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THE BURGLAR (THE HACKER)

He managed to get into the giant System network without any trouble - there was just a thin squeak of an audio signal and warning notices flashed in crimson. He had already seen those phrases many times. They flashed constantly demanding the access code, name, address, bank account number and a lot of other information which he was not intending to share with electronic guards. Then the questions were replaced with a list of penalties; the least of them was a fine, the most serious - up to three months in prison. But that did not frighten him: one has to catch in order to punish. And he was not a man at the moment, not a living person - with papers, citizenship and all the rest that a law-abiding citizen is to have; in substance, he was a ghost, even a shadow of a ghost imperceptibly paving its way between the multi-coloured notices of the System.

It seemed to him to be a monstrous three-dimensional web hanging in the emptiness full of light. Threads-passages interwined, crossed and filled the space with curious patterned garland; their cross points winked with multi-coloured lights. It was not difficult to imagine that he was in a huge structure, among corridors, rooms and chambers, squeezed into some kind of dungeon reminding of the Cnossos maze. There were also its Minotaurs here waiting for a careless traveller by traps and snares, by wolf pits, lowerable gratings and bottomless precipices! However, he was not afraid of them; he was cunning, crafty and careful.

With assurance born out of experience of previous trips, he rushed forward. In the tunnel which he passed with the speed of thought, there was nothing unpleasant expected, nothing dangerous; it was a wide highway accessible to any novice. He was asked the access code four times more but the feeding-neutralizer extinguished the alarm signals successfully; he was still a shadow in the ephemeral world of shadows. He was excellently equipped, armed and ready to fight at any moment, but for the time being the active means of burglary and elimination were not necessary; the fight was still to be.

Suddenly the unlimited space opened in front of him - resemblance of a spacious hall with numerous gates, doors and passages leading to other parts of the System. That was a regional centre of which there were about thirty; the junction where hundreds of imperceptible and weightless threads of the three-dimensional web interwined. He had also been here many times and knew what to expect in each of the numerous bypass channels. One could get into some of them easily - into those that led into book depositories, technical catalogues of unrestricted access, to harmless film libraries and collections of musical records. The entrance to other gates demanded a fee - besides the one collected on the System threshold; sometimes the one wishing to walk those corridors was to present a whole lot of certificates of sanity, social status, age and abilities.

Sneering, he passed through those half-locked doors. His aim today were neither pornofilms nor records of mentorhythms driving into narcotic trance, not patent drug formulae, nor secrets of politicians sunk into oblivion two decades ago. In his time he had familiarized himself with the contents of all those hiding places - not so much from curiosity but in order to have practice; now breaking of locks protecting them was not a problem. He could open any, even without a decoder.

Further! Further!

More serious things started further - a row of reliably blocked doors and narrow winding passages filled with traps. The pulse of the business world was beating in a feverish rhythm in those passages-arteries; the real treasures were kept here - neither money, nor gold, nor diamonds but what replaced them: columns of figures with code marks. All that part of the System was a giant network as itself, woven by a spider of unimaginable size, which he wished to draw a little blood from. Just a little, practically unnoticeable if compared with the amount of precious moisture that circulated in the veins of the universe of working capital, credits and loans. In substance he was going to take a loan, only an irrevocable one.

The decoder ringed shortly and the gates to the Finance Empire dissolved moving to the sides like two shining stripes. Crimson letters hung in front of him like an imperceptible obstacle - the next request for the code, bank identificator and the account number. "You will have your account," he thought with unexpected anger pressing the feeding key, "you will have it! But - in due time and due place!"

He tried to calm down; the operation was entering the most decisive stage. He was in some kind of a light tunnel with numerous hatches on all the sides, decorated with emblems and inscriptions; there were Ali Baba caves hidden behind each of them, guarded not by the forty robbers but electronic monsters with incredible sense of smell, tenacious to life and deadly like a dragon with seven heads.

Coming close to one of those doors, he switched the decoder on once again.

The Compton Manhattan Bank... Not the largest one but fairly suitable for his purposes. Respectability, irreproachable reputation, reliability checked up by time... Exactly what he needed!

The decoder ringed; the magic "sesame" was found and the hatch dissolved like a camera diaphragm - for one tiniest moment, but he had enough time to slip inside, to the jewel-box, to the temple with the riches of the others. He froze choosing the further way but suddenly darkness fell on him.

A trap!

Green sparkles appeared in the dark. They rushed to him spreading, forming the lattice frame, embracing the trespasser in a tight cage, threatening with inevitable questioning. Thus, the decoder had to work some more... One other password was necessary to pass through the depository gate and he had to find it soon.

He attached additional modules, doubled, tripled the search speed; the green lattice frame shone in front of him, blocking up the way. Seconds stretched like centuries. His face froze, his pupils followed the figures quickly flashing in the decoder window. He could do nothing, only run away; at the moment the tiny chip supplied with a program was fighting for him, scanning millions of figures, paving the way to richness.

The long awaited ringing! The green lines of the lattice frame shuddered, dissolved, disappeared and the white and lilac lightning struck him immediately. Fortunately the protection resisted but the active means of attack required immediate measures. No less active! His fingers danced on the keys managing the destructor-sprayer. To burn! To destroy! To disperse like a cloud of chaotic signals! And - the most important! - to cover up his tracks.

Physical destruction did not threaten him. But the angry arrows ramming his defence shield could turn into chains, take his ghostly image prisoner, rush along the track he had left like a pack of bloodhounds to the fox lair... And if those electonic demons were successful, he would not be able to get off with three months! Oh, no! Getting into the sanctum sanctorum was punished more seriously, much more seriously!

He fought like a cornered wolf, dispersing the white blades of lightnings, scattering the alarm signals with his feeding. The fight was going on in complete silence like some strange soundless storm raging under the impenetrably dark sky. Out of the corner of his eye he saw that the decoder was working as before trying to find the third code combination. His gut feeling of an experienced burglar told him that that password was the last one. If he managed to find it...

He did manage! The flashing lightnings went out and he rushed forward, through the ghostly columns of figures trembling in the bluish emptiness. The property index, day turnover, data on branches, listing of clients... That did not interest him. Taxes, interbank credit, brokers operations... Further! Further! Quicker! Symbols of debit and credit... Transfers!

Pressing the key sharply, he activated that position and feverishly started typing the codes of his accounts. He had to have about twenty of them ready, on various continents and in various countries, from Australia to Canada; he was a farsighted man. He allocated comparatively small amounts to each account, from one hundred to three hundred thousands, indicating the time of the forthcoming transfers from five to ten minutes between them - so that the whole procedure could be completed within the two hours.

Victory! Victory! Confirmation signals flashed on the screen. Of course! Now, having made his way through to his purpose, he could pump out several dozens of millions... The temptation was great; his fingers trembled for a fraction of a second ready to add a couple of zeroes to the amount of the last transfer, but instead of that he started the virus program which was to eliminate all the traces of his interference in two hours. The clever take little in order for the one who was taken from not to ring all the bells... Should one advertise that there was a smart fellow who had managed to find the keys to the money box seeming inpregnable? It depends on how much was taken from the box...

Sweeping sweat from his forehead, he smiled satisfied, rubbed his hands and switched his computer off.