Art: Written Word

Trace ~/~ Reassembly

If you need info Black Hat Joe is the guy to go to. But what he's really good for is software and hardware. You need something cracked? He can get it done. Maybe you're going in somewhere and you need some backup on the security system, he's got you covered. Everyone knows Black Hat Joe isn't a hacker, but he's got a line on at least one. A heavy hitter if you believe the rumors. If you pay attention to the streets his hacker is an ex-military former corporate AI that came out of the data havens off the coasts of every major continent.

If you sort the shit from the rest then all you know is Black Hate Joe can get you a hacker to live up to his reputation. And when you get right on down to it that's all that matters doesn't it.

Right now Black Hate Joe is walking down the street. Tipping his hat to all he meets, with a smile for the ladies. Joe doesn't walk so much as strut down teh sidewalk. He's always got a purpose about him. Even if all he's doing is going to the corner store for a pack of smokes.

Today Black Hat Joe is going into Mr. Tsong's shop. That's Joe's favorite place to go, he's got an office in the building he uses to keep his finances strait. The shop is the bottom of a four story building, taking up the part of the building facing the street. Like most inner city stores Mr Tsong's shop is full of random items.

Joe greets Mr. Tsong who nods from behind his counter and continues to read his magazine. Joe goes off to one side and disappears behind a beaded curtain. All the buildings tenants get inside this way. Behind the curtain is a small room with more junk and a door that leads out back.

Black Hat Joe steps out into the inner courtyard of the building. It had only two entrances, the door Joe came through and a small arch that led out to a series of back alleys and small streets that time has mostly forgotten. Most people don't know that a very large maze exists in the city off the main roads.

Joe is immediately greeted by a six year old playing the small yard. She has a portable computer out and is busy tapping at the touch screen. She waves at him as he strides over to the concrete planter she's perched on.

"Hello Alexandria." He touches the brim of his hat.

"Hey Uncle Joe." She greets him back, looking up from her screen. Joe isn't really her uncle but he doesn't mind the title.

"How's school coming?" He peers over her shoulder at the virtual class she's logged onto.

Alexandria shrugs, "Math is easy, Grammar is kind of hard." She logged off and shut down the portable, "You need to see Mom?" she smiles up at him.

Joe nods, "Is she home?"

"Yep." Alexandria hops off her perch, grabs the notebook and skips off. Black Hat Joe follows her across the small courtyard.

He stops in front of door A-3 and waits patiently, Alexandria opens the door and runs inside, "Mom!" She yells nearly full volume once inside what is obviously a very small apartment.

It was a few moments before Alexandria's mom came to the door. She was small, barely over five feet. She was dressed simply in jeans and a shirt four sizes to big. "come in" She waved him inside.

Joe stepped inside and shut the door behind him. The apartment was neat, though slightly cluttered. Shelves contained many bits of electronic gadgets and parts of computers liberally mixed with Alexandria's toys. "Morning Tracy." He took off his hat, one of the few times he did, and put it on a hook near the door.

"just in time for lunch" She smiled warmly at him and turned back to the kitchen where soup was warming in a pot and sandwiches were being prepared on the counter.

"Smells good." He sat down at the table. "Got some work for you."

Tracy didn't respond, only stirred the soup, "alex, lunch" She said in her monotone voice, it still carried through the apartment.

Alexandria came back into the front room, having put her portable away and washed her hands at the sink. Tracy put a bowl of soup in front of her and Joe and turned back to the counter.

"what kind?" She asked over her shoulder.

Joe took up a spoonful of the soup, some kind of potato soup, and blew on it to cool it off. "Just analyze a disk." He said and winked at Alexandria, who giggled in response.

"that's it?" She put a sandwich in front of each of them and turned back to get her own lunch.

"Yep, pays three." He took a bite of the sandwich, having decided to wait for the soup to cool off some more.

"analyze a disk for three?" Tracy sat down at the table, "you charge too much" She started to eat her own lunch.

"Guy looked like he could afford it." Joe said.

"after lunch" Tracy said and continued to eat at her own leisurely pace. Joe always noted that Tracy moved at her own pace, never to fast, never to slow. In fact if Joe just looked at Tracy all he saw was a single mother living in a bad part of town going about the act of living. He would never guess she was the legendary hacker Trace. Still, she was and her only condition for continuing to work for him was that her name was never used. Ever.

So it went, Joe had a hacker, no name, no history and worked fairly cheaply. Except when it looked like you could pay too much. Joe had the reputation and that's all he cared about, Tracy obviously wanted to lay low. Joe knew when he had a good thing, if Tracy wanted to go incognito who was he to argue. He got the money, the women and the reputation. Tracy got money and left alone.

