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Jen, Virtual Adept

I guess you could say my childhood was pretty normal.

With technology advancing the way it is today -- a computer in every house -- and my father working with computers as a job, it was pretty easy to get my early start with them. I had always showed a natural aptitude. I mean, it helped that I started really operating them when I was five years old. I'm not talking about juvenile games, I was using MS DOS and programming competently in BASIC at the age when most kids are learning to read.

Most of my free time was spent in front of a screen. Mundane activity grew boring, though. I started reaching past the law to amuse myself, hacking all but the most secure systems. Not for the thrill of information or property destruction, I wasn't into that. Just because nothing got my adrenaline going like getting into another "unhackable" database.

My school life was progressing steadily. I was naturally quick with programming languages, learning Pascal and C in a semester or so. I was also cultivating the poetic style that would become my hallmark. My sophomore year of high school was shaping me for something deeper than I could ever imagine. The conclusion of that year would prove to be the most significant event in my life.

The day school let out, I stayed around to say goodbye to all my friends, as I did every year. When they had all gone, I turned around, only to find a man I had never seen before standing right behind me. Before I could ask him his name, he said, "I hear you're good with computers." Without waiting for a reply, he handed me a card. "You want to go to the next level, meet me there." I turned the card over in my hand, finding an MSN chat room address on the back. I looked up, intending to ask him what he meant. But he was gone.

Logic would have told many not to go, that he knew of my reputation. The hundreds of sites I had hacked. The self-engineered viruses I had loosed on the school. I always worked problems completely through, so all of this occurred to me. I wrestled with the idea for a few hours. And my curiosity won, as usual.

I entered the address of the room I had been directed to. But, as my luck would run, the room was password protected. That hadn't bothered me for several years, though. I didn't even need the cracking programs. I had an uncanny knack for guessing passwords on the second or third try.

That day was good. It was a first try day. I got into the room, and only one other person was present. His online identity was Crazy Fuzz, and his first action was congratulating me on getting in. I assured him that it was really pretty simple. He laughed, then started to proceed with business.

"Business" confused me at first. He started talking to me about reality. At first, I thought he was talking about some new computer game or something, but after only a few moments I realized he was deadly serious. And man, the guy was convinced in what he was telling me. At first I was listening only to patronize him, but as the minutes wore into hours, I started to see what he was talking about.

Suddenly, I understood. And realization hit me harder than a ton of bricks ever could. Something inside of me snapped; it was like a dam...it burst, and as the water surged through, it inundated me with new sensatation. New understanding.

A new reality.

This new reality was exhilerating. Colors were more vivid and the air had a vibrance to it. I could feel warmth pulsating from my entire body, expressing the absolute elation I felt. I was ecstatic, capable of doing anything. I so intoxicated by this new awareness that it was several minutes before I came back down from my euphoria. A single sentence was written on the screen, a sentence etched deeply into my memory.

"Welcome to the gang!"