Verifying connection…

Dialing 872 – 5763…


Verifying username and password…

Registering computer on the network…


Welcome to the World Wide Web: a vast, nearly infinite network of data and information. Here, everything is knowledge, stored in binary: enough ones and zeros to fill all the oceans on the planet, all flying around above our heads on the magical thing known as the internet. Here, information is bought and sold like livestock. Just like in the real world, nothing here is ever really free. And just like in the real world, if you don't want to pay for something, you have to steal it.

Kagome Higurashi dropped her spoon into the bowl, and leaned back, stretching her lithe frame.

Kagome's mother smiled at her across the table, and cocked her head. "All done?"

Kagome nodded, and pushed herself away from the table, pulling some of her long raven hair away from her pretty face. "I'm gonna be up in my room, okay?"

Mrs. Higurashi glared at her for just a moment, a few wrinkles forming around her eyes as they narrowed. "Are you going online again?" She asked. Kagome's mother was very… what you'd call traditional (meaning that anything more advanced than Pong was libel to hold demons that would leap out and eat your soul). "You should really be careful about spending so much time on the internet."

The raven haired girl rolled her warm chocolate eyes, and crossed her arms across her white blouse. "Mom…" She admonished. "Not all technology is bad."

The woman clearly did not believe. "Well, if you have all your homework done, then I suppose…"

Kagome took the opportunity, and instantly retreated towards the hall of their family's small apartment, heading directly for her room. "Thanks, Mom!" She called back over her shoulder as she got to the plain, wooden door, and with the grace of a cat slinked inside.

The moment she set foot in the room, she leaned against the door, pushing it closed, head bowed for just a few moments. Her long, sable hair fell into her face, obscuring the sly grin plastered across it.

She headed over to her bed, still decorated with the same teddy bear comforter she had had since age twelve, and flopped down on it, taking a few deep breaths. Her room was small, and overly girly, but it did the job well enough. The bed was just pathetic, and she certainly didn't have what one could call a spacious closet. Dirty clothes were neatly filed away in a mesh basket in one corner of the room, and the little lines still evident on the tan carpet told of a vacuuming not too many hours before. Kagome hated it when her room was like this. How was she supposed to be able to enjoy herself with so much… clean lying around?

The room's single saving grace was the desk. It was a large wooden affair that had once belonged to Kagome's great grandmother, one of those huge things with about twenty drawers and cubbies hidden around in it. The wood was stained to a beautiful dark mahogany. Kagome loved her desk with a passion unrivaled by most anything else in the world. Partly because of its appearance: little bits of paper and shreds of history reports long passed due lay scattered all over its surface. A few pieces of candy left over from a Halloween party half a month earlier were spattered over the bits of paper, looking for little dark corners where they had a chance at reproduction. The drawers themselves were so stuffed full or random odds and ends that more than half of them were completely inaccessible, long ago jammed with an ill placed pencil or random chunks of a broken CD. It was a beacon of chaos in her room, a harsh and hostile onslaught of order and cleanliness.

The main reason she loved her desk so very much, however, was because of the computer that sat on top of it. The beautiful thing was a work of art. A twenty one inch flat-screen monitor, over one hundred sixty gigs of hard-drive space, the best video and sound cards on the market, and more processing power than was (technically) legal to have. Kagome had taken full advantage of EBay (along with several very profitable internet activities).

Leaning over the back of the uncomfortable chair that faced the ancient bureau, she hit the power button to start the machine warming up, and then turned away from the computer, staring at the door. She normally didn't like locking her door, but today it was critical. To have an ill timed mother walking in could spell disaster. She strode over to the door, and flipped the latch with a quiet click. Then she turned and leaned against the door, clearing her mind.

Wits were essential for what she was about to do. If you didn't have your mind in gear, you were so screwed it wasn't even funny. She slowly reached into one of the pockets of her short green school skirt, and pulled out a pair of black, leather biker gloves. Wits were essential, but so was style. She slipped the gloves on, and swooped her phone off the stand on her bedside table. She quickly dialed the appropriate number, and waited for the call to connect. After only a few rings, a friendly voice came through the phone.

"Hello? Lorensen residence."The voice said in a nice alto. That was the mother.

"Hiya, Mrs. Lorensen. This is Kagome." She didn't really bother saying who she wanted to talk to.

"Oh, hello, Kagome!" The voice exclaimed, several hundred decibels too loud. Some people didn't realize that you didn't have to shout through a phone. "I'll go get Terri for you!"

"Thanks." The girl chirped into the phone, glancing in a mirror and messing with her hair. As the soft sounds of the woman on the other end scuffling through the house came through to Kagome's ear, the girl pulled and yanked at her tresses until they were nice and disheveled, just the way she liked.

"Hey, Kag." Terri's voice echoed through the earpiece, "Wassup?"

Kag grinned, and slipped into the uncomfortable chair in front of the now glowing monitor. "Not much." She said nonchalantly. "You ready for tonight?"

Terri's giggle came through the phone in a high pitched titter. "I'm just getting set up." She said.

Kagome nodded. "I'm putting up my security."

