a code junkie."
code junkie. A guy who spends every bit of energy he has hacking
into the main frame and fuckin' around with government code."
two men stood behind a pale thin wisp of a man. Despite their conversation,
the emaciated figure had not even acknowledged their presence. Instead,
he remained focused on his handheld. Karloff, a hearty, beefy mountain
of a man, turned off the weak light and closed the service closet
door, leaving the bleary-eyed soul inside. Brian, a much smaller
man, barely more than a boy, stared at the closed door.
within the city's sewer systems Brian had found Karloff. The large
man lived alone underground, one of a few thousand outcasts who
chose the life of a hermit. He did not subscribe to the revolutionary
tendencies of the fringe element, the "djinnis", as they
liked to call themselves. Rather, Karloff belonged to the quieter,
more subversive group that called themselves "the monks".
fleeing from the scene of the crime, the knife still in his hand,
the bloodstain fresh and wet on his shirt, Brian entered the sewer
system. Rumors of the strange, almost ghostly nomadic monks had
permeated his consciousness since his days as a child on the playground.
It was a game they used to play with what few mean-spirited friends
he had, the game of "Feds and Monks". Invariably, Brian
was always the lone monk fleeing from the other children who played
at being the feds. He was always caught and always subsequently
beaten. Now he knew of no place else to go, so he delved into the
darkness of the city's massive sewer system in the hopes of locating
these rumored loners. Finding Karloff in the forgotten maze of endless
tunnels had been more blind luck than plan. And Karloff was certainly
walked down the wretched tubular tunnel to the next service closet,
the bulky man's splashing footsteps echoing as he dragged his monstrous
body, limp and all, down the sewer. Brian followed, but turned and
looked back at the previous door, his mind still processing the
image of the pale man inside focused on nothing but his computer.
The code junkie had had a haggard face and nearly translucent skin,
the result of spending so long underground.
do you mean by 'code'?" Brian asked, turning his focus away
from the code junkie and back to Karloff, who he followed more by
smell than by sight.
mean that he spends his time hacking into the computer main frame
that runs the city and searches for ways to disrupt the government."
didn't even know what was possible," said Brian as Karloff
opened the next door. He pulled the chain hanging in the center
of the closet and the single pale bulb blinked to life. Brian remembered
the harsh fluorescent light of the medical center, as well as his
school. In contrast, the single spherical flo-bulb in the service
closet was thin, casting a grainy light on the grime-covered walls.
it is," answered Karloff. "The sewer's full of them. The
main frame lines are housed in conduits, and the conduits are accessed
through the service closets. There are a ton of closets down here."
squeezed his girth through the door and motioned for Brian to follow.
Brian took a gulp of air, most likely to be his last clean breath
before following Karloff, at least as clean a breath as he could
take in a sewer.
room was small and Karloff spent his time reaching around Brian
and over him to unload the items he needed for the "hack".
He produced a small handheld computer and several cables and wires,
a small but weighty power pack, a black box that was thin yet menacing,
and a pair of bolt cutters. He plugged most of the wires into his
various boxes and then plugged them all into one end of the thin
black box. In the other end he plugged a single cable with the vicious
looking clamp at the end of it. He took the bolt cutters and reached
over Brian to a series of conduits in gray plastic tubes. He squeezed
the cutters together with a snap and a short spark of energy arced
outward. Dropping the cutters in his raggedy cargo pants pocket,
he reached the wire clamp out and let it bite down on the exposed
fiber cable now visible within the cut conduit. He then thumbed
buttons and opened a session on his handheld computer.
Karloff began as his session warmed up, "we monks clamp down
on the conduit lines and hack into the main frame. From there we
try to disrupt the government systems or facilities. The djinnis
are trying to take the government down by acts of violence and shows
of force. We monks are trying to get the computer to topple the
government from within. To do this, we have to hack into the computer
and change the code running each of the systems. When it works,
it's a beautiful thing. When it doesn't, it's usually because we
that's not the biggest danger. The biggest danger is becoming a
code junkie, someone who physically needs to hack in in order to
survive. It's a side effect of the genetic makeup of programmers,
unfortunately. I mean the ones who were manufactured to be programmers.
They have a genetic trigger built into their DNA. If they start
working against the will of the government, the genetic marker fires
and suddenly they have to program to remain alive. It's some kind
of enzyme thing. Now, they could go back to programming for the
government, but that's just no fun. So they hack into the main frame
instead, but that increases the chances of being caught. The trick
is to know how much hacking you can do at a time without the genetic
marker firing and without the feds finding you."
tried to keep all of this in his head as it swam underneath the
logorrhea and stench that oozed off of Karloff.
no cure for being a code junkie, unfortunately," Karloff continued,
"unless you can rearrange your genetic makeup. It's a tough,
dangerous, and painful thing to do, but not impossible."
how can you help me?" Brain asked, trying to cut through Karloff's
exposition to the meat of the matter. At the same time, he tried
not to cough as his eyes began to tear from the smell of the sewers.
Karloff said, pausing for effect, "can crash the code surrounding
took Brian's brain a moment to fully realize what that could mean.
As clarity dawned upon him, he said, "You mean I could be
finished Karloff flatly. "Yeah, free."
unconsciously put his fingers on his forearm where the federal ID
tag sat, lodged underneath his skin, electronically labeling him
as a dangerous escapee for any radio frequency scanner within half
a mile. If Karloff could hack in and change Brian's files, he would
no longer need to worry about scanners, or barcodes, or retina scans.
a price," Karloff added.
moment of temporary relief Brian had felt was suddenly crushed.
