Duel of the Hackers: Act I


Duel of the Hackers

Act I: The Challenge


~ 01 ~

FADE IN:

INT. COMPUTER SCREEN

A black computer screen. A bright phosphorous green cursor pulses in the upper-left corner of the black screen.

Suddenly, the following words are typed one by one…

The unclean spirits, whenever they saw him, fell down before him, and cried, “You are the Son of God!”

–Mark 3:11

Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to see the sun.

–Ecclesiastes 11:7

The green electronic text holds a beat.

Then we are drawn towards the screen, towards the words, the letters. We are sucked into the pixels of the letters until the brightness fills the screen…

FADE TO WHITE.

FADE IN:

INT. SEWER TUNNEL

As the scene clears, we begin to make out the familiar form of the hovercraft Nebuchadnezzar, sleeping quietly on the debris-scattered floor of the sewer tunnel.

We continue to be drawn in, towards the ship, towards the cockpit. We whip around head-on and continue to zoom in until we pass through the cockpit windshield…

INT. NEBUCHADNEZZAR

We zoom through the cockpit to the rear, float down the ladder to the main deck, down the next ladder to the lower deck, along the grated deck of the dim corridor…

INT. CORRIDOR

Eventually, along the deck, we see and hear the creaking and clunking of battered boots making their way to a particular door…

The bushy-haired operator squeaks open the door.

OPERATOR:
Hey, Neo! Trinity! Rise and shine!

His torn grey shirt hugging his sharply defined muscles, the operator leaves the door open and makes his way down the corridor.

INT. MESS HALL

The operator returns to the cold stark table that is the eternal focus of the mess hall. Chats. Rumors. Jokes. Fears. And of course, food. Whatever the others called it, it was still food. A single-celled protein combined with synthetic animos, vitamins, and minerals. Then again, he never had the opportunity to taste fried chicken, or a medium-rare steak, or even Tastee Wheat. So he couldn’t miss what he never had.

OPERATOR:
Hurry up!

He calls from his stool, grinning as his voice ricochets back to the couple’s quarters.

OPERATOR:
Before your breakfast gets cold!

Eventually, the cute lovebirds drag their feet into the room, drop side-by-side onto their stools, and lay their sleepy eyes on the tins full of runny goop.

Neo mutters in confusion.

NEO:
Before it gets cold? But it’s already–

OPERATOR:
Hahahaha! I know that!

The operator laughs as he scoops a sporkful.

Shaking her head, Trinity answers with her own subdued laughter.

TRINITY:
Tank!

TANK:
I know. I know. I couldn’t resist.

The tall dark-haired pod-born raises his still-tired brown eyes to the smiling strength of the operator sitting before him.

NEO:
How do you do it?

TANK:
How do I do what?

Neo drops his eyes and slowly stirs his unsavory goop.

NEO:
How do you wake up with a smile each morning? After what happened a few weeks ago. After what happened to your…

He trails off uncomfortably.

TANK:
My brother?

Tank lowers his spork, pauses for a few moments, and adds gently.

TANK:
I looked up to Dozer. No doubt about that. My strength came from his strength. And his strength was like a motherfuckin’ bulldozer. Now that he’s gone, I’ve got two choices. I can sit in my room and feel sorry for myself. Or I can be as strong as I can be, not just for him or me, but for all of us, and try to do him proud. Which do you think he’d want?

Neo nods.

The operator bends lower to take a slurp of his soup.

TANK:
The best way for me to be strong is by keeping my sense of humor. Lifting my spirit. Lifting the spirits of my crewmates. And hopefully, I can give his death meaning.

Neo finally scoops up a sporkful.

NEO:
Yeah.

Answering the gloom, the wide familiar grin of the operator seems to brighten the dim room.

TANK:
Come on, smile a little. Just because you’re the One doesn’t mean you can’t have a sense of humor, right?

NEO:
Well–

The reluctant savior turns to his blue-eyed commander then back to the Zion-born operator.

Tank takes several quick slurps.

TANK:
Think of it this way. If Morpheus is right about everything else, you’re gonna need a sense of humor now more than ever…

Neo glances to Trinity once more.

