From: email@example.com (Boy Mozart) Newsgroups: talk.bizarre Subject: I, Spammer Date: 1 Dec 1997 23:24:56 GMT Organization: Stevens Hall Indecency Taskforce Lines: 909 Message-ID: <firstname.lastname@example.org> Summary: Tales from the SuperNet X-Newsreader: NN version 6.5.0 CURRENT #1 <teaser> "Approaching target acquisition site." "Activate probes. Charge primary weapons, load all bomb bays. Launch probes, give me telemetry updates every five seconds." "Probes report minimal filters on site. Negligible firewall activity. Massive activity on all Web proxies." "This is Fleet Control to all wings: prepare for primary engagement. Alpha Wing, you will target all Retaliator launchpads. Bravo Wing, target all administrative accounts." "Primary weapons charged and ready." "Bomb bays loaded." "Begin acquisition on my mark. MARK!" Two ships roared out of the Great Cloud and bore down on the site. Beams of light shot from their forward sections, striking launching areas and incinerating people and programs alike. Two more ships pounded on a tall spire located in the middle of the site. The spire's middle section erupted in flames. A loud groaning sound accompanied the upper half of the spire as it toppled down. An object large enough to cover the area of the entire site lowered itself and stopped several hundred Mb above. Doors opened along the bottom of the object, and smaller shiny objects came falling out. Wherever they struck the site, screams of anguished users could be heard echoing through the streets. Explosions flared everywhere. The attack lasted less than a minute. The large object moved sedately over the gateway and bombed it out of existence. The site was entirely decimated. The Tactical Officer of the large object turned around in his chair. "Sensors report no activity emanating from the site. Bravo Wing reports all Admin accounts have been eliminated. Wing commanders are requesting orders, sir." My gaze lowered from the main viewscreen. "They are to proceed to their outer perimeter coordinates. Dispatch the landing parties and secure the site. Contact the First Spammada and inform Fleet Admiral Kroeger that Taskforce-dot-net has been acquired." </teaser> On one of the many levels of the Taskforce there is a large room that is seldom used because its purpose is to encourage cooperation. The room is cylindrical. The only light comes from blue neon tubes going around the roof at the edge, and beams of intersecting blue laser light criss-crossing between floor and ceiling to produce a one-sheet hyperboloid. Ten lines drawn on the floor reach from that point to ten chairs placed at equidistant points around the perimeter of a circle with a 10-foot radius. Above each chair rests a small device used to measure all brain activity and transmit it to the hyperboloid, which is another device designed to translate all the data into something that the other nine brains would be able to comprehend once it sends it back along the floor. There were only six people in that room that day. We were the liaison officers assigned to different ships in the Spam Resistance. It had become obvious that we needed some way to pool all our resources, combine all the analyses we had done on the information gathered by the Unintelligence Department, and crunch it. For this purpose the Blue Room was strangely appropriate. Concerns over optic nerve damage and potassium dihydrogen phosphate prices aside, we six sat in the Blue Room for hours staring into the hyperboloid. Our knowledge of current conditions in the War Against The Spam shaped it into undefined geometries which looked vaguely like Class C IP addresses. Knowledge flowed between us; intelligence was traded. It felt like floating in a pool of warm oatmeal, except not quite as gritty. Suddenly my pager went off. After the dust settled the other liaison officers started clearing the debris while I read the message on the pager's screen. "The president of the Board of Directors wants to see me," I explained to the others. "You all keep working, I'll go see what he wants. And someone fetch a spare hyperboloid, please." When I arrived at Conference Room One I found the president talking to two people I'd never seen before, a woman and a man, dressed in sharp color-coordinated apparel. The woman had nicely coifed red hair, all piled on top of her head floating over a round face. The man was bald save for a black pony tail sprouting from the back of his head. His eyes burned coldly in his head like dying embers. They turned and stared at me as I walked in. I closed the door and stared back. "Ah, glad you could join us," lied the President. "This is 54059495..." "Call me Five," smiled the woman. "...And 00654922." He stared at me coldly, and didn't speak. "They are representatives of various electronic media marketing services. They've come here today to discuss the, uh, current situation regarding...." "Regarding the Spam War," I finished for him. "We understand the Taskforce has been monitoring the War rather closely, since it started I believe," said Five. "We were hoping you might be willing to discuss any trends your people might have discovered, or perhaps you might have statistics regarding casualties you might be able to share--the better to track down some of our missing comrades, whether they be dead or captured." The double-zero guy spoke up, his words bearing a heavy HTML accent. <P>"You bill yourselves as an <I>organization</I> dedicated to spreading <B>information</B> as far and wide as possible. We believe sharing your observations about the War would go a long way in helping us to bring it to a <U>swift</U> conclusion."