Dissent in Real Time
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by Cathy McCarthy
Category: Science Fiction
Description: In a society where names have been replaced with Unique Identifiers (UI's) and people are known by what function they fulfill and their level of access to personal information, Thirty-Eleven Journalist, Level 0 is mysteriously assigned the name "Belizaire" by the national computer system. This event heralds the beginning of a series of information glitches that fabricate a virtual profile of him as far from reality as it can possibly be. He soon discovers that everyone in Canada has been affected by the same computer snafu. Then, as suddenly as the phenomenon appears, it disappears. But did it really disappear? ...And thus begins the war of one man against his government.
eBook Publisher: Awe-Struck E-Books, 2001
eBookwise Release Date: May 2002
19 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [276 KB]
Reading time: 165-232 min.
"Dissent In Real Time is a well-written, fast paced novel set not too far in the future which, at first blush, may appear simplistic in theme. In fact, this fascinating sci-fi thriller is much more complex than that. It has intrigue, mystery, suspense, yes, and it's all exciting. But there's also a sensitivity to the characters that rounds them out and makes them multi-dimensional, and a love story that is poignant and tender between Owen and Eleni. And the thought of the government eliminating the individuality of the populace in an effort to know every last detail about everyone is chilling. A thought-provoking read, Dissent In Real Time will satisfy on all counts."--Astrid Kinn, Romance Reviews Today
Chapter 1 Implementation
July, 2022, Ottawa, Canada
"Get off my machine, hacker. You've got the wrong number. No ***Belizaire*** at this location." Thirty-eleven, Journalist, Level 0 hammered out in sweaty hunt-and-peck.
"There will be soon enough." His screen blinked back. "I am Seventy-eighty-nine. Login same time in seven days. I'll restore your work now."
This Internet chat thing had gone just a little too far, Thirty-eleven pondered as the hacker's message dissolved into what he had been working on before the intrusion. He took up where he had left off, the words to his latest attack on the government forming methodically beneath his fingers. Action, inaction, it was all the same to him and to his shocked-and-appalled formula. So long as it sold copy, everyone was happy.
The next day was Monday, and the heat was getting more oppressive by the minute as he stood in front of the ATM. Its auditory cues had trained him well. But this morning, the clicks and whirrs were different.
"UNIQUE IDENTIFIER ON SMARTSIM UNKNOWN; PLEASE ENTER UNIQUE IDENTIFIER."
"What the hell!" So his Unique Identifier failed to impress the ATM.Coincidence? Why not, he pondered, and typed in "Belizaire".
It was a normal response and from this point. It accepted his input as it had always done in the past.
He ignored the white noise of the pressroom as he set his breakfast, a tub of coffee and a bag of popcorn, down in the middle of the sea of paper glutting his desk. The office runner came by with today's stack.
"Hey Thirty-eleven, I liked your editorial this morning."
"Thanks, kid. Anything earth-shattering in there?" He motioned absently at his paper burden.
"Government's computer is down." He handed him the top sheet, and plunked the rest beside the coffee.
GOVERNMENT OF CANADA PRESS RELEASE
Ottawa--July 15, 2022
Department of Communication. Central EDP Division
Central Computer Information System Announcement:
EDP Central announced today that they will be shutting down their main computer for routine maintenance. This should not affect non-government transactions, but citizens may notice discrepancies in Unique Identifier assignment. Work on the computer should be completed within a week.
He mulled the ATM incident over and reread the communiqué. Somewhere under the mess on his desk was the Feds' telephone directory. As he flailed about, the popcorn went flying.
"Godammit!" He settled on the familiar feel of the dog-eared document.
The book dropped open to the index of Unique Identifiers of all who worked at local installations, ran his finger down the list until it stopped at an entry, Seventy-eighty-nine. That was the identifier that the hacker had used last night. Programmer Level Ten, Director EDP Central.
Yeah right, and I'm Napoleon Bonaparte.
As the week progressed, he discovered that his electronic identity had been systematically replaced with a patchwork of other lives, each one minutely detailed, each one accessible only through the name Belizaire.
In restaurants and on public transportation, he listened in on conversations complaining about lost access to funds, the appearance of names instead of UIs and jumbled-up files. The phenomenon reached across the country, according to the wire service. Then on Friday, everything miraculously re-assembled and the names went away.
Sunday night crept up slowly. He sat poised at his PC anxious for an explanation from the so-called Director of EDP Central. As his screen responded to the alien instructions, he activated his printer.
"Hello Belizaire. Will you receive my transmission tonight?"
"What do you think, hacker?"
"So where do you want me to start? Do you want to know what happened?"
"Sure do, more to the point, I want to know why. I especially want to know why the Director of EDP, that is, if you are the director, would sabotage his own computer."
