VZ Goliath [Sci-Fi Novel]

06

‘Isn’t it hypocritical for us to lecture Salim when we both are doing the same? Profiting from a corrupt and broken system, kill and extort for money.’

They were back in their hideout and analyzed the sample. Their small analyzer that looked like a microwave was buzzing in the background while Z was trying to decrypt the data of the psycho from the butcher shop.

V turned towards him. Her blond hair was shoulder length and tied to a ponytail. He had stayed bald. Her voice had gotten deeper and was a lot more nuanced. When she spoke, you could hear the tension in her words. She sounded like a person you don’t want to mess with.

“There are many reasons we could use as an excuse. We grew into a world of crime and did what we had to survive. Somebody else would have done it, if not us. But it does not matter. We liked what we did, and we were good at it. The system is fucked, but we can dial it little by little with our actions. After all, we are not the cold-blooded killer everyone thinks we are. We give people choices and leak the really nasty shit. It’s not like we don’t care.”

“But is it enough?”

V walked over to the bald man who was staring at the floor like a sad puppy. She got down on her knees, put her hands on his cheeks, and looked him in the eyes. He must have thought about this a lot after he had died. She could feel the importance it had to him.

“You know that it is not enough, just because you are asking the question. We can do better; everyone can. This is a fresh start for us. We can start something new, something better. How much money do we have left?”

“Replacing the equipment, getting new trans-clothes, and another set of body-backups and minus the debt, we are short just under ten million.”

“Sounds like more than enough to start a life with some new work ethics.”

She gently slapped his cheeks a few times, and he started to cheer up. They could have done this a lot earlier, but better late than never. She got back to the microwave, dissecting their sample.

The activity on the grid that had spiked from the bounty hunt had gone back to normal. Nobody knew they were still alive, and nobody expected so. There were some threads on the darknet forums about the claimed bounty and its implications. Sam and Dan had been respected in the business, but of course, they also had their enemies.

 

“Insane. I would have never thought to see this day. Any idea how they ended up getting a bounty on their head?”

“I heard they fucked up a job from a huge client. Some corporate billionaire. Seems like they pissed off the wrong person.”

“With them gone, there will be some space to fill.”

“I’ve had some deals with them over the years and they were true professionals. Rare to find these days.”

“I’m glad they are rotting in hell. These assholes have suppressed the market for many years and made it impossible to get any VIP client.”

“If you think you can only build your reputation with them gone, you are pretty inexperienced kiddo. Go back to school and stop shitposting.”

“Suck a cock faggot.”

 

She smiled; it seems like the net had not changed one bit.

The microwave pinged and the results were in. They both went through the data that was streamed into their minds and found the code they were looking for.

‘This looks like the same shit from the psycho. Same professional code.’

‘Look at this. How is this possible? It can overwrite the implant. The is some day-0 security nightmare.’

‘Let’s test it on the equipment. If the code works, it will fry the implant after they get the update.’

They took some old implants from the cabinet in the back of the room. Those were older generations still massively used among people. GPS-navigation, audio and video recording, simple commands, and internet access. A smartphone the size of a fingernail sticking under the skin of your forehead. They connected them with small cables to their PC and made them update. A few seconds after the update, three implants started to catch fire on the table.

‘Oh, fuck. Get down. The boards are gonna explode.’

They both dropped on the floor just in time before the implants started to pop. It sounded like a gunshot from a low caliber rifle. When they got up, their desk had three black stains and small dents. The small pieces of the implants were scattered around the room, but one implant was still lying untouched on the table.

‘So, we have a 25% failure rate, or is this one a slow burner?’

They wiped the black stains from the monitor and checked on the implant. It had rejected the update and ran just as before.

‘I knew the attack surface for implants was huge, but this is bringing it to new levels. If this goes public, millions are going to die. Heads are going to pop in the streets. Literally.’

‘How is this even possible with these small chips? How could they get approved if they can explode and kill you?’

‘Everything can explode and kill you; it’s just highly unlikely. But someone must have found the needle in the haystack to do exactly that. Turn implants into explosives.’

‘This is not some failed update; this is a terror attack. If this code gets shared anywhere, it will spread like a virus. It does not even need to be pushed as an official update, it could just be embedded into a file or website and still execute.’

‘The code is written too well for terrorists though. More likely some government or corporation that is behind this.’

‘But why did the fourth one not blow up like his friends?’

They went through the log of the implant. It was referring to several sub-scripts which they followed until they had their answer.