</P> "So you intend to sue for peace?" I said. Five sat down in one of the chairs and clasped her hands on the table. "If we determine that our interests would be served by initiating peace talks, I'm sure the Clan Chiefs could be convinced to do so. Right now we are currently maintaining a defensive position...." "I wouldn't classify an attack average of three systems per day as a 'defensive' position," I replied. "It sounds more like an invasion to me." <P>"Let's cut through the <B>bullshit</B>, shall we?" [said the double-zero guy] "We know you've been providing those anti-spamming <I>bastards</I> with <FONT COLOR="#FF0000">intelligence </FONT>and <TT>technical assistance</TT>, and we want it to stop right <B><FONT SIZE=+3>FUCKING </FONT></B> now! "</P> "The official position of the Taskforce," I said, "is one of neutrality. We are not interested in taking sides in this conflict. We do watch the battles very closely and analyze the attack patterns of both parties, but this information is freely available. Really, you ought to spend more time on our Web page." "We were hoping to get more of an...in-depth analysis of the situation," said Five. <P>"We want the exact location and strength of <I>all</I> anti-Spam mercenaries. We want</P><OL><LI>locations of bases</LI><LI>detailed schematics of the battleobjects</LI><LI>strategies and battle plans for the next year if possible, within six months for sure."</LI> </OL> "Assuming, of course, you have access to that kind of information," Five added, smiling. "I'm not in a position to give you any information like that," I hedged. "We are completely neutral in this fight, so most of that is quite inaccessible to us. Like I said: what we know of the anti-Spam forces is currently available through regular channels." "Just what kind of assurance do we have that the Taskforce is actually maintaining its position of 'neutrality'?" asked Five. "It would be highly unprofitable to throw in with either side in this conflict. We join one side, the other is bound to attack us." "You don't believe your allies--assuming you'd thrown in with one side-- would provide you with sufficient support? Speaking for the electronic marketing media, I'm sure we could come up with some arrangement...." "Well, then there's the whole profit side to this, too. We throw in with you, we lose half our business. Providing support for either side keeps us profitable and makes us non-threatening." <P>"I <B>knew</B> it! You <U>are</U> in with them, aren't you? You've just admitted you're willing to provide <B>support</B>!"</P> "At a price," I replied, correcting the double-zero guy. "Now, for instance, if you were to provide us with schematics of some of your vessels, like the Yorkshire- and Chester White-class ships, we could run a few stress-analysis tests and provide you with suggestions for improving your designs. Only take us, oh, four or five months." "I don't know that we'd be willing to share that information with you, despite your generous offers," said Five. "You've provided such support to the anti-Spam mercenaries?" "Nope. But we're willing. And reasonable. Have you considered moving towards a non-form-letter-derivative Spam weapon? Multi-fire, object- piercing? Could get you a few thousand gross reloads for, oh, a five percent markup over cost. You won't get that price at any factory outlet I can tell you." Five was finally bored. The double-zero guy was clearly miffed--his pony tail was wagging back and forth and his whole scalp was furrowed with frown lines. The two of them gathered up their respective briefcases. "I'm sorry to have wasted your time," snapped Five. "I had hoped this meeting would be more productive. I can see we'll have to get what we want through other means." The two of them stormed out of the conference room. I realized I was grinning. "Typical Spammers," I snorted, after they'd been gone for a few moments. "Clumsier than a super tanker going sideways through the Suez Canal when they try to be subtle. Then they get all bent out of shape when it doesn't work, and they get all threatening and scary." "Shut up!" bellowed the president. I'd forgotten he was even there. He'd been standing quietly at the far end of the room staring thoughtfully out the window. Now he was facing me. "Geeze, just--just shut up for five seconds, for once!" Fear was leaking into his voice. He must have spent a great deal of time with those two before he'd paged me. They put the fear of Spam into him somehow. He held his hands up and started to stammer. "You couldn't... you couldn't just give them what they wanted, could you? You, you had to make some kind of a statement, some kind of a stupid joke out of the whole thing!" The president lowered his hands and took a deep breath. "They'll only come back, you know that." "So what?" I said. "It's not like we have anything to worry about. We've filtered every major name server that transmits spam, we have plenty of weaponry at our disposal. Let them come." "It's not as simple as that." The president started to pace. "You're just as subtle as they are, you know. Your answer to all Spammers is to blow them up. I know you didn't believe a word of what you said, but it's all true. We are not taking sides