The operator takes another slurp.

TANK:
Or the weight of it all is gonna kill you.

Suddenly, Neo’s spork feels as heavy as a brick.

FADE OUT.


~ 02 ~

FADE IN:

INT. MESS HALL

Tank rises from his stool.

TANK:
Care for seconds?

For some reason, this morning, Tank feels hungrier than usual. Maybe it’s the knowledge that the Nebuchadnezzar is parked in the sewers hundreds of miles from Zion. Maybe it’s the reluctance of beginning another exhausting search in the Matrix. Or maybe it’s the anticipation of freeing another curious, willing, and able mind from a prison built by Machines. Maybe it’s all of these things. Or maybe he just didn’t eat that much last night.

Neo shakes his head.

NEO:
No thanks.

Trinity pushes away her half-eaten tin.

TRINITY:
Me neither.

TANK:
Fine by me.

The well-built operator shrugs, pours himself another puddle of semi-synthetic soup, and returns to his stool.

TANK:
You know, I was wondering.

The commander folds her arms upon the table.

TRINITY:
About what?

Tank takes another slurp.

TANK:
I’ve been operating for years, and if I’ve learned anything, it’s that hacking into the Matrix the first time, is more or less the same as the thirty-first time, or even the hundred-and-first time. Because the Matrix is just too big and complicated, the network structure never changes. The firewall defense never changes. And if the firewall never changes, the flaws never change, so the hacks never change. Oh, I know that the Machines can defend it with Sentinels on the outside and Agents on the inside, but they never change the Matrix firewall itself.

Neo knits his eyebrows.

NEO:
That’s good, right?

TANK:
Oh yeah, that’s definitely good! Don’t get me wrong. Operating is much more than just hacking into the Matrix. But it seems like I’m missing out. You know, being stuck hacking into and through the same firewall over and over again. Where’s the challenge in that?

Trinity smiles.

TRINITY:
You almost sound disappointed.

Grinning, the tall pod-born turns to her.

NEO:
I think he is.

The operator nods admittingly then leans back knowingly.

TANK:
Maybe I am… But correct me if I’m wrong. You were elite hackers in the Matrix. Both of you. So why don’t you tell me? Wasn’t it exciting to hack into every new network that came along?

The smiling blue eyes of Trinity meet the grinning brown eyes of the One.

TANK:
Ha!

Tank slaps the table.

TANK:
I knew it! I knew it!

Neo shakes his head modestly.

NEO:
Tank, really, it’s no big deal.

TANK:
No big deal? Maybe for you, the Chosen One. But I’m the operator, remember? How else am I gonna have fun? I admit, it may not be as fun as counting the number of pixels on my screen, but hey, it’s a change, right? I might even learn a thing or two.

The dark-haired pod-borns can’t help but chuckle.

Eyes wide, the operator urges.

TANK:
Come on, tell me about it.

Neo glances to Trinity then turns back to Tank.

NEO:
You sure?

TANK:
Do sentinels have tentacles?

Neo finally nods.

NEO:
Okay…

For a few moments, he stares thoughtfully at his empty tin. When he’s ready, he raises his head with the gleaming eye of a kung-fu download.

NEO:
Okay. First of all, as a hacker, I grew past all that virus and worm crap. Any amateur can ring the doorbell, drop a burning bag of viruses, and run away empty-handed. But an expert should be able to get in and out with a handful of goodies, without ever having to ring the doorbell.

TANK:
Definitely.

The operator agrees, feeling the same childlike wonder he felt ages ago, when he first absorbed the training lessons back home. The birth of Zion, its mainframe computer, its hovercraft technology, and its hacking techniques. The birth of the Matrix, its bioelectric purpose, its network frequencies, and its firewall flaws.

The former hacker continues.

NEO:
Let’s see. I can probably break a network attack into five phases…

He raises his fingers one by one, starting with his thumb.

NEO:
Reconnaissance…

His index finger.

NEO:
Flaw Identification…

His middle finger.

NEO:
Penetration…

The next.

NEO:
Domination…

The last.

NEO:
Implantation…

Back to this thumb.

NEO:
…and Data Extraction. Hmmm, sorry, make that six phases.

