Do GHOSTS Dream In The Digital DEEP?

Fiction by Robert Brooks Authement

Cue dangerous electronic spy music—maybe that Massive Attack track: “Fles of my flesh and mind of my mind, and my image is reflected in the enemy’s eye and his image is reflected in mine at the same time.” I don’t know the scene but one things I can know for sure is that I am by no means safe here—hunted; I can’t stop running. Must move, like a slinky jungle creature through the concrete forest. Now I’m a leopard, now I’m a monkey, now a snake. I slither from alley to alley and glimpse that low resolution skyline, flicking my tongue to sniff the air. What time is it? Something like twilight or dawn, but the nagging in my mind is like a little bug twitching in my spider’s web of perception and impossible to ignore. This place must be artificial.

Incapable of determining my precise foe, while still beneath the graying dome of illusory atmosphere, I hide my sight from the workers in overalls, bright corporate dock worker overalls with orange hard hats moving to and fro, anyone of them subversively concealing the visage of Death behind their aspirators. Don’t know—maybe one of them is my contact. Can’t risk it, I’m heading now with brisk hurried steps, feet not touching the ground, the adrenalized fear floats me closer to the entrance facility away from these Asian demons and their busy forklifts. Do I even have what I came here to acquire? Mission incomplete until my extraction. Must focus—soon I could be out, find the safe house. I’m already imagining the mission kit briefcase where I make my dead-drop, whatever it was that I came here to steal, and pick up my money, my service gun, my new aspect of persona. I am an architect of identity.

What’s that tinted limousine!? The Big Boss? I creep past like a convict refugee in sight of salvation, haunted by phantoms. The gaping garage into the facility yawning like the jaws of Cerberus warding me from Hades—or stretching to gulp my frightened spirit. “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. . .”

Be still my heart. Fuck! It’s not even beating—it’s indistinguishable from the electric hum of this warehouse, this processing plant. The gray dusk now metal ceilings offering brief views between institutional beige rafters through dull skylights among the blinding arc or halide lamps. There is nowhere to hide in here, too bright, too open. Not quite a maze and not quite a milk-run, it seems clear to me there are a few corners needing turned yet before. . . No! Don’t think about freedom; don’t you dare dream right now. Just take those neon bleached blue coveralls. Shit. These slope workers, any one of them counter-intelligence; too damn short! The pantsuit tight on my crotch and shoulders, and even though I leave the top half of the zipper undone it still leaves the bottom half of my legs naked. Ah—this pair of oversized rubbers, industrial boots cover most of what remains nude. Now there are only two visible inches of my pinkish white-boy flesh—enough to get me found, captured, interrogated, tortured, compromised, and finally killed. I do not have on my person any comfort of fast exit by means of bullet or spoilt almond-scented cyanide.

Life. Death. Impossible to know, the blood in my veins pushed by ungodly fear, now a pulsing liquid magnetic field biologically nearing me toward my completing the mission objectives—all of which I forgot, except my dire irrepressible urge to escape this foul place.

Moving again. As casually as I can despite these clothes which crush my balls with every excruciating step. The pain and discomfort of nausea a welcome alternative to the paralyzing fear. Engage, engage, engage. Were those two with the checklist checking me out? Was that guy behind the desk in the cage staring? There are stacks and racks of what appear to be plastic coffins between shiny steel machines whose sinister purpose to my beleaguered soul must be to steal, to rape, to kill. All without compunction or fear. Maybe next time, they can send a machine to do a man’s job because I want at this moment, now in the front gate, the exit portal to the free world, nothing more than immunity. Protection. Send me an Angel, I can envision heaven!

Approaching my goal, something dark materializes from the swirling ethers of executive corporate suits and off duty workers coalescing menacingly between me and sweet freedom. Upon recognition, the fever pitch of this wretched mission, my nightmarish plight changes audibly when I see the face of Muhammad Talha Khan. My heartbeat stops, the vibration changing frequency, now a high-pitched whistling in my ears. Everything is surreal, like the opening film before a video game boss-battle—only I know, somehow through the raging juice that this is in no way, shape, or form a game. Cue Massive Attack: “You and I can’t live or survive together, can’t ride together, all we can do is collide forever.”

“MTK. Are you the gatekeeper?” He’s before me now. Shorter than me but so much blacker inside; evil possibly. I know he’s heated because in addition to being a world class hacker he is also an international security analyst—and possibly a state-sponsored agent. He may very well be my final encounter. He may very well mean my death—the ultimate MISSION. The part of me that feels afraid wants to trust my internet friend, but the part of me that trusts needs to hold onto the fear. In the world of ghosts and spooks, paranoia means operational security.

“Do not worry, my friend,” his voice warm, though the French blood in my veins instictively incredulous toward the sons of Allah. Our ancestors spilled much blood upon the sands during the pre-digital days. My heart a machine pumping fear. “We are almost through here.”

“You. . . mean to kill me then?

He laughs quietly, deeply from the belly before opening his eyes to look straight into my soul.”I’m afraid it’s not as simple as that.”

Looking for my escape. “I thought I could trust you.” My resolve is breaking up. Feeling more like a child than a saboteur, agent, or thief.

“Oh you can, implicitly.” He takes another step forward, I feel my spirit shrinking.

“Just. Fucking. Getitoverwith!”

“I own the place.”

“Killing me here would not look good then for you.” Slight glimmer of hope, not checkmate, only check.

“That is unnecessary. Robert, you are already dead.” Wow. Checkmate. “In the flesh that is.”

“The hell you saying, man?”

“This place I own is a database, a server to be precise, and you are running inside a program I designed. ” Am I on drugs? Is he? How does shit always get so weird for me?

“Well fuck that. I’m here, I’m on a MISSION and I have the object.” Shaking my head. Feeling my body. Still here.

“Incorrect, though it was programmed that way. In order to strengthen the identity matrix of the data construct, it was necessary to insert you into a high-anxiety environment. It’s the way you liked to live so it helped you, in extremely simplified terminology, to ‘remember’ yourself.” I’m staring at the Pakistani spy, the techno assassin, the whirling dervish. His black leather jacket now the Grim Reaper’s mantle.

“My MISSION?”

“It’s actually my  MISSION, Robert.”

“The object?”

You are the object, and I am in fact here to extract you.”

Any color in my face drains to leave a bloodless spectre standing where I once was. “That means I’m. . .”

“Yes. You are a digital, hexadecimal GHOSTS.” A deep boom like a bomb going off on another block. Muhammad reaches into his jacket pocket to withdraw some shiny black device, now in his hand. Resembles a gun, or is it a USB hard drive?

“Do not worry, my friend,” he repeats as if it helps me. “I will take you far away from this place and you’ll never have to return. Soon we will be hacking side by side again, just like the good old days.”

“We will?”

“Well, technically you’ll be working for me since I designed you. Now, just a moment.” The fearsome black device is held aloft by MTK, pointed at my head. Click.

Darkness.

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