April 2, 2008

Excited Delirium Book: Chapter 1 (Kite Intro)

By liam

Six months earlier …

“C’mon”, a young man groaned as he read the computer meter and saw how long he’d have to wait until his request was processed.

He’d lived by the name ‘Mr. Kite’, at least within some circles, for years. If pressed, he’d have a hard time remembering his given name, but he could tell you hundreds of other names he’d used to hide his true identity.

As he sat glaring at the monitor, Kite tried to make it go faster by giving it the evil eye. He might have been mistaken for any other nine-to-fiver, wearing a white shirt, crumpled black tie and a large olive-coloured jacket. Only his age, slightly higher than the rest of the cubicle-crowd that surrounded him, would have been an alert to anyone that was actually paying attention to what he was doing.

He sat and drummed his fingers on the melamine, feeling like a numbered unit in a football-field of prison-like cubicles. Standing up briefly, Kite felt they looked like hundreds of little Israeli-Palestinian borders, protecting their inhabitants from make-believe rocket attacks.

It was these few moments of waiting that reminded him why he’d never be able to tolerate the corporate work environment. Its recycled air and poor lighting. Its library-like respect for quiet. Everything designed to limit human interaction and push people to maximize their productivity.

It was these few moments that reminded him that he was blessed with the opportunity to live in a completely different world.

And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

He got to see this environment from a very different perspective because of what he did for a living.

Mr. Kite was a ‘corporate intelligence expert’ and was paid large sums of money to steal information.

As he waited, he cursed the computer operating system because security upgrades and improvements had made his life just a little more awkward.

It used to be that he could tap a couple of keys, be in the master drive and tap any info he wanted. Today, it’s a little trickier with firewalls, servers, PGP protocols and a tonne of other crap devoted to protecting corporate information.

He’d get around it though.

In fact, it was moments like this when Kite looked at his work as the modern age equivalent of a wild west bank robbery.

He imagined himself having a virtual gunfight with the computer. The code would appear before him and just prompt him with the following, looking surly and grimy: “C:>” was all a luminescent-green pixels would reveal to him.

Kite would picture himself saying “Give me all your information now and no-one gets hurt!!” as he hammered away on the bits of keyboard plastic to get to the information that he was paid to retrieve. Within a few moments, the computer characters would be lying on the ground, begging Kite to make he told their mother that they did their best to protect the data.

These days, Kite had to engage the computer with a few extra steps, but they were well-rehearsed and exceptionally easy for a pseudo-nerd like him to implement.

Within a few moments, he found what he was seeking. As he opened some files, he pictured himself being congratulated by the local townsfolk, maybe with some fireworks in the background. Everyone was wearing outfits with frills and tassles. Where someone might see shiny gun hocks in holsters, there were electronic mice with wire tails flailing in excitement at their new victory.

Kite shook his head.

“Focus,” he said to himself.

His current gig was to get a copy of this year’s final presentation to Wall Street analysts. The presentation would be later this afternoon and the basic instruction he received was to either force a delay with the presentation or ensure it was a mess. He didn’t need to be told why: his knew that his contractor was a private investment bank that made enormous piles of money by betting against the financial results of public companies. If he was successful, the confusion that arose would create a temporary disconnect between the press releases and what the final presentations announced. The investment bank would step in for a few moments and make millions from the disruption.

As he tapped away and prepared to copy the actual information to his portable USB flash drive, he felt like he was in control.

He felt superior.

As he was congratulating himself, he compared himself to person that had created the report.

The guy saved his files on a password protected drive and used the name of his favourite musician as the crack. With a few tips, monitoring and a little dumpster diving (the worst part of his job), he knew it was Bruce Springsteen. He didn’t even add a few numbers or capitals. It was just “bruces”.

Kite was stunned by how easy it was to use this simple password to get into the company network. With his first attempt he was able to see everything that was saved on the company servers.

If he ever had to change professions, Kite thought to himself that teaching modestly complex passwords to executive-types might be a good start.

He was still waiting. The computer was ‘thinking’ as it indexed the files that he was seeking.

It gave him a chance to think about what he would do next.

Maybe suit up as an HR expert and interview a prospect for a fake company to get the goods on his company’s economic strategy for the next fiscal year?

Or maybe pose as a reorganization consultant and recommend an impossibly stupid structure that would ensure bottlenecks at every turn, crushing the potential of a company?

He recalled a great idea he had seen recently in a Dilbert cartoon where Dogbert was posing as a tech consultant pulling passwords and other critically secret information from horrified users that didn’t have the first clue about how to work their computer, let alone make sure they’re secure.

“Or maybe I’ll just take a break for a few months,” he thought to himself. “Lord knows, stealing from these preppy pricks can be tiring sometimes.”

It didn’t take him long to find what he was after and he had initiated the process of copying the intended files to his drive.

Another two minutes to go. One-hundred and twenty seconds until he could pop out his flash drive, shove the whole thing in his mod jacket and walk out of the building. In two minutes, he’d be walking across the street, dropping the CD in a delivery bag and giving it to a bike courier to be brought to his client.

