This is a free sample of my debut novel, HACK3R. If you like what you see look for the rest on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.
In the year 2043, the World changed for the worse. No one really noticed it at the time, but the ramifications of the technology event that occurred would alter the course of history. A young man named Jordan Reagan and some of his friends from college launched a start-up. Jordan was a computer programmer, and among his colleagues were a neurologist, a surgeon and an electrical engineer. Their company didn’t have an IPO. It didn’t get any coverage in the news at the time, but their little start-up put an end to life as they knew it.
It all started with a rather innocent idea: What if everything we currently see on screens and read in books, we could instead experience? What if we didn’t just watch our entertainment, or read our messages? What if we could see, feel, hear and smell all of it? Jordan and his friends asked those questions, and they devised a technology that could answer them. A little chip, implanted in their hand, and a chair that emitted very specific wavelengths of light into their eyes, and they could trick their mind into seeing whatever they wanted it to, and they could make a computer on the other end respond to the mind’s impulses. With that little chip, Jordan and his friends gave birth to a new generation of interactive virtual reality, which would become known as psycho-cybernetics, but they really did much more than that.
As the technology grew, the government noticed, and they were more than willing to use this new source of information. The CIA assassinated the little start-up’s founders, and the government seized the chip’s copyright from Jordan’s widow, citing national security. By 2054, almost every man, woman, and child in the developed world had a chip. They became so ubiquitous that no one really noticed when the last few conscientious objectors were rounded up and put in prison.
The year is now 2072, and although Jordan may be dead, his creation lives on.
Somewhere in the mountains of Northern Europe, there is a lake at the base of a mountain. Extending away from that lake is a grassy plain, and on that plain sits a castle. On this particular day, the castle and mountain were both covered in snow, but the plain was a perfect emerald green, as though it were late spring. From the ramparts on the west side of the castle there was a man hanging by his fingertips, and the man laughed, because none of it was real.
The man’s name was Richard, but he was known in this world as S3RAPHIM, or Seraphim, the greatest hacker the world had known since the fall of traditional code programs and the rise of virtual reality computing. S3RAPHIM wasn’t laughing because the world he currently occupied was artificial, he had expected this; he was laughing because this particular world was rather poorly built: the grass was too green, the lake wasn’t icy, and he had been hanging here for thirty minutes without getting sore, which meant the architect had neglected to include pain in the program.
When building a virtual reality system, including pain in the secure portions was often one of the most important pieces. There was even said to be a government server that held nothing but pain, it was affectionately referred to as H-311, or Hell. Those who sought to dismantle major infrastructure often ended up trapped inside that program until their physical body died, which allowed them to compare the simulation to its inspiration.
S3RAPHIM pulled himself up onto the roof of the castle and examined his surroundings; somewhere there was an item, probably a physical key, which would give him access to the accounts he was after. Without keyboards, alphanumeric passwords had become an archaic device, rarely used. Now one needed to solve a three-dimensional puzzle in order to verify their identity, similar to the video games of the early twenty-first century.
Virtual Reality gaming had, in fact, been very well loved for a couple of years, but many of the early hackers from the time of the transition had used the games to practice for their hacks, so electronic gaming had been restricted by law to consoles and screens, and had soon fallen out of fashion. Now anyone who would have been a gamer was a hacker. S3RAPHIM had first honed his skills in the early games; that was why he was so good, but now he was stumped. He stood on the roof of the castle and examined his surroundings. He didn’t think the key was in the woods; they were less intricate in design than the castle and had probably been thrown in as an afterthought, no, the castle was definitely the focal point of this program. He turned his attention back to the rooftop. It seemed featureless, but that shouldn’t have been the case: there were ramparts, presumably for archers, so there needed to be a way for the archers to get onto the rooftop.
S3RAPHIM walked the perimeter of the roof, along the walls, and then he began working his way in toward the middle of the castle. About twenty feet from the wall, near the northwestern corner, he found a brass ring attached to a niche in the stone. S3RAPHIM smiled; it was a handle. He grabbed it and pulled straight up. It didn’t budge, but in the distance there was a deep rumble.