Of course there was a price, there always was no matter what the
service. But "price" could mean several things, and Brian
cringed at the word.
do you want?" he asked.
sat back as much as his bulk would allow. The rickety wooden stool
left by the last monk groaned mightily under his weight. Brian,
who had stood as far in the corner as possible, shifted his feet
want you to get something for me," said Karloff.
need a splicer. A high-end one."
was familiar with the equipment, but didn't understand the request.
do you want with a gene splicer?"
rolled up his dirty wet sleeve and flashed a bar code tattoo on
his upper forearm. Even from a distance, Brian code read the numbers.
Four-four-five-zero-seven-three-one (the number set designating
a specific creation request), two-five-zero (the number set designating
the nature of the creation requestin this case, a code programmer),
zero-five-zero-four-two-seven (the date of creation), one-six-eight
(the number of the created product within the batch).
was a manufactured programmer.
too," he said, "am a code junkie. I need the splicer to
shook his head.
am I supposed to get a gene splicer? I can't even walk topside right
now. I think every cop in the city is looking for me and you want
me to go back to the lab buildings to boost a splicer? No way."
shook his head.
no, no, dear boy," he said. "I don't expect you to simply
walk into the genetics lab and walk out with a splicer. I'm not
a moron. But there are other ways of getting splicers. Other people,
other groups, have them. I want you to liberate one from them."
closed his eyes. Karloff's reek was overpowering. His head was starting
to spin. Brian knew exactly what Karloff meant. He wanted Brian
to steal a splicer from one of the djinni groups. The djinnis, he
thought, the tongue-in-cheek name for the genetically outcast. They
had adopted the name "geners" as a description, but then
one of the few literate members picked a battered old copy of Arabian
Nights out of the gutter and found stories about the genies.
They discovered an alternative spelling and began calling themselves
"djinnis". It was funny once. Then you met them and realized
how dangerous they could be.
opened his eyes, unsure of his next move.
I see it," Karloff said, "you really have no other choice.
You can run forever or find me a splicer and be free. But just in
case you're thinking about running, let me throw another complication
at you: if you don't go find me a splicer, I'll turn over what I
know about you to the authorities. Height, weight, eye color, even
a current photo"from somewhere hidden in the folds of
his clothing, a flash blinked and Brian heard the whir of an old-fashioned
camera"all to be turned over to them for the cost of
repairing my genetic marker."
gave Karloff a hard look, and the big man simply shrugged.
going to enable my cure. Either you or the feds, but I'm getting
my genes fixed one way or the other."
flashed in Brian's eyes and his face flushed. Karloff watched with
amusement, though his face betrayed nothing.
really think your fellow monks are going to allow you to walk into
a federal building, with all you know about them and their activities?
You said yourself that the monks were more dangerous than the djinnis.
What makes you think they'll let you live long enough to even get
out of this sewer?"
smiled, a merciless rictus of missing teeth and rotting gums. God,
thought Brian, how long has this guy been down here?
they know I'll be giving up information about you." Brian's
heart fluttered uncomfortably. "You see," Karloff continued,
"you're famous, my boy. You're known throughout the city, in
fact throughout most of the nation. You're the genetic anomaly.
Not like the djinnis, failures of the genetics lab that parents
didn't have the heart to destroy, or beautiful, flawless people
so sick of being admired for the perfection of their creation, rather
than for the people they are. You're the child who was born ugly,
the one who should have been beautiful. The genetics creation system
worked perfectly, no failure whatsoever, and yet here you are, in
your hideous splendor. You're the boy they call the 'duckling'.
Cute nickname, by the way."
rage seethed. His eyes, the right one crooked and slightly lower
than his left, burned with a new fire. The same fire that burned
that night the man in the alley tried to club him and kidnap him.
Under his crooked nose, his harelip scowled downward and his jawline
tightened. He was ugly, no doubt, but he was human. That's what
people seemed to forget. That's what the man in the alley forgot.
That man had seen him as a reward, a dollar sign. He had grabbed
hold of Brian, not realizing that Brian was willing to kill to avoid
returning to Building F.
hands were by his hips, his thumbs hooked into his pants. He shifted
his hand slightly, his fingers wrapping along the handle of the
knife in his belt. Its edges were still crimson. Karloff's smug
smirk faltered as he realized what Brian was doing. He went for
his jacket pocket.
a single smooth motion, Brian had the long thin knife out of his
waistband and plunged deep into Karloff's chest. Karloff's eyes
widened, but he made no other noise or motion, and Brian worried
that the knife's point may not have reached his heart through his
bulk. But then Karloff coughed and a spray of spittle and blood
landed daintily on Brian's shirt. Karloff moved his mouth as if
to speak, but nothing came out.
filled in the silence.
guess you have bigger problems now than surviving as a code junkie."
body convulsed in what Brian thought might have been a laugh and
then was still. He withdrew the knife and wiped it on Karloff's
dirty shirt. He grabbed the handheld computer from Karloff's hand
and yanked on the cables, ripping the clamp from the conduit. He
shoved them into a small bag by Karloff's side and zipped it closed.
it over his shoulder and hiding the knife in his waistband once
more, he opened the door to the service closet. The sewer was dark
and quiet, save for the endless trickle of running water. Brian
closed the door behind him and took off running deep into the dark
buried heart of the city.