in this conflict, we are supposed to provide information to anyone who asks for it. The Board has been very clear on that subject." "You can go back and tell the Board that if we give anything to the Spammers then we really are opening ourselves up for attack. Give them any kind of clue at all, and more systems will go down. We'll be just as responsible for that as they are." The president gritted his teeth. "We've given the mercenaries all the help they need. We've given them details about Spam tactics, we've tracked Spam movements for them, we even loan them our employees. Now we will contact the Spammers and tell them what we know. Whatever technical support they need, we will provide. We will re-tool the spamships like we do the battleobjects." He pointed his finger at me. "Contact 54059495 and tell her the services of the Taskforce are at her disposal." "Now how the hell am I supposed to do that? You know e-mail addresses with numbers for IDs never work." The president wouldn't back down. His predecessor had been a little more ruthless when dealing with me, but this one pretty much caved in to me whenever I set my mind to it. All I needed to do was be convincing and suck up a little and he'd fall into line. But I'd made the mistake of being condescending, and now he was getting snotty. "Call them back," he said calmly. "Make the offer." "No." The president blinked. "You're fired," he said. Whoa. "You can't fire me...." "I have a contract," said the president, in a mocking tone that imitated my voice. "I know more about this place than any of you. You won't last a week without me. Well, I have the support of the Board of Directors. Your contract is subject to your ability to maximize profit for the shareholders. As far as I can tell, you no longer hold the interests of the shareholders as a priority." "Duh," I countered brilliantly. The president's eyes were twinkling and his nostrils flared. He was getting his first taste of power. "Go upstairs," he said. "Pack up all that crap in your office and get the fuck out of here!" I left in disgrace. I walked out of the front doors of the Taskforce, seemingly for the last time, all my crap in boxes which would be shipped to me later. No one talked to me as I left, or even looked at me. I turned around after I got outside, taking one last look at the pyramid. Then I got into the waiting transport and went back to the _Nullclient_. Jarvis didn't make an issue of what happened to me, although I'm sure he'd been informed. He just nodded to me as I walked onto the control deck, and I got to work. I'd expected the Taskforce to stop putting liaison officers on the battleobjects, but they kept up business as usual. Taskforce Unintel kept sending reports to the officers, who would then kindly pass them on to me. I had to work harder since the reports were just that much more out of date. Eventually I got a short note from the liaison officer of the _Rlogin_, buried in a stack of intelligence blurts, which simply read "They're helping the Spammers now." I erased the message and fell into my work, trying to forget. Several weeks later we got involved in what came to be known as the First Battle of Woodside. Three Spammadas had grouped on the border of their territory ready to strike out into unspammed cyberspace. Sixty battleobjects were mustered at a point nearby. And we were outnumbered nearly five to one. Capt. Jarvis and Cmdr. Melman stood just behind the helmsman's position watching the tactical display that filled the forward wall of the control deck. I was linked to the other liaison officers scattered about the fleet, passing information back and forth. Every couple of minutes I would type something into the console next to me and the tactical readouts would shift. Jarvis and Melman just stood there and muttered for a while watching the pretty colors on the screen, then Melman turned and walked around the deck giving out orders to everyone. Jarvis just stood there and stared at the screen. Hundreds of red blotches filled the upper right hand corner, compared to sixty green ones down at the lower left. I knew those two colors were filling his mind. The Spammadas attacked first. Some of the spamships tried passing around our flanks trying to make a break for it, and we had to break ranks in order to stop them. A group of sixteen Chester White-class heavy cruisers bore down the middle attempting to cut through our lines. We pulled away, opening up a hole for them to pass through, then fired a volley of clue torpedos into their exhaust bays. We managed to stop most of them, but there were more where that came from. Squadrons of Yorkshires were concentrating their fire on individual battleobjects. Multiple explosions flared along the port side of the _Termcap_, but it continued to fire on its attackers. Lt. Livers, the comm officer, relayed reports from the _Mqueue_ about its systems overloading. Then I got a report that the _Mqueue_ had been destroyed. The _Nullclient_ took a heavy battering from the Yorkshire squadron that hit us. The shudders of the spam impacts kept disrupting our systems and jiggling our keyboards, causing horrendous typos. It was all the gunners could do to maintain their targets. "Fire Control, you have two Yorkshires bearing on the starboard side, four-five mark two-eight," Lt. Wallace barked. "Yorkshire Five appears to be setting up for another run--damage is heaviest along its aft stabilizers." "Fleet