Black Cat Chronicles
The virus delivered its payload and the reactors spun out of control. Freedom fighters stormed Tahrir Square and took the capital. The worm was sent through satellites, crippling all communication by com-link. Images of melted corpses, scattering masses, and mushroom clouds filled the HCS video feed. He watched Egypt’s tyrannical Pharaoh evaporate into a puff of nuclear dust — target neutralized.
The total attack took eight hours and the coup was completed in eighteen. Zed collected his cryptocurrency and got the fuck out of dodge.
The 1047 Sea-plane banked a hard left before rising to cruising altitude. After a brief brush with turbulence, the passengers breathed easy while a baby cried in the background.
Zed looked out the window over the wing. The sky was the color of the sea and his mind was swimming with horrific thoughts. Thoughts of explosions, thoughts of blood, thoughts of charred bodies burning in the Atlantic. He looked away toward a passenger next to him. Flying usually made him a little uneasy.
The adjacent passenger wore an Italian-cut black suit with a red tie. A black fedora hid half of his face. Zed watched him reach past a small, black and white, polished chrome checkerboard inside his carryon and grab a little red book.
“You’ve got a sword, are you a samurai?” Zed asked.
The gentleman in the black hat peeked above his book. “What?” he said.
“Your chessboard,” Zed said. “The game of chess is like a swordfight.”
“Oh, interesting concept,” Black hat replied. “Care for a game?” A slight tilt in his head, the gleam in his eye caught Zed’s reflection.
“Let’s do it.”
The board was set and the battle began.
Zed chose black and Black Hat chose white. E4 E5. The two swordsmen met in the middle and drew their blades.
“So, what do you do for a living?” Zed asked.
“I work in the health industry. You?” asked Black Hat.
“I do computer consulting, nothing major.” A truth-based lie.
Just as the knights came charging out, the stewardess walked by: “Anything to drink gentleman?”
“Whiskey on rocks.” Zed’s eyes rest on her thighs.
“Coke for me.” Black Hat’s eyes never left the board.
“No problem at all,” she said with a coy smile as she poured the Jack Daniels and Coca-Cola into the small cups of frosty ice.
She finished up and sashayed down the aisle; Zed watched every step. Black Hat landed the first blow and Zed was bleeding — Black Hat’s bishop had just snatched a pawn. “Shit, I guess it’s game time.” Zed took a sip and focused on the board. Black Hat gave a sinister smirk below his brim.
“So, do you work in an office in Shallow City?”
“I freelance,” said Zed. “It’s easier to travel. What about you? Are you a doctor or a bio-tech?”
“Neither, I work for a small private company that handles nanotechnology and stem cell research.” Said Black Hat.
Zed’s knight knocked off Black Hat’s bishop in a single swipe. He took another sip of Jack. For the next ten moves the two samurai danced across the board crossing blades, parrying moves, and making cuts. The match was brutal. Plenty of blood was spilled on the intellectual battlefield.
“Have you ever watched a computer virus spread? They hold a striking similarity to biological viruses. Once they infect their host they appropriate natural cell functions turning benign processes malignant. If left unchecked they’ll destroy their host and move on to the next.” Zed mused. “Our brains have a unique ability to control our body through electronic signals the same way a core controls a computer — they can even be used to control external entities. How do stem-cells relate to nanotech?” Zed wanted to pick his brain.
Black Hat studied the board, prepared his counterstrike.
“Nanotechnology has the power to advance the study of virology — both digital and biological.” He pondered a moment. “As living organisms we’re drawn to similarities, and we reject anything which is opposite — our cells are no different. People can be infected with viruses, and due to the power of negative thought, or malignant intentions, they can also become viruses causing chaos in the mass populace through misuse of their intelligence. Stem-cells can adapt according to their environment and replace damaged cells in a body, they can also enhance living cells; they’re blank slates with the power to transform into anything you desire. Once we isolate the genetic code for this ability, we can program our nano-bots to replicate the behavior. The militaristic applications alone are enough to drive our research.” Black Hat rubbed his beard.
“It seems like white blood cells and anti-virus coders alike are caught in an eternal chess game with pandemics and malware. We live life on the edge of a sword, balancing between life and death.” Zed agreed.
The plane hit a spot of turbulence and pieces flew everywhere. Black Hat spilled a spot of Coke in his lap. “Dammit!” he scrubbed his trousers with a white napkin. “I guess that’s the end of the game.”
“No. Not that way.” Zed straightened his posture and looked intently at the board. “Just give me a second.” The swordsman picked up the board, the pieces, and began to reassemble the battlefield. Black Hat looked on in curiosity as the pieces were placed in their exact order. “That’s pretty impressive,” he said.
“Yep. Your move.” Zed sat back, nodded, and sipped his drink.
“Check.” Black Hat leaned forward and furrowed his brow. His queen had just sliced a path clean across the board. Zed paused for a second and defended with his final pawn — an odd move. Black Hat quickly decapitated the lowly pawn and re-checked the king. Zed smiled and side-stepped with his knight; the queen had been captured. The two samurai stared each other down and discussed the new technology of Nanoamniotic-cybernetic Implantation — Black Hat’s firm was researching methods to combine stem cells with nanotechnology in order to create regenerative cybernetics. Research, while still in its infancy, showed promising growth for public and private industries.
