Last month, I shared an audio/video version of “Chthonic Echoes”, an example of the short fiction in my upcoming collection Probability Amplitudes.
For March, I’ve done the same with another story, “Critical Impact Vulnerabilities”:
She's a cop with a job to do--bring in Seattle's most notorious hacker with an offer too good to pass up!
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See below for both the multimedia version and the full text:
Critical Impact Vulnerabilities
by Brian Scott Pauls
“Tilda Slash. Great name. How’d you come up with it?”
The nighttime rhythm of the Bazaar pulses frenetically around us. Part rave, part flea market, part speakeasy, the Bazaar is the marked territory of Seattle’s coder community. Spotlights sweep the dance floor while kids in stocking caps and glow patches gyrate alone or in small groups just a few feet from where we sit enjoying cocktails. The “bar” is an open space marked off by now-closed vendor tables and soft white Christmas lights strung haphazardly around the permitter.
The woman across from me sips a red blend that matches her dress.
“It’s an operating system argument that references your home directory. Tilde-slash will always take you home.”
“Is that a marketing slogan?”
“It’s a commitment—a promise that I’ll get the job done.”
Her intent gaze causes my heart to race. I suddenly understand, first-hand, how her charisma makes her so good at what she does.
I reach into the inner pocket of my leather blazer and place a wi-drive on the table between us.
“This is it?” she asks.
I nod. “The Zero Day Codex—if you’re willing to pay.”
Tilda reaches for her phone.
Here’s the deal—the Codex doesn’t exist. It’s an urban legend that sprang up in the years following the theft and public release of the NSA’s hacking tools. Online, you’ll find improbable stories of how those tools were just the tip of the iceberg. The Zero Day Codex is a mythical archive, supposedly containing machine-code exploits that remain unknown—even to the manufacturers—to this day.
Codex rumors are long on speculation and short on evidence, but the story won’t die because the black-hat hacker community wants to believe it—even someone as cool and collected as Tilda Slash. My department didn’t start the rumors, but we can use the story to ferret out criminals willing to traffic in illegal code.
I pull out my own phone, give Tilda the address of a crypto wallet, and she completes the transaction. As she reaches for the drive, I remove my badge from the side pocket of my jacket and hold it up. She goes perfectly still. Plainclothes officers emerge from various crowded locations in the Bazaar and take her into custody. As they place the handcuffs on her, she smiles and asks:
“So…what’s really in the file?”
“A highly encrypted copy of ‘The Sting’. Robert Redford. Paul Newman.”
She gives a short, appreciative laugh, then says, “Interesting rumor, the Codex. Ever wonder who started it? Maybe someone with an interest in finding out who else has a copy?”
As the officers walk her out, she calls back:
“Hang on to that crypto ledger. You’ll need it in court.”
I stare after her for a long moment. Finally, I raise my phone to report in. My eyes narrow in surprise—there’s nothing on the screen. No—that’s not true—there are characters in the upper left-hand corner. Two characters, mocking me.
And a slash.