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I don’t know how the message even reached me. Those creatures who raised me took away my Screen when they kicked me out. All I know is that I found a brand new one, a WebTech, like a consolation prize, waiting beside me this morning. With it, a message. One that basically said “you did great, now bye, you’re not popular enough to join the most snob government in history”.
Tears start blurring my vision, but I make no effort to hide them or wipe them away. I tried, Drew! I tried so hard to do what you would’ve done! I swear! I’m sorry! As I walk, the tears mix with the rainwater, then dry out.
They’re all stupid. All of them. The creatures society considers to be my parents. (I’d disown them if I could.) The inspector and his idea of who to ignore and who he likes. (If his life goal was to be a jerk, well then good for him.) Drew, because he died and left me in this position. (And because he was always so perfect.) The Crypto-Clan, for being in charge. (Whoever made that name official deserves to be stabbed to death.)
Not that anything can be done. This world is hopeless. When you try to be the first to do something, the whole world crashes down on you, pressuring you to fit into the mold, to conform to the stupid rules that govern us, and that’s only because we chose to make it that way.
Sighing, I keep walking, heading to the Shelter. My once pristine white outfit is now wrinkled and splashed with mud from when I tripped and fell this morning, with the rain-soaked coat clinging to my bulky frame. At least the Label is coming off. It flutters down to my feet, and I catch it. Of course, the side with “FAILURE” written in big red letters lands in my face, taunting me. Suddenly, I freeze.
I must have imagined that. The flash of copper and blue, a symbol of the Hacker’s Guild. The footsteps. I keep walking, at least until I hear a loud crack. It seems that a Hacker has indeed followed me. I pause, smiling.
-Hey, you gonna keep following me for much longer? You’re welcome to it, but be warned: my life is really, really boring.
I’m embarassed to say that I was actually startled when a voice answered. A young, strong voice, belonging to a woman. I turn around.
-Forgive me, Henry, but I wished to speak to you.
She’s standing there, tall and strong, wearing the coat of a Council member of the Hackers, but even without the coat, you can tell by the way she carries herself that she’s a leader. She looks strong, confident, and completely at ease, and she has the look of somebody who would boss you around without a second thought. So she gets to have things go her way while I’m living like a gutter rat. Life’s unfair.
Her long black ponytail has a faded took to it, and her eyes are hard, cold and calculating. She seems oddly... familiar, somehow. Not that we’ve ever met, but I feel like I know her. Probably about 25 years of age, I think. Maybe from school, although I would have been five, to have been in the same building as her, and I can’t remember when I was five, so probably not. Too late, I realize that I’m staring. She doesn’t seem to mind, though.
-What do you want?
-Pleased to meet you too, Henry. My name is Laura Shapiro, and I am a leader of the Hackers. Your test scores are... impressive. Very few can score a 963, you know.
-I’m not interested in being Recruited. That’s what you came here for, right?
-Yes, actually. But before you refuse, think of what an Affilliation could do for you, Henry. No more going to the Shelters, being all alone, and not having your life under control. No more being on the run. Having a home.
-Even if I wanted to join a Guild, the Hackers would be my very last choice. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you are Illegals, and very unpopular with the authorities. And how do you even know so much about me?
Besides, why are you even here in person? Isn’t it standard procedure to have a less important person waste their day doing your job?
-Well, you’re a Whitecoat, and that Label indicates that you’re a Castaway. You all fall into the same pattern. The Hackers Guild often takes in Castaways and folks from unpopular groups. Your talents would be put to good use. You would have a life filled with purpose, fighting for a cause that’s greater than you or me. Please, at least think about it!
Clearly, she wants me to join, but she still hasn’t told me why she knows so much about me. But the answer is obvious. She’s been watching me.
Not wanting to refuse but hesitant to accept, I grudgingly promise that I’ll think about it. Lee then hands me a Card, telling me to Swipe when I’ve made my decision. As if I didn’t know how Cards work.
I make my way to the Shelter, and the clerk (Why is it always the same guy?) reads my Chip. I let him walk me to a room, where I am to stay confined until they serve me brown lentil mush at eight. The same thing every day. But I could escape that. It’s my choice to make.
That night, I stay up late, reading all there is to read about the Guild. After three hours of searching, I must admit that I like them. I like what they stand for, I seem to have the right skills, and I agree with their ideals. They aren’t very popular because they’re so inclusive, but their organization is so massive that they don’t need to be popular. They are hated by the authorities, especially the Crypto-Clan, but after the way that they treated me, I don’t care how they feel about my life choices. It really is their fault, after all. I hesitate, staring at the blank wall of the Shelter. But the temptation is too great. I grab the blue-veined-with-copper card and I Swipe.
She arrives almost immediately. Unlike our previous encounter, she jumps straight to the point.
-So do I have a new recruit to bring home, or a completely wasted week?
So she has been following me. I wait for about five minutes, still hesitating to pronounce the words that will change my life, but I do manage to say them.
An hour later, I’m wearing a brand-new outfit, consisting of blue work pants, a white shirt, black boots, and a navy sweater. All the clothes have copper veins. The outfit indicates my belonging to the Initiates of the Hackers. I’m one of them now. I’m standing in a large underground room, with about 20 others, all of them older than me. At the front of the room, a Commander explaining my current task.
“We work with the old stuff. USB keys, laptop computers, that stuff. There is one main reason for that, and it is that these technologies are virtually untracable. What we are doing here is forbidden, but the Crypto-Clan isn’t equipped to counter a movement that is this big. Your goal is simple. You go up to a Ghostwork server, you plug in the USB key that was given to you, and you take as much data as you can, as quickly as you can. Your Screen stays here. You cannot be caught. Is what I am saying clear?”
We all nod. Seems pretty easy to me. At least, until he adds:
-You then must remove all of the information, and, using a laptop computer, you must go through the data, and filter out viruses. Then, you will put it back in your USB. All that while maintaining your position. If you wish to back down, now is the time. You could join a Utility Sector, like the kitchen or the cleaners. The exit is this way.
Well, I guess that could be a little bit challenging, but I don’t see the big issue here. The Commander waits, as if expecting some people to chicken out.
Nobody moves. A few turn towards me, with a look I know all too well. Pity. I meet all the stares.