Encouraging Chaos, Chapter 1

Tom Edgar woke up in the middle of the night, he had drank a little too much Jack Daniels and passed out in his chair. He was laying on the floor underneath his computer desk, and it took him a few minutes to figure out where he was and he managed to bump his head twice trying to climb out from the desk and back into his chair. He slumped back into it, he could tell a major hangover was in the works and he rested his head back on the chair. He closed his eyes and listened. He registered two sounds in his ears: a gentle rain on the cheap tin roof, that he had advised his brother Mike against, and the hum of his computer. No other sound in the house, so he figured his brother was either out cold or out of the house altogether. Mike was notorious for loud snoring, so perhaps he was gone.

Tom was trying to convince himself to get up and move to his bed, when he noticed the hum of the computer was a little too loud for being dormant. He opened one eye and looked, the monitor was on and it was processing something, but he couldn’t make out what without his glasses. He opened his other eye and leaned over the keyboard, looking for his glasses. He found the black-rimmed glasses behind the keyboard and slipped them onto the tip of his nose. He leaned his head back and looked down his nose, and through the lenses like an old man.

He wasn’t liking what he was seeing.

It was a hack for sure, and there were files being copied over to his hard drive. He didn’t remember starting a hack before passing out, so either he hacked while he was mindless or someone was hacking him.

He kicked the chair out from underneath him and fell to his knees, he crawled under his desk, reached around the back of his computer tower and yanked the Ethernet cable out of the back of his computer. Now disconnected from any networks, and the Internet, he stood up and hunched over his desk. The copying process had been broken, the connection to the hacker also was broken. He sighed, and then picked up his chair and sat back down on it. He started to examine the windows open on his computer, and found several browser windows and tabs, one file location on his drive and an application he didn’t recognize. The file location contained over three-thousand documents, all of which were new. He minimized the folder, and pulled up the application to examine it further. It was very simple and crude. A lot of coding, a lot of scripting. A lot of commands.

He went to the kitchen and started brewing some coffee, he was gonna have to be awake to figure out what had happened while he was sleeping. While the coffee started to brew, he fumbled through a box of protein bars to discover it was empty, and threw it at the trashcan. The box bounced off of the full trashcan and landed on the floor. He tore open another box of protein bars, ripped open a wrapper and took a bite of grainy-textured chocolate and peanut butter. He chewed on the rubbery protein bar and looked at the code in his head. Just a few lines he’d read while quickly browsing the application. Nothing made much sense yet, he’d have to dig in after he sipped on some coffee.

Tom walked back back into his bedroom and snatched up his iPhone from the edge of his bed. He took another bite of the protein bar and headed back to the kitchen. He flipped through his phone, and found a text message from Mindy Bloch, she was asking what he was up to three hours ago. She was an engineer at the security firm he freelanced with regularly, though they spent more time together away from work hitting the coffeehouses on the weekends for local music. She was a clever engineer, and he often considered going head-to-head with on some hack gig. He was pretty certain she could beat him, but he wanted to know for sure. He assumed answering her text message by now was pointless, since she was probably looking for someone to hangout with at the time. He closed out the message without replying, and launched an app that used a Lion logo and was called Roar. It was a simple texting application that he and Mike had developed that was more secure than anything Apple could come up with. Messages were encrypted and sent, not saved locally, and messages received weren’t decrypted until after a password was provided. New passwords were generated every six hours, and were sent to a similar app with a kitten logo called Meow. The messages were sent over a server in their house and housed only for as long as they were unread, but after they were read they were re-encrypted and purged. It took a few hours of jail-breaking on their iPhones to manually install the apps Roar and Meow.

He had one encrypted message from Mike, he looked at their Felix the Cat clock on the wall and determined he had about thirty minutes before a new password would be sent Meow. He entered the almost six hour old password and the message decrypted.

[MIKE] This is your neck calling: WAKE UP.

Tom rolled his eyes, and closed the message which then left no trace on his phone and was being re-encrypted and purged on a server that was sitting in the living room. The living room was the biggest room in the house, so they had moved out a lot of the furniture after their mom had died and kept the bigger hardware, like servers, against a wall. You could sit on the couch and look right at a mountain of servers. On the wall above their little city of networks was an HDTV, it was connected directly to a server which streamed thousands of movies and television episodes that had obtained illegally one way or another. He wrote a message back to Mike.

[TOM] I got hacked. Gonna be offline for a while.

After sending it, and watching his words transform into letters and numbers that meant nothing, and then disappear, he made his way back to the coffee pot. He took another bite of the protein bar and finished it off. He placed the wrapper on top of the trash on top of the trashcan, and then his iPhone vibrated in his hand. It was a reply from Mike.

[MIKE] Sucks to be you.

[TOM] Where are you?

[MIKE] Chilling with Mindy at Giddy Goat, listening to acoustic jazz. I’m on my third shot of espresso, I might implode. You coming?

[TOM] Nah, wanna know what’s been done to Hal.

[MIKE] Ha! Laters.

