Chapter 4Once a hacker, always a hacker

A short time later T-Bone, Razor and Commander Feral had been gathered in a science lab at Puma-Dyne. After she had heard what has happened, Callie Briggs also had decided to come. The lab scientist just had removed the laser gun from the drone.

“I don't like it that these two vigilantes are allowed in here.” Feral complained to Callie.

“Hey! Give us a break, Feral!” T-Bone countered angrily. “Without us you'd still be chased by that thing! Or worse.”

“Besides, we were the ones who'd captured the drone, remember?” Razor added.

“They are right, Commander!” Callie said. “If it weren't for the Swat Kats, we wouldn't be here examining this thing right now.”

“Alright.” Feral responded. “But you'll take full responsibility for them, Ms. Briggs!”

“No problem. As you know, I trust them completely.”

The lab scientist cleared his throat in order to get everybody's attention and then explained:

“I have separated the laser gun from the drone. It looks like one of our designs.”

“What do you mean?” Feral asked surprised and angrily.

“You remember the secrets which had been stolen from us some years ago?” the scientist counter questioned.

“You mean the ones which had been stolen by Hard Drive and then being given to Dark Kat?” Feral guessed.

“Exactly.” the scientist replied.

“How is that possible?” Feral asked furiously. “I thought all the plans had been recovered when we had taken Dark Kat and Hard Drive into custody.”

“Maybe one of them hid a backup somewhere.” Callie guessed.

“Maybe.” the scientist replied and continued his report getting excited: “But anyway, this laser has been modified such that it is lighter than it was in its original design. Fascinating! I never thought that it could be carried by such a small device like this drone here.”

“Don't get too excited about it.” Feral said, noticing the upcoming enthusiasm in the scientist's voice. “This thing has shot down half of my squad.”

“Well then,” the scientist said. “Let's reactivate it, shall we?”

“Are you kidding?” T-Bone asked startled. “What if that thing goes crazy in here and starts smashing against the walls to get out?”

“Very unlikely.” the scientist responded. “From what we know so far, this thing had been controlled remotely and this room is sealed off from any signal coming from outside.”

“Still we better don't take any chances. Ready the short circuiting missiles, Razor!” T-Bone ordered.

He and Razor set their Clovatrixes accordingly and aimed at the drone. Then he addressed the scientist: “Okay. Now you can turn it on.”

The scientist supplied power to the drone which immediately started to levitate but didn't move into any direction.

“See! I told you it wouldn't do anything.” the scientist said to T-Bone. “Now, let's take a look at the code.” He started typing something into the console in front of him. Then a lot of gibberish was displayed on his screen. “Just as I've thought. It's encrypted. This might take a while.”

“How long?” Feral asked impatiently.

“Hard to say. I don't know what kind of encryption it is. And even if I knew, it can take weeks or even months to decipher it.”

“We don't have that long!” Feral responded.

“Maybe I can help.” Matthew Doubt said, who was just entering the room, accompanied by Lieutenant Felina Feral, the commander's niece. He was carrying a laptop under his arm.

“Felina, what is the meaning of this?” Feral asked angrily. “Don't we have enough unauthorized personnel in here already?”

“Please uncle,” Felina said, trying to calm him down. “Mr. Doubt has important information for us. Otherwise I wouldn't have allowed him to come in here.”

“Shouldn't you be still receiving medical attention at the hospital?” T-Bone asked worried.

“Don't worry, T-Bone,” Matthew responded rather cold. “I'm just sick of laying around, doing nothing.”

“So what do you have for us?” Feral asked.

“I've watched the broadcast from the golf course,” Matthew started to explain. “And I've recognized some of the behaviors that these drones showed. I've got the feeling that I've seen them before.”

“You? Where?” Feral asked impatiently.

“As you may know, I'm a specialist on programming artificial intelligence systems. If I could get a closer look at the code then maybe I could help you speeding up your investigation.”

“Even if I would allow it, this code is encrypted.” Feral explained without hiding that he didn't take Matthew or his offer seriously.

“Another reason why you should let me take a look at this. You got any information about from where this drone came from?” he asked Feral. According to the look on Feral's face he wasn't willing to answer that question.

Suddenly Callie did instead: “Not yet, but the attached laser gun is based on a design stolen from Puma-Dyne a few years ago.”

“Ms. Briggs! This information is classified!” Feral intervened, almost loosing his temper.

“Yes, I know that. But I'm willing to trust Mr. Doubt. As you said yourself, we cannot wait for weeks or even months to decipher the code!” Before Feral could say anything else she added: “I'll also take full responsibility for Mr. Doubt's actions.”

Feral snarled but then decided not to discuss this matter any further.

