short-stories

Defecting Programmer by Sophia Austin

“Are you on schedule?”, demanded the General.  Even on a screen, he was an imposing figure.


“Yes, we’re on schedule.”  As head researcher, part of the job was politics, Dr. Raymona Julien understood this.  


“Good, and it’ll do everything you promised?”, asked the General.


Julien added, “Everything and more.”


“It just needs to do what you promised! It needs to quell these terrorists!”, the General ended the call.


Julien didn’t waste any time opening a secure channel, this time it was just text, no face for identification.


“The virus is ready.”, Dr Julian didn’t waste time with pleasantries.


“Is this a secure browser?”, the buyer followed his example.


“Yes, I followed all of your instructions to the letter.  Sending the virus now.”, Dr Julian wanted to add that she was a programmer who knew basic security.


“File uploading… File Downloaded…”, flashed across the screen.


“We have the file.  How long before the virus takes effect?” 


“Average of three minutes for termination.”, not that Dr Julian had been able to run many tests.


“The other half of your money is being transferred.”, came the last message from the buyer.


With that the communication was done.  Julien checked her bank account. The money was there.


The artificially cheerful voice of the receptionist came through the intercom, “Julien, Dr. Jones is waiting for you in the operating room.”


Entering the operating room, Julien saw her husband operating on a patient with half his brain exposed.


“When will these idiots learn that the monitors are integrated into the brain?”, came Dr. Jones's, her husband, blunt rhetorical question instead of a greeting.


“Does he still have a functioning brain?”, Julien asked.


“He’ll have a few less IQ points, but he’ll live.  As long as he doesn’t try going to a blackmarket remover again.  I thought he would be a good candidate to test for the new model of monitor, that way no one will see it. Then even if his brain isn’t intact, his vanity will be.”, Dr. Jones didn’t look up from his work while responding.


Looking at the scans, Julien agreed with her husband with a quick nod, “I won’t be able to retrieve any of the data. The watchers won’t be happy.”  


“That just means they’ll have to work a little harder to earn their keep.  But that’s not why I called you down. I need approval from you to install the latest model.”, said Dr. Jones.


“The last model he had was one of the earliests, but it should still be compatible. You have my approval.”, said Julien.


“You look tired.”, said Dr. Jones.


“Let’s take a weekend trip.”, Julien said casually.


Her husband hesitated before saying, “What a wonderful idea. Where would you like to go?”


“Somewhere we haven’t been before, some place to shake the dust off.”, said Julien.


“I’ve heard that the lunar colony has a great performing arts theater, you know how I love musicals. We could leave tonight, eat at the station, be there late this evening.”, said Dr. Jones.


“I’ll make the reservations.”,  said Julien.


“I’ll catch a transport home and pack during my lunch break.”, said Dr. Jones.


It was a rehearsed conversation with a simple code in it, but it would fool the watchers’ algorithms.  Her husband now knew it was happening. Julien and her husband often took weekend holidays. One of the many perks of being a head scientist for a dictator and being a top surgeon. It shouldn’t arouse suspicion.


Julien spent the rest of the day looking at errors that patients had with their monitors.  It was amazing what people tried in hopes of an unseen moment. Not that the monitors saw everything, that would have taken too much data storage. 


It was just like most normal days. It was agonizing; like knowing there was a bomb about to go off but having no idea when or where.


On the transporter, she looked around half expecting it to start.  It didn’t. Julien knew that testing would happen before it was released.  Testing which would take time. No one noticed them on the transport hub. In all the simulators the tension was heightened with sounds and looks.  It was almost disappointing when the robot guards paid them no attention. They boarded without incident.


“We will be leaving in 15 minutes, please store your luggage and enter your stasis pod.”, the artificial voice announced.


A robot came to seal them into their respective pods.


They waited.  First came the lift off without any announced delays.  She looked at her husband as the ship was jerked with the bursts of 40 G acceleration.


“We’ve reached cruising speed.  You may now exit your pods. There are refreshments on the observation deck.”


Julien didn’t waste time pulling out a tool kit, “Lie still. This will take a minute.”  She plugged a small device into the side of her husband's head. The screen went from green to red.  She repeated the action on herself, “It’s safe. I disabled the monitors.”


“When did you give it to them?”, Dr. Jones asked.


“This morning. Right before I saw you.”, Julien replied.


Looking at the other passengers, Dr. Jones asked, “Why haven’t they released it yet?”


“They’ll want to make sure it works, that will take time.”, Julien followed her husband’s glance. “I kept expecting someone to stop us.” 


As they met eyes Dr. Jones said, “I know, me too, I’m still scared.”


“I know.  So am I, but they can’t stop us now.”, Julien hesitated a moment before adding, “I don’t regret doing it.”


The freedom movement released the virus in the downtown English market.  Within five minutes the thousands of shoppers were clutching their heads falling on the ground, writhing in pain, as the monitor implants overheated.  There were only a few casualties, mostly those with older models. Historians would later say, “the losses were acceptable” as if the end justifies the means.  

The virus overloaded the government’s data server within an hour.  The government attempted to stop it, but many of their computer programmers disappeared during the chaos.

By the time Julien and her husband returned from their weekend vacation, there wasn’t a government. 

© 2020 Sophia Austin


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1 comment

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