control reports the First Spammada is regrouping at relative five mark three-oh-oh, distance one thousand Mb. Spammada strength estimated at sixty percent. The _Traceroute_ and the _Rlogin_ are falling back." Lt. Livers was quiet for a moment. "Check. _Traceroute_ is dead in space. _Rlogin_ has been destroyed." I was looking at the last report from the _Rlogin's_ liaison officer, vibrating under my eyes from the force of the spam outside. He'd been the one who had told me the Taskforce was cooperating with the Spammers. His last words were some technical readouts of overhauls some of the Yorkshires had undergone. I relayed the information to Fleet Control and sat down heavily in a chair. The First Spammada came about and attack. The _Nullclient_ blew off the last of the Yorkshires just as a Chester White came barreling towards us. Haversham turned the ship, presenting the starboard side, which had the least damage and the most shielding. The Chester White inundated us with spam. Our missile and torpedo bays countered with salvos of our own. The Chester White flew over our forward section and rained spam charges down on us. "Primary communications are out!" Livers bellowed over the noise on the deck. "Secondary systems are on-line, but I've lost contact with Fleet Control!" "Relay our status report through the _Localhost_," yelled Jarvis. "Haversham, bring us about. Point the nose of the ship at the Fleet Control station's last known position. Melman, go down to Deflector Control, see what you can do down there." Melman rushed off the control deck without a word. "Wallace, get me a position on that Chester White." "She's coming about, two-eight-five mark zero, twenty Mb and closing. All spam bays are locked on to us, they're preparing to fire." I glanced up at the tactical display. Blue dots flew out of the green splotch that represented the _Nullclient_ and headed for a red splotch that must have been the Chester White. Several of the dots disappeared inside the red splotch. "Seven direct hits," I noted. "One of the Chester White's spam bays appears to be out of commission. She's continuing at maximum speed." The heavy cruiser stopped suddenly and let out its spam. We took a direct hit on the forward section. Explosions rocked the control deck. Livers' comm console short-circuited, sending out sparks that burned her and forced her to drop out of her chair. Jarvis rushed over to her. "I've just lost navigation control!" Haversham yelled. "Avionics are completely out. We're beginning to list to starboard!" "Fire Control reports all torpedo bays on the forward section are out of commission!" Wallace yelled. "One of the anti-spam missiles is jammed in the forward port launcher and the safeties are off!" Two more red splotches started to converge on us--the piranhas converging on the struggling cow in the Amazon. I felt more explosions coming from our aft section. The _Nullclient_ began to roll on its axis. "Thrusters are off-line!" yelled Haversham. "We've lost all maneuvering power!" "Shields have failed on the port side! The outer hull is buckling!" Wallace's hands flew over her console. "We're losing cohesion! The algorithm integrity fields have failed!" The red splotches pulled away. The tactical display fizzed out. Melman came back on the control deck and took over looking after Livers while Jarvis pressed a button on the remains of the comm console. "This is the Captain," he said into the inter-object address system. "All hands abandon ship. I repeat: all hands, abandon ship." We all turned to stare at him. It was pretty much a lost cause and we knew it, but his order caught us by surprise anyway--it was one we'd never expected him to give. We were the _Nullclient_, and he was Jarvis, and we were all invincible. Melman was the first to recover. "You heard the captain!" he bellowed. "Get to your ESC pods. Now!" People stared leaving the control deck, quickly but calmly. Melman helped Livers to her feet and supported her as she limped for the exit. Jarvis stood up and stared at the blank tactical display, and I stared at him. I was frozen in position, I couldn't move. Jarvis turned to me. "Go on, beat it," he said. "I'll just get another account and we'll start over." "Can you afford to have another battleobject programmed?" I asked. Jarvis looked down. He turned away from me and stared at the display. I finally left the control deck and ran down the corridor towards the ESC pods. I reached the last one. Melman was at the door to the second to the last ESC pod, making sure everyone else was off the object. "Rendezvous coordinates are on the computer in the ESC pod," he reminded me. "Don't stop for anything, just keep going. And keep your head down." I smiled as he fell into his pod and sealed the hatch. I jumped into mine, sealed it up, and blew the latches. The pod pushed off the _Nullclient_ and sped off into open cyberspace. As I was rushing away I took a look through a port at the battleobject, and I couldn't resist. "That's funny," I said. "The damage doesn't look as bad from out here." The _Nullclient_ continued to spin slowly along its long axis and list to starboard. The momentum we'd built up before the thrusters had been destroyed continued to carry it forward, but the battleobject began to head downward--relatively speaking. Bits and pieces began to vanish as various parts of code failed. Eventually the _Nullclient_ disappeared from view into the