Joe offered to clear the table, with Alexandria's help as Tracy went to her back room and checked the disk. Not two minutes later she came back out with anger, or was it fear, written all over her face.

"where did you get this?" Her monotone voice managed to burn a hole in Joe's composure.

"What?" He wasn't sure what the deal was.

"sit" Tracy pointed at her table, "alexandria, do mommy a favor and play inside today" She said sitting across from Joe, placing the disk between them. Tracy rarely used her daughters full name.

"'Kay mom." Alexandria turned the tap off, dried her hands and went to her own room to finish her lessons on the portable.

"who gave you this?" Trace's gaze burned into Joe.

"Some suit." He was getting nervous, eyes darting about the room, "He came in, said he was looking for me, gave me the disk, said he'd pay to have my hacker analyze it."

"that's it?"

"That's all."

"no names mentioned?"

"No, I don't even know his name, he said he'd be back tomorrow same time to get the results."

"it was targeted to me joe, if i had slotted it to a networked machine they would know where i was" He lip quivered but her voice remained steady.

"Who?" Joe leaned forward, concerned.

"former employer" She said and looked down at the table and the disk on it. "when they come back tomorrow tell them i'll call" She looked back at him.

"That's it?"

She nodded and leaned back.

"Okay, will do." Joe stood up, "You gonna be OK? I can have one of the boys come by."

She shook her head "don't draw attention like that" She said, "just tell them i'll call, they'll understand, you'll get paid" She stood up, "might be my last job, might not" She walked to the back room where her daughter sat on the bed learning grammar.

Joe watched her sit down and immediately immerse herself into Alexandria's world, sitting on the bed and helping her daughter with the days lesson as if nothing were wrong. He turned and left.

Black Hat Joe sat at his table in Husky's Pool Hall and waited. The suit came in right on time and walked over. He was short, kind of round and had red cheeks. He was also nervous, he wasn't suited to this environment.

With him was a tall black man, also in a suit, with long dreads and dark sun glasses. The Rasta in the loose suit looked ready for action, he knew where he was and just how to act.

"Well?" The suit asked.

Joe shrugged, "She says she'll call."

The man looked momentarily confused then quickly smiled. "Excellent!" He exclaimed then pulled a yellow envelope out of his jacket. He slid it across the table to Joe. "Bonus."

Joe looked at the envelope and opened it, it contained cash. "What's the deal?" He looked up at the suit.

"Nothing, we just wanted to talk to her." He stood up and left. The bodyguard followed a few steps behind him.

Tracy looked at the phone on the table in front of her. It had a wire leading out of it into a computer. She put on a headset and dialed from the computer.

The other side rang twice before someone answered.

"Hello?"

"you wanted to talk?" Tracy said staring at the screen, watching them try to run a trace on her. She worked to reroute her call at least two steps ahead of them.

"Yes. We have a proposition." The man on the other side said.

"i'm listening"

"We still would like your services, we're willing to pay of course."

Tracy kept rerouting, typing fast as their program tracked her down.

"i've heard that line before" She was only one step ahead of their tracker now, she upped her encryption level a few notches as she bounced the call off a satellite, a tiny little hiss was heard over the line now.

"Trace." It was a different voice, familiar somehow. She hesitated a second, then renewed her efforts to prevent them from tracking the call.

"Trace, it Thunda. I 'tole you once, I no like breaking up families."

"i still don't trust you"

"How is she doing?"

"stop the tracker and i'll continue to listen" Her computer indicated that she was no longer being traced before she finished her sentence.

"You still good at what you do. We like that."

"here's my offer, i choose to take any offers, you don't come within fifty miles of me" She said into the phone, face gone blank.

"Done. We send first offer to you through your fence." The line went dead.

Trace leaned back and let out a breath she didn't know she was holding.

"Mom?" Alexandria came out of her room with the portable, "Can you help me with this?" She put the machine on the kitchen table and pulled a chair around so they were both looking at the screen.

"sure, what's up?" Trace leaned forward, pushing her own computer to the side.


Thunder sat back in the limousine, "I 'tole you, make a deal on her terms we get her." He put the phone down.

"I don't like making terms." The other suit said, visibly agitated.

"I wouldn't worry 'bout this one. She no talk, we leave her alone, she leave us alone." Thunder smiled a big white smile from behind black sun glasses.

"You better be right, it took us almost seven years to track her down."

"She good, I give her dat."

The limousine drove off towards the downtown towers, leaving behind the slums and broken inner city.