Wednesday 29 July 2020

The Ethical Hacker and the Jinn

by Mason Bushell


“Gadgi-Tech.” Kelvin read the computer store sign above the entrance and stomped inside out of the rain. He paused to wipe his glasses off with a grumble. “I may as well live in this piggin’ place!” Ignoring the phone and television departments, he went straight for the computer section. He selected USB leads, a pack of microfilters and a large memory stick. Approaching the help desk, he caught the eye of the server and technician Rupert Hutton. Kelvin knew he hadn’t been on staff long, but he was very good at his job and the two had become friends. It was hard to believe; Rupert in his smart suit used to be a homeless man living in a doorway by the park. Kelvin admired him for how he’d changed his life around.
“Hallo, Kelvin. It’s not all good news I’m afraid.” Rupert took a box from the customer collection shelf and came to the counter.
“I thought as much. What’s the verdict? Have I lost everything?” Kelvin rubbed his face stressfully. Sometimes he hated computers with a passion.
“The patient is as dead as a technically advanced dodo. However, the phoenix rises from the fiery microchips – You see, I was able to get your data from your hard drive and implant it into this new one for you.” Rupert patted the box with a victorious grin.
“Oh, you star! You just saved my life.” Kelvin wrung his hand and smiled for the first time in days.
“My pleasure. I found something weird when I took your old hard drive apart.”
“Really? What?” Kelvin dreaded the coming answer.
“Well, the ribbon cable, inside, was twisted into a nice neat bowtie. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.”
“That is weird … Anyway, thanks again, Rupert. What do I owe you for the hard drive surgery and these?” Kelvin put his purchases on the counter and took out his circuit board design wallet.
Rupert rang the purchases into the till and bagged everything. “That’s eighty-nine, ninety-five, please.”
“And worth a fortune in recovered data too.” Kelvin paid in notes, never realising he received an unusually large and abnormal coin in his change. “Thanks, man.”
“See you next week.” Rupert gave a cheeky salute.
Kelvin rolled his eyes, waved and left for home. He wanted to get back and check his data really was okay - as soon as possible.

Kelvin lived in an apartment within view of the river. It wasn’t big or beautiful but it suited his needs. The little white kitchen had a microwave to nuke a reasonable meal when he forgot to order pizza. The bedroom was a place to crash; it didn’t need to do anything else. The lounge was the furthest from a resting space as you could get. A sweeping desk of monitors, keyboards, modems, game controllers, circuit boards, pen-drives with yellow ducks on them and an assortment of fast food cups and boxes filled one wall. To its right, a tv screen was mounted on the wall. It was playing a space show on a sci-fi channel as Kelvin came in with his bag in one hand and a pizza box in the other. His eyes ran over his collection of comic book character figurines as he dumped his bag on the cluttered sofa. He loved superheroes above even technology. He threw off his Krypton trench coat and collapsed into his big leather swivel chair with a sigh of relief. Going out was always an anxiety-inducing experience. Still being able to sit and devour a five-cheese, three-pepperoni, sweet-pepper, bacon, barbecue pizza, hold the pickles was well worth it.

