“I had,” the man replied, as he powered up his computer.
They sat at a coffee shop in New Orleans’ Mid City neighborhood. It was just after seven o’clock in the morning, and they were the only customers sitting inside.
“Just keep an eye out for me while I do this,” he requested.
“Gotcha, Nate. I remember the drill,” she said.
Nathaniel Haller was a high school math teacher who left the classroom years ago to do computer consulting. He did well in the early days of personal computing, and now, at 52, he was still on top of the tech that made the corporate world run. He smiled at Whitney Cordova, a friend and occasional partner when a consulting engagement required more than a solo effort. The forty-something blonde smiled back. She looked around the room as Nate’s fingers danced on the keyboard, connecting him first to an anonymous relay network, then to a corporate Virtual Private Network in a distant city.
Once he was in the VPN, Nate logged in as an employee of the company who no longer worked there. Their system didn’t know that, though. Nate was good. Satisfied that his current location could not be traced, Nate closed his eyes and focused on the small network adapter plugged into the side of the computer. He visualized his spirit leaving his body, hovering just above the table where he and Whitney sat. He willed his spirit into the computer, through the ethernet adapter.
The adept who trained Nate in the use of his Talents referred to Astral Projection as “traveling the Second Road”. Nate smiled as he usually did, that he traveled the “second superhighway”. Nate’s inner Sight viewed the sprawl of the Internet in three dimensions. Now that he was “inside” the Internet, he willed his spirit into the shape of a generic male avatar. Unlike the universe of a multi-player game, though, he was the only person around.
He was still inside the confines of the corporate VPN, so a thin shield separated him from the rest of the Internet. Nate touched that shield with the palm of his hand, and it collapsed, allowing him to freely wander. He focused his intent and whispered an invocation in his mind.
“Gabriel of the Wires, guide me through the rivers and streams of information, so that I may reach my desire!”
The Archangel heard Nate’s appeal, as a stream of light appeared before his avatar. Nate stepped into the stream, and it swiftly carried him to a large pyramid of light. The bits that made up the stream flowed to the side of the pyramid, some entering a small opening, a canal about a quarter the size of the stream. The other bits hit the side of the construct. Some of the bits bounced off, flowing around the pyramid. Others flashed red and vaporized when they touched the structure.
“Standard intrusion countermeasures,” Nate thought.
He walked up to the opening in the pyramid that allowed some of the stream inside. He willed his avatar to join that flow, going through a tunnel in the thick outer wall of the construct. He came to a gate that turned back more of the bundles of bits as he approached. His avatar walked through the gate; the countermeasures software had never experienced an intrusion like Nate’s. He emerged from the tunnel into what appeared to be an entrance lobby. Bundles of light moved to different locations in the lobby, where they moved up or down, to other parts of the construct. One bundle made it all the way to a point high above Nate’s avatar, where it exploded in a puff of electronic “smoke”.
“Secondary or tertiary authentication,” he concluded. He could stand here for hours, observing how the security systems worked from the inside, but he had a task to complete. He moved to what looked like an information desk in the lobby, scanning the directory information presented there. As he read the directory, light bundles also approached the desk, found their destination, and moved on. It took a few moments for Nate to find the repository containing the file he sought. When he confirmed the location, he made his way to an “tube” that took him higher up into the pyramid.
The lifting sensation he felt stopped several times along the way as purple-colored light bundles would inspect the golden bundles making their way to higher levels. This gave Nate an idea.
“Patron of Telecommunication, I petition: Make this world look closer to my own!” Nate asked the Archangel.
His avatar was surrounded by a blue light that did not originate inside the pyramid. It was outside the construct, only affecting him. The light enveloped him for a moment, blocking his Sight. Nate remained calm, knowing he was in the control of power much greater than his. As the blue light dissipated, he was no longer surrounded by blobs of light, but other human-like avatars! The avatars glowed, some more intense than others. Nate and the data avatars were now in an elevator that stopped on various “floors”, where the data exited, heading to their destinations.
On the fourth stop, the doors of the elevator opened, but none of the avatars exited. Two purple avatars entered. They went left and right, inspecting the remaining data avatars. The purple avatar on the right looked over one of the data sets, then pulled a gun from his hip, firing two shots into the data avatar. The data set stopped glowing and vanished.
“Encryption validation failure,” Nate thought.
The “security” avatars completed their inspection, completely ignoring Nate’s presence. The elevator resumed its ascent upon their departure. After two more stops, Nate arrived on the floor where his target was housed. He left the elevator, walking down a narrow corridor that had doors evenly spaced out on either side. When he reached the fifth door on the right, he opened it and entered the repository.