Trinity smiles in silence.

TANK:
Yeah, the first few sound pretty similar.

Tank sits back in fascination.

TANK:
But with the Matrix, I only go as far as domination.

He sticks out his left arm into a muscular spear.

TANK:
I dominate the network just enough to cloak and cloud the penetration…

He swoops his right arm into a spear beneath the first.

TANK:
…then broadcast the pirate signal beneath the penetration for as long as you’re jacked in.

He lowers his bare arms.

TANK:
But what were the others again? What’s this implantation and uh, extraction?

NEO:
Basically, after network domination is complete, implantation and hibernation of your attack kits, not only guarantees immediate backdoor access when you return, but also allows you to use this first network as a future relay to attack another network. Unfortunately, the Matrix is the one and only network.

The operator raises his hand in a ‘Stop’ gesture.

TANK:
Whoa! Slow down, Speedy! Hibernation? Attack kits? So what’s extraction?

A corner curl playing on her lips, Trinity answers.

TRINITY:
Carrying out the goodies.

FADE OUT.


~ 03 ~

FADE IN:

INT. MESS HALL

After Trinity offers her explanation of the implantation phase of an attack, the muscular operator takes another hungry slurp and nods.

TANK:
I see! Implantation has nothing to do with the current attack. I mean, it doesn’t make it any easier. But the kits do make the next attack easier. Whether you’re returning to the first network or attacking the next one. Like putting a few eggs in the next basket.

TRINITY:
Exactly.

The seasoned commander rubs her pale chin and continues.

TRINITY:
So once you dominate the network, you inject your attack kits as quickly as you can, into as many machines as you can, shut them down, reboot them, scrub the logs to erase any trace of the attack, and if everything goes well, you’ve just implanted your kits without tripping any security alerts.

TANK:
And if it doesn’t go well?

Trinity knits her eyebrows.

TRINITY:
Hmmm, assuming you took all of the standard precautions…

TANK:
Precautions?

TRINITY:
You know, activating your own detectors, blockers and flooders to dodge the security sniffers. Encrypting your signal and redirecting it across several random relays to hide the scent. Maybe even sending several decoy signals to confuse that scent.

The operator nods.

TANK:
Ah, I see.

TRINITY:
So even assuming you did all this, maybe the internal defenses finally detected an intrusion. But with all of your blockers and flooders in place, they won’t have a clue where it’s coming from. So you’ll still be free.

TANK:
Free?

TRINITY:
Free to roam around. Until they pinpoint your actual penetration. Or more likely, they’ll give up and decide to shut down all of the key network nodes.

Tank blinks.

TANK:
That doesn’t sound too good.

TRINITY:
It’s not. Because once they do that, they can neutralize all your blockers and flooders, even strip away your decoys. But if you know what you’re doing, where you should be, you’ll have enough time.

TANK:
Time?

TRINITY:
Time to do whatever you came to do.

The operator understands and laughs.

TANK:
Oh, I see. Extraction. Carrying out the
goodies.

The tall pod-born nods in agreement.

NEO:
Yup.

Trinity chuckles.

TRINITY:
In my case, I preferred deleting the goodies. I’d scan for a nice and juicy d-base portal, decrypt its portal protection character by character, lay my hands on that data, and…

Air-typing with an innocent high-pitch voice…

TRINITY:
Clickety-click, all gone.

Neo grins at her cute little acting.

NEO:
Like your infamous hack of the IRS service center…

The dark-haired introvert recalls his cyberelectronic exploration from more than five years ago. He absorbed all he could about hacking and its history, its technologies and techniques, its terminologies and tendencies, its tricks and temptations. He studied the fascinating and illuminating posts across dozens of electronic bulletin board systems, or BBSs. Posts about redirection trails, attack relays, implanted kits, and security sniffers. Posts about traffic flow, network firewalls, database portals, and decryption algorithms. Everything he needed to know. Everything.

Moreover, the overwhelming majority in the BBS community seemed to agree that more than ten years ago, either Trinity or Morpheus as Trinity was responsible for the penetration of an IRS service center. And responsible for the monumental deletion of over 250,000 taxpayer records. A quarter of a million government records! Back then, in the late 80s, a feat of such an enormous magnitude was inconceivable. Amazing. Definitely amazing.