Great Cloud. The ESC pod shook violently. I picked myself up off the deck and looked into the main viewscreen, and witnessed a Yorkshire hovering in front of me. A tractor beam had locked onto my pod, and another beam lanced out from the cruiser and struck the pod's thrusters, knocking them out. I was slowly pulled into the gaping maw of its shuttle bay. I couldn't do anything but stare. They broke in and dragged me out. Someone stuck a tazer into my side, paralyzing me. They half-carried, half-dragged me into a room, strapped me down in a chair, and left me there with several other Spammers. A familiar face stepped up and looked me in the eye. "Well, well, well," said Kroeger. "Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present the liaison officer of the _Nullclient_, formerly employed by the Stevens Hall Indecency Taskforce." His account had been rebuilt, but his face still bore heavy scaring from the pistol-whipping I'd given him the last time we'd been this close together. Kroeger grinned at me now and turned to the other Spammers. "See? Didn't I tell you they were working with the mercenary anti-Spammers?" The woman called Five was also there, dressed and coifed as sharply as ever. She came and stood next to Kroeger. "How long have you been giving them assistance?" I didn't respond. "Since the beginning, probably," said Kroeger. Five looked me over. "We're winning, you know," she said, referring to the battle that was going on outside. "That little tactic you used in the beginning was cute, but we've got more Chester Whites where those came from." "Last I saw, we were kicking your ass," I said. Kroeger punched me. My head rocked backward over the edge of the chair and I tasted blood--real blood, not the virtual kind. I must have bitten myself in reflex. I kept talking. "Your attack patterns lack cohesion. Your captains build up a shitload of speed, then put the brakes on just before shooting. We have all the time in the world to blow you away. In the first wave we killed two-fifths of your First Spammada alone." "Oh, so NOW you're giving us information!" Five snapped. "Should have thought of that back in your conference room." "Won't make any difference," I countered. "You've only taken three of our battleobjects out of commission so far." "Five," said Kroeger. "What?" "No, not you. We've taken out five battleobjects." "Oh." I grinned. "You out-numbered us five to one, and you've still only taken out five objects! The _Nullclient_ alone blew away a whole squadron of Yorkshires in five minutes! You Spammers are being slaughtered." "This is immaterial," said one of the Spammers. "Kroeger, you said you had proof the Taskforce was violating its own neutrality, and now you've given it to us. We'll present this person to the various LEGITIMATE watchdog agencies and have the Taskforce officially sanctioned." "Oh, no," said Kroeger. "You're missing an opportunity here." He grabbed me by my hair and forced my head back. "This guy's been privy to every major operation the mercenaries have carried off. He has knowledge about merc tactics, battleobjects, the Anti-Spam Coalition Users Group. I say we drain the bastard." "We don't have time for a prolonged interrogation," said the Spammer. "If we don't get some of the bureaucracies on our side soon we are going to start losing some of the ground that we've gained. We can't afford to put aside any of our resources just now. Willing or not, he has to go in front of those committees. Let the politicians do the interrogation." "No," said Five. "Kroeger's right. He's more valuable to us if we keep him here. Whatever use we can get out of him in front of a Senate sub- committee is limited. The information he has is what we need to put the mercs out of commission once and for all. "Need I remind you that we are currently using more resources to fight this war than we are using to spread spam?" Five leaned up close to me. A strand of red hair dangled over her forehead. "The more we know, the more effective those resources become." She turned and looked at Kroeger. "Drain him," she ordered. "Excuse me, can I just say...." Kroeger punched me again, and I lost consciousness. I don't remember much after that. They say that people tend to block out their experiences of torture as a defense mechanism. I've been trying to recall all of it, because it makes good copy. Unfortunately my mind and my backup drives have been less than cooperative. I recall momentary flashes of pain and bright light, and Kroeger's scarred face grinning at me. I can also recall sensations like cold, hunger, and pain. Later on I remember mumbling things. People were listening with rapt attention, so they must have broken me. I must have sat there for hours blabbering away the deepest secrets of the Great Spam Resistance. I can't remember exactly what I said, but at the time I had a dim sense of being defeated, of having lost something. The first thing I remember clearly is waking up in a cell, unable to rise from my cot due to exhaustion. Kroeger was sitting in a chair leering at me. "Welcome back," he said. "You've been extremely helpful to us, you know. "I even considered getting you to confess to war crimes, but no one is fooled by that anymore--everyone assumes the confessor has been tortured into doing it, it's not really an effective tool." He stood up and wandered over to the door of the cell and peered out. "Besides, it's not in our best interests