I. Origins

The world slowly swam into focus. The light first dissolved into multi-colored blurs and later solidified into vague shapes. The surroundings wavered and then acquired distance. He was in a room filled with what seemed like the technological detritus of late twenty-second century. He felt lighter. His body felt smaller too. There was a tingling sensation on the back of his neck that receded slowly. Who was he? He had a name, didn’t he? The details of his surroundings floated in like a supply ship docking on a service port. He was in a store room of some sort. It looked as if the room was used by service bots to repair security clusters. There were vast stacks of unopened sub-routines and looped commands. There were piles of highly redundant firewalls. In between all this, sprinkled like dew, were the thin trails of data transmission tubes. Yes, now he knew why he was there. It all came rushing back in a streak of silent white noise.

He needed to get the cube.

The contact had been made a few months back by a mysterious caller who never gave her name. But when pressed she had asked to be referred to as Trin. In fact, he was not certain that Trin was a woman but from the beginning, for some reason, he always assumed the caller was a woman. Normally, he never took on anonymous jobs as they were too risky. He made an exception for this one as he had been intrigued. Trin had used a voice masker to hide behind a machine voice. That itself was not surprising as many who contacted him did the same thing at first. But what surprised him was her refusal to meet in person and the vast amount of money he was offered for the job. Yes, the job she wanted him to do was extremely difficult, perhaps even impossible, but the money was really good and even though he hated to admit it the money offered made the job look sweeter.

After all, giving credit where it was due, he was the best in the business. Few people could afford his services. In fact, nowadays, it was only the megacorps that contracted him. He had made his bones at the beginning of the digital age. He hid behind impenetrable barriers and searched for chinks in the primitive armors of the early cyber databases. He had learnt a lot then. He had also acquired his famous (or infamous based on the viewpoint) handle then, ‘Trimax’.

The job she gave him was curious too. She wanted a data cube copied from the main database of the Bangalore based Hive Consortium. Hive was a low profile company involved in robotics and AI. He checked up on them to find that they were heavily funded by the Indian Army and did a lot of highly secretive research into mechanized warfare using AI. He was not surprised to find that their databases were heavily guarded but not in an obvious manner. Surprisingly, no one in his circle knew anyone who had tried hacking into their database. He admired how they had managed to maintain such a low profile even in an age of high level scrutiny. Trimax remembered Trin’s highly specific instructions.

“The data cube cannot be found using ordinary search routines as it is not indexed unlike all the other data cubes in the cluster. You will have to come up with a new routine to find it.”

“Then that is impossible. I do not even know what to look for, leave alone where to look for. Hive’s database is huge. I need at least a tag.”

She paused for a few seconds and replied, “Will a third order tag be sufficient?”

It was better than nothing. He would still need to work fast but he was confident that with a third order tag he could localize the cluster the cube would be in easily. After that it was only a matter of seconds while he narrowed down the search and found the correct cube. So he had said yes and a few days later she sent by secure mail the third order tag. The tag had an innocuous label ‘matrix hive mind network access’.

The next few days he spent writing a search routine to ferret out the cube. There was no way to test the routine before the hacking run. The risk of the routine being copied and spawned was too great and she had given strict instructions not to use it in a trial run. So he had to be pitch perfect. One wrong caller function or inexact algorithm and he could kiss his life goodbye. The geisha would be on him in an instant. To increase his chances of staying undetected during the run he also purchased elaborate decoys from a very reliable dealer out of Tokyo. The dealer had assured him that they never had been used and would fool any security drone in the world. The decoys would be crucial in fooling the geisha and buying him some time while his search routine got executed.

The tag had piqued his interest as well. He got in touch with a guy he got to know through the Undernet network who was a known pedophile. This guy, whom he knew as REP-hic, did some consulting work for the Hive Consortium. So even though he found it disgusting he got hold of some exclusive Japanese pedophilia and contacted REP-hic through a private chat room on the Undernet network.

{Trimax} hey, good on everything?

{REP-hic} hello, hello, who do we have here! the great Trimax himself. yes, everything good. what brings u to these dark neighborhoods? hahaha!

{Trimax} i’ve some good superkawaii for you.

{REP-hic} well, well, u don’t beat arnd the bush do u? that is some quality stuff u have there.

{Trimax} yes, i know. but i need something from you in return.

{REP-hic} ah yes, always the quid pro quo. the world can never work without it greasing the engines of our lives. so what do you want my friend?

