Out of the train station and onto the streets I felt far safer, or at least as relatively safe as you can be when you’ve got the police after you, because you were sniffing too deep into the business of a notoriously questionable corporation.
Feeling much more relaxed and comparatively invisible in the flow of a few hundred bodies, on the neon lit darkening city streets of Tokyo I tried to figure out what I was going to do next. In my pocket was a slightly crumpled ticket for an overnight flight back to London Heathrow from Narita International Airport, departure was four hours from then. But with the police and ARC hounding me the terminals would be swarming with people after my face. So until I sorted something out I was completely grounded, and that wasn’t going to happen in four hours.
I thought maybe I could get help from one of my contacts in Tokyo, someone that knew the area and could get me past the checkpoints and out of the city, or at least give me a place to crash ‘till I sorted the whole situation out. Hell, I didn’t even know what the situation actually was at that point.
About two hours prior I was jacked into a payphone just down the street from the Keio Plaza hotel where I was staying, browsing through what I think was some ARC exec’s emails trying to find and copy a file for a client. It’s a pretty common job, and even though the pay is low it’s got a risk level to match it, so I shouldn’t have been in any danger of meeting an admin that did anything more than make sure a bunch of pencil pushers weren’t looking at porn on company time. But I got much more than that, within only two seconds of starting a trace the operator at the other end of the line had me zeroed in and disconnected. I don’t know who I was up against but he (or she) had some serious equipment and definitely knew how to use it, probably a hacker with an ARC funded rig. I was running a random bounce establisher that routed me through over one hundred random ip addresses before reaching the target, and as soon as I connected I’d bypassed the proxy, monitor and firewall. But the admin had me traced almost immediately after I connected to the target email account, it must’ve belonged to a high profile executive and had been flagged to instantly report all connections to the admin that were not established from their personal computer.
When I got back to my room I connected legitimately to the hotel’s wireless network and found I’d received a message from a hacker by the alias ‘AirRaven’, a friend in the US I’d known for a few years, he regularly worked for the government and always had his finger on the pulse of the online underworld. He told me I’d been struck from the Uplink top ranking agents list and that I had an arrest warrant with the Tokyo Police Department. I had heard rumours about the Andromeda Research Corporation before, first of a malcontent Uplink employee using the handle ‘Renwar’ giving a call to arms claiming that ARC was developing malicious and extremely dangerous software, then all over the news were stories of him turning up dead, an apparent suicide. I knew I’d hit a nerve for them to try and shut me down with such ferocity, and by then I was scared.
The unrelenting flow of people carried me out onto the famous Shibuya scramble crossing, not really thinking of where I was going I drifted through the middle. My hotel room was compromised and with the sun in the final stages of setting things were just starting to get really busy in Shibuya, the streets made a much better hiding place than going into any half decent hotel with an internet connection and trying to pay with cash.
Thinking about connections made me realize that was all that mattered at that point, I needed to get online.
The green neon glow of a Starbucks sign loomed over me as I approached the other side of the crossing. Spotting the peaked caps of police officers not far off I quickly ducked inside the coffee giant and worked my way towards the stairs, my image probably hadn’t had enough time to spread to the officers on the beat, but I didn’t know how motivated ARC were so I was taking no risks.
Hopping the stairs two at a time I stole myself into the busy crowds on the second floor, I took one of the only empty seats at the far end of the long table spanning the window overlooking the crossing outside and opened my bag. Sliding out my laptop I flipped up the screen and switched it on with subconscious routine while I scanned the people around me. Surrounded by groups of trendy girls, rambunctious teens, lascivious couples and the odd suit I wasn’t paid much notice by any of them, I was just another cyberpunk loner playing with my toys.
I did a scan for local wireless networks, a list of meaningless Kanji filled my screen, because the upper floors of many of the surrounding buildings were used as offices there was no end to the available connections, but I needed something I could read. I scrolled down ‘till I found just what I was looking for, GlaxoSmithKline, a simple monitor bypass later and I was plugged into my Uplink Gateway through one of their terminals. Before I could do anything an IM window popped up on my screen,
[20:38] AirRaven: What’s happening?
[20:38] Switch: Pissed off the wrong people in ARC.
[20:39] AirRaven: You’ve been officially vaporised, there’s not a single record of you anywhere near an Uplink database. I’m surprised you can still connect to your gateway.
At first I thought it must just have been luck that I still had access to my Gateway, but with the thoroughness and practiced professionalism that the Corporation vaporises its compromised agents I quickly realized there was more to it than that. The only explanation was that they were giving me a chance, an opportunity to get back at ARC, and maybe uncover the truth surrounding the controversially mysterious research group. The Uplink Corporation always kept their agents at arms length and remained entirely impartial in all engagements, so as not to implicate themselves in any of the illegal activities that their agents were constantly involved in, everyone from Interpol to the UN wanted them shut down so they were well known to keep their hands clean. But when someone kills one of their top ranking agents things change, and I imagine letting me keep my Gateway for a little longer was just one move they were making in a much larger conspiracy.
I loaded up the Status page, my Uplink and Neuromancer Ratings were utterly erased but my criminal record had become a long list of fabricated charges; Blackmail, Robbery, Embezzlement, Extortion, Counterfeiting, Tax Evasion, Weapon Possession, it went on and on, although I had committed a few, such as Espionage, Forgery and Identity theft, they were purely coincidental.