‘These implants were from ELIM. The last one was an old DEPHI. Let’s get out the others.’

They collected the implants that had found their way into the hideout over the years. They tested the non-ELIM ones first, and all of them rejected the update across all OS versions. After they blew up another six ELIM implants, they took an in-depth look at the code. If this was specifically made for ELIM implants, it was a corporate takeover.

ELIM had been the leading implant company for over twenty years. Their market share was over 95%, and they had made sure that it would stay that way. Inside the inner part of cities, the only implants you could get were ELIM. Sellers were rewarded for not letting in competitors, and the government was partially invested and paid off by ELIM. The market share in the slums was a bit different. About 70% ELIM and 25% DELPHI. While the ELIM implants were top of the line and the best you could get, DELPHI was cheaper and all major updates completely free. DELPHI had found its niche in the poor people of the slums.

V opened her eyes. She had taken a nap on the small couch that was hidden behind the wall of boxes. What felt like 30 minutes had turned into three hours. She looked over to Z, who was still sitting in front of the PC. It was weird sleeping in the new body. She could tune out all bodily sensations during her sleep. It felt so much more relaxing and energizing.

‘You found anything?’

‘You were right. This is a corporate takeover.’

She got up from the couch and a few boxes spread their insides all over the floor. She did not bother and walked over them. She felt a sense of clarity she never had before. Awareness of every step she took. An upgraded version of the human body.

‘I checked most of the implants and they all blow up for the same reason; ELIM’s code infrastructure. It had not changed since the 5.0 update seven years ago. All implants that were made after 5.0 are affected up to the newest version.’

‘That would affect 89% of currently used implants.’

‘I also found out why ours didn’t explode. Mine only fried, and yours was actively fighting the code because they were modified. Both were ELIM implants, but we installed our own OS and overwrote the code down to the hardware level. But even then, it wasn’t enough to fully stop it.’

‘Didn’t Kaiser sell his part of ELIM a few months ago?’

Z looked at her with open eyes. She had found the piece of the puzzle he had been looking for the past hours.

They still had access to Kaiser’s portfolio and checked the recent transactions. Through one of his subsidiary companies, Kaiser had sold the 26% share of ELIM over the past year. He had been a shareholder even before the 5.0 update and had made billions from ELIM. It took them a while to find the corresponding DELPHI transactions. He had created several companies and subsidiaries only for the purpose of acquiring DELPHI. He had been the majority shareholder for almost three months now, but he did not appear anywhere on official sites. He was smart enough to keep his involvement hidden.

‘Makes sense that he wanted us out of the picture. We knew about all the involvement and jobs he pulled for ELIM. Would be easy for us to trace his involvement in DELPHI and blackmail him.’

‘But then why the last job? He knew we would see the code in that psycho’s implant.’

‘Maybe he was trying to cover something up. Do you know which implant the guy had? Maybe it was the same update, but it fucked the guy’s brain instead. Maybe he was a lab rat for the virus and nobody else was supposed to know about it. A good enough reason to kill.’

‘Could be. The implant details are not visible from the data. I also can’t get access to the actual files we extracted. Without the encryption key, cracking it would take years.’

‘Do you think Kaiser would push this as an update and kill millions just to take over the market?’

‘Does not make sense to me. He was a ruthless business guy, but he never did go that far. If he does, there must be more to it than just money. The guy is already among the ten richest people on the planet. And the jobs we pulled for him were never purely about money. We always fixed something broken or out of control. He used us for damage control; playing defense, not offense.’

‘There is no reason for him not to do it. As soon as someone would find out about this, his advantage would be gone, and the implants would be made to reject the virus. The power it gives him is only temporary. Even bribing ELIM would make no sense because he already jumped ship. I think he is going full takeover. He wants the entire market for himself, maybe not for money but control over the government. The government would have to drop ELIM and get in bed with DELPHI, where Kaiser is pulling strings.’

‘What should we do?’

‘We go to ELIM and push an update. By the time anyone would notice or roll it back, we have it leaked. They won’t dare to roll back once it’s public, and Kaiser would have lost his trump card. We also need to check out what is going on with DELPHI and get access to the data from the psycho.’

V took the worn-out green jacket hanging from the surgery chair and was ready to go out.

‘You think this is a good idea? Does not feel like our usual work. Way too legal and upright.’

Z was smiling and she shared it.

‘I thought that is what you wanted? Nobody knows what we did before this, and nobody has to. We can be the heroes of our own little story. Maybe not as fancy and famous, but hey, as long as we like it.’