Once past the first set of proxy servers, Carlton knew the real challenge was just beginning. The initial circuit of detours was a filter, a qualification round to weed out amateurs and cyber cops. The next level kicked off with a rather pretty anonymizer based in Calcutta. This was daisy-chained via the Sunray Network, flipped by the Indonesian Hub and doubled back three times. It took seventeen hours to navigate.
He worked, as ever, wired on speed and speed metal, and as he worked, Carlton became aware of a rising thrill that had nothing to do with the long-ago-plateaued amphetamine. He was starting to suspect the identity of the author. The procedure was familiar: exquisitely arranged symmetries, complexity of repetitions, subtly signposted pitfalls. Another week of work and no doubt remained; he was on the trail of his nemesis.
The onion routing continued: Sao Paulo, Singapore, Wisconsin, Minsk, Shenzhen. On and on, back and forth, as piece by piece the orb-like encryption was delicately peeled. He had never come this far, this close to his quarry, it seemed he could simply foresee the path to take, all traps and decoys fell away on his approach. The relativity of time became pronounced, moments melted into hours, weeks flew by, no night, no day, he lived a perpetual dawn of revelatory hyperlinks and ever-evolving message targets.
Near the end, following a particularly deviant decoy cipher, one he realised, almost too late, to be authentic, Carlton found himself at the gates of the final destination. Incredulous, fingers trembling, he tapped out the concluding code.
Upon return, he entered the hall of mirrors.
(Simon Kearns grew up in the North of Ireland and currently lives in the South of France. His debut novel, Virtual Assassin, was published by Revenge Ink in 2010. His next book, The Hyper-Reality Show, will be coming out in 2013. He enjoys experimenting with prose in the form of flash fiction, examples of which can be found on his site: simonkearns.com.)