A cheater is not the one
Who can potentially trick everyone,
But the one who actually did
And betrayed many indeed.
Beware, this practice is not rare…
No one knows how they look or what their native language is, but everyone has some idea of what these mysterious people are after: money, secrets, scandals, technology and probably some publicity.
They are all over the place: in the internet and on the Radio news, on TV and in newspapers, in administrative offices and in the Military, in financial and banking industries and everywhere else. And now I am one of them. Sounds funny? Yeah, I thought that too, but my boss, director Goldberg, thinks otherwise.
Let me introduce myself to those of you who are not familiar with our other work, a very special book named Spiritual Incitement Part II – Pundits of the Paranormal. My name is Serge. I am a valuable employee of a high profile governmental intelligence agency. That is what I can say today. And who knows what will happen tomorrow? As you have probably figured out already, director Goldberg is the Head of that agency. We, the workforce of the organization, behind his back call the man “The Goblin.” This is not intended to disrespect, but to highlight the director’s unique abilities of finding extraordinary solutions in difficult situations, which more often than not result in positive outcomes. Or, shall we say it in other words: that astonishing individual has a special talent to produce magic.
Another key figure in this story, as well as in many others, is Kristina, the agency’s top psychologist, and the author of a few best-selling books. Being a very skilled professional and a respected expert in her field, Kristina is proficient in hypnosis as well, and has extensive knowledge of a few other related disciplines.
This was the first day back. I just returned to work from taking a much deserved vacation after going undercover for a long period of time and playing the role of Master Hotab, a famous Psychic. Since, at the moment, the rumors claimed the legendary Clairvoyant is touring the world, surprising the people of the Globe with his remarkable abilities, I had the right opportunity to get back to my normal life and return to my regular routine. As soon as I showed up at the office, director Goldberg’s lovely assistant Kelly appeared before my eyes out of nowhere and solemnly declared: “Serge, you, Kristina and the director himself are going to meet today with some interesting and educated personnel from various organizations to discuss something important. The meeting is scheduled to take place in our conference room an hour from now.”
I, in my turn, answered: “Okay,” and then added: “Do I need to prepare anything specific like some reports or numbers?” Charming Kelly looked at me with a friendly smile and replied: “No, nothing like that, but the director wants to see you now to provide you with an idea of what to expect during the gathering. I am going to invite Kristina as well.”
“You look fresh! I hope your time off was amazing,” The Goblin greeted me with open arms. I made a cheerful face and enthusiastically reacted: “Yeah, it was great, thank you Sir. Can I be of any assistance?” First, the director offered me a seat and after that started talking about the latest international developments in the world and our role in it. Next, the conspiracy player shifted his focus on my personal involvement (since I asked if I can be helpful) in the upcoming important operation. The director, landing in his chair, said: “Obviously you have an idea of who hackers are and what they do, don’t you?” I responded: “Yes, I watch the news.” At that moment Kristina entered the room, apologizing for the interruption and whispered to me: “Nice to have you back. How are you?” She did not need the answer from me; it was just a polite gesture from a coworker, but I came back with: “I am fine, nice to see you too.”
In the meanwhile our boss made a sign to the psychologist to take a seat and continued: “You are going to be one of them. We are creating a special group, or a team of professional competitors to be exact, to help us in our line of work to stay ahead of the game.”
Being a well trained officer I expected that my skills are in high demand, but the phrase: “You are going to be one of them,” meaning one of the hackers, made me completely confused. I decided to clarify the received information and with an obvious uncertainty in my voice asked the director: “You want me to be a hacker, Sir? Is this correct?” The Goblin, looking at Kristina, probably for help, replied: “Yes. Who else if not you, Serge? You are the best we have. In your previous mission you pulled off a great job with Master Hotab and in my understanding that was more difficult. Additionally, you are in great shape, you are a quick learner and you have people skills, which is very important when you are a part of a team. And as I mentioned already, we are creating a group of professional players to help us with our plan. You won’t be left alone. For example: your coworker Kristina will be the general manager of the team. One of the major software development companies, the sponsor of the project, has offered a seat on their board of directors to this young, but smart and mature lady. They loved her books on psychology and recognized that she will create a lot of goodwill or intangible assets for their corporation with her research on modern technological trends and consumer behavior. Kristina, as you can recall, officially is not connected to our agency and is well known in the science world for her valuable contributions. This makes your partner a perfect candidate for this job.”