NEO:
A quarter of a million taxpayer records. Poof! Just like that. Like they never existed.

With a profound intensity in her piercing blue eyes, Trinity smiles.

TRINITY:
As if they really existed in the first place.

Raising his eyebrows, Neo has to agree.

NEO:
True. Very true.

Tank folds his bare arms upon his large chest.

TANK:
How about you, Neo? What did you prefer?

NEO:
Me? Oh, unlike some other hackers, I actually carried out the goodies…

Neo tosses a grinning gaze at his amused companion before turning back to the intrigued operator.

NEO:
Corporate secrets. Technologies and techniques. Prototypes and formulas. Research and development. Just good old-fashioned stealing and dealing.

Tank squints his eyes at Neo, then Trinity, then back at Neo.

TANK:
So you guys basically broke any and every computer law you saw fit, as that it?

Like small children caught with their fingers in the cookie jar, the pod-borns lower their eyes and smile silently.

NEO:
But you know what?

TANK:
What?

NEO:
I actually miss those days.

TRINITY:
Yeah, me too.

The operator pauses for a moment before offering his next thought.

TANK:
I just have one more question.

TRINITY:
What’s that?

TANK:
Who’s the better hacker?

At the same time, the former hackers answer.

NEO and TRINITY:
I am.

In utter surprise, they stare at each other.

NEO and TRINITY:
What?


~04 ~

INT. MESS HALL

Trinity playfully punches Neo’s upper arm.

TRINITY:
Are you serious?

NEO:
Definitely. You said yourself you preferred deletion. And data extraction involves a little more than just simple deletion.

He raises his thumb.

NEO:
There’s the encryption of the data streams…

His index finger.

NEO:
…rerouting the data packets around the sniffers…

His middle finger.

NEO:
…transmitting–

TRINITY:
Yeah, i know. Transmitting those packets to their final destination.

Trinity focuses sharply on her companion.

TRINITY:
But just because I prefer one thing doesn’t mean I can’t do the other.

Rising from his stool and dropping his tin on the nearby countertop, Tank chuckles under his breath.

TANK:
You can say that again.

TRINITY:
I heard that.

The operator instantly wipes the smile off his face.

NEO:
I never said you couldn’t do it.

TRINITY:
Just not as good as you.

NEO:
Yeah. Wait– No, I mean ‘no’.

Her eyes gleaming, the commander straightens formidably and tauntingly.

TRINITY:
First of all, I’ve been hacking in and out of the Matrix way longer than you. Second, I preferred deletion not because it was easier, but because it was cleaner, more concise, and seemed to cut closer to the truth. You see, we both may have been looking for answers, but while you also used hacking to ‘steal and deal,’ I used it as a tool. I didn’t know it then, but Morpheus told me I used it like a knife to slice away the layers and layers of illusion I felt all around me…

She pauses for a thoughtful and willful moment.

TRINITY:
And third, if you’re really serious about your claim, then you should have no problem accepting my challenge.

From the counter, Tank flings a befuddled expression at Trinity.

NEO:
What challenge?

TRINITY:
I challenge you to a duel.

Neo drops his jaw.

NEO:
What?

TRINITY:
Tank is my witness.

Raising another ‘Stop’ sign, the operator shakes his head.

TANK:
Hey, don’t drag me into this.

Half disbelieving yet half willing, the tall pod-born allows a grin to curl across his lips.

NEO:
You’re kidding. A hacking duel?

TRINITY:
Do I look like I’m kidding?

NEO:
Well, no.

TRINITY:
Because I’m not. Are you up to it?

Massaging his chin, Neo gazes sideways into her blue eyes.

NEO:
Yeah. Sure, I’m up to it.

TRINITY:
Rules.

NEO:
Huh?

TRINITY:
These are the rules. I can’t use any tricks I learned on Zion, on the Neb, or anywhere else in the Real World. Just a pure in-the-Matrix hack.

Neo nods slowly and skeptically.

NEO:
Okay.

