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Bit Flip

·1200 words·6 mins
Short Story Deadlines For Writers

“He’s only hitting seventy three percent in the simulation. I’m not sure if I can handle another Abramson situation.”

“It’s a risk we have to take. We have no way of knowing when another core upgrade will be happening. The last one was over fifty years ago. We, humans, might not have another fifty.”

Emily sat at a square metal table, with three others. They all stared at a black plastic cartridge that contained a small chunk of code that was their last hope of overthrowing the machines. The air of the room was beyond stale. Every breath bringing in a biting metallic aftertaste. Only moving her eyes, Emily surveyed her companions.

Greg, who had spoken first, had been Abramson’s trainer. There was a time when he was considered a master of the art of subterfuge. His confidence had been crushed ever since the Abramson situation. He had blamed himself, and carried the guilt around like a hand grenade without a pin, never letting it go. Most avoided him now, not wanting to be anywhere near him when he finally cracked.

Hanson was their human calculator. Few remained who could understand the intricicate coding required to create a patch that could be slipped in during that rare window when a core upgrade was initiated and a failover event was occurring. Initially he had pushed back on the very idea of what they were attempting. After declaring it “impossible”, he had only days later developed a prototype. A week after that, he had produced the final code that sat on the table before them. The rest was up to them.

Emily rested her gaze on the third man, Ivan. He was as ruthless and adept a political animal as she had ever experienced. His contortions of half truths that barely skirted by the machine’s truth scanners were nothing short of genius artistry. Staring at his motionless form, she felt the muscles along her neck tense as he waited to meet her gaze on his own terms. It may have been her mission, but it was Ivan’s vision. He had maintained a liason position with the machines for a longer tenure than any other human. His presence there was an enonormous risk to his existence. While thankful he was on their side, Emily still recognized that any sharp knife was capable of cutting both friend and foe. Her cheek twitched as a droplet of sweat inched down her face.

Ivan looked up, locking his unblinking gaze to hers. With a silky smooth voice, he spoke, “We only have this one shot. I was barelly able to defuse suspicion after Abramson. I will have to get a direct falsehood past the truth scanners after this, which can only work if the patch is successfully deployed. Assuming success, I will be in a position to start putting pieces in place. Though it will still take generations to complete, we will have the tiniest of levers, and will have to be careful not to ever overplay our hand.”

Ivan leaned back in his chair, his stare unbroken. Seconds clicked by like encapsulated eternities. Emily blinked, and saw the smallest of movements at the edges of Ivan’s lips. Looking away from him, she turned to the square of black plastic on the table. Without looking up, she said, “Hanson, if it’s able to be physically placed, are you certain this will work?”

With a snort, Hansen replied, “Yeah, obviously.”

Emily turned to Greg, who averted his gaze. She noticed red lines around the cuticles of his fingers from where he had been picking at them. Reaching into her pocket, she produced a black cartridge that was identical to the one in the center of the table. With a flick, she slid it to within inches of Greg. He met her stare. After a monent of tense silence, he nodded, picked it up, and looked away.

Casting one last glace to Ivan, who responded with the slightest of nods, Emily said, “I’m leading the power plant assault. Hanson, you launch the drone. Ivan,” she paused, “thank you.” All three men stood up. Hanson was the first to leave, muttering calculations under his breath. Ivan bowed slightly, and followed, a wry smile cut across his face. Greg, his shouders bent with the weight of the world, left without a glance.

Emily glanced at her watch. A series of soft knocks rapped at the metal door. “Come,” she said. The man who entered was sleight of build, and walked with a bouncy step. Pointing at the black cartridge, he picked it up, placed his finger against his nose, flicked it away, and left. With a heavy sigh, she pressed the button on her radio, and said, “Ready the speeder.”

The long line of humans weaved snakelike across the ground. Each in turn stepped up to a pair of robot truth scanners, and stated their purpose for entering the complex that held the cybernetic core. Detection of falsehood would be greeted with instant death. It took decades of training to develop the ability to suppress the biological signals that accompanied any lie, and even then, it was almost impossible to fool the machines. His final score had been eighty one percent. It was a point higher than anyone had ever achieved, even Abramson.

Stephen rubbed his finger along the edge of the plastic cartridge in his pocket that Greg had passed to him, and watched as the man in front of him stepped up to the machines.

“Here ta empty the drains, guv’nor. Can’t be lettin’ those bins get too full, now can we.”

There was a low hum as the machines scanned the man. In unison both of their eyes flashed green, and they waved him to pass. The little man continued on, bouncing down the path. Stephen was next.

“Conduit scrubbing,” he said.

He felt a wave of heat, like when opening an oven door, as they scanned him. After a long pause, their eyes flashed in unision. Their red glow was the last thing Stephen saw.

“Decoy successful. Agent in place,” crackled the small radio clipped to Emily’s vest. Raising her hand in the air, she yelled, “Go!”

A dozen people armed with metal poles rushed towards the fence surrounding the power station. She climbed into the speeder, and motioned for the driver to go. Behind them, a cacophony of yells turned to screams before being overwhelmed by a thunderous explosion.

Emily removed a small device from her pocket, flipped a switch, and chucked it out of the window as the speeder accelerated.

Ivan felt a vibration in his pocket. He removed a small disk, and threw it into the incinerator shaft just before a robot entered.

“There has been a power disruption at primary. Control has been restored at secondary. What do you know of this.”

Ivan smiled, and said, “Nothing.”

A wave of heat passed over him. Ivan thought he saw the slightest hue of red appear before the robot’s eyes flashed green. It turned and left the room.

His heart racing, Ivan collapsed into a nearby chair. They did it! They really did it! Now the real work can begin, he thought to himself.