“Thank you for trusting me on this, Ms. Briggs.“ Matthew said appreciating. “Can you tell me who stole it?”

“Hard Drive, who then gave it to Dark Kat.” Callie answered.

Suddenly, Matthew got a very serious look on his face. “Hard Drive. That figures.”

“What do you mean, Mr. Doubt?” Callie asked, being a bit frightened by the look on his face.

“I don't want to waste our time on my suspicions, Ms. Briggs.” Matthew replied, who was getting impatient all of a sudden. “I want to have facts and this drone probably has them.” He went over to the scientist's console and then placed his laptop there. After that, he opened the laptop and addressed the lab scientist: “Would you mind lending me your seat for a while?”

The scientist stood up with a perplexed look on his face and moved aside.

“What do you think you are doing, Mr. Doubt?” Feral asked in a very unpleasant tone.

“What does it look like? I'm connecting my laptop with the drone, then I'll sit down and hack it.” Matthew answered snappy.

“But you don't have the clearance to do that.” Feral complained. “You're not even a member of my staff or an employee of Puma-Dyne.”

“That's true. But unlike the people here in this room I'm a professional hacker!”

All the people in the room suddenly looked surprised at Matthew. After a short pause he continued “Or was one at least. And if I'm not mistaken this will only take a few minutes. So please, let me do my thing and don't interrupt me while I'm at it.”

His last sentence sounded more like an order than a request.

Matthew sat down and started typing stuff on his laptop's keyboard very quickly. While he was doing this he mumbled: “Come on, come on! You cannot hide your secrets from me! Why are you trying to resist? Now give it up, for crying out loud!”

Then suddenly he started shouting. “Gotcha! Now tell me what I want to know.” The gibberish on the screen was now replaced by readable code, which didn't make a real difference for most of the people that were gathered in the room except for Matthew, the lab scientist and maybe Razor. Matthew studied the code for a few moments. Suddenly, the look on his face became like as he had just seen a ghost.

“No! No, no, no, no, no, no!” he said loudly, almost crying. “This cannot be! It was never meant to be used for that!”

“Matthew, what is it?” T-Bone asked concerned.

“Yes,” Feral addressed Matthew. “Could you please stop whining and tell us what you've found? I want to get my hands on the culprit who's responsible for this mess.”

Matthew looked at Feral with a sad look on his face and said: “You don't need to look any further, Commander Feral.” Then he sighed. “I'm right over here.”

“What?” Feral, T-Bone and Razor asked simultaneously.

“The code you see here, is mine.” Matthew started to explain. “It's part of Sally, the AI system, that Hard Drive stole from us last night. When I saw the drones on TV, I've immediately recognized their behavior, but I didn't want to believe it until I saw the code with my own eyes. Now, I'm beginning to understand what he meant when he said that the code is capable of much more than I can imagine. So this is the way he wants to let me suffer.”

“Suffer for what?” Razor asked curiously.

Matthew sighed again and looked down at the ground. “Hard Drive and I... we have... a common history.”

“What?” Feral, T-Bone and Razor asked simultaneously again.

“I didn't recognize him yesterday, because it has been quite a while since we've last met. We were almost kids then. Truth is, that we were both into hacking in these days. We were good. I mean really, really good. It all started rather harmless and we did it just for fun. We hacked into the systems of a few companies, sending some fake emails from one employee to another and such things. Nothing serious.”

“Nothing serious?!” T-Bone asked, being shocked. “Are you kidding me?!”

“We just wanted to show how insecure the digital infrastructure of most companies were!” Matthew carried on. “But then, one day, Hard Drive – he wasn't known by this name back then – had the idea to hack into bank accounts. He shifted a lot of money around, opened fake accounts and finally took the money. And I didn't notice anything. He knew that I would never have participated in such a scheme and he was very good in hiding these actions from me. But one day he made a stupid mistake. He forgot to erase one of his traces he had left on a server. When things started getting hot he panicked and confessed everything to me. He asked me to fake some evidence, making him look like a false lead. He was getting paranoid and thought that every move of him would be tracked from now on. And he was probably right about that. So he hoped that the authorities hadn't found a connection between the two of us at this point.”

“So what happened next?” Callie asked, when Matthew's thoughts drifted away and he didn't continue to tell his story. Matthew shook his head as he drove his thoughts away and then looked at her.

“I declined and it didn't take long until Hard Drive had been taken into custody. Of course, I was also accused for unauthorized accessing of corporate property.”

Matthew sighed once again.

“I was able to prove that my actions didn't do any serious harm, but it was still a crime. Then the following bargain was offered to me. If I testify against Hard Drive I would go free. I think all of you can guess what my decision was.”

Everybody in the room nodded.