Director Goldberg stopped for a moment, possibly to catch some air, again looked at the young mind reader, like asking for her assistance in this complicated and interesting matter and then continued: “Do not worry Serge; we have all the areas covered. You are in great hands.” Eventually, seeing that the psychologist is carefully listening to what was said and not attempting to interfere, The Goblin decided to pass the leading role to the new general manager of the hacker squad to explain the situation. He said: “Please Kristina, do not be shy. Help me with the details here.” My partner, as she usually does, politely smiled back at the director and subsequently started her speech: “The whole idea behind the project is to create a competitive group of professional hi-tech specialists to work for the good guys, meaning for the average people of the world. In other words: to clean up the Internet. It is like we will “Hack the hacker,” that type of thing. We are going to make sure that the best international brainpower is working for us for this purpose and that the hooligans are taken care of. We are going to help the Police to deal with crime oriented individuals and at the same time, as I mentioned already, we are planning to employ the most talented and honest persons for our projects. There are many unfair games going on in the globe. Apart from many outlaws and wrongdoers, different governments have their own homemade groups of skilled technicians as well, whom they use for various purposes: lawful and unlawful. As you know, in many cases it is very difficult or almost impossible to prove who did what. If you carefully look at the latest hacker related scandals, you can see that these people, the unknown geniuses, were after the hidden truth, not the money. This gives a chance to humanity: not everything can be bought; some base their judgment and decisions on the moral aspects of life. These are people with principals; and we are going to use that for the greater good”.
Kristina stopped for a moment, perhaps to make sure that I follow the given direction and just before she resumed her explanations, I quickly stepped in with the following: “I see the idea behind the venture and to be totally honest, I find it interesting and challenging. I am in. It is like the United Nations or maybe the Interpol finally decided to do something about the Internet crime and gave us a chance to help.”
Director Goldberg, smiling courteously, commented: “We are not going to confirm or deny the claim, but that is why you are who you are: one of the top operatives in the field. You are able to see further and think deeper; at the same time you understand that people cannot count on a lucky card without working hard. Tell you more; the folks behind this project considered a huge number of candidates for this role, but they have chosen you. Whatever their reason was, I totally agree. I know you will not let them down.” After these last words The Goblin looked at Kristina like inviting her to continue and added: “Please proceed and good luck to you guys in this endeavor”.
The psychologist, still having a friendly facial expression (some people never change), calmly said: “The matter may seem to be very complicated, but in reality it is simple. Let me clarify. The software company, to which we belong now, separately from creating various business programs, also develops an assortment of different computer games. The cyber sport is a relatively new direction and it gets more and more popular every day. The number of international competitions is held in many countries across the world, with good prize money, and this gives us an opportunity to travel as a cyber team to participate in them without attracting much unnecessary attention. At the same time the corporation publicly offers certain challenges to the brave and the skilled internet hackers, of course for the reward currency, to test its products, break the program codes and find weaknesses in them. Since the products are highly sophisticated and created by many quite capable men, only the best of the best have a real chance to succeed. That is how we know, pardon me the chosen words, who is who. And after we find the right candidate, we thoroughly investigate them and make an offer they cannot refuse. Our team will include five players, counting you, plus a general manager, which is me, an assistant to the GM, she is a professional accountant and will cover the financial matters of the enterprise, a coach or a trainer if you will and in addition we will have a doctor and a lawyer, no pastry-chef though.”
After these last words I reacted right away: “Oh, I like good food. Why can’t we have our own personal cook?” Kristina probably saw this coming (men never change), because she made a comical face and replied: “Do not worry Serge, we will visit different countries and it is a chance for you to try various types of gastronomy. But let me return to the topic at hand. One may ask a fair question: “Why would the hackers agree to leave their secret, warm and comfortable cages and test our products?” And the answer is: we will provoke them. We will brag about our complicated and tough to break advanced systems on every corner. We will be mean, arrogant and offensive in our efforts. We will play on widespread human personality characteristics, such as greediness in some cases, “Yes, I can” in others and “I will teach them a lesson” at the end. So, the clever guys and ladies will have all the desire to give it all their effort to attempt to return us to reality, to put us in an awkward position and make some fat cash at the same time. Our corporation’s history is very well known. The information, including the payment of prize money in previous cases, is available on the Internet and everywhere else and the conglomerate is very trustworthy. We have many international firms as our clients and countless individuals play computer games created by the talented programmers we employ. This upcoming endeavor is a serious business and an amazing opportunity to change the situation in the world. That is about it, and I have covered all that I wanted to say for now. We have to move shortly to the conference room for a big meeting and to get more details. Do you have any questions so far?” I thought for a moment if I need any additional info and answered: “Not at present, but I am sure I will have some pretty soon.”
