During each shift, I was given three five-minute restroom breaks. Lunch was thirty minutes. I usually ate in my cubicle instead of the cafeteria, so I wouldn’t have to listen to the other tech reps bitch about their calls or boast about how many perk points they’d earned. I’d grown to despise the other indents almost as much as the customers.

I fell asleep five separate times during my shift. Each time, when the system saw that I’d drifted off, it sounded a warning klaxon in my ears, jolting me back awake. Then it noted the infraction in my employee data file. My narcolepsy had become such a consistent problem during my first week that I was now being issued two little red pills each day to help me stay awake. I took them too. But not until after I got off work.

When my shift finally ended, I ripped off my headset and visor and walked back to my hab-unit as quickly as I could. This was the only time each day I ever hurried anywhere. When I reached my tiny plastic coffin, I crawled inside and collapsed on the mattress, facedown, in the same exact position as the night before. And the night before that. I lay there for a few minutes, staring at the time readout on my entertainment console out of the corner of my eye. When it reached 7:07 p.m., I rolled over and sat up.

“Lights,” I said softly. This had become my favorite word over the past week. In my mind, it had become synonymous with freedom.

The lights embedded in the shell of my hab-unit shut off, plunging the tiny compartment into darkness. If someone had been watching either of my live security vidfeeds, they would have seen a brief flash as the cameras switched to night-vision mode. Then I would have been clearly visible on their monitors once again. But, thanks to some sabotage I’d performed earlier in the week, the security cameras in my hab-unit and my eargear were now no longer performing their assigned tasks. So for the first time that day, I wasn’t being watched.

That meant it was time to rock.

I tapped the entertainment center console’s touchscreen. It lit up, presenting me with the same choices I’d had on my first night here: a handful of training films and simulations, including the complete run of Tommy Queue episodes.

If anyone checked the usage logs for my entertainment center, they would show that I watched Tommy Queue every night until I fell asleep, and that once I’d worked my way through all sixteen episodes, I’d started over at the beginning. The logs would also show that I fell asleep at roughly the same time every night (but not at exactly the same time), and that I slept like the dead until the following morning, when my alarm sounded.

Of course, I hadn’t really been watching their inane corporate shitcom every night. And I wasn’t sleeping, either. I’d actually been operating on about two hours of sleep a night for the past week, and it was beginning to take its toll on me.

But the moment the lights in my hab-unit went out, I felt energized and wide awake. My exhaustion seemed to vanish as I began to navigate through the entertainment center operation menus from memory, the fingers of my right hand dancing rapidly across the touchscreen.

About seven months earlier, I’d obtained a set of IOI intranet passwords from the L33t Hax0rz Warezhaus, the same black-market data auction site where I’d purchased the information needed to create a new identity. I kept an eye on all of the black-market data sites, because you never knew what might be up for sale on them. OASIS server exploits. ATM hacks. Celebrity sex tapes. You name it. I’d been browsing through the L33t Hax0rz Warezhaus auction listings when one in particular caught my eye: IOI Intranet Access Passwords, Back Doors, and System Exploits. The seller claimed to be offering classified proprietary information on IOI’s intranet architecture, along with a series of administrative access codes and system exploits that could “give a user carte blanche inside the company network.”


I would have assumed the data was bogus had it not been listed on such a respected site. The anonymous seller claimed to be a former IOI contract programmer and one of the lead architects of its company intranet. He was probably a turncoat—a programmer who intentionally coded back doors and security holes into a system he designed, so that he could later sell them on the black market. It allowed him to get paid for the same job twice, and to salve any guilt he felt about working for a demonic multinational corporation like IOI.

The obvious problem, which the seller didn’t bother to point out in the auction listing, was that these codes were useless unless you already had access to the company intranet. IOI’s intranet was a high-security, standalone network with no direct connections to the OASIS. The only way to get access to IOI’s intranet was to become one of their legitimate employees (very difficult and time-consuming). Or you could join the company’s ever-growing ranks of indentured servants.