"That's good, Belizaire. If you were curious enough to find out who I was, then you must also know that I've gone into hiding. And I suggest you hide the printout of this meeting or you will have to disappear, too."
"Okay, what happened?"
"It's a simple virus, a worm, technically speaking. I think you have good idea of what it does. The reason they had to bring CCIS down was to wipe it clean and then reload from a backup source. What they have discovered though, is the virus is still there, waiting for my command. In a little while, they will come to realize that it's there for good, and any attempt to get rid of it will only cause them grief. Are you getting the picture, Belizaire?"
"I think so, hacker. I have the ***Who*** and the ***What*** in this story. Now how about the ***Why?***"
"The ***Why*** starts with the data. Think about the information that got attached to your name this week. What did you notice about it?"
"You tell me."
"No, you figure it out. Then log into your office file server and leave a message for your systems administrator. Say "Can you retrieve the work I did on July 15th?" When I see this message, I'll reconnect the same night at eleven o'clock."
The transmission ceased, and the journalist turned to collect the printout strewn like ticker tape across his floor. * * * *
"I wonder if he will think about it." The hacker smiled across the table to his companion and gently closed the cover to his notepad computer.
"You've done your best, Owen. It's time to leave it and get some rest." His companion smiled in the half-light of the kitchen.
"Yeah. Can you drive me into the city tomorrow? I'll need to find a place to stay." The hacker sighed.
"Why not here?"
"They monitor line usage, Ter'. And if your habits change, it could lead them here."
Terence watched his friend disappear down the dark hallway. A familiar twinge caught him in the gut. Can't go back now, he reminded himself. The planning stage is over. This is implementation. * * * *
It wasn't much of a story yet, but it had potential, the Journalist surmised. What had the hacker-bureaucrat been getting at, anyway? He thought back to the fuck-up of the week before, ran through the highlights in his mind. The bank portfolio that had been assigned him was great, untouchable but great. And when he had asked for detail on all accounts, he figured his unknown counterpart was no Canadian, he was too much of a risk-taker. When he had called his doctor's office for his latest HDL/LDL ratio, he discovered he had undergone a gender change.
What other files had been inadvertently released, credit records, tax returns, driving history? Hey wait a minute. How did all this get attached to Belizaire in the first place?
Under normal circumstances, the right information must then be connected to his UI, his Unique Identifier.
Was this the point the hacker-bureaucrat was trying to make? So what. Hadn't that been the whole purpose of establishing a common numeric identification system in the first place? He had said to start with the data, so this couldn't be what he was getting at.
The elements of the puzzle rolled through his mind as he remote-controlled through the channels on his TV. He stopped at the Court Network out of habit, best entertainment was real. Lawyers were arguing about the privileged nature of personnel files, who could see what. They're filed by Unique Identifier too, he speculated. You don't need a court order. All you have to do is know how to work the system.
That's it, isn't it? What matters is who can see them.
The cat looked sleepily in his direction as he returned to his PC and logged into the National Bureau file server. Once he had gotten to the point where he needed to type in the message to the systems administrator, he consulted the printout for the wording the hacker wanted him to use. * * * *
The apartment was gray, like the area of town where it was located. Dust permeated every free space, coated the windows and blocked out the sunlight. But it was suitably invisible to prying eyes.
A knock came gently at the door.
"Who is it?"
It had been a week since he had visited the hacker and he had missed the quiet strength he brought to his resolve. They embraced, and the reassuring smiles they exchanged betrayed their shared apprehension.
"You hungry?" Terence asked.
"Yeah, come to think of it."
He spread the boxed feast of Chinese food out over a stained arborite table, while the hacker went for plates and utensils of assorted patterns and sizes. They sat down on torn plastic and pitted chrome chairs.
"Predictable chaos. It took us a week to get the system back up." Terence replied.
"And they know I can still take it down, right?"
"Oh yes. What's more, the RCMP have been tearing your office apart for the last three days looking for clues to your whereabouts. Cormac says they have been ransacking the townhouse, too. Have you contacted Belizaire yet?"
"Twice, I'm waiting for him to put it all together before I tell him our agenda. Let's log in tonight so I can show you how reach him if I'm caught."
"I don't want to think about that."
"We've got to, Ter."
They ate quietly for awhile, Terence pondering the consequences of what they had started, not wanting to discuss the matter over good food. When the meal was finished, they cleared away the remains and set up the notepad.
"You aren't establishing a direct link with their server are you, Owen? It would be easy to trace it."
"No, I'm going through Berkeley Anonymous. Stay clear of Finland."
"Berkeley doesn't keep transaction logs. "There it is." Owen, the hacker, pointed to a message on the screen. "He wants to talk to me. I get him to leave specific messages to the Sys-Admin, since that's whose sign-on I'm accessing. That way you have god-access to all the sign-ons and getting into Belizaire's is easy from there."
