How Hackers Spend Their Spare Time; A Tale of Charity

How Hackers Spend Their Spare Time; A Tale of Charity

I’ve done two rounds of Seven Deadly Sins prompts, mostly because I have such a large pool of characters to draw from. While flipping through other prompt suggestions, I happened to find a list of the Seven Heavenly Virtues (which seem to get a lot less press). In case you’ve never heard of them, they are: Chastity, Temperance, Charity, Diligence, Patience, Kindness and Humility. So now that we’ve seen the darker sides of my characters, why don’t we take a peek at their virtues? This round features Lilly/ Phage (or in this case, Mainframe) – though it may come as a shock to discover she actually has virtues!
. . .

Charity; generous actions or donations to aid the poor, ill, or helpless; something given to a person or persons in need.
. . .

Not much ever changed in the room where Mainframe floated in her tube of life-sustaining liquid. Old hardware eventually found its way out of the server room as newer, sturdier pieces replaced them. But to most of her keepers, it all looked the same. They couldn’t appreciate the fine differences between an old fashioned hard disk drive and one of the new solid state drives if their lives depended on it. Most couldn’t even cite the difference between CPU threads and cores, let alone appreciate the sheer processing power contained in one of the new model servers.

She supposed that was the drawback of thinking at normal speeds, though Mainframe secretly believed most of the people assigned to watch over her were simply idiots. They didn’t send the really good people down here, unless they turned out to be repeat offenders.

Like Xavior Eriksson. She was pretty sure he wasn’t the bumbling fool he sometimes seemed, even if he could barely tell a keyboard from a monitor. His main problem seemed to be that he didn’t know when to keep his mouth shut. But that was a vice she could certainly understand.

She knew he would be monitoring her vital signs and safety for the night, not because he had announced himself, but because she had observed the shift change via the security camera poised over the door to the office. Many of the repeat offenders had done their best to block that particular visual from her network, but Argus always managed to reconnect it. Even after they put black tape across the camera lens, Argus had merely adjusted the angles of several other cameras to compensate. After all, it was her safety on the line, not to mention years worth of sensitive data for the entire kingdom. But mostly, it was her wellbeing they were supposed to be concerned with. A reminder she delighted in dropping at every opportunity.

She waited until Xavior started absently flipping a pencil between his fingers, a sure sign of boredom, to announce herself over the speakers.

“You piss off Commander Lorcasf again, Eriksson?”

The sudden shattering of silence startled the young man enough that his pencil clattered to the floor, despite several attempts to stop it. She caught a muffled growl as he ducked his head beneath the desk to recover it and a light thump as he bashed his head against the desk on the way back up.

It was easy to prevent her chuckle from translating through the speakers since her voice was a mental projection rather than a physical one but, from the look on his face as he rubbed his head, he could tell she was laughing anyway.

“No,” he growled, finally answering her question as he slammed the pencil back onto the desk. “I did not.”

Mainframe snorted. “No?” She had already checked his file and knew he was down here for another three days for mouthing off. This was Domerin Lorcasf’s favorite punishment for upstarts. Though she wondered how long it was going to take the commander to realize that Xavior didn’t seem to particularly dislike it. It was the reprimand he found hard to swallow.

“Well,” he relented, settling back into his chair. “Maybe a little.”

This time, Mainframe allowed her chuckle to translate across the wires. “You know, Eriksson, he’s one of the only people in this place who’s actually worth listening to.”

“Perhaps,” the young man grumbled, “but he’s dreadfully hard to impress.”

“That is part of what makes him so interesting,” Mainframe countered, but she was more than willing to let the subject drop. Much as she loved tormenting her keepers, she had started to go easier on Xavior than all the others. Mostly because he talked to her about interesting things, even if he couldn’t help make the occasional jab about his dislike for technology. “Anything interesting going on top side since the last time you were down here?”

“I don’t know.” Xavior smirked. “You tell me.”

“I meant outside the division, you dolt.”

“I thought you could see into any files you wanted to? Read any news feed? See any event photos?”

“Well, I can. That doesn’t mean it’s as good as actually being there.” A few months ago, she might have argued otherwise, but Xavior had managed to bring her a few tidbits of information she hadn’t been able to dig up on the Faenet and she wasn’t the sort to ignore a potential source of information.

“True,” Xavior agreed, his tone solemn. “But I haven’t done anything interesting. Besides, you promised to tell me what it is you do in your spare time then next time I ended up down here.”

