It’s easy to think that something else could be going on behind the scenes in streets like these.
The city is black as death this time of night, windows of neon light sliced into the air in the form of signs, advertising a bit of this and that. Brightness cascades off the ground, giving a white sheen to the puddles dribbled between the dips in the pavement. Buildings loom over the passerby’s like giant guards, cage them in, remind them just how tiny they really are.
(He never has really considered himself one with the ‘they’ crowd. There’s him and then there’s everyone else. That’s been clear from the beginning.)
It’s easy to entertain the idea that there could be something more about tonight, that there could be some greater force at work. The night feels greater, filled to the brim with potential for something.
‘You know,’ Jungkook says to him, the derision in his voice sounding as clear as though he was walking the streets alongside him. But the kid’s back at the domain, most likely watching the whole scene play out. ‘Most people spend their weekends doing other things with their time. Partying. Hanging out with friends. Chizz, even loners like you read books or play net games.’
He can’t find it in himself to be annoyed, there’s a special sort of thrum pumping through his blood, unique to nights like these. ‘Your point being, Jungkook?’
‘This isn’t normal.’
He cracks a grin at that, as if normality has ever been a concern in his mind. He’s got more important things to concentrate on.
‘Almost sounds like fear in your voice, Kookie.’
Jungkook hisses. At the nickname or the allegation. Possibly both. ‘I don’t feel fear.’
‘You keep telling yourself that.’
It’s midnight in Seoul, but this place isn’t Seoul, hardly even a replica, too impossible to exist in the real world. Too perfect. The only people around these parts are tourists of sorts, staring up all starry-eyed at the buildings, some talking about how lovely it would be to visit for real someday, wouldn’t that be just darling, honey-bunch?
It’s enough to make him want to gag. He steps past them easily, swerving to avoid being bumped into. One of the few cons of being invisible is that people are prone to take up more space than they actually need and paths crossing becomes more problematic than it normally would be.
It’s not like they’d hit him or anything, with the mods he’s got set up, people should walk right through him, but the trouble here is his visuals getting all muddled, and sometimes the controls get fucked and it’s just a hassle he’d rather not deal with. If he wanted things to be easier, he could click his fingers and transport himself straight to his destination, but he’s a stickler for traditions and walking has always given him time to build the anticipation.
‘You’re showing off,’ Jungkook tells him.
It’s not a lie, but still he presses his lips together and calls up some music to drown out Jungkook’s mocking tone. A low rumble of drums sounds through the air, following him down the streets, he rounds the corner leisurely and brings in the horns with a slight twitch of his fingers. Almost there now, he can see the destination in sight.
Even under the cover of darkness, even with the advances in technology making it easy to hide behind a mask, or cover your trail expertly, to be completely invisible is a rare skill to possess, but what can he say?
He’s just that good.
After calling in a swell of string instruments, he stops in front of his destination, a satisfied smile bringing out the dimples in his cheeks. The building before him stretches high into the air, seems to curve inwards when he tilts his head back to take in the sheer size of it. It’s an impossible height, but they’re in an impossible world now, so impossibilities are barely worth mentioning.
He calls up a screen, set up with blueprints for the building and the weak points he’s spent hours searching for. He knows them off the top of his head by this point, so he swipes them away, revealing the code for the virus he’s spent the better half of the week working on. He pulls it out, carefully so it rests in it’s vault, just at his fingertips (he has a vague idea on what it might do if he’s stupid enough to release it on himself and if he’s being perfectly candid, he doesn’t want that shit anywhere near him with his touch sensors on full tilt.)
He doesn’t have to touch the building to do what he wants to accomplish, he doesn’t really even have to be here, but again, he’s a stickler for traditions, and he likes to see what happens when things go up in flames. The music builds up, swelling as he uses his free hand to browse through the frameworks on his screen, lines of green code obscuring his vision as he digs and digs and there. Ha. There’s the firewall. Now he just needs to find the loose brick that’ll be it’s undoing.
He finds it in no time and he’s almost a little disappointed. Big building like this, chizz, he was expecting something a little more difficult. He presses just so and the wall crumbles, falling away in a blitz of numbers and wailing sirens that he quickly silences. He unlocks the vault and slots it inside the gaping hole in the security system and steps back.
At first, there’s nothing.
Then, the music crashes down in a blaring symphony and the building roars, collapsing inwards almost like a real building might in the face of an explosion. He hears Jungkook’s mechanical voice in his ear, warning him of a dramatic increase in his heart-rate. Precautions and all that.
