy face showed up in my window.  It didn't bode well at all.  "You don't make the deadline, I'll vouch for your creds.  You did good stuff.  You can still get in to the main event."

"When is that again?"

"Haven't said.  Makes things more interesting that way."  He dropped a packet of data on my side of the line.  "I'll keep a lookout for you."  And then he disconnected.

I cut my end of the line, isolated the packet, and opened it.  A server, a login, a contact point, a time.  Directions on where to register, it seemed, plus the deadline?

I yawned, noticing how late it was getting.  I hadn't planned on shorting myself of sleep, but the underworld was nocturnal.  Trashing the BZC's database during the day wouldn't have netted me the information that I had gotten.  There were still thirty-two hours until the time marked in the packet.  I could use the sleep.

And when I did go to bed, Zero treated me with images of what we could do if I really decided to go rogue.  He definitely had creativity when it came to that sort of thing.

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