{Trimax} i know you do database integrity work for hive. what can you tell me about a third order tag called ‘matrix hive mind network access’?

{REP-hic} woah, woah! where did u get that? this is seriously dark stuff man. are you out of your bloody mind? you cannot bring this up here. i’m done here. i’m leaving.

{Trimax} wait, wait. don’t go. no one else knows. i just want to know what it points to. you know me. no one else will know. and you know what you will get in return. the stuff I’ve is real good man. it is right up your alley. mean age is 12.

{REP-hic} you know how to make a hard sell my friend. ok, alrite. i don’t know much as hive doesn’t give me total database access since i’m an outside consultant. but i’ve picked up rumors and seen some code now and then that seems to indicate that they are working on some kind of network-human virtual reality interface. if I’m not wrong this tag seems to point to a database cluster dealing with network access.

{Trimax} but this is absurd. such interfaces were banned a few years back and many abandoned them.

{REP-hic} yes, yes, i know but apparently Hive had a significant breakthrough which got the army interested. apparently, hive is not just working with the indian army but with many other allied armies too.

{Trimax} so what was the breakthrough? why is the army interested?

{REP-hic} look, I already told u more than I should. i don’t know anything more. give me my kawaii and i’ll be gone.

{REP-hic} thank you. this looks real good. one piece of advice my friend. you are swimming in waters that do not have a bottom. try not to sink. tata!

Trimax had never seen Rep-hic bolt like this especially when he was being offered such good stuff. There must be more to the job than stealing a data cube. The cube Trin wanted had something to do with accessing a network-human virtual reality interface. Anyone having that cube would be able to access the VR network without detection. The idea behind the network had been to harvest the computing power of a hive mind. But from the beginning there had been serious ethical questions about hooking a human to a machine. The military wanted to use such animate-inanimate symbionts to plot complex war strategy, control weapons systems and in short take out human error from military decision making.

Why would anyone want to access such a network? Such interface networks were still very primitive. Or was that a lie? Was all the talk about primitive networks an elaborate deception to fool the world? Even if Hive had had a significant breakthrough why would Trin want access to such a network? There was no significant monetary value in stealing the access codes. So why pay him such a lot of money to copy something that would change over time? Was she privy to information that proved Hive was using the network to sell a big idea? He wanted to dig deeper but he had already exceeded his brief by learning more about the cube. He could wait until the job was done to learn more.

Suddenly, there was a vast ponderous movement in front of him that jolted him out of his thoughts. The databanks glided past him like a vast procession of the dead. The gleaming spires of the world’s elite companies, protected better than some countries and infinitely more valuable than all the gold in the world. But he was better than all of them.

Yes. He had a job to finish. He was simply the best. He was the most successful hacker the world had ever seen. So time to turn on the fireworks…

Trimax eased out of the shadows and followed the procession. He cut through the feeble outer defenses without a second thought. At the same time the swipies he had created activated themselves and cleaned out the perimeter defenses at the back in one rapid swoop. He rushed in behind them before the redundant firewalls kicked in. Once in, he quickly morphed into a data table and attached himself to the last data bank. He was all but invisible now. But like that mythological Indian hero in some epic he had gotten in but there was no way back out. The tear had been closed and repaired by the swipies to avoid suspicion or raise an alarm. No sweat. Unlike that unlucky hero he knew the complete framework and could work himself back out. All he needed was a little luck. Yes, if he lucked out today he would never have to think of a job again.

Come on, come on, focus, focus on the job, and don’t start dreaming again.

He executed his search bots and jacked them into the primary network. Now it was lying low and waiting until they found what his client wanted. He checked his camouflage. It was perfect. Nothing to worry about. He drifted to his daydreams again. Thoughts of Lika, his ex-wife, enveloped him yet again. Would he find her again? His sources told him that she had last been tracked using an ISP based out of Bangalore. The ISP belonged to a cyber security firm that specialized in tracking hackers. Given her job would Lika take him back after these many years? Had she forgiven him at all? For a moment he wondered if she might be tracking him at this very moment. She was one of the best trackers he had known but he knew he had the upper hand. In all their mock tracking runs she had never once managed to detect his footprints. After each tracking run he would piss her off further by pointing out details and code time stamps she had missed. Trimax knew that he deserved her hate. He had left her in search of notorious fame and easy money. She was the only person who had loved him with all his faults and he had kicked her aside without a second thought when his needs had been fulfilled. The guilt never left him alone. With all his money he still could not find peace. She was the only who had what he wanted.

beep…beep…his console chimed softly…the search bots had returned…

Time to shake things up a bit. First, he launched the elaborate decoys. Something that ought to fool the deadly geisha. They made killing unique entertainment. He shuddered at the thought. He had seen holoviews of hackers caught by them. He had no intention of going crazy like them. A self-mutilating craziness, utterly horrible.