The pilot spoke as the plane prepared for landing.
Both kings were exposed and the board was barren. A samurai knows when his death is upon him, it is at this point his true strength is tested. He must stand and fight with honor or fold and flee. The two airborne assassins stood bloodied and poised for their final strikes, not a single trace of fear in either swordsman’s eyes.
Black Hat attempted a defense with his rook but Zed cut down the castle with his queen. “Checkmate.” Zed took a final sip of Jack, savoring the sweet syrupy spirit.
“Your technique is remarkable,” Black Hat said handing Zed a business card.
803 Art Way, Shallow City
Bill Steel — Research & Development
After an exchange of emails and final glances the two departed the plane. A pair of swordsmen passing in the wind.
In his dingy, dorm-sized, one-bedroom apartment, the roaches no longer ran and neither did the water. Zed had neglected to pay the bill last month during his contract in Egypt. He had been hired to hack into the database of an arms dealer in order to cripple a terrorist drug-lord’s cartel and create a virus strong enough to take out the dictator’s nuclear facilities. After spending an entire month in the desert staging a coup de ’tat, having no water didn’t bother him; he could always go down the hall and crash on Viidän’s couch. She was always happy to have him over. Zed had taken on a decided aversion to Viidän’s advances, in his mind it was better to keep telepaths at bay — you let ’em get too close and they’ll rewire your brain, make you see what they want you to see, turn you into a slave. He only visited her apartment to sleep when Viidän was too afraid to sleep alone, shower, and shit — just when it was absolutely necessary. For his first night back in town he decided to sleep alone, in peace.
The rain pounded against his cracked window pane and a crack of thunder woke him. He rolled out of bed, groggy in the late night, and decided to go on a cyber crawl. Stretching and yawning, he waded his skinny, tattooed frame through a sea of veggie-lover’s pizza boxes and water bottles, sat down at his Holographic-Shell Command System, and lit a half-smoked blunt. The light blue vapors filled his nostrils and wafted above his head. He cleared his mind and prepared to boot up.
The Holographic-Shell Command System (H.C.S.) had a certain Victorian charm in an age with direct neural interface jacks, geminoid androids, and humans opting to become cyborgs. In the 30 years since direct neural interface had been achieved users began jacking-in instead of booting up, processes became automated, and hackers ran free within the newly connected neural highways of the matrix within the mind. Archaic as the H.C.S. may have been in 2103 it provided the knowledgeable user with complete control and unmatched efficiency. Zed was a conductor at the controls — a lone swordsman freely following his bushido — coding was in his soul.
Booting up was as easy as placing his thumbprint on a three-inch chrome cube, receiving a retinal scan, and speaking a passphrase — a process long-forgotten with the advent of jacking-in and biometric verification protocol. Zed was in a shrinking class of citizens who still believed in the sanctity of their own minds; his motto was ‘ANYTHING can be hacked.’ Upon booting up he was greeted with a symphony of lights and sound. The sunset pink, eight foot wide, three foot tall screen of light gave off a relaxing and radiant hue amidst the multi-colored icons projecting forward. After a millisecond or two he was greeted by A.L.I.C.E. (Algorithmic Lifelike Intelligence for Computational Encryption and Engineering). A.L.I.C.E. had been designed as an operating system specifically for the purposes of Zed’s protection and secrecy.
“Hello Alice.” Zed blew a puff of smoke.
“Greetings Zed.” A.L.I.C.E. replied softly.
“Activate Program X.” Zed dropped ash in an empty pizza box.
Blue and green badges flashed across the screen while black lines of text of text danced in unison in the lower right corner. Zed grabbed the text box on the holographic touch screen and enlarged it. The H.C.S. produced a silver holo-board full of keys and commands. The smoke filtered through the holographic light of the screen and keyboard in a surreal show of blinking patterns and blue plumes. Zed began typing in a frenzy — A.L.I.C.E. became an orchestra with Zed as her conductor. The various C sharps and static hashes layered in with the sounds of pinging and executing commands — calling commands was pure poetry. A.L.I.C.E. responded rhythmically, melodiously. She gave him feedback, guiding him safely in and out of databases, singing in her smooth, soft, electronic tone. The smooth stroke of keys created a steady beat for his Bethovanesque programming style.
Program X was a piece of hacking software Zed created from stolen source code. He used this software to locate vital information within databases belonging to terrorists and criminal cartels — he had a knack for hijacking their bank accounts and cracking their crypto.
His contacts in the Egyptian coup had tipped him off to a trail of crypto-currency being routed into Shallow City (rebel intel suggested the money may lead back to Hydroco). If the intelligence proved true and Shallow City’s water treatment plant was in bed with terrorists Zed needed to know why; so, dictated by curiosity and driven by cause, he dove down the rabbit hole.