The Bazaar: Chapter 26

Hack or Die

Anyone who possessed even modest technical aptitude had at least briefly dreamed of founding a billion dollar tech firm. Fulton and Reese were no exceptions. Toward the end of their university careers they began work on a full-featured suite of user-friendly hacking tools. Fulton had been the inspiration. He liked to muck around with tech but he could barely code. Reese built him betas for a few simple utilities. Fulton called it Toolbox. The idea was to sell Toolbox to law enforcement and military clients, to instantly provide agents and officers with some basic information warfare capability.

The problem was Reese.

Reese got bored and gave up. He never properly debugged the apps. Since technically he and Fulton were 50/50 partners Fulton couldn’t finish up on his own (Reese insisted on drawing up a contract prior to the start of development, complete with an absurd buyout figure). After Reese’s suicide Fulton started carrying the apps around again. He kept telling himself he’d hire a freelance developer to finish the project. To date he hadn’t gotten round to it.

Now Toolbox would determine whether he lived or died.

His chipset’s wi-fi radio was still Connecting…

The way Fulton figured it he had one chance to dodge the bot. He’d throw himself from the top bunk to the floor, roll under the bottom bunk and buy himself a precious few seconds as the machine adjusted its aim. From there he had nowhere to go. From there it was hack or die.


Out in the corridor the bot’s servos whined. A laser sight dot appeared at the foot of the cot. It tracked swiftly along his leg. When it reached his hip Fulton threw himself full force off the edge of the bunk. He extended his hands slightly as he fell, so that when he landed he was in a push-up position, his arms bent slightly to absorb the force of the landing like shock absorbers.

A gun went off. Projectiles ricocheted off the metal bunk, pinging around the tiny cell.

In Fulton’s mind his little maneuver had played out smoothly and perfectly, with his roll and the shotgun blast occurring in isolation. He didn’t consider ricochets until the first pellets sliced into his back. Fulton had just begun processing those tiny stabs of pain when he hit the concrete, hard. The force of the impact shot from his palms up through his forearms, elbows and arms, through his shoulders then down along his back till an invisible baseball bat struck the end of his spine.


Fulton rolled the opposite direction, back under the bunks.

Another shotgun blast tore up the concrete where he’d landed.

Again the laser tracked toward him, probably along the heat signature he’d left in his wake. Of course there wasn’t enough time, would never be enough time, to beat this bot at a game it was designed to play and win with maximum efficiency.

About a foot from his head the laser paused.

Gunfire erupted from further down the cell block. The corridor rang with a sharp, sustained stream of ping ping ping ping ping sounds as bullets ricocheted off the bot’s armored shell.

The laser retreated from the cell. The shotgun fired several times in rapid succession.

Whoever had burst onto the cell block wouldn’t kill the thing with small arms. He/They wouldn’t last more than a few moments in a stand-up fight unless one of them had the foresight to pack a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. But they had bought him time.

Fulton dialed up his lens and rifled through Toolbox.

Reese structured the app suite around three basic tasks: network security/penetration, malware insertion and AI quarantine. Each task had a standalone executable to simplify the process, and an array of specific utilities to deal with potential obstacles. It had been years since the software was updated. It wouldn’t stand a chance against modern network security, but Fulton doubted this particular bot was on the bleeding edge of the tech curve.

He executed the network penetration and AI quarantine apps in quick succession.

Two glowing status bars materialized in front of him. They immediately began filling with electric green ooze as the apps went to work.

Out in the corridor the gunfire slackened. The bot began rumbling away from Fulton’s cell, back toward the new arrivals.

The top bar (network penetration) filled completely and disappeared. The second bar paused halfway. A transparent dialogue box appeared in place of the first box. It contained a list of all foreign entities present on the network. The first module cracked the network (almost instantly in fact – confirming Fulton’s suspicion that the military police here weren’t exactly technophiles). The second module completed its sweep for AIs.

It found only one: Chinese Hunter Killer, v???.

Fulton pulled the trigger on the quarantine. The status bar resumed its crawl across his field of vision, but this time at a snail’s pace. He closed his eyes and waited for the shooting to stop. And even with his eyes shut he saw that electric green bar, inching its way toward full.


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