at this point to reveal where you are. As far as the SuperNet is concerned, your account has been discontinued." Kroeger sat down in his chair and watched me. "Our intelligence people have been analyzing all the data we've gathered so far. Based on what you've told us, they've attributed every single major tactical success to the efforts of the Taskforce spies you call 'liaison officers'. Hell, I've been telling them that for months." "Gee...flattered," I croaked. "Don't mention it." Kroeger glanced at his watch. "We've pretty much drained you of all the information we're going to get, so I've advised my superiors that we should brain-wash you and put you to work for us." "Never...happen...lose...too...much..." "Oh, I don't think so. You seem to have a talent for this sort of thing. I'm sure it'll survive the procedure. We'll have you sending out pyramid lists before you know it." "That what happened to you?" Kroeger looked away. He smiled self-deprecatingly. He pursed his lips, then finally managed to meet my eyes. "I'm in it for the money," he said. "And boy, do those Spammers make a shitload of money, I'm telling you." I was born in San Francisco, California shortly after the Seafood Riots. My father was a mid-level programmer specializing in ODBC. My mother was a PC Technician II. They met in the same Microsoft Certified Cooking Instructor class, fell in love, got married, and opened a joint America Online account. Mom quit her job shortly afterward and started working at home as an e-mail address collector. On Fridays Dad would bring home imitation crab meat and they would watch ABC's "TGIF" together, back before Melissa Joan Hart was elected governor and Jaleel White was murdered by that one guy because "Urkel just wouldn't go AWAY!" On my fifth birthday my parents gave me my first e-mail account. By twelve I had been indicted on my first electronic harassment charges. At eighteen, after I'd been released from the Michael Jackson Memorial Juvenile Correction Center and Amusement Park, I was recruited by Clan- Chief Harold Leonard. Or Lawrence. I've been a Spammer ever since. I rose up the ranks fairly quickly. I distinguished myself in the Battle of Lift-and-tuck-dot-com, also known as the famous Collagen Rout. I conned fifteen people into a multi-level marketing scheme and managed to make almost US$50 before they all bailed out. My superiors took notice of this and awarded me with a Yorkshire-class cruiser and my own crew. I'd been slightly wounded during the Battle of Woodside, but I was now fit for duty and ready to spam. I was attending a small dinner party being held by Clan-Chief Leonard. Or Lawrence. I happened to chance by Admiral Kroeger at the buffet table. "Long time no see, Captain," said Kroeger, chuckling to himself. "How're you doing?" "Never better, sir," I assured him. I lowered my voice. "Heard anything about this new mission we're going on?" Kroeger chuckled a little more. "Now, now, son, be patient." He couldn't stop himself from chuckling. I wondered what the joke was. "You'll find out soon enough. Try the--try the spinach dip." He almost did a spit take then. "I have, thank you, it's delicious." For some reason this sent in into gales of laughter. He staggered off. When I reported to Spammada Operations HQ, Admiral Kroeger was waiting for me. We sat down in his office with four other captains. "It's the big one, gentlemen," he said. "We've recently received some intelligence regarding a particularly nasty thorn in our side. Spam Command is ready to send a team out to acquire Taskforce-dot-net." He reached over and clasped my shoulder. "Son, it's my great privilege to present you with a brevet promotion to Fleet Captain. You'll be commanding one of our new Duroc-class dreadnoughts." I swelled with pride. The other captains were grinning widely, giving each other knowing looks. One of them turned away and I could have sworn I heard a snort escape his lips. <segue=on> "Begin acquisition on my mark. MARK!" Two ships roared out of the Great Cloud and bore down on the site. Beams of light shot from their forward sections, striking launching areas and incinerating people and programs alike. Two more ships pounded on a tall spire located in the middle of the site. The spire's middle section erupted in flames. A loud groaning sound accompanied the upper half of the spire as it toppled down. An object large enough to cover the area of the entire site lowered itself and stopped several hundred Mb above. Doors opened along the bottom of the object, and smaller shiny objects came falling out. Wherever they struck the site, screams of anguished users could be heard echoing through the streets. Explosions flared everywhere. The attack lasted less than a minute. The large object moved sedately over the gateway and bombed it out of existence. The site was entirely decimated. The Tactical Officer of the large object turned around in his chair. "Sensors report no activity emanating from the site. Bravo Wing reports all Admin accounts have been eliminated. Wing commanders are requesting orders, sir." My gaze lowered from the main viewscreen. "They are to proceed to their outer perimeter coordinates. Dispatch the landing parties and secure the site. Contact the First Spammada and inform Fleet Admiral Kroeger that Taskforce-dot-net has been acquired." We touched down just outside the ruins of the gateway. I was the first out of the hatch and down the