TRINITY:
But you can’t use your powers to reshape the Matrix either.

Neo looks up to get some words of wisdom from the operator.

TANK:
She’s good…

Tank swept his arm, palm down, out into the unseen horizon.

TANK:
She wants an absolutely level playing field.

Neo turns back to Trinity.

NEO:
Okay, you got it. A pure in-the-matrix hack.

This time, the operator slaps the countertop.

TANK:
Haha! The Superman is going in as Clark Kent.

TRINITY:
Now… You pick the target.

Neo leans away slightly as new skepticism creeps across his face.

NEO:
You sure?

Trinity nods.

For a few uncertain moments, the pod-born flashes back to his still-plugged past. Memories of his first computer, his first car, his first apartment, his first real job, and his first hacking party. Memories of the infamous Knights Technoir, the ponytailed Levi Stevens, and the red-horned Katie DeVille. Memories of his employment at Priznet Pro and MetaCortex. And memories of single-handedly maintaining the Knights-implanted kits at Owen Patterson High, Mulpha, PrizNet Pro, MetaCortex, as well as a half dozen other relay bases. Not to mention another half dozen of his own.

He wonders if his old kits are still functioning, still hibernating.

Finally, to test Trinity’s cool waters, he chooses an easy target.

NEO:
MetaCortex.

The commander raises her dark eyebrows.

TRINITY:
Your old company? That’s it? Are you trying to let me win?

Tank chuckles.

Looking away from her, Neo smiles.

NEO:
Didn’t want to make it too hard for you.

Trinity reacts with an even wider open-mouthed smile.

TRINITY:
What? What kind of challenge is that? Too hard? For me? Come on, pick a real target.

After another few moments staring at his empty tin, the former hacker turns hesitantly, raises his brown eyes and grins mischievously.

NEO:
The I… R… S.

The others gasp at each other.

TRINITY and TANK:
Ooooh!

Trinity is visibly impressed by the suggestion. After more than ten years, here is a chance to improve upon her earlier IRS conquest. Perhaps a chance to revisit or relive her younger days. The days before her life changed forever.

TRINITY:
It’s been a while, but that’s definitely a challenge! You’re on!

The former hackers shake hands.

TRINITY:
Tank, one more thing.

TANK:
Sure.

TRINITY:
Neo and I are gonna work out some more of the details here. But I want you to get Morpheus. Let’s see if he can authorize our little game.

The operator grins.

TANK:
No problemo. I’m sure he won’t mind a little R-&-R in the Matrix.

TRINITY:
Thanks.

Tank steps around the table and slaps Neo’s shoulder.

TANK:
Well, good luck with the details, Clark. You’re gonna need it!

Neo glances up with a sparkle in his eye.

NEO:
We’ll see.

As Tank chuckles, we pan steadily downwards to the corrugated metal deck. We see and hear the creaking and clunking of battered boots making their way out of the mess hall…

The operator squeaks open and shuts the door.

FADE OUT.


~ 05 ~

FADE IN:

INT. MESS HALL

We see the corrugated deck of the mess hall. This time, we see two pairs of black buckled boots beneath the table. One pair begins to shift. We pan steadily upwards.

Rising from his stool and depositing his own tin on the nearby countertop, the reluctant hero begins to refresh his memories of the Internal Revenue Service, recollect bits and pieces of his cyberelectronic research, and formulate his attack strategy. But like his blue-eyed challenger said, they still need to work out all of the details.

NEO:
Which one?

Her forearms propping up her chin, Trinity likewise catches herself drifting into the past.

TRINITY:
Which what?

NEO:
Which computing center?

Reflexively, the challenger answers.

TRINITY:
The KCSC in Missouri.

NEO:
Really? Why that one?

TRINITY:
Oh, I guess that was reflex. I knew the Kansas City Service Center a long time ago.

For a moment, speaking the name of her old hometown conjures long-buried memories of her dad, his protection, his friendship, and his funny fanaticism at their unforgettable times in Royals Stadium, the beautiful water-sparkling ballpark of the Kansas City Royals. Her awe of speedster Willie Wilson. Her smile at seeing her middle name “Rae” on the jersey of Hal McRae. Her teenaged crush on All-Star third-baseman George Brett.

