Copyright© 2015 by Colin Barrett
There didn't turn out to be much of a problem, who pays attention to kids—well, young people, I guessed I'd graduated from "kid" status by now—with backpacks in DC? I just kept walking right past the incoming cop cars, and then I was by them and I kept on going.
This wasn't good.
If whoever-the-hell on my computer was right, I was in the toilet. Assuming they'd traced me, and the cop cars said they had, they knew who I was, or they would within minutes. So my ID was no good, my credit cards—all both of them—were zapped, and I had about twenty-five bucks in cash and no access to my bank accounts.
Oh, I could turn myself in and explain. Try to. Like they'd listen. They stick people who try to hack big government computers—and DEFCONTROL was as big as they got—into very bad places for very long times. I might be out in time to go to my grandchildren's high-school graduations, except that I didn't even have children so grandkids were kind of out of the question. And Lisa—
Shit, Lisa! She was going to come over! I had to stop her. I pulled out my cell phone to call, but it said I had a text message. Maybe from her, I pulled it up.
Do not use this telephone, it read. Your identity is known, calls may be traced. Prior calls will be traced. Call me only, same identity.
Jesus. Well, at least I'd hear a voice. I keyed it in: "Spook2589844640321." Way too many numbers, but when I hit "send" the response was immediate.
"Is this Jack?" It wasn't really a voice, it was one of those damn simulators, computers aping human speech. The "j" in "Jack" was distinctly computerese.
I almost killed the call. But—
"Yes." I said hesitantly.
"Jack"—it sounded more like "Zhack"—"please hear this speech, though I know I speak not well, I do this not before. I can help you and will do so, but you must say how I am to help."
"Can you connect me with Lisa?" I asked.
"Is this who you speak before?"
"That's the one."
"Yes. But you must know, it will be short until your other call is trace-ed to her. Do you wish connect?"
"Yeah!" I almost shouted. "Do it!" This was getting worse by the second.
No answer, just her cheery damn voice-mail message at the first ring; she was still in class, had the cell off. I started talking as soon as I could.
"Lee, honey, I've got trouble and I'm afraid some of it's probably going to spill over to you. It's— well, it's complicated, but anyhow people think I was trying to hack into DEF— the system I use at my job." Even the damn system name was classified, that's how paranoid they were.
"I wasn't," I went on, "but they think so and I had to get out and now they're looking for me. Cops and DOD and Homeland Security and God knows who else. They'll know I called you before, and they'll probably want to talk to you. Tell them whatever you like, but don't come to my place, I won't be there but a lot of official people will be. I'll try to call you later if I can keep clear. I love you, sugar."
I clicked off. It was time to get out of the area. Once they found me gone they'd start scouring the neighborhood, and I was still nearby. I headed for the Metro subway station and got on the first train I saw without caring much where it was headed.
As I sat on the train I tried to take stock.
This is nuts, I kept thinking to myself. Why am I running? I didn't do anything wrong. I mean, it's Spook who'll be in the shitter, not me; he's the one who hacked DEFCONTROL. Why do I want to protect him?
The back of my mind kept nagging that this didn't track very well, but I told it to shut up and started making plans for when I got off the damn train. I'd phone in and...
And what? Explain it all, tell them what happened?
"See, this guy who's hacked DEFCONTROL and taken it over started to talk to me, and I wanted to keep chatting so I called him up on my laptop."
"Uh-huh. And did you report this to your superiors?"
"Well, no, but see, I was going to. Really I was, I promise."
Like that'd go over well.
"Why did he talk to you?"