"I'm running a bilateral chat routine so we can talk in real time. Okay, Ter', showtime."
Terence pulled his chair closer to the screen and watched the chat session materialize.
"What have you learned, Belizaire?"
"You toasted your system because you didn't like who was getting hold of the information, right?"
"So who is getting hold of it?"
"Let me illustrate with a story, Belizaire. Why don't you check it out, in fact? It takes place in Brantford, Sligo Steel Casings, Inc. Just before the last Federal election. The workers are warned that if they vote NDP, they will lose their jobs. After the election, we are asked to send comprehensive information on all Sligo employees to Brantford. Then fifty workers are laid off just as the company secures a huge contract with Japan."
"You're telling me the Government knows how everybody votes?"
"I don't believe you, hacker."
"Want to know how you voted, Belizaire?"
"You haven't, for the last two elections."
The cursor blinked aimlessly, waiting for the journalist's response. Owen waited a moment then tapped in his next message. "Belizaire, are you still there?"
"I'm here. So what do you want me to do, hacker?"
"My name is Owen Teague. I will no longer let them reduce me to a number. There is no point destroying CCIS unless I can be assured that it won't rise again. Only the people of this country can provide that assurance. Get the word out, Belizaire. So I can take it down once and for all."
"What makes you think they won't catch you before you can do it?"
"I am one of a group called ***The Committee***. So long as there is one of us left on the outside, the system will crash and burn." * * * *
The Galaxy Lounge was a half-mile away from the cluster of factories that made up Sligo Steel Castings Incorporated. It seemed a natural spot to eavesdrop. So far, pickings had been slim, Maybe today he would get lucky, Belizaire hoped.
At the other end of the bar, a man, bent over with the weight of some tragedy, stared trance-like into a thumb-smudged glass. He downed the contents in one swallow. Soon another worker bounced in, slapped the sullen one on the back and then sat down beside him.
"Hey Cas. What's the word, man? Gimme a beer, Chipper." He swung the beer to his lips and smacked the foam from his mustache. "C'mon Cas, cheer up. This won't last long."
"Get out of my face, Tomaso." The worker's response was low, depressed.
"Shit for brains, Cas." the one named Tomaso laughed. "They laid off three dozen of their best men, and the foreman tells me they got orders coming out their ass. It doesn't make sense to me, except it must be some kind of bean counter thing. You know, fire 'em today, hire 'em back tomorrow, save on taxes or pensions or some shit like that."
"Tell me this, Tomaso," the other whispered loudly, "who did you vote for last month?"
"C'mon, man, you don't believe that crap management tried to sell us, do you?"
"Who did you vote for, Tomaso?" The other grabbed him by the shirt and shrieked in his face.
Belizaire approached the two. He turned to the bartender and ordered another round. The two men squinted at the stranger through the dank atmosphere of the bar.
"Who the fuck are you?" The one named Cas asked.
"No one in particular. But I've been listening to your conversation and you've got me curious. So who did you vote for?"
"Tell him, Tomaso. He's probably the only one in Canada that don't know."
Tomaso smiled broadly and then downed the rest of his beer.
"Who else? The working man's party..."
"Yeah. Want to make something of it?"
"And who did you vote for?" Belizaire turned to Cas.
"None of your goddamned business, none of anybody's goddamned business." * * * *
Terence slipped silently into the half-lit hallway of the seedy walk-up, newspaper tucked into the bag of groceries. The old location had lasted almost two months before a gut-level uneasiness had set in. Good thing too, he thought. RCMP raided it within the week Owen left. Although it was still safe to live at home with his family, he could feel Owen's need and spent as much time as he could with him.
"Page Seven." He tossed the paper to his companion before emptying the rest of the contents into the cupboard.
He watched as Owen found the reference and began reading Belizaire's first editorial on the virus.
"Now we're in business."
Terence nodded as he surveyed the street from the kitchen window. How long would it take them to find him here? More to the point, how long could Owen handle the stress of running? * * * *
They walked resolutely in the crisp night air, their breath forming clouds behind them. Terence held back straining behind the cramp in his side. He hunched his shoulders to the chilly November night and made fists in his jacket pockets.
"What if something goes wrong with the program? Who's going to fix it?"
"No more arguments, Ter', it's gone too far for any other solution. Can we just get on with it?" Only then did he notice that Owen was shaking like a leaf through his thick black overcoat.
They resumed, only faster now. Rounding the last corner, they came within sight of the police station. He stopped, one last time.
"Please, Owen, don't do this."
He waited for more twisted logic to drop from his lips. It didn't come, thank God. There was nothing left to say. Instead Owen smiled, held out his arms for one last moment of contact.
"I'll be alright. Take care of yourself--and the others. Don't get caught."
He watched Owen pace away without looking back, leaving his last words behind him in the hanging mist.