Her memories before the unimaginable divorce. Before her love failed her and left her cold. The days before her life changed forever for the first time.

Nodding, Neo approaches the table and lowers himself onto the stool opposite Trinity.

NEO:
I figured that was the one.

TRINITY:
Yeah, the closest one.

She sighs.

TRINITY:
Good old Kansas City, Missouri.

For another few moments, she drifts back to her soul-searching days.

The days of knight riding, neuromancing, and gunning roses. The days of old-fashioned computers, dial-ups, and PBXs. And the days of her cherished Commodore 64, her 300-baud Commodore Modem 1660, and her 12-inch Sony Trinitron KV-1207. Wardialing for days before uncovering an unprotected KCSC modem. Guessing the password for another few days before miraculously accessing and exploring the KCSC computer network. Finally penetrating the third KCSC mainframe database, after swinging and striking out with the first two times at bat.

Then hitting an incredible grand slam homerun by erasing a quarter of a million KCSC taxpayer accounts before they could be uploaded to the magnetic Master Files on the TCC mainframes in Memphis, Tennessee. But not knowing until a week later that she was successful, since the account data stored on these outpaced and outdated magnetic tapes couldn’t be accessed randomly and couldn’t be updated any faster than weekly.

Her memories before the unbelievable red pill. Before her dreams failed her and left her no choice. The days before her life changed forever for the second time.

NEO:
Funny, I didn’t ask which service center. I asked which computing center.

TRINITY:
Service center. Computing center. The mainframes are all the same. What’s the difference?

Neo smiles.

NEO:
A big one. I figure it’s been a while since you’ve been unplugged. When you cracked the KCSC d-base back then, there may have been 10 IRS service centers and 2 IRS computing centers in the country, all with similar mainframe operations. But not anymore. Not today.

Trinity looks up.

TRINITY:
What do you mean?

NEO:
Well, a couple of years ago, the IRS initiated a massive three-year project to consolidate the 67 mainframe computers at the 10 service centers into just 12 mainframes at the 2 computing centers. So next year or so, we’ll end up with just the MCC in Martinsburg, West Virginia, and the TCC in Memphis, Tennessee.

TRINITY:
Really?

NEO:
Yeah. In fact, the MSC and KCSC were the first two service centers to be consolidated last year. The Memphis and Kansas City Service Centers still exist, but their mainframe operations were moved to the TCC. And the Brookhaven mainframes in Holtsville, New York were moved to the MCC. So that’s three down, seven more to go.

Trinity blinks.

TRINITY:
The KCSC mainframes and databases are gone?

NEO:
They were moved to the TCC. Or replaced. So yeah, I suppose they’re gone.

The commander pauses, her gaze falling.

TRINITY:
Wow. It’s almost…

She stops herself before saying the word ‘sad’.

TRINITY:
That was one of the few highlights in a dark time for me. And now, the d-bases are gone.

Her heart begins to sink. She never thought her heart would sink at the disappearance of a few IRS d-bases.

With a sympathetic twinkle in his brown eyes, Neo smiles.

NEO:
As if they really existed in the first place.

Her gaze still lowered, Trinity smiles back.

NEO:
So which one?

Straightening once more, the commander finally chooses.

TRINITY:
Let’s get the TCC then. They took my KCSC. So I’m gonna pay them back.

NEO:
That still leaves about a half dozen or more mainframes at the TCC. Which one?

TRINITY:
Doesn’t matter. Whichever we hack, we hack.

NEO:
Okay. And our objective? Extraction? Deletion? A thousand records? A million records?

TRINITY:
Ha! If we go deletion, that gives you an excuse if you lose. So we’ll play it your way: Extraction.

Neo chuckles.

NEO:
Extraction it is. How many records?

TRINITY:
Good question. What do you think is a good number?

NEO:
Let’s see, last time I checked, the IRS only captured an estimated 85 to 95 percent of the total annual taxes it should collect. That’s between 5 and 15 percent not collected. So assuming 1.5 trillion dollars in total federal income taxes, and taking the lower 5 percent not collected, that’s ummm…

He squints in rapid calculation. But his challenger is faster.