Some time later when I entered the gathering facility, there were already ten unknown to me individuals, men and women. Director Goldberg, Kristina and two other very important and familiar persons (I often see them on TV) showed up soon after everyone else took their positions behind the big table, which was positioned in the center of the place. The Goblin, as the host of the event, gave a formal opening speech and then introduced one of the big shot politicians to the crowd. The gentleman in his turn confidently whispered something about the significance of the project, promised to the participants all the support possible and then asked Kristina to take the lead. Hearing the bureaucrat I thought for a moment that his throat is sore, but it was just a manner in which he spoke.
The new general manager of the Super Group thanked the official and calmly said: “For those of you who are not familiar with the cyber sport yet, it is a relatively new discipline with an average salary of one hundred thousand dollars per year per participant. Some really good professional players make much more than that. Our plan is to be very competitive and the money will follow the brave and skilled. The phenomenon of the game is that: it can be really entertaining and often the organizers of the big events are able to fill stadiums with huge masses of spectators to full capacity. That fact alone tells us a lot; we have to take it seriously, we have to be prepared and we have to do our best. Also, I would like to provide some essential details about our future agenda. First, we are going to remain in the city for the next two weeks, doing the necessary preparation and working on the specific roles for each member of the team. The training starts tomorrow. After that we are scheduled for schooling and additional practice in Korea, working together with the most excellent local players for another two weeks and subsequently, as a conclusion of the tour, we are listed as a team participant in the major international eSport event there. And to answer the potential question: “Why Korea?” I would like to mention that the Korean contestants are at the top of the game. We can learn a great deal from them. Planning the upcoming trip we took into consideration many factors, including the distance between the continents, time zone differences and of course the quickly approaching high profile global competitions. Since we are in that region already, it makes sense to visit China next. Then it is Russia, Europe and at the end: North America. As you can see the travel is very well thought out, although some adjustments to the plan are possible.”
I noticed that everyone was listening carefully to what was said, including the VIP persons. I even thought that it is a good sign: you cannot succeed if you do not pay attention to small details. In the meantime, the speaker thanked all the involved parties for their help, financial and moral support and the opportunity. Then director Goldberg took the initiative into his hands, expressing gratitude and appreciation to the decision makers and finally closed the meeting, asking all the ten team members to stay in the room. When the officials left, Kristina introduced me to the rest of the squad. She said: “People, meet Serge “Moody” Colt. He is a new member of our team. Please treat him fairly and provide Mr. Colt with all the support possible.” After I heard that my last name was Colt and moreover, they called me: “Moody”, I tried to say something to my defense about a mistake made, but the new GM quickly touched me on the elbow like a suggestion to stay silent. I knew Kristina for a while, we participated in many operations together, so I quickly realized what she was telling me. The doctor, the lawyer and the accountant were all beautiful, clever and elegant ladies somewhere around thirty years old or so. I even thought that we have a very youthful team. Their names were Karen Baron, Danielle Stein and Julia Procter respectively. The trainer’s name was Mike Smith. Smiling politely the gentleman in his fifties asked me to call him Coach. The four other players were young guys, maybe between twenty and thirty years old. When my new teammates told me their names I noticed something unusual: all of them had some sort of a nickname or a certain abbreviation in the middle of the name too, like I had when they introduced me as “Moody”. The first guy was John “Sturdy” Diamond. The second player said his name is Joshua “FYU” Chen. The third introduced himself as Danny “Classy” Alvaro and the last man was called Andrew “NOMW” Kim. Following the opening formalities, the Coach came after me: “I hope you are a hardworking person, because I do not tolerate sluggish neophytes on my team.”