Tom sat down at their modest kitchen table and waited for the coffee. His eyelids were heavy, but his mind was racing. Normally people don’t hack you to dump a bunch of stuff on your computer, they usually hack you to take things or to place a virus on your machine. It didn’t make a lot of sense in his head, but he figured after some coffee, he’d start reading that application code again and look at what they were storing in his cloud and he’d soon figure it out, clean up and patch that security flaw. After all that, he’d be tucking himself into bed and sleeping half the day away... again.

He sat at his computer with a cup of coffee, it was his second as he’d chose to gulp the first while still in the kitchen. With the coffee coursing through his veins, and more on the way, he started looking at the application again. After half an hour of reading the code, he had determined it wasn’t complex, but unique. It was tapping into him, and tapping into someone else, and transferring files from that other person to his hard drive. At first he had thought it might have been landing on his drive by mistake, but after reading the code, it was clear that it was deliberate. He shook his head at it, and then begin the process of figuring out whose junk he had all over his computer. The code had not defined that in the server names, but when he started to look at what was in his browsers and what was on his drive he started to get a bad feeling. He jotted the server name from the code down on a post-it note and typed it directly into his browser address bar on his laptop and clicked enter. To his dismay it loaded an authentication screen branded with the United States Pentagon.

He sipped the last of his cold coffee and stared at the screen sitting in his lap.

Someone had hacked the Pentagon and transferred over three-thousand classified documents to his computer in such a way that it appeared his IP address was the culprit. He felt naked. At that moment someone in the Pentagon was yelling curse words and staring at his IP address. He closed the laptop, and dug out an external drive from his closet. He knocked some dust off of it, and plugged it into an empty USB port on his computer. He began copying all of the classified documents over to the external drive. He ran into Mike’s room and grabbed his laptop. It had not been compromised yet. He tossed it into a laptop bag lying on the floor, and ran into the kitchen. He looked at their servers. He wanted them all, but knew he couldn’t take them all. He instead grabbed one labeled Caspian, and unplugged it from the network and the wall. He tossed it into duffel bag. On Caspian were less than one-hundred unique applications, programs he and Mike had built themselves. Meow and Roar were two of the programs on the server, and so long as they had it in their possession, they could use the apps securely on their mobile devices.

He ran back into his bedroom, it was going to take an hour to transfer everything. But that wasn’t good enough, he didn’t know how much time he had before the FBI or worse came kicking in his door. He quickly closed out all programs, and re-purposed all of the processing power to just copying those documents. That cut it down to fifteen minutes. He still didn’t like it, but that was the best he could do.

He stared at that strange application on his desktop. That little program was going to ruin his life, no question of it. The application was simply named bite.exe. He dragged the icon for bite over to copy on his external drive as well. He needed to know more about the creator of that program, if he was going to figure out who was framing him. That little program was the only thing he would have in his possession, the only piece of the puzzle that might help him solve who had done it. The documents were merely leverage. After he left the house, if he got out of the house, FBI or Homeland Security would be bursting in and taking everything. His home was no longer his, the stuff in it was no longer his. At least he could look at it all one last time, Mike couldn’t even get that. By the time Mike knew what was happening coming back home would be out of the question. They had grown up in that house. Their mother had raised them on her own after their father had left, running away with some floozy he’d met on a business trip. It wasn’t much of a house, but it was home. It had always been home. Now it was a dangerous place. A place you could stay in, a place you couldn’t come back to. Not unless you wanted to end up in prison in some third-world country where the Geneva convention and other laws are laughed at in-between waterboarding sessions.

He tried to push away the fear, and absorb the house one last time. Watching the files transferring wasn’t going to make them move any faster anyway. He went from room to room, looking everything over from the doorway. He kept an eye on his watch as he quietly said his goodbyes, and when fifteen minutes were up he was sitting at his computer unplugging the drive and tossing it in the duffel bag with Caspian.

He walked out of the back door, not bothering to turn the lights on. He knew he could walk from the house to his car in the dark, but strangers couldn’t. He didn’t know if he was already under surveillance or not, but he certainly felt watched. He quietly snuck around in the dark, and when he reached his car he silently inserted the key to unlock the car the old fashioned way. He knew pressing the key-less entry would cause his lights to flash giving himself away. But he also knew that once he opened the door the dome lights would turn and he’d have literally seconds to get in, turn the car on and peel out of the drive. With the door unlocked, he counted down from ten before opening it. He could only hear the gentle rain on the tin roof, if someone was walking up behind him he wouldn’t know it. He could kill Mike in that moment for insisting on the tin roof.

Tom screamed the number one in his head, and opened the door. He flung the door open so hard it came back at him, but he was already sitting in the driver seat. He started the car without bothering to close the door, and shifted out of park and into reverse. His foot was pushing the pedal to the floor before the gear had changed, and he spun wildly in a circle out into the street. His door slammed when he stopped in the street to shift gears again. He sped off up the street and ran the stop sign that led out of their neighborhood.

He hadn’t seen anyone, and he hadn’t heard anybody either. But then again, he was so focused on getting out of Dodge, he easily could have overlooked someone or something. He kept a close eye on the rear-view mirror as he headed downtown to the Giddy Goat.