TRINITY:
Seventy-five billion.

Neo raises his eyebrows.

NEO:
Yeah, so that’s at least 75 billion dollars not collected. Then assuming an average 10 thousand dollars per taxpayer, ummm…

He squints once more.

TRINITY:
Seven-point-five million.

NEO:
No. Wait– You’re right.

TRINITY:
Nine zeroes minus four zeroes gives five zeroes after the seventy-five.

Neo nods.

NEO:
Yup. So we’re looking at an equivalent of about 7.5 million records not collected, plus or minus a million.

TRINITY:
Not bad. How much of that should we extract?

NEO:
Hmmm, one percent should be big enough to handle yet small enough to go unnoticed. Let’s say, 75 thousand?

TRINITY:
That’s all? I’ve deleted three times that amount.

NEO:
But we’re not deleting.

TRINITY:
Oh. Yeah. Sorry, I almost forgot. Okay, 75K sounds good but…

NEO:
But what?

TRINITY:
I don’t like the seventy-five. Let’s round it up to an even 100K.

NEO:
A hundred thousand? Sure…

Staring at the table, he thinks about the number: 100,000.

NEO:
Interesting number though.

TRINITY:
What do you mean?

NEO:
The five zeros…

He wonders about the five minds who were freed before him. The five minds who died before him. The five minds who wanted to know the truth, chose the red pill, and paid the ultimate price for knowing it. Would he be any different?

NEO:
…And I’m the one, the one after the five zeros.

TRINITY:
Yeah. Interesting number.

Shaking away the shadows, Neo returns to the present.

NEO:
Anything else?

TRINITY:
Not that I can– Oh, the hardware. Laptops. Phone lines. Maybe headsets…

NEO:
Shit, that’s right…

Although we can no longer hear them, we see Neo and Trinity continue their discussion as we pull back from the table.

FADE OUT.


~ 06 ~

FADE IN:

INT. MESS HALL

Contemplating the unique albeit questionable proposal, Captain Morpheus sits beside Commander Trinity on one side of the table, while Neo and Tank sit on the other side. Raising his gaze from his clasped hands to his waiting crew, the captain speaks in his calm and collected deep voice that resonates within the mess hall.

MORPHEUS:
Very interesting indeed.

He pauses thoughtfully.

MORPHEUS:
But if I may ask…

NEO:
Sure, go ahead.

The captain maintains his unwavering composure.

MORPHEUS:
Are you absolutely sure? Do you comprehend the unnecessary risk you are both taking?

NEO:
Yes sir. We know the risk.

Morpheus turns to Trinity. She nods.

With visible emotion, Tank defends the idea.

TANK:
Come on, sir. I can learn from these guys.

The captain raises an amused eyebrow at his operator.

MORPHEUS:
Can you really?

TANK:
Sure. Maybe it’ll give me ideas on how to optimize my network attacks. How to speed them up. How to better cloak them. Or at the very least, how to optimize my hardline search. Not to mention–

MORPHEUS:
Yes, Tank, I get the point.

Morpheus turns to the pod-born couple once more.

MORPHEUS:
I can’t talk you out of this crazy idea?

Neo stares at Morpheus.

Morpheus. In the Matrix, his name conjured the most-sophisticated conquests in hacking history. Government complexes. Military installations. Financial institutions. Even intelligence headquarters. His name was legendary. Even mythical. Some in the BBS community believed he was just that, a myth. Others believed he was a fictional character played by several real hackers. Then there were those who believed he was the greatest hacker who ever lived.

After glancing at Trinity, Neo turns back to the captain to offer his perspective.

NEO:
Morpheus, you were a hacker once…

Morpheus tosses the word around in his head: Hacker. He may have been a phone phreaker in his youth, crossing over as a computer hacker shortly before he was unplugged. But he achieved his unsought legendary status as a cracker, a criminal hacker, by existing as a free mind in the Real World. Ironic. Yet natural. That so-called rebels against the system, against the established authority, should establish an authority figure of their own: Morpheus.

Morpheus nods in amusement.