I tried to show some “positive” emotions and respect at the same time on my lovely face and responded: “I am. Nice to meet you, Sir.” The coach reminded every player that we start our training tomorrow and that he expects each cyber celebrity to show amazing discipline and punctuality. Later, when we were left alone with Kristina, I asked her about the instructor’s toughness and why he went after me right away. The new GM replied: “Yes, it was rough, but he is a nice person and is trying to establish some boundaries. As I understood, the actual memo was sent to the other four squad members, not you. Mr. Smith is a very experienced professional, a teacher and a good psychologist. Probably, just looking at you, he promptly recognized your ability to see things through and saw an opportunity to send a subconscious note to the rest of the group. I think it worked. And you, he knows you will understand and forgive him. To tell you more, this tactic is not new. I studied cases where the educator purposefully picks one guy; someone respected, and then, by being very strict to that individual, controls the entire team. Of course many people in charge, who use this strategy, fail miserably if they push too hard or do not distinguish the potential problems this approach might create. As it turns out, very often that highly valued team member is able to resist the pressure, suspects that the trainer is being unfair towards him and moreover, the vast majority of men supports the guy and even sabotages the final result for the group in order to get rid of that manager. There are some visible examples of it in professional sports like hockey, soccer or basketball, when the players intentionally drain their coaches. But do not worry, as I mentioned already, Mr. Smith is very experienced; he would not let anything negative happen. In addition, I am here to monitor the situation. Also, I would like to point out that I am totally behind the coach. We need a very competitive cluster of dexterous individuals to accomplish our goals. It is a serious task and a lot is at stake here. I am not sure if you know it or not, but many gamers, even the most talented ones, are lunatics. They can play computer games for hours and hours without taking any breaks. With time this questionable behavior frequently leads to different mental disorders and such, but the individual does not see it. They think they are normal and in control. The competitor’s job itself deals with a huge number of challenging situations and stress. If we do not protect our human resources, if we do not give them enough rest and emotional and other support, then we are not going to win and as a result we are destined to fall short; but this is not on our agenda. That is why we have a professional doctor on our team as well. You cannot change the world for the better if you are not ready to make sacrifices. When I was interviewing candidates for the upcoming mission, I specifically asked them if they are able and willing to reduce the amount of time they spend playing games. Everyone who was finally selected answered “Yes” and furthermore, they provided me with the real examples of such performance from their past.”
After that detailed explanation given by Kristina, I eventually started getting the bigger picture and ultimately figured out why we need a doctor and other skilled individuals on our extraordinary squad. I said: “Oh, I understand now. It is not a pleasure pastime as it initially appeared to be; but a serious business with potential risks to health.” The GM nodded her head like agreeing with me and then continued: “Tell you more. The people who are behind this project, they are intellectuals and can see further and think deeper. They realized that hate and the political games based on it will lead us to another catastrophe, only even larger than history knows. That road is the way to nowhere. The world is an unsafe place now and it is getting more and more dangerous. I am not talking about the numerous statements made by various governments, accusing each other, blame or the fake news they produce, which is a “new normal” today, but about such innocent things like kids’ toys. Yes, kids’ toys. How sick does one have to be to create an electronic doll that talks to innocent children, asks specific questions and then transmits the received information to some distant servers? Or another example would be a clandestinely inserting the bomb making instructions into a computer game. Of course there are many more dodgy cases like that. That is why we are in some sort of a covert, but because of its secrecy, powerful position to do our best to stop the madness.”
Agood State should make its men feel great.
And any decent man, according to the plan,
Must work hard in this regard
To make his State great…
The very next day, as it was previously scheduled, I showed up on time for training at the cyber centre. The coach was already there, waiting for me. After a friendly greeting I was surprised to learn that during the first week we were going to work with him one on one. The other four teammates are on site as well, but they will be doing something different. The reason for that separation was; I quote: “My awfully low level of technical education.” Also, the instructor later mentioned something like he is not sure if I can differentiate between a computer mouse and a keypad. I did not know what to answer; should I be happy or sad? Initially my ego was in the way, but I quickly sent it back to its cage and decided to use this amazing opportunity to study as much as I can: there must be a reason why I was chosen for this role.
