WEP August 2018 Change of Heart challenge entry

As August continues to unfold, the WEP challenge begins. While they released the themes for each month’s challenge early on in January of this year, I sensed this one would be the most difficult for me. I considered skipping it initially and entering again in the October WEP challenge.

After thinking about the challenge’s theme for the past three weeks or so, I began to have a few ideas. The first idea I scrapped after writing the first few paragraphs. Going back to a blank slate (so to speak), I thought about what I could do with the theme. Realizing I could do a redemption story, with a cyberpunk atmosphere. Keeping the vibrant natural atmosphere of a world heavily dominated by technology. Adding a heavy touch of virtual reality, and oppressive governments to the idea. Along with a slight bit of hacker noir. Managing to stick to my self-assigned “punk” challenge. Please enjoy my entry titled, “One Last Job.”

One Last Job

Various computer monitors illuminated my dark office. The dim neon white light from my keyboard was bathing my twitching fingers that hovered above it. A barely legal altered cognitive bolstering rig was resting precariously on my neck. Interwoven black cable ran from the back of the apparatus into a custom built quantum computer; I designed to keep my digital presence minimal. This task is supposed to my last job before getting out of the increasingly radical hacker group Entropy. Only agreeing to do this job after signing a contract that guaranteed I could leave without retribution from the group and other rival hacker groups. While I still had to worry about consequences from the legal system, this had a slim chance of protecting my new from them. With the impending birth of my first son, I realized I needed a fresh start, not just for me full life Taking a deep breath; I started running my virtual machine. Letting that run for a few minutes before rapidly typing the code that would bounce my entry signal randomly around the world. Scrutinizing the system’s programming code for mistakes before initializing the program. Feeling the pinch of the small needles pierce through the skin on my neck, allowing my mind to enter the digital world.

Mere seconds passed before the digital world appeared in front of my virtual eyes. Neon signs floated through the sky, advertising everything and anything could. Virtual portals connecting to businesses around the planet rested on an everchanging rainbow neon road rested on both sides of me. Lines of avatars were waiting to enter some the portals; others remained empty. Transporting myself through the multitude of unmoving avatars, trying not to attract any attention as I moved through it.

Managing to find a seldom used route obscured by barely functioning portals. Dropping into the entrance on the right, entering the Ultra-net. Seeing the sophisticated and powerful repeating encryption that created a continually changing protective firewall. The authoritarian government believed the firewall was unhackable. For the most part, their assumption was correct. The script had an exploitable weak spot that I could use to enter the mainframe. Now inside the mainframe, I searched for the virtual prison where the minds of people labeled dangerous where hidden. The government using their physical body, as a protection from any retaliation. It was one of their worst kept secrets; they used to create fear among hackers. Being careful to avoid the drones produced by the government’s artificial intelligence with the sole purpose of keeping the Ultra-net safe.

After a few hours of searching, I stumbled into the prison. Making a quick decision to hide in the prison maintenance node to protect me from the roving army of small flying drones patrolled the area. Watching their patrol routes with great care, trying to stay hidden from electronic eyes. Knowing any window, I had to break in without detection would be minimal. Thinking over my methods of hacker attacks I could use to decrease my chance of exposure, as the drones continued to encircle the facility.

With a quick decision to release a split attack on the node. Tapping at the virtual wristlet knowing I had only a few options I could use with such a narrow window of time. Choosing to unleash a complex program I created named Alpha_Breaker against the drones and node. Directing the initial attack wave at the opposite side of the prison, to get the drones attention. Watching the drones rush away before unleashing a robust second attack on the node. The secondary attack worked quickly devouring the protective barrier around the node before creating a small hole in the node. Using the distraction to enter, the weak spot in the node swiftly.

Seeing thousands neon blue ghosts floating around in vibrant digital purgatory, each one lost without its host. Conformist propaganda jpegs covered the virtual walls, silently mocking the prisoners. I would be there only chance of escaping here. Now to figure out how to do that, without killing those I was trying to free. Everything I had read before uploading my conscious to the internet, suggested I had to find a kill switch for the prison. In theory, it should allow their minds to download into their physical bodies. I had some ideas what the kill switch could be, but I would have to complete confident I made the correct choice. There was more at stake than just my new life.

Doubting it would be easy to find, I peeled back several layers of code. Managing to see that they had somehow had built a physical server with inside a digital environment. A flat screen and keyboard rested on top of it. Ignoring that something like this shouldn’t be possible, I cautiously approached the machine. Finding the server was exceedingly vulnerable to any hacker shrewd enough to discover it. Tapping on the keyboard brought up layers of exceptionally complex code on the screen. Processing the system the with haste, I realized this was borderline impossible. A single wrong keystroke could alert them to my presence here. With slim hope, I synced my virtual body with the server. Using it as an anchor to create a delayed release of a program named Reckoning. Preparing everything I could think of before erasing my virtual form the Ultra-net.