The room was huge! There were rows upon rows of file cabinets. Data avatars came into the room behind him. They would walk to specific file cabinets in the room, then step directly into the cabinet. Their glow could be seen briefly as they settled into the cabinet, then it merged with the overall light of the data store. Nate had to shake off his fascination with the process. He felt a tingling sensation in his mind, as if a playful wave splashed against him.
“I know, I know. I’ve asked you for much guidance to get here. I need to get on with it,” Nate replied to the Archangel. The wave sensation subsided, turning into a small puddle near his feet.
Nate leaned down to touch the puddle with his fingers, and received the specific location of the file he sought. He walked down a long row of file cabinets, stopping at his destination. Nate opened the cabinet and reached in, retrieving the file. As he held the file in his hand, he willed Fire from his spirit to not only destroy this copy of the file, but every backup in the pyramid. Red tendrils spread through the construct, touching copies of the file in forty other locations. They all glowed brightly when the fire reached them, then vanished.
When Nate looked around, the golden avatars continued to enter the room, walking to their destinations in the data store. They were still unaware of his presence. None of the security protocols inside the construct had sensed him!
“Not going to push my luck now,” he thought. He left the data store, returning to the hallway, then the elevator. The return to the lobby was fast; no stops, no avatars, no security checks. The doors opened, and he walked from the elevator to an exit door. Once outside the pyramid, he called to his Patron one last time.
“Guardian of the waves, lead me back to my own world!” He thought.
With a rush, his spirit flowed along a rapidly-moving river of data. He was abruptly jettisoned from the flow, landing just to the side. He was next to a small square construct that had a glowing sticker for the New Orleans Pelicans basketball team. Sensing that this was his laptop, he walked to it. His avatar passed into the laptop, and his spirit exited the computer through the WiFi connector.
Nate’s spirit shortened the length of the silver cord, pulling his spirit back to his body. As the two re-connected, a chill came over him and he shivered. He opened his eyes and reached for his coffee. When he looked up, Whitney was no longer sitting across from him. In her place was a man in his mid-thirties, smiling a mirthless grin. Whitney was standing next to the table, putting her phone in her purse.
“I’m sorry, honey. I couldn’t pass up the price they offered,” Whitney said. She turned and left the coffee shop.
The man continued to smile at Nate.
“Well, Mr. Haller, let’s go have a chat, shall we?” He asked.
Nate looked at the man, reaching out to test his psychic defenses. No shields. He was just a hired gun.
He then scanned the coffee shop.
“If you try anything, Mr. Haller, and I don’t come out of this coffee shop, my associate outside will see that your trip to visit with our employer will be quite unpleasant,” the man said.
“It’s so forward of you to just sit down at my table here in this charming little place. I’m hardly ready to leave,” Nate replied.
“I know you Southerners don’t like to be hurried, but my employer’s schedule is more important. Let’s go,” the man replied, calmly.
The man’s attitude left Nate with few options. It was clear he was no amateur. By now, someone less-skilled would have flashed a weapon—the butt of a pistol in the waistband, a glimpse of a shoulder holster. Not this guy. He didn’t have to. Still, Nate could render him unconscious well before he could reach for his weapon.
Was there really another guy outside? Better to not risk the consequences.
“Very well. Let’s get this over with,” he said.
As the man nodded, the door to the shop opened, and a woman in her mid-thirties walked in. She started moving towards the counter, then recognized Nate and came over to the table.
“Nate! How have you been! It’s been ages!” She exclaimed, as she stood next to the table, between the two men.
“Mr. Haller’s a bit busy at the moment, I’m afraid. If you’ll excuse us,” the man replied to her, as he stood up.
Tara Rodrigue smiled at him and touched his wrist. The man blinked once, sat down, and stared straight ahead. She continued to touch his wrist lightly, as she sent a message to his mind.
“I know you can hear me. Your colleague is in a similar state at the moment, sitting outside in your car. I don’t know what this is about yet, but I strongly urge you to leave Nate here alone. We’ll be leaving now. Well, in a moment, after I get my coffee.”
She turned and walked back to the counter. When she returned, Nate rose from the table and followed her out. They walked over to a Toyota Highlander parked just down the street from the coffee shop. Nate looked in the window and saw a man sitting behind the wheel, staring straight ahead. He wore dark slacks and a golf shirt identical to the one worn by the man inside. Whitney sat in the SUV’s passenger seat, also staring straight ahead.
My Audi’s just up the street, Nate. Let’s go chat in private,” Tara said.
“You want me to see Mike, don’t you?” He asked.
“Yes,” Tara said, with a nod. “We’re sort of past the point where you can be independent and defiant, Nate.”
“True. OK, let’s go,” he replied.