In the meanwhile Mr. Smith showed me my working place, at the same time explaining the details of his educational plan. He said: “Your colleagues are exceptional people. Normal everyday life folks would call them nerds, but we know they are freaks or let’s politely say geniuses in their own field of expertise. These average looking men not only play computer games, but each one of them knows a few programming languages as well. They are the best of the best and can eliminate their opponent in a record time of zero point three seconds during the game. We will join them afterwards, but for now you have to learn not only practical aspects of the profession, but theoretical as well. I know you are not a tech guy, so my explanation will be simple. Being a team of professional cyber sport players and when crossing international borders, having computers and other equipment with us should not attract much unnecessary attention. It is our job to have it, but each gadget just looks average. In reality it is an enforced form of a special apparatus, which allows us to do our magic. If the customs people at some border want to check the gear we have, they would not find anything unusual: the additional utensils are installed inside the machines, but are physically disconnected.”
The coach stopped his explanation for a moment, then pulled out of somewhere a USB device and then continued: “When we insert these average looking, but cleverly made, supplementary memory sticks, we activate the added hardware and with a few extra commands the workstation becomes a supercomputer. Every member of our team, all ten of us, will have a decent electronic device, plus an additional external memory box, huge in size, a few good terabytes, by the way. Also, each associate carries with them potent cellular phones, which can be attached to the computers as well and used for good. But the five players, including you, will have additional game consoles. These appliances are different and powerful already. We have options to use every machine separately or to connect them together as one and you can imagine how dominant this system can be. By the way, this is your station.”
The instructor pointed his finger at a piece of equipment standing on a table, which resembled a computer but looked slightly different, and then continued: “You will be taught how to use it pretty soon. The first week of your training we are going to spend in the following way: every day we will dedicate half of the time to the process of learning fundamental theory and the practice of hacking. The other half of the day you will spend by playing competitive computer games. The allocated time is about five hours for each occasion. But don’t worry Serge; you will still get a lunch break. We need to lift your level up as close as possible to the rest of the squad. It is not an accident that your name is “Moody” Colt. More often than not, because of the absence of experience, you are going to shoot blanks in the game, meaning you will slow the team down. But once in a while you will have a great day, everyone does periodically, and that is why you are “Moody.” The outsiders will think it is just your personality characteristic, not a lack of training, and they will not even suspect that you are not a real player. However, I suggest you do not worry much; if you perform in a game shoddier than others; your associates will cover for you. At the end it is a team effort that counts, not the individual attempt. It takes time and a lot of practice to develop that winning psychology and achieve stability, but the sweat is worth it, because steadiness is a sign of mastery.”
With these last words the trainer reached out to the black bag sitting on the table and pulled out of there a small cardboard box. “Here,” he said, passing the package to me. Then continued: “This is your new portable telephone. We all, the entire team, have these. It is a Russian made YotaPhone. Go on, open it. I will explain a couple of things about the device.” When I pulled the shiny gadget out of the carton, the coach said: “As you can see, the apparatus has two screens: a full color touch screen, which is a standard thing for all smart phones and a black and white screen on its back. The flipside utilizes the same electronic ink technology as Amazon’s Kindle for example. That added black and white screen consumes very little energy and is On all the time, even when the phone is switched Off, permitting the possessor of the widget to check messages, the time, the to-do list and other applications such as the “Map”, without awakening the unit and significantly limiting the battery drain. Of course, our technicians made some adjustments and upgrades to the appliance; now the battery lasts even longer, the memory is much bigger, the processor is a lot faster and the cameras are of a higher quality. We need these advanced pieces of equipment for travel, to monitor different job related, as well as other critical alerts, and also this clever “get your hands on” move should make it easier for us to go through the customs border procedures when visiting Russia. As you can see we do everything necessary to fulfill a dream of building a winning team. We, the management, started with our own preparation to avoid potential frustration, because there’s no success without finesse…” After these clever concluding words Mr. Smith smiled for a while about something known only to the dedicated ones with the look of satisfaction on his face and then continued: “What is also vital, we have a number of undisclosed diverse electronic applications which can be downloaded on the device after we cross the border of almost any country with decent internet access. Then, when the mission is accomplished, we will remove them. This simple move allows us to eliminate the potential danger of being caught off guard by the foreign counter intelligence service during the border crossing dealings. Is everything clear to you so far? Do you have any questions?”