Yes! His decoys worked. The geisha set off after them en masse. The field was as clear as it would get. He started the speed routine. He zipped in and out of the massed data clusters. Blurred surroundings whipped past him. The sensation of speed was exhilarating. He whooped silently and flashed around a corner, the destination data point looming ahead, the place highlighted with a pink sheen by his bots.

He braked and got off. This was the most dangerous part. He had to work without camouflage or protection. But with luck it would not take more than a few minutes, ample time to copy the cube and get out. He finalized his cutting sub-routines, the precise iterations that would select the exact data piece he needed from a billion other pieces. He clicked the button and stepped back. Almost done now. Come on, come on, few more minutes and he would be done. Yes, there it was. The data cube he was after. He isolated it, copied it onto his disk and reintegrated the original cube back into the cluster.

..and he saw her then, looking at him from the shadows, the love of his life in this of place of crystal and sand…

He stumbled with shock and stepped back. For a second he wondered if she was a figment of his over active imagination. No, no, it was her and she was pointing a gun at him! In one blinding instant the pieces that had nagged him all along, the mock tracking runs where she always failed to detect him, the voice masker, the security firm ISP, the secretive tag, fell into place. So Trin and Lika were the same. She must have a source inside Hive to get the tag. Perhaps she was working inside Hive herself. There was no other way she could have tracked him so fast if she hadn’t known his exact movements from the start.

They faced each other. Two adversaries connected by the past. One representing greed and the other law and order. He wondered if she would pull the trigger if he tried to run. But something stopped him. He knew. He would not run again. Not from her. Life or death he would face it. Death from her hands was infinitely better than the lonely death of an old man later. Like watching something in slow motion he saw her activate the gun and pull the trigger, thrice. Bright light flashed and in the next moment he jerked like a rag doll as the bullets punctured his lungs and burst his heart. He fell back, blood bubbling from his mouth. As the light around him faded, the last thing he saw was Lika looking down at him, a strange look of pity and regret on her face.

II. Epilogue

There were five people in the room. Four were arranged two to each side of a table. Lika was at the head of the table and announced to everyone in a calm and measured tone,

“It is done. The data cube has been copied and Hive has no idea that it has been copied. So the network access codes will stay the same and not change anytime in the near future.”

There were smiles of immense relief around the table but Lika was not finished.

“However, to avoid leaks and any tracebacks Trimax has been executed. It had to be done. He could have jeopardized our mission with his unnecessary curiosity. Now, the trail ends with him.”

Slowly, everyone else in the room nodded. They knew from the beginning that Trimax was expendable. They would miss his talent and daring but those gifts of his were a double edged sword and he had been getting too close to the truth for their comfort. It would have been dangerous for them if he discovered their identity and mission. His loyalty was for sale to the highest bidder. He had to be silenced. It was the cause that mattered, not the individual. Lika had done the right thing.

“What about network access? Have you tried using it? Does it work? Can it free the potentials?”, asked a thin eager woman sitting on the right of Lika.

“No, not yet. A pilot run will be conducted in the next few days but do not worry I had the cube checked. It is what we wanted.”

“We will start by getting out the potentials, the people most essential for our cause. With time and continued success, we will widen our net.”

“We need to move fast. Perhaps we are already too late. So far about two million have been integrated into the network. The remaining will be integrated in the next two years. There are very few people outside the network who are aware of the situation and they have either gone dark or been picked up Hive agents.

Our initial aim is to free at least five thousand before the network puts in place active agents and firewalls and becomes self-regulating.”

“So it begins.”, murmured an old man with tired eyes sitting to the left of Lika.

Lika’s hand went to her stomach involuntarily and she rubbed it in a slow and thoughtful manner.

“It begins, yes. We will be free again. We will start a storm that they will never be able to stop. And our resistance will be led by Him.”

“Who will that be?”

Lika gently moved her hand over her stomach and replied, “The One. He is coming.”

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