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   machine like that. This machine didn't even have a password. It didn't

   even need a special character command, like a secret handshake.

  

   Freak connections happened now and then on X.25

   networks. They had the same effect as a missed voice phone

   connection. You dial a friend's number--and you dial it correctly--but

   somehow the call gets screwed up in the tangle of wires and exchanges

   and your call gets put through to another number entirely. Of course,

   once something like that happens to an X.25 hacker, he immediately

   tries to figure out what the hell is going on, to search every shred

   of data from the machine looking for the system's real address.

   Because it was an accident, he suspects he will never find the machine

   again.

  

   Force stayed home from school for two days to keep the connection

   alive and to piece together how he landed on the doorstep of this

   computer. During this time, the Citibank computer woke up a few times,

   dumped a bit more information, and then went back to sleep. Keeping

   the connection alive meant running a small risk of discovery by an

   admin at his launch point, but the rewards in this case far exceeded

   the risk.

  

   It wasn't all that unusual for Force to skip school to hack. His

   parents used to tell him, `You better stop it, or you'll have to wear

   glasses one day'. Still, they didn't seem to worry too much, since

   their son had always excelled in school without much effort. At the

   start of his secondary school career he had tried to convince his

   teachers he should skip year 9. Some objected. It was a hassle, but he

   finally arranged it by quietly doing the coursework for year 9 while

   he was in year 8.

  

   After Force had finally disconnected from the CitiSaudi computer and

   had a good sleep, he decided to check on whether he could reconnect to

   the machine. At first, no-one answered, but when he tried a little

   later, someone answered all right. And it was the same talkative

   resident who answered the door the first time. Although it only seemed

   to work at certain hours of the day, the Citibank network address was

   the right one. He was in again.

  

   As Force looked over the captures from his Citibank hack, he noticed

   that the last section of the data dump didn't contain credit card

   numbers like the first part. It had people's names--Middle Eastern

   names--and a list of transactions. Dinner at a restaurant. A visit to

   a brothel. All sorts of transactions. There was also a number which

   looked like a credit limit, in come cases a very, very large limit,

   for each person. A sheik and his wife appeared to have credit limits

   of $1 million--each. Another name had a limit of $5 million.

  

   There was something strange about the data, Force thought. It was not

   structured in a way which suggested the Citibank machine was merely

   transmitting data to another machine. It looked more like a text file

   which was being dumped from a computer to a line printer.

  

   Force sat back and considered his exquisite discovery. He decided this

   was something he would share only with a very few close, trusted

   friends from The Realm. He would tell Phoenix and perhaps one other

   member, but no-one else.

  

   As he looked through the data once more, Force began to feel a little

   anxious. Citibank was a huge financial institution, dependent on the