Checking It Twice

“Not in some distant Brave New World, but in the here and now, the government is assembling dossiers on American citizens, and then assigning them each their own Threat Assessment Color — red, yellow or green…”
–Matt Bivens, The Nation Magazine, March 11, 2003


6am XMAS 2045
Nathanial waited all morning for his mother to wake up. Most mornings he fed himself and dressed himself and went out alone to catch the bus; but this morning was different. It was his birthday. And it was Christmas. So he wanted to see if he’d gotten any presents. He could go after lunch and stay at school through 7pm in order to avoid demerits.

He brought his mother some coffee. He liked running the coffee machine. It made him feel older than five. He was always very careful to not put too much water in just like his mother had showed him. He put his winter gloves on so that his hands wouldn’t get burned when he poured and carried the cup.

Setting the cup down on the faux wood nightstand, he then climbed into bed next to her. He burrowed into her long black hair and joined her under the covers.

Each blanket had some holes, but between them all, she was well wrapped. Slipping his hand out from its glove, he reached over and felt the cold skin of her cheek. Even wrapped in blankets, her skin was always cool. She needed him for that. He was her little furnace. That’s what she called him. He loved to snuggle. When she was asleep he remembered every nice thing she had ever said to him.

She woke up for a little while that morning. She hadn’t gotten him any presents, but she had paid the extra credits so that he didn’t have to go to school that day. He had Christmas off. Just like the rich kids got.
He spent most of the day playing his same old video games while his mother slept.


XMAS 2048
Nathan sat in his school cube, lit by the glow of his plascreen and the excitement of shared deviance. The usual boring history lessons were piped into his headphones (“And in the year 2005, the UN and the WTO announced ‘Shared Sovereignty’, a wonderful advance whereby each of the thirty major multinational corporations would be allied with a preexisting block of nations…”), but he had long ago learned how to tune those out.

Instead his attention was riveted on his GPS wristimplant and its display. He and his buddy, Jim, had skipped enough school and spent enough time truant in headshops to learn SEE, the mostly-forgotten and very illegal coding language. And they’d put their skills to the test. By reprogramming their desk terminals into routers and utilizing their wristimplants as transmission devices they were now able to send each other messages that weren’t monitored by the school’s net.

Of course, if they had been in a wealthier elementary school district there would’ve been teachers to stop them. But here everyone was taught by terminal. The proctors only showed up to escort them to P.E. and to drive them to restaurants for lunch hour.

Nathan sent the inaugural message to Jim on their new network and his buddy, who was secured in his cube only twenty meters away, replied with his answer: “Nothing, man. What did you get your Mom for Christmas?”


6am XMAS 2050
Using an illegal alias on the financial webring, Nate monitored the prices in real time, so he knew exactly when they had dropped. He had already known what he wanted for his birthday, so Mom had given him the credits weeks earlier– she was happy to not have to do the shopping herself. Like everyone else, she hated crowds.

He bought the new Xyramid game system. Ostensibly a video console, it was customizable into a general purpose PC. You could port in code– even compile your own programs! Over 100,000 bootleg Xyramids had flooded the retail market the past few months. What he had found out over shortwave: they were the spoils of a recent successful military strike by BPAmoco/PRim
against MS/USA locations in Gdansk.

Using his dead dad’s MS/USA military-netID (they were always so slow to purge the database records), he completed the transaction online and gulped another shot of OK. The stingy syrup of the cola reminded him of how hungry he was. He left his room and went into the kitchen.

Mom was in there already. The open liquor bottle was still between her legs and she was still asleep in her favorite spot on the floor: in the corner next to the cat dish. Their cat, Percy, was still purring even though Mom had stopped petting him some time ago.

He stepped over his Mom and grabbed a bag of chocolate pretzels. He noticed the clock and decided to forego breakfast. He could eat the pretzels and some fruit peels on the way to school. Man, he couldn’t wait to tell his gang about the new Xyramid. Then he’d hack into his school’s adminblog and post the news there. He wouldn’t sign his post, but the other students would know who it was. He’d be the envy of the school if he played his cards right.


XMAS 2054
He left his uncle’s house around midnight the night before in order to be first in line at the courthouse. He didn’t know why he always visited his Mom on Christmas. He must’ve liked the way she always said “Happy Birthday”.