That was true, and it hadn’t even been a month since their last encounter. Domerin Lorcasf apparently wasn’t the only commander who found Xavior’s attitude insufferable. In truth, Mainframe was starting to wonder when Xavior would start volunteering for shifts just so they could talk. Perhaps she should arrange something for him before it came to that; she didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag. If anyone, especially Domerin, found out that she was remotely sociable, her image would be destroyed.

“Well, it depends on what’s going on in the world at any given moment. And since I can filter quite a bit of data at any given time, it isn’t as if I can’t pursue my own interests when the kingdom’s affairs are running smoothly. For instance, I’ve spent the last several days reviewing some interesting pings picked up by Argus’s security network.”

“Your AI has its own security network?” Xavior arched an eyebrow.

“Is there some reason he shouldn’t?”

This time the young officer shrugged. “I meant to ask if you ever sleep. You make it sound as though you work twenty-four/seven.”

“My body almost always sleeps, but my mind rarely needs to.” Some people might not have considered it much of a life, but Mainframe was rather pleased with it. She saw a lot more of the world than most people from her life-sustaining tube, with the entire Faenet as her eyes, ears and hands.

“So what kind of… pings,” Xavior repeated the unfamiliar word with some disdain,” does your AI pick up?”

Mainframe transmitted a thoughtful sound across the speakers while she sorted through her latest picks. Even while devoting a portion of her attention to a friendly conversation, she had other projects on the go. There was all the regular, low security traffic that didn’t need more than a cursory scan from her security program, plus a few sensitive packets that needed extra encryption. Then there were the files of interest she had stashed away for a particularly dull moment.

“Let’s see… it looks like there’s some pretty scandalous reports coming out of our neighbor to the south. Rumor has it that a corporation close to the crown has been embezzling a large amount of tax payer money into some less than desirable activities.”

Xavior frowned, “You find that interesting?”

“Not the petty politics, no. The interesting bit is that hackers appear to have located the incriminating evidence stored in a high-security server in one of the company’s main databanks. They’re threatening to release the information if the company doesn’t come clean. But they don’t actually have the information to leak.”

“How can you tell?” Xavior leaned toward the screen where he watched her float in the life-sustaining liquid. His brows were furrowed with confusion, but his interest was still evident.

“I have my fingers in a lot of networks. These hackers are skilled, but they aren’t on that level. Bad people go to a lot of trouble to hide their secrets.”

“But you could do it, couldn’t you?” Did she detect a hint of eagerness in Xavior’s voice? “You could hack the database and steal the information.”

Within the tube where she floated, Mainframe’s lips curled into a wicked grin. “You’re damn right I could.”

“Is that how you spend your spare time?” Xavior lowered his voice as if worried they’d be overheard. “Stealing secrets from the unscrupulous?”

“Stealing secrets is what hackers do.” Mainframe didn’t so much care who she stole them from, so long as they were interesting.

“What happens if you get caught?” Xavior protested, perhaps worried he would be in trouble if she did such a thing during his shift.

“I don’t get caught,” she retorted, positively scandalized by the insinuation. “But it isn’t as if the keeper of the queen’s security can go around divesting her political rivals of their secrets publicly.” Which was disappointing. The security on that server looked absolutely divine. She hadn’t tested herself against something that strong in a long time.

“What does it matter if you don’t get caught?” Xavior sneered, though she detected a hint of disappointment in his tone. Did he think she was going to let him spectate?

“You should ask Commander Lorcasf sometime. He’ll have plenty to say on the nuance of the subject.” But it sat ill with her. She didn’t like being told what not to do.

“You don’t seem like the kind to give up,” Xavior’s words echoed her thoughts. “Don’t tell me he’s got you cowed?”

“What, like you?” she retorted automatically. “But you know… there is something I could do.” Had she been sitting in front of a computer, her fingers would have flown across her keyboard. Instead she sent webs of thought darting through the various servers, ports and hubs that made up the Faenet, gathering the information she needed to confirm her suspicions.

“Instead of hacking the server directly, I could leave a program for those other hackers to find. The ones who want to help the victims of the crime. If they’re skilled enough, they’ll be able to piece it together and leak the data themselves. They just have to find my secret stashes.” She’d have to put some kind of barrier to entry; no scriptkiddies were running away with her code.

“Like breadcrumbs?” Xavior asked, excited though he couldn’t see what she was up to.

“Yes, in a way.”

“Do you have a name for something like that?”

Mainframe snorted. “Yeah; charity.”

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