Wait, what?

My eyes widen in surprise as I read Halo's latest post. I've taken the liberty of editing some software I'd previously installed so that my computer gives a shrill whistle whenever he posts. It seems I've made the right decision, too. Judging from his latest post, things are about to get very interesting indeed. Go and find the IP ourselves, eh? I could do that, and I was confident I'd be one of the first to do so, as well. I'd done it earlier, after all. My reputation would never live it down if someone beat me to it.

I shut down XRumer Palladium - I was trying to break through a captcha system earlier - and restore the window that I'd minimised beforehand. I still have all the coding stored on Notepad somewhere, and it takes only a few seconds to locate it on my cluttered desktop.

A quick copy-paste later, and my favourite program is once again at work. I give it a couple of minutes alone to do its thing, and go to grab that coffee that I promised myself earlier. The program works even faster than I expected it to, and I return to my desk with a mug only half-emptied. This time, I really do drop the mug, and it smashes on the floor, leaking coffee everywhere. I'm too stunned to care. It's laminate flooring anyway, easy to clean. But...crap.

A wild stream of expletives erupts from my mouth as I hurriedly sit back down at my desk and begin typing, ignoring the mess on the floor.

Do NOT follow that IP. I doubt any of you have strong enough firewalls and anti-viral programs to take what that IP will throw at you.

I should know. I installed them. Some of those viruses were handwritten, others modded versions. Either way, there was little excuse for any external system to already know how to combat them.

Don't think I'm doing this so that I have all the fun... It's a weird thing to ask for on Sanctuary, but I need your trust here. That IP doesn't belong to whoever hacked us. It's just a fakeout.


I bite down hard on my lip. There's little way around it. If I don't let them know the truth, then some of the newbies will be stupid enough to attempt to go after the IP anyway. I can deal with that. The less idiots we have on Sanctuary, the better. No, my real concern is that some of the more experienced hackers will think I'm bluffing and go after the IP. And they might just get through. From the looks of it, Halo already has, though it'll be a while before he pushes all the way through my defences. I scratch my chin. Being StringedWings is one thing, but going totally into the open is just asking for trouble. Behind their screennames, everyone here is just another punk like me. They probably won't hesitate even if they know they're hacking one of their own. So far as they're concerned, anyone whose system isn't protected well enough is fair game. I guess I just got an unlucky roll of the die this time.

But I know there's more to it than that. Because my defences took me the best part of two years to build up. I'm still reeling in shock that somebody managed to not only break into my system, but leave my IP in place of their own in Sanctuary's system. That takes arrogance in their own skill. It's an arrogance I know that I can't match. I have to take a leap of faith and risk everything I have before I lose it all.

Thinking on my feet, I hide a tiny message in my defensive coding. It's too close to my system for just anyone to find it. My only hope is that the better hackers will have their eyes out for anything unusual and spot it - better still, that they'll actually pay attention to the message. I think that Halo will probably be the first to reach it, but I don't personalise it, just in case I'm wrong. He's always seemed like a great guy, but he's a little too good at his job. I can only sit tight and hope that he puts the friendship of a stranger before having a laugh.

Yeah, right.

The End

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