Feeling a pinch at my neck as my mind returned to my body. Reaching the keyboard, I quickly activated the program. Hoping that my actions wouldn’t come back to haunt my chance for a new life. Hoping that my former colleagues would honor the contract, and wouldn’t have a change of heart about letting me out of the game.

Word Count: 947 Critique level: Full

You can check out the other entries in this month’s contest here:

1. Denise Covey 12. Laura Clipson 23. J Lenni Dorner
2. Nilanjana Bose 13. L.G. Keltner 24. Elephant’s Child
3. Olga Godim 14. Hilary 25. Helen Mathey-Horn
4. desk49 -DL 15. Roland Clarke – DL 26. Dixie Jarchow
5. Sally 16. DG Hudson 27. Deniz Bevan
6. Pat Garcia 17. Jemima Pett 28. Anna
7. Pat Hatt 18. Diane Burton 29. Operation Awesome
8. Toi Thomas – DL 19. Christopher Scott 30. Haresh
9. Corinne Rodrigues 20. Rebecca M. Douglass 31. xmltutorial
10. Tanya Miranda 21. Michelle Wallace
11. Deborah Drucker 22. Rasma Raisters

39 thoughts on “WEP August 2018 Change of Heart challenge entry

  1. I hope he gets the life he’s worked for, but something tells me his bosses won’t let him go that easily. Just as he settles in I bet they’ll come knocking. 🙂 Great story. I was able to follow it easily even though I’m not a gamer!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Christopher, this was a great read, even though a lot of sci-fi goes right over my head. I got this. I saw your comment – ‘I’m debating about continuing this in a serial style piece of flash fiction. Explore more of the real world and the digital world.’ A few of the WEP regulars do this. It’s a great idea. You could totally do something horrific with this for the October challenge if you wanted to! Think about it.

    And I liked your paragraphing. Made it so much easier to follow.

    I’m glad you gave this prompt some thought and decided to come up with a story.


    Liked by 1 person

  3. Compelling story. I’m not a gamer or that familiar with hacker terms, but I found this easy to follow. Some grammatical errors distracted me…but not too much. You drew me into the story with his reasons for wanting out of his contract. Good motivation. I was so afraid he would get caught and be imprisoned like his friends that I breathed a sigh of relief when he got out. Like the other commenters, I’m worried that they won’t let him out of his contract.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I hope the MC gets out and escapes to his new life as he wishes to. Glad you decided to post for this challenge and also good to see you’re planning to develop your story further. As Denise has said above, some WEP members do/have done this.

    I want to leave you today with a different thought. If a prompt does not immediately inspire you to write in your current genre and is beckoning you in a direction other than ‘punk’ then why not give it a whirl? Write a different genre? Why limit yourself to a specific one alone? In the past WEP has had prompts based on genre writing – scifi, epistolary, etc. Not only are they fun to try but they have also broadened writing skills and horizons.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A virtual prison for hackers
    The government’s got them locked in
    If you got them out
    Then you could get away from them

    One keeps you locked down
    And won’t let you go
    The other lets you run free
    But keeps hooks in your soul

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m an avid gamer but my sci-fi credentials have lapsed. I suspect though that ‘the game’ means the ‘hacking game’, rather like ‘the spy game’. I liked the atmosphere of the piece and was worrying if the guy would succeed.

    As for helpful comments to build one, there were places where I felt that words were missing – like “advertising everything and anything could.” Grammatical errors perhaps, so I’m sure that an edit will give you a piece worth developing in some way as there is a lot of substance to work with.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Christopher – I am not a gaming fundi, or a Sci-fi fan … but could ‘vaguely’! understand where you were going with this – and I too hope he’s let out and not shoved straight back in, which I rather suspect might happen. While the others have given you food for thought – I see Ellis has also suggested another approach … good luck and I look forward to the next ‘episode’ … or his release. Cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Hilary,
      I’m starting to realize from the feedback, this could make an interesting beginning or ending for a short story. Even both if I wanted to start with how he got involved in the group and why. Then spring forward to his life after the group. Thanks.
      Cheers, Christopher


  8. Your story brings to mind TRON and the followup, where digital seems as real as the layer of life in which we live. I always have to think things over for my stories for a while to decide which way I want them to go. Your story brings a lot of technology into the mix which always captures my imagination. In the future, almost anything is possible. I liked your entry!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I really enjoyed this piece. Don’t see a lot of Cyberpunk in this hop (know I’ve never tried it); it’s refreshing. Aside from some missing words and grammatical glitches, the story is solid. I could totally see you develop this further. Perhaps there’s a backstory worth delving into. In any case, I think we’re all hoping he gets out of his contract, but if he does, where will the story go from there? Good stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Solid idea and good development. As others have mentioned, I was distracted by a need for more editing. I’m not completely sold on the tense you chose, the use of the gerund which seemed to lead to lots of sentence fragments. It started to feel awkward as I read on, which also distracted from a really good story.

    Liked by 1 person

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