S3RAPHIM stood up abruptly and looked around. The noise was like thunder, and it was coming from the lake. S3RAPHIM walked to the rampart and watched the surface of the water; it looked like it was boiling. This was unlike anything he had seen before. Then, suddenly the water seemed to shoot upward in a geyser, but S3RAPHIM soon realized that it was no geyser. A long sky blue serpent was extending up out of the lake. Its head was easily eight feet wide, its body slightly narrower, and it appeared to be at least one hundred feet in length. The beast turned its head towards the castle, and then S3RAPHIM realized with a chuckle that it was a Chinese dragon. He shook his head; a Chinese dragon in a lake next to a European castle: the architect ought to brush up on his world history; this dragon was completely out of place, but S3RAPHIM’s thoughts soon returned to the task at hand when the dragon began to lunge toward him.
“Direct approach, eh big guy?” S3RAPHIM called over his shoulder as he ran back across the rooftop. The dragon crashed into the spot where he had been and slid along the rooftop, sending shattered stone skittering away. S3RAPHIM jumped to his left and rolled, allowing the dragon to pass by on his side. The dragon was fast but not particularly agile, and continued off of the rooftop before turning around in the skies above the grassy plain. Then a thought occurred to S3RAPHIM as he watched the dragon lunging toward him once again: this dragon did not breathe fire. Perhaps there was a reason the architect had not included pain in this program. The solution would have been unspeakably painful. Once the dragon reached the edge of the rooftop, S3RAPHIM began to sprint right at it, towards its open mouth. A few feet away he jumped, entering the mouth, and he reached straight out, finding cold metal in the back of the dragon’s warm throat: a key. S3RAPHIM cried out with joy.
His goal attained, S3RAPHIM said, “Menu,” and a set of icons appeared in his field of vision, superimposed over the mouth of the dragon, which he did not particularly feel like looking at anyway. With his access to the bank’s internal network now cemented, S3RAPHIM used his mental connection to make a quick transfer, and selected the most familiar of those menu options, “Logout,” and then S3RAPHIM’s vision faded to black.
When Richard opened his eyes he was in his bedroom, at his access terminal. He pulled his thumb from the sensor at the keypad and sat up. The room was sparsely decorated; it reduced to four blank linen white walls, interrupted by a single piece of transitional glass which was currently set to opaque, matching the wall, and by a single red door, and in the center was the access terminal: a silver reclined chair with a visor to drop over the user’s eyes and a hand scanner designed to read the ID chip in the user’s right index finger, but Richard never put his index finger in the terminal for a hack. He used a no-ID access chip in his thumb. Such chips had been available back in the early days of VR computing: before the chips were used for identification, and before they were mandatory. Now the manufacture of a no-ID chip carried a twenty-five year prison term, with good behavior. Existing chips were grandfathered in, but if Richard were ever caught using this chip for illicit activity, the digit of his thumb that held it would be removed, and he would face a substantial prison term as well.
Richard stood and walked toward the door; it opened for him. Richard’s home was designed to look retro, circa 2018, but everything in it was cutting edge. He stepped into his living room, and then the bathroom. He examined himself in the mirror. At the top of him was a mop of dirty blonde hair that seemed unwilling to hold to any sort of socially accepted style, but instead chose to shuffle itself into a slightly different form of bed head every morning to which it clung regardless of what rigors of cleaning and combing were applied to it. Richard had stopped fighting this unruly pet long ago. Beneath the hair was a face that some said was attractive, but Richard didn’t see it. He found that all of the features of the face seemed too big for it, and that the head, in turn, seemed too big for the body it accompanied. His body was unremarkable: not fat, not thin, toned, but not muscular. He brushed his teeth and walked out through his living room and out of his apartment. He lived in Irvine, CA, capital city of the Orange Islands. The strip of land that had once been Los Angeles and Orange County was now a string of islands connected by a vast system of freeways. People had theorized for centuries about what would happen when the mighty San Andreas finally yielded America’s greatest paradise to the sea. In 2023, they found out. Richard walked down to the street and used his implant to hail a cab. A two-seat pod rolled up to him and stopped. He opened the door and sat, placing his index finger in the scanner so his account could be charged for the ride, the automated vehicle pulled away from his building with a whirr.