There are people like him—cyber-terrorists, people call them—that like to leave little mementos, signs that they were there, like a burning inscription of their alias on the side of a building, or something smaller, like a discoloured patch of ground. He doesn’t need those sorts of theatrics and that’s his own memento. Neat, clinical and meticulous, controlled chaos kept at the tips of his fingers. There’s something quite thrilling about it.
Destroying things has always been his favourite game, he’s earned himself a pretty reputation for getting so good at it. God of Destruction, some people call him, and it’s cute, accurate enough.
But personally, he’s always preferred the alias Monster.
If you asked any netizen who’d been online in the past two years, they would tell you that Hope has never really been known as one for hiding in the shadows, that he likes the spotlight too much for that. But when you’re tracking down a monster, it pays to play by the same rules as one. And this particular Monster very much likes the cover of darkness.
So he’ll adopt it for the time being, gives him a better vantage point anyway.
He can’t actually see Monster, the sim’s invisible, but he thinks he’s got a hang of picking out the tell-tale signs of one of their appearances. The last attack had been on a relatively popular net game and the lack of evidence connected to any one person was pretty much a flashing neon sign indicating a Monster attack. When the resulting chaos had cleared, he’d swooped in, spent every spare moment he had scrutinising over the scene looking for something to grip onto, something to trace.
Monster is intricate, not some dumb thuggish brute who throws their weight against things in the hopes that it’ll give. They’re a problem-solver—they have that much in common—Monster likes to pick the locks of the code with clever little rewrites that they can create with the flick of their fingers. They like to pry apart the cracks until they’re gaping chasms and slot into the frameworks. They like to tear things to shreds with gleeful precision and accuracy and vanish with no indication that they were ever there to begin with.
He’d found something four days in. Digging through the frameworks to find anything that might lead him to something. The something had come in the form of the shell of the virus, lying dormant and practically invisible beneath layers and layers of drivelling code that seemed to have no end.
(It had almost scorched him to hell the second he’d located it, but he’d managed to vault the impacted thing before it could snag him.)
After running some scans, he’d found that the virus was designed to attack one single component and once that was out of the way, to fall dormant, invisible to almost all scans, otherwise the net-police may have picked up on something.
Rule number one of cyber-space—the most important rule that most people seem to forget nowadays—is that nothing is ever utterly deleted.
Well-hidden, sure, but gone for good? Not possible. Recovery is always an option depending on how good you are or who you know. He supposes he can’t fault Monster entirely for leaving the thing there to rot, considering they built in hostile settings for the rare possibility that someone found something.
With the information he’d dug up from the virus, he’d managed to snag a bit of code that he was able to trace back to previous attacks, something that seemed to be a reoccurring element unique to Monster’s attacks. A repetition of code, which made sense, considering how often the attacks take place. Why change it up every time when you could just use the skeleton and build up on that?
He’d rigged his system to alert him every time something contained that code showed up and he’d gotten one mere minutes before, hence his position here now, watching, grinning as the building in front of him collapses in on itself, into a pile of pixelated rubble.
Monster does this almost weekly, a new victim every time, no connection between them, no reason, no strive for greater good, Monster does it all for kicks.
He’s known about Monster for as long as he can remember and has followed them closely for a little over two months, witnessing four crimes similar to this. He never does a thing to stop it. Why would he? Not his job by any means. No self-respecting person with his hacking skills allowed themselves to be used as a tool by the likes of the net-police.
No. He had better things to do with his time. Following Monster wasn’t exactly one of them, but he’s allowed some form of recreation. It’s a challenge, Monster is one of the most sought after cyber terrorists out, no-one has ever been able to get a hand on them.
So of course, he’s gotta do it.
When sirens take to the air, he swoops in, presuming Monster’s vanished by this point, gloating in their triumph. He digs deep into the vulnerability in the firewalls Monster has yet to have stitched up and searches, looks left and right even as the heart monitor comes down to obscure his vision.
Caution: Heart rate reaching dangerous levels.
He dismisses it with a wave of his hand. Bigger things to worry about. Majorly.
Lines of code flash up on his screen, he’s searching for the IP, the source code to this guy. He’s early enough that he might be able to dig it up before it’s blanketed under lines and lines of drivelling bullshit.
And then he finds it. He finds that footprint in the midst of being buried and he snags it, gets the image and hides it away in his vault.
‘I’ve got you,’ he hisses, ‘I’ve got you, you utter scanmaster.’
He can hear bots approaching, net-police, coming in to sniff out trouble. He grins to himself, giddiness flowing like a drug through his system, cleans up after himself.