ramp. I strode through the gateway and met the other four captains on the other side. We took a victory stroll around the campus, admiring the simple yet elegant architecture of the site, rather archaic yet strangely beautiful. It was all pre-Windows, glowing green against a black background, strangely soothing and oddly familiar. They had all the admins and other various personnel gathered in a group in front of a huge yellow pyramid thirteen stories tall. I watched them from a vantage point some distance away. I wasn't able to make out any of their faces, but from the way everyone stood up straight and didn't shuffle their feet they didn't appear to have been cowed by the attack. Although they all kept looking upward and to the left, as if they were expecting.... At this point one of the unwashed cells of my brain flashed a memo. I had an insight. "I think we've walked into a trap," I said out loud. "Huh?" said one of the captains. "Be serious. We totally kicked their ass." I shook my head. "No, this is a trap. Boy, is it EVER a trap. Sound the retreat, get everyone back in the spamships." "Will you stop being so God damn paranoid? Shit, look at them! What kind of trap are THEY gonna pull!" The other captains left me there, intending to walk to the prisoners and gloat. Occasionally one would turn and wave me forward, but I resisted. My hesitation between heading back to the dreadnought and running after my captains pretty much saved my ass, because at that moment one battleobject came roaring out of the clouds and pummeled the spamships while another one took up station keeping over the prisoners and discharged hundreds of troops. The Spammers all took off at a run, the battleobject's troops in hot pursuit. I watched in horror as they were hunted down across the site and quickly destroyed. The prisoners were released. The wreckage of the gateway and the central spire vanished, and just as quickly the two objects were standing there in their original condition. The air above me turned purple as a shield was quickly erected. Bright flashes showed up outside, and bits of spam rained down harmlessly on the shield. I was grabbed from behind, a hand placed over my mouth. I struggled, but couldn't wrench myself free. I was dragged into a dark corner and had a light shined in my face. Then the light was turned around and shined... in my face. "Why in the hell are you wearing that uniform?" said me. "Those friends of yours are lynching Spammers left and right. Shit, you're wearing Captain's insignia too! Are you out of your mind?" I punched myself in the face and ran off. I caught up with me and tackled myself around the ankles, knocking me to the ground. I had both my arms locked behind my back in seconds, held by cuffs. I took a quick look around, then grabbed myself by the coat collar and hauled me to an opening in the shield. Moments later I was on-board a battleobject and speeding away from the site. "Taskforce to _IndefiniteTokens_," said the comm console. "Please respond." "_IndefiniteTokens_, Shostakovich. What's on your mind?" "Why are you leaving the area? We still have clean-up to do." "Eh, you guys take care of that," said Shostakovich. "I've got some things I need to take care of. I'll send ya a bill. _IndefiniteTokens_ out." I switched off the comm console and looked at me--screw this--Shostakovich switched off the comm console and looked at me. "They said you were lost in cyberspace," he informed me. "What'd you do, disguise yourself as a Spammer to throw off the heat? Pretty clever." I told him my name, rank, and serial number. "Oh," he replied. "Brainwashing. They shave your beard off, too?" I leapt out of the chair I was in and hit him in the stomach with my head, knocking him across the deck. I headed for the exit but never made it--he'd tackled me again. "Cut that out, dammit!" he said. I kicked him in the shoulder. He picked up my head and slammed it against the deck plates, and that ended the argument. "One year you gave me this Electronic Battleship game when we were kids," he told me, as I lay on the deck bleeding. "I didn't think about that old thing until I picked up this baby." He patted the controls. "I wonder if I could hook that old thing up; I bet I could get some kind of increased throughput on the torpedos. It'd definitely be more fun: F4, hit!" He made explosion noises. "Aaah! You sank my spamship!" The _IndefiniteTokens_ banked sharply to starboard. "Y'know, I looked up your account when I heard the news. Turned out you were still active, so I started to suspect something, y'know? When the Taskforce called me up and asked me to help out on this little thingy, I figured I could scam them into checking it out, seeing as how you're an employee and all...." "I don't know what the FUCK you're talking about!" I yelled. "I NEVER worked for the Taskforce in my life!" "Oh, yeah, right, brainwashed. Hey, no problem, I'm gonna fix you up right now." I could feel the battleobject begin to slow down. I looked around, trying to memorize the layout in case I ever made it back to Spammada Ops, but Shostakovich brought the battleobject to a dead stop and dragged me to my feet. He pushed me out into the central corridor, saying nothing, and herded me into an airlock where we both stepped inside. He took two belaying lines and hooked one to my handcuffs. He clicked another one to his belt and then opened the outer door. There was a brief rush of air, and