"Wonderful." The voice on the phone practically radiated excitement. "This one's gonna be big, Kag."

"What are we going after?" Kagome asked, curiosity overcoming. She had been dying to know since she had found out about the plans today in school.

"You sure you wanna know?" Terri's voice teased. "Get online first, and I'll tell you once we're connected."

Kagome rolled her eyes, and quickly began the connecting process. Dialup was a royal pain in the butt, sometimes. But no matter how much she tried to convince her mother that faster was better, Mrs. Higurashi remained convinced that the only thing a broadband connection would do would be to destroy her daughter's soul even faster. So her she was, waiting for her stupid server to verify her username and password. Finally, after what seemed like ten minutes, the little popup appeared on her screen, and informed her that she was connected. She grinned and, with a smooth set of typed instructions into her console, delved into the sea of digital code that her little pirate ship of a computer sailed on. She was the scourge of the information ocean. She was a hacker.

"Okay, Terri." She muttered. "I'm on. Go ahead and tell me what's going on."

"Fine." Terri's voice echoed in her ear. "I got a big scoop on a company from Japan. They've got a little 'transaction' going on tonight."

Kagome suddenly felt a little tug on her heart. A company? They normally had security like mad! What was Terri thinking?

"And how do you propose we get away with that?" She demanded.

A bit of smugness oozed through the phone, accompanied by Terri's cheerful voice. "Well, a very trustworthy little bird told me that this given company makes its transactions in such a way that there's always one point where security's next to zilch. Plus, it's not the most legal of transactions. It's supposed to be sub rosa, you know?"

An illegal operation? That was a little boost of confidence anyway. It took away the risk of legal action, anyway. But there was still an edge of danger: non-legal retribution was often considerably more lethal than the alternative. "Security at a minimum?" Kagome asked, whirling through a vast set of menus on her computer screen. "You sure about that?"

"Positive. This little bird has many little bird friends, and it hasn't let me down yet." Terri's voice echoed back, practically busting with boundless confidence.

Kagome nodded slowly. It was risky, but that was what had gotten her into the business in the first place. Risky sometimes equaled fun. "Okay, I'm in." The raven haired girl said, tightening her gloves. "But if things go wonky, then we call it off and pull the plug, kay?"

"But of course." The girl on the other end of the phone giggled. "Now set up your security. I'll do the downloading. You're stuck with runner."

Kagome swore to herself inwardly. She hated being runner. That was what she got for having a slow connection. Her job was to go into the network they were working on and create just enough of a distraction to create an opportunity for Terri to get in and nab some of the data. Problem was that if someone got caught, it was always the runner. You never heard of the person downloading getting caught, it was always the one distracting.
"Fine." Kagome muttered curtly. "I'll start setting up my security."

"Make sure it's tight Kag. This company might be a little lax, but I don't think that means you can be lazy."

Kagome began turning on her multitude of ghost programs, masking programs, and ID mods. That done, she started going out and lacing through this or that server, well masking any traces of her identity. Even if by some odd chance she was detected, her poor victims wouldn't have any idea who she was or where she came from.

After maybe thirty minutes of weaving in and out of her security measures she picked the phone back up, and crooked it between her shoulder and neck. "Okay, now tell me where we're making our hit."

With the fluid grace of a practiced team, Kagome and Terri ghosted through the complex networks, jumping from data node to data node. "Okay." Terri's voice told her finally, once they had come to rest in some very well hidden server deep in the network. "This is where the files are being uploaded. We'll wait here, and as soon as I give the signal, you start picking at stuff."

"Gotcha…" Kag muttered, crossing her arms and looking at her screen. "Tell me when."

And so the waiting game began. The transfer was simple, working in the same style that most illegal operations worked. The company would upload the software onto a temporary server, and almost instantly the client would begin downloading. As soon as the transaction was complete, the server would be destroyed, and all records removed. Almost as if it had never happened. Except for the wee fact that anyone on the side could sit and pick bits off the server too, provided they were quiet enough.

It was almost an hour later when Terri's voice came back through the phone. "They're uploading. Start making some cover." Then there was only silence. She had hung up.

Kagome nodded, and brought up the server status, looking at the uploading queue. Only one thing uploading… that was their baby. She started out slow, tightening some bandwidth, maybe taking a few lines of code here and there: just enough to start drawing the attention of any security personnel that might have been watching. Terri would have taken the queue by now, and started the download. Kagome just had to keep this up, and everything would go fine. She changed one more minor little detail, then left again, quickly erasing all traces of her existence on the network. She didn't have too much time, but she quickly changed some of her security programs, making her seem like a completely different person, and threaded back online again, instantly popping into the transaction server, and began messing with stuff again, creating just a bit more ruckus. Kagome's heart was beating adrenaline through her body as her fingers flew across her keyboard. It was here, when everything was going perfectly on the job that it was really all worth it.

Terri should be getting close to done now. She had a high speed connection, and servers like this tended to have things that expedited downloads quite nicely. But just to be safe, she would wait until Terri gave her the call to confirm it. A little warning light went off in her head, and she subbed out again, erasing her identity once more and creating a new one. A third time she lapsed into the server, and began to fiddle. She modified the bandwidth once more, and altered a few more lines of code here and there, watching the status of the server like a hawk, should anything go wrong.