My attention was focused on the brainy YotaPhone in my hands, so I responded with a slight delay, saying: “No, not at the moment. It is just sometimes I wonder how gifted one has to be to create something like this,” and I pointed my finger at the handset, then continued: “Obviously I am not in that category and I am not a hacker or even a gamer; why did you people pick me for the mission and what is exactly my role in it?” The coach probably expected that type of question from me sooner or later because he started answering it almost instantly. He said: “It was our GM’s initiative. When Kristina and I were going through the list of prospective candidates, she explained to me a couple of things about the position: we needed someone bright, a quick learner and with experience serving in the Special Forces. Officially, you are a fifth player on our team; non-officially your job is to protect, detect and connect with the authorities and the intelligence community. We will do a lot of risky business and are going to travel a significant amount of time – we need somebody to look after us. You would not attract much attention, you are not a big guy, the size does matter, but the intelligence obtained in a timely manner and the prevention measures are important keys for the success of any venture. When putting a team together, we were looking to hire not the best security guard or a game player, but the best fit for the specific role on our team. It is like an expensive watch; each piece performs its function. Do you understand what I am saying?”
I simply nodded my head encouraging the instructor to continue. He looked at me suspiciously, and then added: “Tell me our hiring decision was the right one.”
I responded quickly with the following: “Only time can tell who is right or wrong, but I want to be strong. If your life has made a sudden turn, crossing the point of no return, get out of that bed and move ahead. Your future isn’t in the past: act fast… I play chess with life. I noticed that if I go first, this extra move gives me an advantage and more control over any situation. It does not mean I am going to win most of the time, but the opportunity is there. I agreed to participate in this project because I am opportunistic, but what is more important, I know I can be of a real assistance. Otherwise I would not take someone else’s post. I consider it a God’s blessing to be placed in a position to help people and this is not just loud words. I had my share of failure and success in this life and am aware of the magnitude of the present situation. Also, I constantly am teaching myself to eliminate all types of errors. In life, the same as in chess, you are not going to lose if you do not commit mistakes. I hope this answers your question and I won’t let you or the team down Sir.” The coach looked at me with a satisfied expression on his face.
At that time, our gorgeous ladies Karen Baron, a doctor, and Danielle Stein, a lawyer, entered the facility with Danielle saying the following words: “Oh, both of you guys are already here, good. Sorry, we are a little bit late. So, let’s begin. We need you Serge to sign some papers. It is just a routine formality.” I thought: “A lawyer is a lawyer, straight to the business.” While the legal representative was going through her folder, looking for something, the other lady named Karen, the doctor, addressed Mike Smith: “Did you talk to Mr. Moody already about the skills enhancement program that we offer?” The coach replied: “Not yet. I hoped you can do it yourself because you have more information and obviously are more qualified.” Staring at the medical professional in surprise I automatically repeated: “The skills enhancement program? Sounds interesting, what is it?”
Ms. Baron landed on the chair, which was standing nearby, made herself comfortable and then looking directly into my eyes, like trying to see through me, said: “I am sure Serge you heard about performance enhancing drugs, haven’t you?” Getting my thoughts together and after a brief pause I replied: “I heard something regarding this treatment within the field of sports, not with computer games. Isn’t it against the law?” The doctor politely and with sort of a guilty smile on her lovely face explained: “Let me give you more details on the subject and don’t forget we have a lawyer on our team to keep the matter legal. There are a number of reports about the issue in eSports. It is not rare to hear players and officials talk about the problem publicly, accusing each other and the rest of the world of violating the principals of fairness, but the current drugs control system isn’t working and no one has the political will to change it. In your case, as I was told, you are not in the position to refuse our suggestion of taking some performance improving substances, because your new job requires you to be sharp; your skills level must be lifted up significantly and in no time. Today I am not sure yet what medication to prescribe for you. It is all on an individual basis and we will do the necessary assessments later on. One category of players takes Selegiline, a medicine against Parkinson's disease, because it boosts motivation and mood. Others are after the drugs that can drastically advance attentiveness, prevent tiredness and shorten the reaction time, which, as I understand, is necessary during a competition. These are the psycho stimulants such as Adderall, Ritalin and Vyvanse. And yet other classes of gamers use substances like Propranolol or Valium for example, in order to remain calm under pressure.”