One Minute (At a Time)
Some people say breaking in to a computer is an art form, that it takes years of dedication and experience to accrue the necessary skill for a righteous hack. Some will spend months planning a single hack. Those are usually the bigger jobs, high paying, high profile, higher risk. Some Luddite wants something specific but knows enough to know he can't get it himself, so he asks you to break in to a megacorp and steal these certain bytes, and you say "Okay, sure" because you need to pay for your net connection, or your bed, or your arm is in disrepair so you ask for half the payment up front, insisting you simply cannot hack that corp with one arm tied behind your back, or dangling as the case may be.
We've all been there, I'm sure.
You've heard the stories, right? About Mallory and her assault on the TizerCorp mainframe back in the day. Or Grue and Watson's attempt at the Entai Arms shipping manifests. What a coup that would have been for Kirven Labs!
What the stories don't say, what Watson forgot, was that no matter how much planning you've done, how many progs you've loaded in your deck, how much backup you think you have, it all comes down to how you use your time during the hack. Every hack goes one minute at a time.
In the aether of the net, you forget about things like that. Information whizzes in, out and through your perception faster than you can think most of the time. Some times it's all you can do to filter out the chaff and focus on just the data you want to know: how often the firewall polls, does the target have a IDD1 and can you spot the vulnerability that will get you inside? Time isn't measured in seconds in the aether; seconds are too slow, laboriously long and drawn out. Milliseconds are the universal reference. Processor ticks are the actual base and if you can manipulate those, you are like unto a god.
Minute to minute, moment to moment, you do what you can because you must, and the guy on the other end trying to stop you has to do the same. Does he have more tricks in his back than you do in yours? If he does, can you make up a new trick to beat him? Are you going to let him outwit you and deny you your payment? Your friend won't like that, and might take back your arm, since she was kind enough to pay for your upgrades and repairs and she feels more than a little ownership of that shiny arm you said was going to get her the data she wanted.
And then where will you be?
Hopefully no worse off than before. But what if your arm was still kinda useful before, but now your client has actually detached it and is holding it locked in her office? An even trade, she suggests, your arm for her data, which isn't actually hers but that's beside the point because she has your arm. Ol' Lefty! You know how good a friend he's been, with you through thick and thin after that run in with the Yakuza after your partner tripped every IDD and Watchdog after you handed him the files on that OpTech job. And that's why you work alone! Always alone except for Lefty, and now he's gone too!
So you focus on the job at hand. Single handedly. You steel your mind and flex your fingers, tiny dancers of meat and bone flashing across the keyboard, the one you learned to use before you found Lefty, made specifically for one hand. You won't be as quick as you could be, you know, but you'll be quick enough. Wily enough. Cunning enough to zip in and get that data and get your arm back before they know what hit them at Athletic Innovations.
Just take it one minute at a time. Stay calm. You've got an eternity in your hand as you stand before the AI Gate2. Just slip in nice and slow with the web browsing traffic. Remember what you learned last time you were here, and pull out that disguise you thought of but didn't have time to make the first time. You're just another picture of a cat with a funny caption, or a streaming video of a guy doing something stupid and getting hit in the crotch for it. Don't look at the IDD as you pass and he won't see you, maybe. You've got a good mask, put your trust in it. The mask will bear you through the Gate and past the daemons.
Now what? You're on the internal network, but the data's on a secured server, another network next to this one. You've got a foothold in reception, but what you really want is five floors up in engineering, never mind that floors don't matter as a measure of distance. Your Lolcat mask won't work to get there, so you switch it out for an internal memo, full of appropriate technobabble.
But disguises only get you so far. Eventually you'll have to break something. Like the file lock on the data you need. Or the encryption on the disk that houses it. But those are hurdles for another minute. This minute is for navigation and disguise.
If you're careful, and if you're lucky, and if the aether spirits smile on you (you do believe in the spirits of the aether, don't you?) you're soon logging off, unplugging from you deck and falling backward into the nest of pillows placed for the purpose. You contact your client and tell her everything went smooth and you would like your arm back now, please, thank you.
In a measure of minutes, somewhere between 5 and 700, you are reunited with Ol' Lefty and parted with the stolen data. It slips your mind to mention to the client that you left traces in the broken system that may or may not point back to her, and if you'd had both hands you might have been able to not leave those tracks. But you made them to point to her, and not you, and only if the AI hackers are very good at spotting them will anything come of it, so you neglect to mention it as the client leaves without paying you the other half of the sum you agreed on before the job.
You're sure it will all work out in the end.
After all, you're one of the Minutemen of the Aether. You and your fellows are among the best sentient beings ever to cross the aether and call it "hacking." The keepers of the old ways, the traditions, and the new ways, the innovations. Someone keeps wanting to combine the terms. "Traditiovations" just never sounds right, and "innovitions" is simply not distinct enough.
Whatever the group decides to call it, you'll continue living life and traversing the aether the same way you always have: minute by minute.
Moment to Moment.
From tick to tick.
One minute at a time.
1 IDD (Intrusion Detection Daemon) - an automated process that finds intruders and reports to its owner. Some daemons also implement countermeasures to stop or slow down the intruder until a counter-hacker can deal with the intruder.
2 Gate - slang for the gateway between a private network and the greater internet, or aether.