The laughing death’s head disappeared from Faisal’s flatscreen, leaving a black void in its place. Behind him the VIPs murmured. He didn’t need a translation from Paolo to know they were wondering whether this was a problem or just part of the show.
He caught a whiff of one of Don Carlos’ Turkish cigarettes. Unlike the narco and guerrilla VIPs Don Carlos would not have any trouble figuring out whether this was part of the show.
That’s what you get for improvising, for taking a job from guys who’d never held a touchscreen but still decided on a whim to fight a cyber war. Not that Don Carlos would ever admit that. This would go down in history as Faisal’s fault. It would be Faisal’s failure. It would be an excuse to pay Faisal less, to talk shit on Faisal’s work, to have Faisal handle more shit-kicker clients rather than the cream of the crop. You lived and died by your reputation in this business and he resented the fact his might take a hit because of forces wildly out of his control.
Faisal hoped he hadn’t said any of that out loud.
Then, the sound of Paolo’s voice low in his ear: “He wants to know what’s happening.” “He” meaning Don Carlos, of course. Given Paolo’s tone of voice you’d think he was talking about some deity that would strike him down if he didn’t show proper reverence.
“Tell him I’m fucking working on it,” Faisal snapped.
Paolo retreated into the crowd of narcos. The murmuring had gotten louder in in the interim. By now the majority of the VIPs clearly suspected something was actually wrong, as opposed to a minor hiccup that would be resolved quickly so the show could resume.
Faisal parsed the network traffic in the vicinity of the prison. There wasn’t much happening in the pre-dawn hours. Certainly not in the slums. No bots on the network. Either the prison had a total supply of one or the others had long since been shut down and dismantled. Maybe scrapped for spare parts.
He widened his search pattern.
A couple small, AI-controlled surveillance bots ran racetrack pattern circuits around the neighborhood. Either mercs or USAF. The police didn’t fly drones here. The military police had them but didn’t use them, so far as he knew, and these models looked too new to be local. Faisal didn’t bother with the details. Under normal circumstances he’d pause to fuck with them, but these were far from normal circumstances and the little bots weren’t armed, which made them just about useless.
He widened his search pattern further.
About ten kilometers out at twenty-thousand feet he hit the jackpot. A proper USAF EXPED drone orbited around the edges of the capital. It had a full sensor suite, complete with visual targeting pod and FLIR cam (so the VIPs could watch the fireworks). Most important, however, was its full complement of laser-guided missiles.
Drones weren’t hard to crack. Faisal did it on a daily basis to confuse the ones that came looking for the narcos’ jungle camps. But there was a big difference between cracking a drone to give the AI pilot a little nudge in one direction or the other and cracking a drone to rain hellfire down on a major metropolitan area. The USAF operators would notice. In the short-term they would ground the drone fleet, re-examine their operating procedures, probably tighten up security. USAF EXPED was slow but not completely stupid. In time they’d fix the most obvious exploits and Faisal would have to crack the drone fleet all over again.
He paused. Such a waste. Here he’d throw his whole setup away to keep the client from PMSing all over the place. On top of that a drone hack would be a rip-off of a past op. He’d done drones before, in Grozny. It didn’t help your rep to execute the same sorry hacks again and again.
Then Faisal caught the sweet scent of a Turkish cigarette again.
His nostrils flared at the smell, and he knew he hardly had a choice.