When he was convicted last year of felony “attempt to program” (he’d made the mistake of using a voice logon instead of a mouse), his mother did what so many Moms did and agreed to serve the time for her child. Three squares and financial assistance for the child to relocate to a foster parent was a tough bargain to pass up. It was all part of the penal system’s cost-saving measures. Older people incarcerated meant fewer years to pay for.

He never met his foster parents. He just stayed with his uncle. His uncle traveled as a missionary all the time, so Nate was left to his own devices. He went to school everyday because there wasn’t anything else to do.

Even though it would have violated his probation, he wished his uncle’s computer wasn’t just standalone.
He hadn’t visited the courthouse for several weeks, so it was a surprise when they told him she had already been cremated. She died the victim of some accident or something. He didn’t understand what they were telling him. At their insistence, he signed some things (“Just forge your uncle’s signature, kid. You don’t want the hassle of a formal death inquiry and neither do we, right? Right!”) and then they gave him the URL of where her memorial web site was to be located. Back home that night, he turned his uncle’s computer on to finish some homework. It wasn’t until the computer chimed on (“Jingle Bells”) that he began to cry.
Even after auctioning off his uncle’s house online, it would be several months before he could get the equipment he needed. Most of it had to be imported. Then he could get back online to say goodbye to Mom properly.


6am XMAS 2056
NBoY had his network humming full-tilt. His cluster of Xyramids with parallel transquantum processors (TQP) were devoting thousands of petaflops toward cracking the necessary keys. The glow of the technology filled his efficiency apartment. He absentmindedly scratched the scar where the GPS wristimplant had once been.
The Online Lottery was sponsored by the government. “Every Day Is Christmas” it was called. You bought a ticket via email and you tuned into the web to see the numbers roll by. The winner each night became rich. At least, that’s what the website said. But in fact, no one had ever met a winner. So, MamazNBoy decided to find out if the game was rigged.
Like the way his life had been.

NBoy didn’t bother buying a ticket. After a long wait, his cluster’s admin plascreen finally indicated that he was in.

Once he was logged into a MS/USA server, it was just a matter of time before he had root access. NBoY paused and wiped the sweat from his forehead. Then he stopped and moved to another terminal to check Mom’s site and to see what news his online robots had gathered. He knew this was foolish. Once inside, he should immediately delete the log files and insert a backdoor so that he could always regain access.

But he was heady with the moment. In a sense, he had been preparing for this all his life.

In his very first crack, back when he was just a kid, he created online robot programs that had interfaced with several local government and school servers. To this day, no one had ever detected those robots.
Over the years they had told him of any new developments concerning certain people that he liked to keep tabs on: classmates that used to pick on him, local juvie law enforcement workers (and their families), and so on. Whenever they rented a movie or bought groceries. When they traveled out of state or upgraded their computer. When their car was in the shop. Whatever. He knew about it.

But he had never before acted on the information.

In the Fed’s Emergency Listserv Forum (ELF) server that he now controlled, so many subdirectories weren’t password protected that he started to just browse. In LISTFILEDEVFORM\\C:\WINDOWS\Profiles\AllChi~1, in a file simply called “List”, is where he finally found his dream.

A simple GUI that showed a map of the United States. Select a State, click on a Town. You’d get a list of names. After he spent a while browsing he realized that the names were all children. In fact, as near as MamazNBoY could tell, it was a list of every child in the continental states.
Every one denoted with one of two labels beside the name: “naughty” or “nice”.

Was this some kind of joke? Was this server a honeypot after all? Would the Feds soon be knocking down his door as they’d done last year?

Simple enough to find out.

He looked up his own name and saw that he was listed as a “naughty”. Well, it looked like he had some work to do. The first year, everyone would win. That should get their attention. After that, he could start to pick and choose…


To: All ELF Employees
From: Central Services
Subject: Emergency Event Notice: LISTFILEDEVFORM Outage Today
Importance: High

All support and technical staff

Today Friday December 24, 2061 at 10pm there will be an
emergency restart of the server LISTFILEDEVFORM

This is being done to resolve an ongoing problem. Santa is back, folks.

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