“And this was the end of the relationship between Hard Drive and me. He went into jail, I didn't hack into any system ever again and started my career as a programmer. We never saw or talked to each other again. Until yesterday.”

Feral was the first to take the word after Matthew had finished his story.

“And now you think this code from a childish game will be a threat to us?” he asked arrogantly. “Don't be foolish. We will analyze it and when we know how it works we shoot these drones down, one after another.”

Matthew started laughing desperately.

“Commander, I'd be careful calling me a fool.” he responded snappy. “First, the code you see here is only a small fraction of what I've created. It's only a script that communicates with the core. The core itself is the brain behind everything and it's probably located somewhere on a secret server. Second, Sally doesn't only rely on predefined behaviors, it's self-learning. Meaning, it analyzes everything you do and develops countermeasures against all of your actions. So the next time when you encounter a drone the strategies you've successfully used once won't be working anymore. And finally I'd like to add that this isn't a childish game. It's serious. It's even more serious than I've imagined.”

“If that's true, why did you create such a dangerous thing?” Feral asked shouting. “Are you insane?”

“No! I was just naive, like in my hacking days.” Matthew responded, trying to justify his actions. “I never thought that my work could be misused in such a way!”

But this made Feral even more angry such that he started threatening him: “You know that you'll be made responsible for this mess!”

“Fine!” Matthew started to argue. “I hope the same goes for the weapon developers here at Puma-Dyne. Without their blasted laser gun my code would be worthless for Hard Drive. You are playing the same dangerous game as I do, Commander!”

Feral looked angry at Matthew but didn't seem to know how to counter this argument.

“Please calm down, both of you!” Razor intervened. “Blaming each other won't help us getting out of this situation.” Then he continued: “I was wondering, if the laser gun came from Puma-Dyne and the AI code came from Young Industries, where did the drone itself came from?”

“Perhaps I can shed some light on this, young man.” the voice of an old kat said. Professor Hackle entered the room accompanied by an Enforcer officer.

“What is this? Open house at Puma-Dyne?” Feral asked sarcastically. “Professor Hackle, what's this got to do with you?” Razor asked.

“Simple, young lad. The drones are my design.”

Everyone gasped and nobody said anything until Hackle continued talking.

“Though I'd actually never had the chance to build them. I had the plans stored in my archive for safekeeping, but it wasn't safe enough as it seems. You see, I saw those drones in that report on TV and when I've checked my archive I've noticed that my plans were gone. I've also noticed a hole in the ground, but it was way too small for a person to fit through.”

“Creeplings!” Razor immediately deduced.

“What are creeplings?” Matthew asked unknowing.

“Small winged devils in the service of Dark Kat.” Razor explained. “Now this is starting to make sense. Only Dark Kat has the means to build these drones and must have teamed up with Hard Drive in order to get all the pieces together.”

“You remember what happened last time they joined forces, buddy?” T-Bone asked very concerned.

“How could I ever forget. First, we were almost fried by Hard Drive and then almost shred into tiny pieces by Dark Kat. Not to mention that they stole the Turbokat and tried to ruin our reputation.”

“Yeah right, Feral thought it was us when Hard Drive wreak havoc on Megakat City with her.”

Feral snarled once more, but preferred to keep his thoughts for himself again.

“Well, I guess we now know everything we need to know.” Razor concluded. “Let's go, T- Bone. We need to find out where Dark Kat and Hard Drive are hiding.”

“You got it, partner.” T-Bone confirmed.

Before anyone could say anything they had left the room. When Matthew realized that they were leaving he took his laptop and followed them. Feral shouted after him:

“This isn't over, Doubt! Don't leave the city, you hear me?”

Matthew heard it, but didn't care. Feral snarled, but then tended his attention to the lab scientist: “I want this code being analyzed immediately and I'll await your report ASAP!”

“Yes, sir!” the scientist confirmed and turned over to the console in order to start working on it.

“The Enforcers won't be outsmarted by some game code from a blasted nerd!” Feral said dismissively, while he looked towards the door through which Matthew just had left.

In the meantime the Swat Kats had reached the roof of the building were they had landed the Turbokat earlier. Suddenly, Matthew came running through the door they had just went through.

“T-Bone, Razor, wait!” he shouted. “Please, let me come with you.”

“What? No way!” Razor responded, before T-Bone could have said anything. “Listen, you're a nice guy and T-Bone here is really admiring you. But we can't allow anyone into our secret hideout. It wouldn't be secret anymore, would it?”

“Then hit me over the head with something and take me there while I'm unconscious. I don't care. It cannot be worse than being fried by Hard Drive. But you'll need my help for sure.”

“Please stop getting dramatic, Matthew.” T-Bone said. “What kind of help are you talking about?”