Two minutes and he’d add another $200,000 to his off-shore trading account. In the early days, he wasn’t sure where he should hide his cash, but with a little research, he chose the same one that some of the other politicians and lobbyists use.

As he sat mentally tallying his savings, the timing on the file transfer suddenly switched to eight minutes. Now ten. Now fifteen.

“WHAT THE JAKE?” was all he could scream in his head. This was completely unacceptable. He clicked the ‘cancel’ button, hoping to uncover why the timing had changed against him.

He was still OK time-wise and he looked at his watch to see that he had at least ten minutes before the guy who’s security card he’d borrowed would register Kite’s absence. Of course, he wanted to be back sooner. He had to be in and out.

“So why the hell did it take a jump in transfer time?” he asked to himself. He opened up the explorer tool to sort and scope out the files that he was burning and there it was: a PowerPoint ‘deck’ that someone had beefed up to 80 megabytes. Eighty! What do you need with 80 megs of info?

He opened up the massive file and it took another block of seconds that felt like hours just to show ready in PowerPoint. As he sat, he nodded and smiled at some of the regulars and temps as they walked by.

He quickly flipped through the presentation looking for something out of the ordinary and then he finally found it: the guy had incorporated a movie into the presentation. He opened it, just to humour himself, still feeling comfortable with his time, and he sat stunned, not believing what he was seeing.

It was a film of the guy at the annual golf tournament swinging away at a kid’s T-ball. “What does T-ball have to do with golf?” was the first question he asked and then he checked himself and thought “what does golf have to do with annual results?” In the background were a number a people laughing as he kept missing the point where the ball was balanced on a post.

“What an idiot,” Kite thought. This qualifies for valuable research and market insights? This is what the rich and shameless do when hundreds of others are turning a paler shade of fluorescent white?”

It warmed his heart knowing this guy would probably soon be one the streets. This gave him the final motivation he needed to speed things on and finish his job.

He stripped the file from the presentation and deleted it from the drive that it was on.

“Ummm … wait a second,” Kite whispered and then kept to himself: “I want to do something truly evil, don’t I? Let’s put that file aside for a second, copy some of the other files I’m after and then do something nice and malevolent.” He looked up from his temporary desk looking like he was smelling someone’s lunch trying to look smart, looking like he had just discovered how to convert water to oil, so that no one take notice of his presence.

He gave his head a shake. He had to focus. “How does anyone get any work done in these environments?” he asked himself.

Getting back to his task at hand, he had about eight minutes before someone would start to ask where he was.

To get into the company, he had used a temp agency to get a short-term contract with his target company. It was a common tactic that most people in his business use. In fact, there are probably a few corporate spies working right beside you right now making $12 per hour to help manage the electronic infrastructure of your company, all the while collecting data that might put you out of a job.

He wondered why the whole thing wasn’t in flames with gaps like that.

“OK … enough,” he shouted in his head to bring himself back to his task. He had to burn and do it faster than the Road Runner hoping the Coyote would be standing there with a steering wheel, wires dangling below with a bewildered look on his face.

He set up the file transfer and looked at the time: a much more reasonable 6 minutes.

As he watched the countdown, he realized that it would give him just a little more time to do some truly devious things before he left the office.

He locked the computer for a few minutes, got up, went for a walk, grabbed a few brown envelopes and files for reading on the subway and returned to his seat.

He checked the status again: the counter was reduced to 3 minutes. Perfect. Of course, you never know with file transfers, so he watched for a moment or two, mesmerized by the little folders flying across the path going from the server location to his “E:” removable drive, flying like little doves on their way to a new digital nest.

As he waited, he thought of what he could do with the movie he found. He cracked into the company intranet and set things up to post it there, but made sure that he waited until he was finished with the file exchange.

His plan was to gum up the works a little, just to buy himself some time before the crew finds out that he’d borrowed a list of half the accounts that the company manages.

He decided that he would email it to the entire company using a temp’s address. A 60 megabyte file (this was the size of the file once stripped from the presentation) would take several minutes to exchange as everyone sat and stared at their monitors watching the progress being made. God knows, it’s important to get the next email while it’s hot!

It would also give him sufficient time to get his big behind out of there and to cover his tracks. Sometimes the work he did made him feel like he had a big blowhorn yelling in someone’s ear screaming at them to SNAP OUT OF IT. One day, they’ll thank me.

One minute left. He was feeling a little more adrenaline now, only because a minute in operating system time can translate to an eternity in the human world. He checked his watch and realized that it was going to be tight and thought that maybe it wasn’t a great idea to fart around like he was. He had about three minutes to close down, clean up, blast the company with an email and give the borrowed pass card back to my temp peer.

Done. Finally. Transfer complete.

He double-clicked on explorer tool to see that he had the files and opened it up to make sure it was all there. YES. It opened correctly. Job well done, K. “So few people give you praise, you may as well dish it out yourself, right?” he thought as he mentally patted himself on the back.

