White Hat Black Heart by D. B. Goodin
Playing a virtual game is fun…unless the game wants you dead.
Nigel Watson is a clever teenage hacker who uses his skills to make extra spending money. But, after someone plunders his mother’s bank account and drains the funds,Nigel realizes his hacking could save the family.
Soon, Nigel’s online expertise is noticed by the billionaire founder of the Colossal Machine, a virtual game played by millions of people around the planet. When Nigel is given a chance to show his prowess, his skills outshine the work of the current developers. He even discovers new ways to cheat the game that no one else knows. But, Nigel doesn’t realize that his sudden success has made enemies who want him dead.
Nigel is thrust into the shadows of the Dark Web – a hidden part of the Internet where evil can find its way to your door. Little does he know, but the object of the game has become Nigel’s life.
In this cyber thriller, you never know who to trust when the virtual world makes it impossible to decrypt friend from foe.
Targeted Age Group:: YA 16+
Heat/Violence Level: Heat Level 3 – PG-13
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I got the idea for this book back in 2011, when I noticed an upward trend in data breaches. I had only been in the security space a few years and was just starting a Master's program in Digital Forensics. One goal for this book is to teach young people basic Cybersecurity concepts in a fun and engaging fashion. There is a shortage of qualified Cybersecurity professionals, and if this book piques the interest of young people, then the book has met its goal.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
When I wrote the first chapter Ellen, Nigel's mother, was the first character I had written. She was getting hacked in real-time and couldn't call tech support because Nigel was dialed in. Later, I got rid of the scene because it was no longer relevant. I wanted a teenage main character that stumbles onto hacking to support his gaming addiction. Later I added updated concepts that Nigel was obsessed with, like Machine Learning.
Nigel’s heart pounded so hard at the mere thought of facing Jake again that his chest began to ache. A jumbled, unfiltered stream of data entered his mind: punches from Jake, Jet, his mother, the game—that cursed game! Nigel could barely swallow, and his thoughts were confused. Am I having a panic attack? After several deep breaths, Nigel’s head cleared, and he focused on finding solutions to unlocking both his and Jake’s accounts. The Dark Web came to mind, but he had no idea how to gain access to the place where the shadows lurked. He couldn't think of any real solutions, so he did what anyone in trouble might do: call for help. Jet was sitting at her computer (as usual), jacked into a remote section of The Colossal Machine, a premium section of the verse that hadn't been released yet. She was helping the game developers test for bugs and other problems in their new expansion. Pretzelverse had sent her a large box full of goodies which contained a pair of bulky but functional virtual reality (VR) lenses. While the headset actually needed to be connected to her computer via wires, the immersive experience more than made up for it. Through the eyes of the VR lenses, Jet noticed that she was on the top level of a tall silver tower. Her avatar had a long staff with a blue crystal at the end, and she could see it waving before her as if it were truly in her own hand. She activated her cloaking armor as she entered the metallic-lined corridor. To her immediate left, an oozing black sludge leaked out of several holes. She knew from experience that touching the sludge was an instant permanent death. She had many hours invested in her avatar and didn't want to lose her place in the queue by starting over. If any of the testers died in the game, they were immediately resurrected in a starting area with no equipment, and since it had taken her approximately forty hours to get this far, Jet didn't want to risk anything. She had limited time to play during school nights; her mother enforced a strict curfew on gaming. She had to be off The Machine at 9:45, and lights out was at 10 p.m., but it was only 7:30. Plenty of time to clear this level, gather her loot, and stash it in her hidden hovel. She heard the chirping noise of her cell phone as she laid waste to dozens of minions the game was procedurally generating for her slaughtering pleasure. Since the game was online, she couldn't pause. She needed to reach the next checkpoint or a temporary safe camping area before she could even look at the text messages she was receiving. She couldn't think of anyone who might be contacting her at this hour. She didn't have many friends. She didn’t date, either. She knew other like-minded classmates that might be testing, but most of them rarely used the phone; communication was usually handled by the in-game chat system. Her friends’ accounts were “account-linked,” which meant they didn't need to be online playing the same game to communicate. Pretzelverse had established its own communications platform that was truly impressive. The company could have sold subscriptions to the communications system to non-gaming customers. Jet didn't know why Pretzelverse hadn't done this already; it seemed like a good idea to her. She snatched a small peek at her phone as she entered into cloaking mode on her avatar’s armor. She picked up her phone. The message that caught her eye was from Nigel. It read, “Jet hlp 4 I T…STAT.” Jet's heart skipped a beat when she read the next line: “I O U 4evr TIA.” If a non-technical person received this text message, confusion might have ensued; however, Jet knew its meaning, a call for help. The first line translated to: “Jet HELP for I'm in trouble.” The second line gave her hope, and the meaning was what motivated her to act: “I owe you forever and thanks in advance.” Although this sounded innocent enough, when a fellow gamer sent the letters “I O U” together, it was a sacred message to the recipient. It meant that at any time the IOU could be called in for a favor of the person's choosing. Jet's palms started to sweat at the thought of Nigel owing her. She had sat next to him in class for a long time, and she was very fond of him. Jet quickly checked her inventory and found her recall scroll, which allowed her to instantly teleport to a previous location where she had been in the game. She cast the spell, then logged off in a safe place. Jet replied, “Where do u want to meet?” “Public Library at 8 p.m.?” She lived about ten minutes from the library by bike and figured she better get going if she wanted to get there by eight. She replied,“Sure, 8 by the front.” “10-4. Bring your laptop.” The library was practically deserted. No one could be seen as she put her bicycle in the rack near the entrance. Nigel appeared from the shadows. He was wearing a black hoodie and blue jeans, and she could see his laptop in his hands. “Hey,” said Nigel. “Hey, yourself.” Jet didn't realize it, but she had a grin on her face. Nigel smiled briefly but regained his composure. “Should we get started?” he asked.
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