She almost didn't notice the popup window at the bottom of her screen when it appeared. It was just a little bitty thing, but something about it caught her eye. A little line of text on the top of the window read 'Download Status: Opening Connection.'

A little frigid spear sliced through Kagome's heart. She stared at her screen in shocked horror. She hadn't started any downloads. That meant… "Shit!" She swore suddenly practically falling off her chair as she reached desperately for the internet cord at the back of her computer. Someone had caught her, hacked into her own system. Started a download! She scrabbled desperately at the back of the computer, trying to find the internet cable in the immeasurable mess of other cords and wires that snapped into the back.

"Kagome?" Her mother's voice came from the hall, and the door handle jingled just a little. "Kagome, are you alright? Why is the door locked?"

"Just changing clothes, Mom!" She said, trying to keep the frantic tone out of her voice. Oh, god, if someone got a hold of her ID then who knows what they could do. Finally she managed to grab the proper wire and yank it out of the back of her computer, ending any connection she had to the internet.

She came up again, slamming her head against the underside of the desk in the process. Clutching at her aching cranium, and glared at the screen, breathing quickly.

The little words in the window at the bottom of her screen read 'download complete.'

She stumbled back away from her computer, clutching one hand to her gaping mouth, trembling. "Oh god…" She breathed. "Oh God, oh God, oh God." This couldn't be happening... there was no way. If someone had caught her, then she was screwed. Even in the best case scenario, there was no way they just sit back and let a hacker slide. The thing that was now on her computer was probably some sort of virus, already eating away at all her systems. And she highly doubted they would stop there. If this company was nasty enough, she might even have a little 'accident' coming home from school one day. God, she was only eighteen for crying out loud! How could this happen to her. They might even come after Terri too.

Her eyes with sudden shock. Terri! She was still online. Like a flash Kagome leapt to the phone, but before she could even pick it up it started ringing shrilly, caterwauling loud in her ears. She picked up the phone. "Hello?" She demanded in a flurry of desperation. If this was one of her other friends she was going to kill whoever it was.

"Kagome!" Terri's voice hissed into her ear. "Things went wrong, get off now."

Kagome breathed a sigh of relief. "I sort of noticed." She growled.

"You're already off?" Terri demanded, relief crawling into her voice. "Great."

Kagome looked at her computer screen, and bit her lip. "It's not great." She muttered.

There was a brief moment of silence. "What's wrong, Kagome." Her friend asked finally, sensing something wrong.

"Someone hacked me, Terri." Kagome said, flopping down at her computer. "I'm not sure how, but they did. I was in the middle of covering for you, and someone put something on my computer."

"What?" Terri's voice demanded, a little panicked. "What kind of something?"

"I don't know!" Kagome half whispered, her voice wavering just a little bit. This was all a little much for her. "It was fast though. I pulled my plug as fast as I could but it still got through."

"Okay, okay." Terri said, and Kagome could almost hear her thinking through the phone. "Stay calm. Did you have all your security up?"

"Of course I did." Kagome said, just a little indignantly despite her nervousness.

"Then we might still be okay." Terri said. "My download started the second I got to the server, so it might have been automatic. Maybe it just took longer for you to get there…"

Kagome let out a breath. It was a glimmer of hope, anyway. "You think?" She asked.

"Your computer doing weird things?" The Kagome's friend asked.

Kagome looked over at her monitor. It hadn't changed. "Nothing externally." She muttered. "But we could have problems on the inside."

"Check that quick." The girl dictated. "I'll check mine too, just in case."

Kagome nodded to herself, and timidly went over to her computer. A quick sweep over her systems did wonders for her nerves. No viruses found, no tracers on her CPU, nothing that would let anyone find her anywhere. If anything alien was on her computer, it was so well hidden that it was hopeless to look for. "I don't see anything." She said, her voice returning more towards normal. "Anything with you?"

"I got nothing new on my system." Terri sighed. "Not even any of the software we were going after."

Kagome rolled her eyes, and shook her head. Terri always kept her eye on the prize, even when it almost killed them. "How bout we be happy that we aren't busted, okay?"

The girl could imagine Terri rolling her eyes too. "Fine." She grumbled through the phone. "So, if you don't have any viruses, then what did you download?"

Kagome blinked, and looked at her monitor again. "Hold on, I'll check around."

She closed all her windows, and checked her default download file, the place where all her unspecified downloads went to. Sure enough sitting right there was a little icon that wasn't there before. "I've got something here." She admitted. "It's called ."

There was just a little silence on the other end of the line.

"Terri?" Kagome asked, wondering what was wrong.

A happy, throaty laugh came through the other end of the phone, jarring her ear. "We got it Kagome." Terri said happily.

A bit of confusion prang up in Kagome's mind. "We got what?"

"The software." Terri chuckled. "I'm not quite sure, but you managed to get the file that I was trying to download."

Kagome blinked just a moment, then slumped back into the chair, shaking her head in shock. Then, after just a moment, she started laughing too.