BLACK BOX TROUBLE
Diesel and Hatcher wouldn’t let Durham leave the room, but they did cut hm loose. The rubber strip that had bound his wrists made an audible noise when Hatcher sliced it. It popped as it contracted into a small rubber ball that fell to the floor.
Hatcher had returned with a deck, not the one he had left back in the hotel but a worthy substitute, small enough to fit into a jacket pocket. The rollout keyboard had seen better days and the projection screen had a tendency to flicker at annoying moments. But a quick systems check revealed that the innards of the sleek box were nearly as good as anything GT had ever supplied him with.
Laying out fiber-optics, Hatcher asked if Durham needed any wetchips. “Just about anything you could want floats through Madrid at some point or another,” he said, handing him the coil through the door. The old familiarity of setting up the rig almost allowed Durham to forget he was a captive or who he was working with. So much so that he scoffed at Hatcher the way he did at Nixon or any of the other meat mercenaries that provided security for him while he had done the real work.
“The concept of chips it outmoded.” Durham let that out before he remembered how far underground they were. Without a signal he wouldn’t be able to download anything for his neural net. Fingering the fiber-optics he felt a sense of relief. Once he was jacked in, he could download whatever he needed. His confidence returning he continued, “With an upgrade you could download whatever you need from the Sense/Net. Switch out whatever you want, whenever you want. No worries about which wetchips you have on you.” Durham thought about all of the salarymen in Madrid, Moscow, or Tokyo that were all battering their brains to stay in some kind of position, constantly shifting and expanding skill sets to keep AIs from taking their jobs. Personality disorders, psychological fragmentation, a whole mess of things that spilled out onto the Street in new batches of well-dressed homeless. The image reminded him of why he was grateful to have made the jump to his illegal brand, where AIs were (technically) forbidden to operate.
Hatcher’s laugh reminded Durham where he was and, suddenly, he wasn’t so grateful. “You put that kind of vulnerability in your own skull? Willingly?”
“That’s why they invented 1024 bit encryption. I’ve also setup a partition so I can apply test it. It’s pretty much unbreakable.”
A snort from Hatcher. “Isn’t that what they said in Uruguay? That their security was unbreakable?”
That froze Durham’s hands over the keys, the silicone squares blinking with the LEDs as if asking for him to continue. How did Hatcher just drop that into a conversation, like they were talking about the good old days? Did someone do some kind of psyche rebuild on him before he got dropped into the black ops cell? Durham shook that idea loose. He had worked with a few operatives that been reconstructed and they all had a kind of hollowed look about them. That is, before the inevitable disintegration of whatever implanted models held them together. Regardless, Hatcher didn’t act like one of those dead-eyed time bombs. Besides, how would he have planned his escape from the cell without some kind of self-determination? Unless, of course, whoever had rebuilt him had wanted him to run.
Durham shook his head again. No point in messing with that puzzle box. Focus on the task at hand: Get the rig up and running, upload the false after-action report, don’t have Hatcher shoot a giant hole in him.
Picking up the sensor glove Durham ran through the mental checklist. Then he clicked through to the Black Box, securing the data transport with a series of keystrokes and multi-touch hand gestures. It would take less time for him to upload the after-action report he and Hatcher had prepared in advance than it did to set up the rig.
Everything dropped away from the projection screen but a single command prompt, the pipes and bricks of the room’s walls becoming the backdrop to Durham’s subterfuge. His fingers danced through the protocols, then moved to upload the file. And there he stopped.
“What is it?” Durham sensed Hatcher reaching for his sidearm, a reflex at picking up at the confusion and dread that was now emanating from the technician. Durham felt it himself, like some kind of psychological radiation that thickened the room’s stale air. He focused through it.
“There’s already a report in place.” Hatcher stepped closer to Durham, trying to read over his shoulder. Durham saved him the time. “It says that both Nixon and I were killed in an attempt to extract an Ichiban-Martinez asset.” His fingers moved again, digging further back into the Black Box. “The entire mission’s been scrubbed. The directives to terminate target designated Kansas have all been re-written.”
Hatcher grunted. “Sounds like someone got word you dropped the ball and is covering their ass.”
“But why would anyone do that? Why falsify a report that’s meant to be completely deniable?”
“Dunno,” Hatcher responded in a tone that left Durham with the impression he didn’t entirely believe his own answer. “But if you show up on GT’s radar I don’t think it’ll be good for your health.” Stepping to the other side of the projection screen, the report of Durham’s demise glowed from Hatcher’s chest. “Looks like you can’t go home again.”