With his pizza devoured, he threw the box on the pile burying the sofa, chucked his wallet on the desk dislodging some coins and unpacked his new hard drive. As the computer booted, he noticed his low WIFI speed with a disdainful scowl. Pulling out the new microfilters, he ducked beneath the desk to install them in the phone socket. They were his last hope to boost his speeds. Crawling out, his hand brushed the tower of plugs. The spaghetti junction of electrical cable shocked him. He flinched backwards, bashed his shoulder on the desk, dislodged his glasses and scattered disposable coffee cups and gadgets on the floor. Amid them, something hit him over the head. “Aww, blast my luck!” he cursed while searching for his glasses.
Finding his spectacles amid the debris, he shoved them back on his nose. Looking through the lenses again, he felt his focus returning and noticed the odd coin sitting on the floor.
“That’s weird,” he muttered as he picked up the talisman with a hand over his sore shoulder. He took in the horned demon surrounded with flames and read the inscription around it. “Rupert must have paid me with you.” Kelvin hurled things back on the desk and sat down again never realising an old computer tower had taken on a red glow. He tapped away on his keyboard, never noticing smoke issuing from the CD Drive. “Bloody great, HHD Error – Oh wait; new hard drive. I have to let it install its driver’s fir —” Bang!
Kelvin almost fell off his chair as the computer tower erupted in a flash of fire. The sides fell off and the CD drive shot out. It rocketed across the room like a cruise missile, decapitating several superheroes on the shelf. Kelvin’s mouth fell open and his glasses almost fell off his face as he watched on in shock. A five-inch tall figure emerged from the smoky interior of the computer tower holding a circuit board. As though chiselled from rock, the red-skinned demon blinked and looked about through thick-black rimmed glasses. He had on large red boxer shorts, baring images of computer mice and a slogan. ‘If you like my mouse, check out my stylus baby!’
The Jinn peered about as if struggling to see. Eventually, he spotted his summoner and scowled. “Thanks a bunch! That was my most painful summons in a while.” He held up the circuit board. “I don’t know what this is but it brained me in there.”
“Figures, it’s a … Erm – it’s a memory card.” Kelvin gulped as he cleaned his glasses and tried to figure out whether to believe his eyes or not. “What are you?”
“I’m a Jinn. You summoned me.” The Jinn squinted about him and took the geeky glasses off. He smiled as his vision cleared. With a snap of his fingers, he turned the glasses into designer shades before putting them back on. “That’s better. I hope you didn’t summon me to clean this room out, its looks and smells awful in here!”
“Sorry about that, I have a lot of work to do. I work with big companies to detect holes in their security as an Ethical hacker you see.” Kelvin opened his arms and shrugged apologetically.
“Ethical hacker? Last time I saw someone get hacked it was on the football field – there was nothing ethical about that let me tell you!” The Jinn walked through some of the gadgets, turning his head to look at them. “What all this stuff?”
“Well, that’s a WIFI pineapple.” Kelvin pointed to a gadget with lots of antennae. “That allows me to find, use and penetrate any device or security network so long as I have a WIFI signal I can use.”
“Hmm, sounds painful.” The Jinn scratched his head. “What’s this?” he indicated a green circuit board with lots of ports and components attached.
“That’s a raspberry. It —”
“Ha! Like to see you try and eat that with your fruit salad!” The Jinn gave it a kick. “You wouldn’t need a Jinn then; you’d need a good dentist!”
“I didn’t name it.” Kelvin grinned. He liked this sarcastic little guy. “I just use it like a hacker’s Swiss army knife. It's like a mini-computer that allows me to manipulate so many things when trying to execute entry into computer portals and servers.”
“Ahh, now, portals, I know about. Don’t try and enter one of those unless you know what you’re doing. Trust me, its no fun getting your anatomy rearranged. I once knew a Brownie who made that mistake; he walked around with his head stuck to his arse for a fortnight until I managed to repair the damage.”
“Wow! Poor guy,” Kelvin said.
“Yeah, he reckoned taking a crap was a nightmare. At least he could see what he was doing with his toilet paper though.” The Jinn roared with laughter and ended up holding his sides.
Kelvin chuckled too. “Oh, I see, you’re a big joker,” he remarked while tapping away on his keyboard.
“I do like to have a little —”
Kelvin slammed his hand down on his keyboard furiously. “What do you mean internet connection lost? Stupid damned computer!” he blustered at the screen.
“Wooo! That inanimate object really knows how to make you mad, huh?” The Jinn folded his arms and grinned up at him.
“Shut up!” Kelvin retorted, now stabbing his keyboard with furious fingers as he attempted to diagnose the problem.
“Fine.” The Jinn vanished in a puff of smoke and reappeared on the shelf of superheroes. “If you tell me what’s wrong, I might be able to help,” he volunteered, having taken hold of a Superman figurine by the shoulders. He gave it a shake and a slap to see if it was alive.
 “Agh! No – put that down now! You already killed two of my prized figures.” Kelvin indicated the decapitated heroes on the floor with the smoking CD Drive. That one is a limited edition and worth a fortune.”
“He’s a bit crude, having his underpants on the wrong side of his trousers, isn’t he?”
“Says you walking about in your boxer shorts,” retorted Kelvin, resorting to swearing at his computer again. 
 The Jinn returned the desk and put on a swagger. “I do, but at least I make these look good. Don’t you…” the little man flashed out of existence as Kelvin punched the desk, sending coffee cups flying across the surface. “…Geez! Calm down before you break your hand!” he said having reappeared sitting on top of the screen.     
“Sorry. This thing drives me mad. It must have Gremlins or something.” Kelvin slumped in his chair and sighed.