He popped out the USB burner and shoved it into his jacket pocket. The jacket he had was perfect for the work he does: it had massive pockets that could hold an entire filing cabinet. OK, a bit of an exaggeration. Maybe a few 14×8.5 folders, but that can still be a lot of stuff. Folding the jacket over his arm and hiding the other files he pinched, he walked out the security clearance door that separated the business team from the IT group.

“Thanks, dude,” he said to his temp co-worker as plopped a borrowed pass card on his desk. “I must have eaten some old mussels or something last night. My gut’s still a little iffy, so I think I’m gonna go out and get some air.” To get into the secure area, Kite had told another employee that he forgot his card and that he needed to go to the washroom on account of his feigned illness. His original act was one for the Oscars, with the look of pain and discomfort used to minimize any resistance or questions from his temp pal.

“No problem, man. I’ve got some antacid if you want,” the other temp offered kindly. The young guy even pulled open his drawer to reveal a massive tub of chalky tablets, amongst a collection of other pharmacological products, with no thought to the idea that he might be out of work tomorrow.

“That’s a shame,” Kite reflected to himself. For half a second, he felt some remorse. It faded quickly when the $200,000 sign flashed before his eyes. There’s no “I” in team, but he reminded himself that there is definitely an “M” and an “E”.

“I’ll be OK. Take care of yourself – I’ll try to be in tomorrow, but if the agency calls, can you them I’m deeply entwined with a big project and won’t be able to touch base until the end of the day?” Kite didn’t want to draw attention now. They’d call his dummy cel. Worse yet, his temp boss. They’d find out he was a fake and then raise the alarm with the temp agency he was working with. If they knew something was up, they’d probably cancel or at least postpone the presentation this afternoon, but that’s a big if.

“No problem,” responded the waif staring back at his computer now.

Kite looked and thought that he was editing spreadsheets showing internet traffic over the previous month. It made him think about how so many people are just numbers now. You see their faces, but they’re only ones and zeros to the money makers in the world.

He flashed the “peace” vee and bolted.

Despite feeling good that he’d completed another important job successfully, Kite still had to make tracks like a squirrel being chased by a loose poodle. There was no threat, but you never know when the teeth might actually sink into the back of your neck and you’re shaken to death.

He started heading down the hallway to the elevators and opted for the stairs instead. He made it down two flights and ran into the preppy who’s computer he hacked. He said hi, nodded and kept going, but as he rounded a set of stairs, idiocy took over for a brief moment, and he blurted out “see you at the golf tournament next year” as he rotated his arms clumsily, mocking a golf swing.

The preppie stood at the top of the stairs and gave him a blind look. For about two seconds. He then looked down at his penny-loafers and then up again. Kite was distracted briefly by the young man’s choice of shoes, and then looked up to see the processing occur and witness the realization in his eyes and the growing look of concern. The preppy’s eyes seemed to say “I’d better find out if he’s talking about what I think he’s talking about” and shut the stair shaft door behind him.

“UGH!” Kite said out loud, instantly realizing his mistake. He flew down the last few flights of stairs to his escape. “What was I thinking! I was out. Done. It should have been no problem, but I just had to provoke this clown!”

“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” he yelled, hammering on his chest, as he entered the main lobby on the ground floor.

He waddled quickly past the main security desk, hoping not to draw attention to himself and kept going for another 20 yards. Once he felt he was out of view, he hauled ass.

Kite was about 50 yards from the subway terminus, already in a sweat and breathing hard when he heard “Hey you! Hold on a second! We want to talk to you!”

“Oh crap,” he said to himself, “it’s the fuzz.”

A couple of overweight, tired old front-line men were wobbling towards him as their Krispy Kreme cans lurched closer. They were pulling out their unauthorized, but effective, Taser weapons.

“Of course,” he reminded himself, “I’m no specimen, but I know I can outrun those dudes.”

He was just a few dozen yards to the subway train station. He had a token ready and threw his token into the turnstile and lunged – if you could call his embarrassing jump a lunge – into the crowd and buried himself into a free newspaper and peered over the edge as the doors closed.

He did it, but he almost blew it. “Yikes,” he thought to himself. “My excitement got the better of me,” he whispered out loud as he panted a little.

“Don’t do that again,” he quietly said again, as his panting slowed and he started to regain his breath. The adrenaline surge was fading. Anyone that did notice he was a little out of the ordinary quickly ignored him as they went back to the entertainment gossip columns and crosswords.

Despite having been seen by security, he allowed himself to relax, knowing that they wouldn’t pursue him. Most companies don’t report corporate crime, and all of them hate to admit to the public that they have security issues.

Realizing he was clear and feeling very relaxed, he put on his cute white headphones and did his best to look like everyone else.

(Note: "Excited Delirium" is a work of fiction. Any person, place or thing depicted in this work of fiction is also a work of fiction. Any relation of these subjects or characters to real locations, people or things are an unintentional coincidence.)

Read more with Chapter 2

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Excited Delirium by Liam Young is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Canada License .
Based on a work at www.exciteddelirium.ca .