MORPHEUS:
Perhaps.

NEO:
And if you don’t mind my saying so, probably the greatest hacker in the history of hacking. Don’t you ever miss it? Searching where you aren’t supposed to search?

TRINITY:
And finding what you aren’t supposed to find?

With a distant smile, the captain leans back and whispers.

MORPHEUS:
Going where no man has gone before…

Neo and Trinity look at each other.

MORPHEUS:
I would be lying if I told you I didn’t miss it. But I must admit, I do. Perhaps as much as you do. But I still believe this is a crazy idea…

The other crew members noticeably deflate.

Seeing this, Morpheus smiles. There is no question this activity will boost their morale. After the mind-blowing heart-breaking events of the last month, God knows they deserve it. They deserve a break. They deserve to play.

Morpheus leans forward.

MORPHEUS:
Of course, crazy ideas have never stopped us before. Why should it stop us now?


~ 07 ~

INT. MESS HALL

Their jaws dropping open, Neo, Trinity, and Tank are dumbfounded. Enjoying their priceless expressions, the captain continues to smile.

MORPHEUS:
When is the main event?

Trinity blinks.

TRINITY:
Oh, as soon as we finish hammering out the details. I’d say within a half hour?

She looks to Neo. Neo nods. This time, the captain chuckles.

NEO:
What’s so funny?

MORPHEUS:
By ‘details,’ I assume you mean the rules.

Neo knits his eyebrows in confusion.

NEO:
I guess so.

MORPHEUS:
It’s fascinating. Despite our years in the Matrix, cultivating our resistance to rules and elevating it to an artform, it’s fascinating to see how criminal hackers, myself included, so easily flock to the rules in the Real World. The chain of command. The rules of conduct. And the rules of play. Rules even in a game as crazy as this.

Again, Neo and Trinity look at each other.

MORPHEUS:
So what are they?

NEO:
Huh?

MORPHEUS:
What are the rules of play? I suppose if I am to authorize this duel, then I should at the very least know the rules. Am I right?

Neo hesitates then answers.

NEO:
Yeah.

Neo glances at Trinity, and following the glance, the captain turns to his blue-eyed commander.

Taking a deep breath, Trinity begins.

TRINITY:
First, I can’t use any tricks I learned on Zion, on the Neb, or anywhere else in the Real World. But Neo can’t use his powers to reshape the Matrix either. This will be a pure in-the-matrix hack. And we’ll use identical laptops with identical phone lines to ensure an even playing field…

Morpheus nods.

MORPHEUS:
Admirable.

Trinity turns to Tank.

TRINITY:
Second, we’ll wear headsets in case there’s an emergency in the Matrix or on the Neb. Tank will maintain and monitor the continuous three-way communication.

Tank nods.

MORPHEUS:
Advisable.

Trinity turns to Neo.

NEO:
Third, the target will be the IRS computing center in Tennessee…

MORPHEUS:
Ah, the TCC.

NEO:
Yeah. There should be a half dozen or so mainframe d-bases to play with. But the first one to successfully extract and retrieve a hundred thousand taxpayer records wins.

MORPHEUS:
Ambitious.

NEO:
We think so.

MORPHEUS:
And what do you win?

Caught off guard, the tall pod-born turns to his companion.

NEO:
What do we win?

TRINITY:
We haven’t hammered that far yet.

The captain smiles.

MORPHEUS:
By all means, hammer away.

TRINITY:
Uh, okay… If I win, Neo does whatever I ask for 24 hours.

Hearing yet another eye-popping surprise, Neo stares at Trinity.

NEO:
What?

The captain and operator look away to hide their smiles.

TRINITY:
But if Neo wins, I do whatever he asks for 24 hours.

Grinning from ear to ear, Tank smacks his palms together and rubs them in anticipation.

TANK:
Oh yeah! This is gonna be good!

Although we can no longer hear them, the four crew members chuckle. They continue hammering out the details of the unusual duel as we float steadily upwards above the table.

We continue to float upwards until we are directly above them, looking down upon them. We see the four friends arranged in a close circle around the table.

FADE TO BLACK.

End of Act I

Act II: 01-05

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s