then we were staring out into cyberspace. "YOU KNOW WHAT THAT IS?" he yelled at me. The noise was deafening. When I refused to look, he pulled on my ear and forced me. A huge maelstrom swirled beneath the ship. "THAT'S THE RECYCLE ABYSS! IT'S THE PRIMARY MEMORY PURGE SYSTEM FOR THE ENTIRE SUPERNET! YOU CAN DUMP ANY OLD FILE YOU WANT DOWN THAT, AND YOU'LL NEVER SEE IT AGAIN! ADMINS LIKE TO TELL NEW LUSERS THAT WHINE PARTICULARLY OFTEN TO SAVE THEIR FILES IN ITS DIRECTORY!" "What are we doing here?" "WHAT?" "WHAT ARE WE DOING HERE?" "I DON'T HAVE ANY WAY OF RESTORING YOUR MEMORY QUICKLY! YOU'VE BEEN LOGGED ON FOR DAMN NEAR A MONTH AFTER WOODSIDE, AND WHATEVER PROGRAM THEY'VE GOT LOADED INTO YOUR MEMORY IS PREVENTING YOU FROM REMEMBERING WHO YOU ARE! I DON'T HAVE TIME TO REVERSE YOUR BRAINWASHING, AND I CAN'T GET THE SUPERNET TO LOG YOUR ASS OFF FOR SOME REASON, SO I'M GONNA FLUSH YOUR ACCOUNT DOWN THE TOILET!" I scrambled back into the airlock and gripped a hand rest. Shostakovich took out a truncheon and whacked my hands. I let go, finding myself back on the outer edge of the airlock. "SORRY TO HAVE TO DO THIS TO YOU, OLD BUDDY," Shostakovich yelled. "I KNOW HOW MUCH YOU HATE HAVING TO GO SUPER-USER AND RE-CREATE YOURSELF, BUT THAT'S LIFE. TELL YA WHAT--YOU GET THOSE CHARGES THAT THE ANTI-SPAMMERS LEVELED AGAINST ME DROPPED, I'LL BUY YOU A BEER!" He put away the truncheon and brought out a gun. "THEY USED TO TELL ME THAT IN THE WORLD OF COMPUTERS THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES. IF THAT'S TRUE, WHY THE FUCK IS THERE A RESET BUTTON? DAMNED CONFUSING, IF YOU ASK ME!" Shostakovich shot my belaying line. The rope snapped, and I fell into the Abyss. I logged on the next day. I had my memory back. My apartment was a mess, but that was normal. I had no job, I had no battleobject, and Kroeger was still alive. I'd betrayed the Great Spam Resistance, and decided the only thing left for me to do was turn myself in. I appeared in an observation lounge of ASCUG's main base. I happened to be facing a window. What I saw nearly sent me into shock. The _Nullclient_ floated sedately in a docking ring, missing over 70 percent of its structure. It had apparently been able to make it back to base after the First Battle of Woodside. I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Capt. Jarvis, checking out his battleobject and smoking a gawdawful cigar. "And I thought I'd have to pay for all that," he said to me in his gruff voice. "Captain, sir," I said, doing everything except the salute. "I wish to surrender myself to you." "Too busy, find someone else. Why are you surrendering to me anyway?" "I was in charge of the attack against the Taskforce." "Huh. Yeah, you screwed that one up royally. Too bad THEY'RE still around. Oh well. Is that why you're surrendering, because you didn't do that right?" "Sir! I revealed secrets to the enemy under torture!" Jarvis shrugged. "Told them about the Rec Room party we had last year? No sweat, they bought a new pool table, and the Kahlua came out of the Admiral's dress slacks without too much trouble." Jarvis was behaving like a brick wall, which means he knows something and he's enjoying watching you bang your head against him. "You know what happened to me, don't you sir?" He snuffed out his cigar. "Yes, we're well aware you revealed top secret information--under duress--and that you were brainwashed. The fact that your logon was locked so you couldn't log off kept their brainwashing program running long enough for your to participate in the attack. When you logged off yesterday, your memory must have been restored immediately to you." I nodded. "Yeah, don't worry about the secrets. We change all our tactics on a regular basis to keep the enemy guessing. The only important information you gave them was stuff about the Taskforce, and apparently they were prepared for that somehow." I looked out at the _Nullclient_ being repaired. "Guess you've got a new liaison officer now." "Nope, that's blown way out in the open now. The Spammers have been running around looking for technical expertise comparable to the Taskforce." "There's plenty of it." "Yeah, but no one smart enough to have it is stupid enough to cooperate. The Taskforce Board of Directors voted unanimously to pull all the liaison people out. It'll hurt, but we'll survive." Jarvis opened up his tunic and handed me a piece of paper. "Read this," he said. I did. "It's a commission," I said. "And it's got my name on it." "Yeah. Being a mercenary means I can hire officers rather than wait for some college ROTC punk to graduate OTS. Wallace resigned her commission recently--too much bullshit, I don't blame her. I need a new Chief Tactical Officer. You'll assume the rank and duties of Lt. Commander effective as soon as you sign that paper." Jarvis turned and looked me in the eye. "This is all voluntary. We're all here because we want to be, because we believe in the fight. No one expects you to keep a secret around here. Just do your job, and we'll all get paid. If that sounds like something you'd like, just sign the paper. The War will go on without you--but it'll go on a lot longer." I signed without hesitation. Jarvis turned back to the window to look at his ship. "That's funny," he said. "The damage doesn't look as bad from out here." ________________________________________________________________________ Boy Mozart Stevens Hall Indecency Taskforce No URL, cope.