I’d decided to bid on the IOI access codes anyway, on the off chance they might come in handy someday. Since there was no way to verify the data’s authenticity, the bidding stayed low, and I won the auction for a few thousand credits. The codes arrived in my inbox a few minutes after the auction ended. Once I’d finished decrypting the data, I examined it all thoroughly. Everything looked legit, so I filed the info away for a rainy day and forgot about it—until about six months later, when I saw the Sixer barricade around Castle Anorak. The first thing I thought of was the IOI access codes. Then the wheels in my head began to turn and my ridiculous plan began to take shape.

I would alter the financial records on my bogus Bryce Lynch identity and allow myself to become indentured by IOI. Once I infiltrated the building and got behind the company firewall, I would use the intranet passwords to hack into the Sixers’ private database, then figure a way to bring down the shield they’d erected over Anorak’s castle.

I didn’t think anyone would anticipate this move, because it was so clearly insane.

I didn’t test the IOI passwords until the second night of my indenturement. I was understandably anxious, because if it turned out I’d been sold bogus data and none of the passwords worked, I would have sold myself into lifelong slavery.

Keeping my eargear camera pointed straight ahead, away from the screen, I pulled up the entertainment console’s viewer settings menu, which allowed me to make adjustments to the display’s audio and video output: volume and balance, brightness and tint. I cranked each option up to its highest setting, then tapped the Apply button at the bottom of the screen three times. I set the volume and brightness controls to their lowest settings and tapped the Apply button again. A small window appeared in the center of the screen, prompting me for a maintenance-tech ID number and access password. I quickly entered the ID number and the long alphanumeric password that I’d memorized. I checked both for errors out of the corner of my eye, then tapped OK. The system paused for what seemed like a very long time. Then, to my great relief, the following message appeared:


I now had access to a maintenance service account designed to allow repairmen to test and debug the entertainment unit’s various components. I was now logged in as a technician, but my access to the intranet was still pretty limited. Still, it gave me all the elbow room I needed. Using an exploit left by one of the programmers, I was now able to create a bogus admin account. Once that was set up, I had access to just about everything.

My first order of business was to get some privacy.

I quickly navigated through several dozen submenus until I reached the control panel for the Indent Monitoring System. When I entered my employee number my indent profile appeared on the display, along with a mug shot they’d taken of me during my initial processing. The profile listed my indent account balance, pay grade, blood type, current performance review rating—every scrap of data the company had on me. At the top right of my profile were two vidfeed windows, one fed by the camera in my eargear, the other linked to the camera in my hab-unit. My eargear vidfeed was currently aimed at a section of the wall. The hab-unit camera window showed a view of the back of my head, which I’d positioned to block the entertainment center’s display screen.

I selected both vidfeed cameras and accessed their configuration settings. Using one of the turncoat’s exploits, I performed a quick hack that caused my eargear and hab-unit cameras to display the archived video from my first night of indenturement instead of a live feed. Now, if someone checked my camera feeds, they’d see me lying asleep in my hab-unit, not sitting up all night, furiously hacking my way through the company intranet. Then I programmed the cameras to switch to the prerecorded feeds whenever I shut out the lights in my hab-unit. The split-second jump cut in the feed would be masked by the momentary video distortion that occurred when the cameras switched into night-vision mode.

I kept expecting to be discovered and locked out of the system, but it never happened. My passwords continued to work. I’d spent the past six nights laying siege to the IOI intranet, digging deeper and deeper into the network. I felt like a convict in an old prison movie, returning to my cell each night to tunnel through the wall with a teaspoon.

Then, last night, just before I’d succumbed to exhaustion, I’d finally managed to navigate my way through the intranet’s labyrinth of firewalls and into the main Oology Division database. The mother lode. The Sixers’ private file pile. And tonight, I would finally be able to explore it.

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