Gas engines were a thing of the past. However, it had not meant the end of the multinational oil companies of the early twenty-first century, nor their hegemony over the entire economic, social, and geopolitical landscape. Exxon Mobil had been the first to invest in solar fields and nuclear power when electric vehicles began to grow popular. Now the once “Big Oil” was “Big Electric”. Richard chuckled. He recalled some old song introducing a new boss who was the same as the old boss. It seemed the people of the world had, in fact, been fooled again. He turned his head now, century old rock-and-roll running through his mind, and looked out the window. His cab was on the freeway passing over the water, traveling at about seventy miles per hour. All traffic was controlled by a central computer now, so vehicles never needed to stop; manual vehicles still existed out in the country, but not in a metropolis like the Orange Islands. In the distance Richard could see the skyscrapers of Los Angeles rising out of the ocean; barnacle crusted concrete and steel emerging from crashing waves. Once a symbol of economic might, they were now a macabre monument to the mortality of man.
Richard used his implant to check for new messages. Much to his surprise, he found one from Jack, one of his old colleagues. It would seem he wanted Richard’s help planting a new flower garden. Richard laughed; all electronic communications were monitored by the government. It was not legal anymore, but when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of privacy over security in 2015, the NSA had simply gone back to gathering data in secret. It wasn’t really a secret to the educated, but it was neither confirmed nor denied by the government. Planting a garden was an old code used for a hack. Calling it a flower garden meant it was supposed to be a truly massive score. He replied by asking Jack to meet him at the Fullerton green belt. He leaned back in his seat and smiled. This day was getting better and better.
The FBI’s cyber crime unit had offices in every major city of the United States. In the basement of the Social Security Administration in Brea, CA there was one such branch office. Its walls were gray, its furniture was plain, and in an uncomfortable office chair Supervisory Special Agent Steven Warwick was staring at the ceiling, desperate for a lead of any kind. In the last year he had worked seventy hours per week in search of the elusive S3RAPHIM, and earlier that very morning, $50 million had suddenly moved from one numbered Swiss account into another one. The victim of the crime was no mystery: the account was a portion of the FBI’s black budget, part of which was used to pay Agent Warwick’s salary. The perpetrator was presumed to be S3RAPHIM. However, since the bureau could not claim the account, and the access security puzzle had been traversed properly, the illicit transfer appeared to the bank to be legitimate, and thus the bureau had no grounds to freeze the receiving account.
$50 Million was no small sum. The economy was very different that it had been in the last century. In the early 2000’s income inequality had begun to surge, and while median household income in 2070 was only about $68,000. $50 Million was not quite a year’s rent in upper-class cities like Irvine.
Agent Warwick ran his hands through his graying hair. This mark was proving to be far more difficult to catch than any he had encountered before. In his seven years with the bureau Warwick could hardly recall a case that had taken more than a week, let alone a year to close. To say nothing of the millions siphoned from his own employer. He stood and began to pace; S3RAPHIM was a ghost: no one knew him, no one remembered working with him. His name was whispered, but not spoken aloud, in all of the psycho-cybernetic chat rooms. He was a legend.
“Agent Warwick!” there was a junior level agent running towards him, Agent Buchanan. He was in his early twenties, still naïve and idealistic, “We’ve intercepted a message on one of the flagged ID’s!” Agent Warwick looked up at the agent, but his vision was immediately filled with the intercepted messages.
“Hmm… a flower garden. I haven’t seen that code in almost twenty years.” Warwick stroked the stubble on his face. When was the last time he had shaved? Whatever. That didn’t matter now. The meeting in Fullerton would start soon, and they needed ears on that conversation. “Follow me, Buchanan.” The two agents walked out of the operations center and got in the elevator. At ground level they stepped out into a hallway. The door closed behind them, revealing a sign declaring the elevator to be a janitor’s closet. They walked to the parking lot and climbed into a bureau car. Warwick took hold of the steering wheel, and Agent Buchanan wondered, for not the first time, why his supervisor insisted on a manual drive car. He also wondered how Warwick had lost that digit on his right thumb.