The IM window started flashing on the start bar indicating a new message,
[20:40] Armageddon: So you’re still alive then.
[20:40] Switch: For now.
[20:40] Armageddon: If you’re going after ARC you’re gonna need some help. You can access the ARC LAN through one of their internal services machines with the username ‘McKinnon’ and password ‘Heracleidae’
I’d worked with Armageddon before on a couple of large scale corporate wars, he was a hardcore black hat hacker and used a lot of his own software he programmed himself, the random bounce connection program I used was one of his creations. I considered him a friend but he was a sociopathic recluse that had a hard time trusting anybody, which was not such an unreasonable personality trait in our line of work.
[20:40] Switch: Why are you helping me with this?
[20:41] Armageddon: Because we’re all alike, when they messed with Renwar they made a powerful enemy in the hacking community. Buzz me if you need any help.
He sure did have his moments.
There would have been no point breaking into the Global Criminal Database and changing anything by that point, I could have removed the charges but I couldn’t manipulate the memories that were still fresh in the minds of the officers that had recently seen it, the damage had been done. And even if I did erase all my criminal convictions I could count on my adversary over at ARC swiftly reinstating them, so that was where I had to go. All I could do was go back to where it had begun, the email account I was looking at when I had been disconnected, I wasn’t looking for anything outside the job I was being paid to do last time I was connected but I knew I’d find some crucial information if I kept my eyes open and dove in again.
I opened up my ip address book and dialed the ARC Internal Services Machine, there was no point trying to bounce my ip through other servers after the short work the admin made of that method a couple of hours ago, and this time I was logging in with a legitimate username and password so I wouldn’t be drawing any immediate attention to myself. After I connected I loaded the usual bypassers, entered the username and password given to me by Armageddon and began to work my way through the LAN to the server hosting the company’s email accounts, before I loaded the file I entered previously I took a note of the name it belonged to; [email protected] I did a search on the LAN for Gary Chambers’ office computer and quickly found it, I then spoofed the ip before reconnecting to the email server and entering his file, this way none of the alarms would be set off and I could remain hidden from the admin.
I began scanning through his inbox expecting something to jump out at me, but all I could see were memos, reports, meetings, nothing out of the ordinary at all. Starting to get frustrated at this aberrant lack of exposing information I switched to the outbox and an email addressed to [email protected] quickly caught my eye.
RavenWood was the name of a low class mercenary organization that were involved in practically every activity that required a gun for hire, even contract killings.
I opened the email and could not believe what I was reading. Everything was immediately explained, why ARC were implementing such high security, why they had employed such a skilled, offensive admin and why they were going to such extreme lengths to try to apprehend me. The acute incompetence Gary Chambers held in not deleting this email was to be his downfall. It detailed the real identity of the hacker Renwar and the exact specifications of how, when and where ARC wanted RavenWood to kill him, it even had account numbers in which the money will have been transferred after his ‘suicide’.
I was quickly overcome with a rush of euphoria at the unmistakably incriminating piece of evidence this was against ARC and how it would completely prove my own innocence by revealing my criminal record as a fabrication, created in order to prevent me from finding out what they were actually developing, as this substantiated everything Renwar had said before he was caught.
For a moment I thought of forwarding this email to every news organization I could find, but I quickly dismissed that thought as it would only give ARC time to create a cover up, to make it appear as if a hacker planted the email in an attempt to frame them, to move the money out of the accounts and delete the records. The only way it would work is if I made a copy of it and took it straight to the police so that they could seize both the ARC servers and the accounts before anyone could tamper with them. I quickly made an .iso image of the server and disconnected, I switched off my laptop, folded it up, placed it back in my bag and slung it over my shoulder.
Stepping outside I was hit with a rush of cold air and the blaring loud noise of another busy Shibuya night. Keeping my eyes open for the police officers I saw earlier I stepped out onto the scramble crossing, I had made it about half way when I spotted the familiar peaked caps not far off on the other side and I began eagerly weaving my way through the crowd towards them.
Suddenly I was heading off in another direction entirely, I felt a firm hand around my bicep and was being guided down another street away from the police. In the shock and confusion all I could do was stumble along passively, unable to react. I looked sideways at my abductor, he was wearing a dark green jacket and cargo trousers, and had a lean chiseled jaw with a short cropped haircut. He turned to lead me down an alleyway in between two buildings, I started to struggle but a painful tightening of his grip and a short tug left me with no mistake that I could not escape.
He must have been sent by ARC, there was no other possibility.
I was guided around a couple of piles of rubbish and taken behind a dumpster where we were utterly obscured from the sight of the people walking past along the street. With a quick snatch he had my bag and I was thrown onto the floor against the wall, I looked back to see him pull a pistol from the recesses of his jacket, a Glock 17. All I could do was stare on in abstract horror and wonder how he could have possibly found me as he pulled a silencer from his pocket and began to attach it to the end of his sidearm.
Everything was perfect, I’d infiltrated the ARC network with a legitimate username and password, bypassed the traps that caught me last time, I even had the evidence right in my hands that would shut down ARC and completely alleviate me of all charges. I had no idea how, but I knew for sure it was the work of that nameless admin on the ARC payroll, everything could be attributed to him, and while he was still on the job ARC were untouchable.
The figure standing above me clicked off the safety, chambered the first round and leveled the weapon at my head. In the end, ARC had won.