“Didn't you listen to what I've said earlier?” Matthew asked, suddenly being upset. “As great as your flying and fighting skills may be, the drones will sooner or later get the upper hand on you for sure. Maybe I can help you developing some countermeasures which you can use the next time you encounter them or find a weak spot in my programming.”

“I really appreciate your offer, Matthew,” Razor responded. “But this is too risky. We're better off finding a way ourselves.”

“I see that I cannot convince you, but maybe this can.” Matthew put a pen and a calling card out of his pocket and wrote something on its backside quickly. Then he handed the card over to T-Bone.

“What's this?” T-Bone asked.

“This is the code to unlock a special arena of Airborne Kats.” Matthew explained. “It was meant to be used for a challenge tournament, which unfortunately was never arranged. What you will see and experience is just a glimpse of that what will happen when you'll face the drones next time. Remember, the AI code in Airborne Kats was limited to flying objects. This new code includes a lot more. You'll be facing the same problems when you are on the ground or on the water.” Matthew pointed with his finger at the buildings of Megakat City which could be seen at the horizon from the rooftop of Puma-Dyne. “This is Dark Kat's level now. It doesn't make any difference to Sally if it is real or artificial. If you change your mind about my offer, contact me. My address and telephone number are written on that card.”

He pointed on the card he just had given to T-Bone.

“Thanks.” Razor responded. “We appreciate your help, but we really need to go now. Goodbye Matthew.”

T-Bone and Razor manned the Turbokat and prepared for liftoff.

“I understand. But please play the game. Try the code I gave you.” Matthew insisted. “Farewell, Swat Kats.”

“We will.” T-Bone promised. “Farewell, Matthew.”

A moment later the Turbokat was in the air once again and flew away.

When Matthew was about to leave the Puma-Dyne compound, he met Professor Hackle on his way out.

“Well young lad,” Professor Hackle started to address him. “It seems we both have much to think about.”

“You can say that again, good man.” Matthew responded. “What was your name again? I think we weren't properly introduced.”

“My name is Professor Hackle. I've once worked for this organization here until I realized that my inventions weren't used for anything useful. Only to wreak havoc with them. Now I'm working on things which are a real benefit to katkind someday. But I'm cursed as it seems. Again one of my designs is being misused for foul purposes.”

Hackle sounded sad and tired.

“Yes, just like my work.” Matthew said depressed. “I've created it to entertain people not to threaten or even kill them.”

As they walked over towards the Professor's car Matthew realized Hackle's tiredness and also that walking longer distances seemed to be an effort for the old kat.

“Can I give you a hand, Professor?” Matthew asked as he walked towards the Professor such that he could lean onto him. “I can drive you home if you like. I haven't anything planned for today anyway and I have no desire to go back into the hospital. I've been rotting there long enough.”

“If you insist, young man. Here are the keys to my car. What about your car, Mr...?”

“Oh, sorry where did I left my manners?” Matthew apologized. “My name is Matthew Doubt, I'm a game developer at Young Digital Entertainment. I took a cab in order to get here.”

Matthew unlocked the car doors and helped the professor to take a seat. “Where do you wanna go?” Matthew asked when he started the car's engine. “I'll give you the directions while we are on the road, lad.”

Matthew nodded and drove the car away from the Puma-Dyne compound.

In the meantime Hard Drive checked the data received from the drones.

“What do we have so far, Hard Drive?” Dark Kat asked curiously.

“The computer has finished analyzing the attack.” Hard Drive started reporting. “As predicted the Enforcer choppers weren't a real match for the drones as soon as they got aware of them. Only one of them was shot down by a chopper during the battle.”

“Good.”

“The Swat Kats however have been a different matter. At first they were having a hard time, but then they were able to take out the entire swarm with manually triggered EMP-Missiles. Finally they've also shot down the last drone who had left the formation in order to attack the Enforcer choppers.”

“Why those little,” Dark Kat started to shout, getting furious.

“Relax, Dark Kat. This is a self-learning system, remember?” Hard Drive reminded him, hoping to calm him down.

“Of course I remember! That's the whole point!” Dark Kat replied, still being angry.

“Exactly. We just have to wait until the next encounter. I bet, it'll be their last one.” Hard Drive said confidently.

“I hope so. Assembling these drones doesn't come cheap, you know.” Dark Kat said admonished.

“Sure I do, but isn't it natural that you have to invest something before you get a benefit?”

Dark Kat obviously didn't seem to be in the mood to answer that question. When Hard Drive noticed that he asked: “So, when will the next set of drones be ready, Dark Kat?”

“Soon. And this time we'll fortify their shells so that they can absorb the EMPs. When the Swat Kats have been shot into pieces there will be no more serious resistance and the city will be in our grasp.”

Dark Kat and Hard drive looked at each other and then started laughing contemptuously.