“Did you say - Gremlins?” The Jinn dropped down on the keyboard and began hopping about the keys.
“Yeah, its gotta be, by the number of times this heap of neurons has gone wrong.”
“Yeah, I’m not surprised. The Gremian, Vexii – or ‘little pain in the arse’ commonly known as a Gremlin; has a knack of making any sort of machinery malfunction. They began slipping into your world when the aviators learned to fly. They…”
“Wait, Jinn. Are you saying Gremlins are real?” Kelvin sat up and looked at him in shock.
“Oh, yeah. They’re real alright. Let’s see if you have one.” The Jinn stood in front of the computer screen and rolled up his imaginary sleeves. Raising his hand, he said, ‘Gremian aperio.’ and shot a bolt of indigo light at the screen.
“Wah!” Kelvin recoiled in fright. “Don’t blow up my computer! I … still … need ...” he spluttered to silence, his eyes widening as the screen grew bright and millions of windows, webpages, executables and documents began opening, closing and flashing all over the screen. At the same time, all manner of horns began blaring from the speakers.
“Yup - you got a Gremlin!” The Jinn hit the screen with another blast of indigo magic. This time a blue fog grew out of the screen. It ejected a skinny, sallow-looking grey figure, wearing denim overalls and a lurid red shirt. He shrieked as he landed on his head, rolled a few times and slammed into the mouse.
Standing, he staggered about until he shook off a cross-eyed look. He revealed himself to be an inch taller than the Jinn (not including the last few strands of his wispy grey hair) and just as rude as he promptly flipped his middle finger at him. “That bloody ‘urt!” he complained while rubbing his pointed nose.  
“Huh, Marlin. What are doing here? I see your manners haven’t improved.”
“ ‘Allo, Jinn. ‘ow the devil is ya? Doris alright, is she?” Marlin beamed making his thin lips and dark eyes appear like those of a friendly gargoyle. He came over, ears flapping as he clapped him on the back.
“Hi, Marlin. Doris is fine thanks.”
“Jolly good! You should see that guy up there when I cut ‘is internet connection, or make ‘im think ‘e’s ‘itting all the wrong keys – Woowee! ‘e gets boiling mad, ‘e does.”
“I noticed,” said the Jinn leaning against the printer looking unimpressed.
“Excuse me. Are you saying, you caused all my computer problems?” said Kelvin leaning in close with fury narrowed eyes.
“Oh, yeah, matey. Bin ‘aving a lot of fun for the last few weeks, I ‘ave.” Marlin grinned. “Thank ya very much for the entertainment.”
“Entertainment!” A vein began pulsing in Kelvin’s forehead. “I should bloody kill you for all that hassle you caused and for ruining my hard drive, you little b—”
“Kelvin! Calm down you’ll blow a fuse. I’ll …”
“Ooh! Don’t you worry about that. I’ve got a collection of fuses. Big ones, little ones, ‘eavy duty ones. You tell me what amperage you is needing and I’ll fetch it for you.” Marlin said looking pleased that he might be able to help.
The Jinn slapped his forehead. “I don’t even want to know where you’re getting those from.”
“Well, you see.” Marlin put his hand over his mouth and carried on in secretive tones. “These ‘ere ‘umans is needing them to protect and earth all their gadgets and gizmos. When you vanish fuses, things stop working and ‘umans get super mad, see. I’ve seen ‘oovers flying out windows, men wrestling with power cords. And you should of ‘eard the lady next door, Woowee! The things she called ‘er electric mixer, were dark enough to curl my delicate ears – and all because I took the fuse out!”
“She’d be calling you worse things if she got hold of you, you idiot.” The Jinn rolled his eyes.
“Ouch!” Marlin made a pained expression. “I’m not going back there again then.”
“You’re not going back in my computer again either, you ugly, walking nightmare,” Kelvin told him with a finger pointed at him.
  Marlin looked stunned. He furrowed his little eyebrows and scowled. “ ‘ow dare you insult me. I is just ‘aving some good clean fun with you. That’s all.”
“When will you learn, Marlin. People don’t like troublemaking little gits. Especially when they make a person’s expensive computer malfunction.” The Jinn conjured a swirling portal. “Now, sod off home. I’ll see you at the Tipsy Toadstool for a pint of nectar later.”
Marlin hung his almost bald head and slumped at the shoulders. “I is sorry ‘uman. Gremlins is unable to sit still for too long. We is ‘aving to tinker with things and cause trouble to be ‘appy, you see.”
“I understand. There are no hard feelings, mate.” Kelvin put out a finger and smiled as Marlin took in both hands and shook it.
“You is nice ‘uman,” he said humbly.
“Well, I do try to be nice.” Kelvin became thoughtful for a moment, “You know what, Marlin. If you promise to make things work with your tinkering, instead of breaking them - you could visit from time to time.”
“Really?” Marlin beamed and danced a little jig.
“Sure, I could use a hand repairing things now and then.” Kelvin returned the smile.
“Aww, in ‘e a nice ‘uman, Jinn?”
“Yeah, too nice. I’d have squashed you flat if I was him.” The Jinn sighed and winked at Kelvin. “Goodbye, Marlin.” He added before kicking him up the backside. The Gremlin was caught unawares, the impact sent him flying through the portal.
Kelvin was sure he said something unrepeatable as he vanished but he’d never know now. “Will Marlin come back; do you think?”
“Well, he can make portals to Earth, so he might.” The Jinn spread his hands as he rose into the air. “Well, your computer troubles are over, anyway.”
“Affirmative. Thank you, buddy.”
The Jinn snapped his fingers as his body took on a warm red glow. “Your superhero’s have their heads again too.”
Kelvin saw his figurines beautiful restored on the shelf. “Cheers, Jinn. I appreciate a man who repairs the damage he causes.”
 “Me too!” The Jinn was now hovering under the ceiling fan. “So, when you ethically hack someone, I guess you say ‘sorry’ afterwards do you?”   
“I…” Kelvin closed his mouth. The Jinn had vanished. Kelvin smiled, shook his head and laughed. That was the strange half-hour of his life.



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