45. The Hacking Contest

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‘Are we ready, Winston?’ 

As usual, Mr. Arcadia was dressed in skinny jeans, button-up shirt and blazer. Winner had made an effort today by donning a jacket; partly to impress his boss but also because of the visitors. It was an important occasion; and he had to clear something up before they started. 

‘Yes, sir, but I … er … I have a question.’

‘Is it urgent?’

Winner got up from his desk and met his superior in the middle of the conference room.

‘Sir, the tests today … I’m not-’

‘I thought we had this discussion, Winston.’

‘We did, sir, but legally-’

Ryder Arcadia reached out and gripped Winner’s shoulder. ‘Second thoughts? I understand. It’s only natural. But let me explain something. Cynfo is like a shark – we have to keep moving to survive. If we stop to consider every little detail and worry about if everyone will approve of what we’re doing, we slow down. And you know what happens in a race when you slow down? Someone overtakes you.’ 

The chief was into his stride now, white teeth gleaming as he spoke quickly, his fingers digging into Winner’s skin.  

No one is going to overtake us. Don’t stop, don’t worry, just keep moving forward. Are you feeling me, Winston? I thought on the day I hired you – here is a man that can help me get Cynfo to the top. I’ve thought that every day since. Never regretted my decision. Was I wrong, Winston?’

‘No, sir.’ 

‘All right then. Personally, I am feeling immensely relaxed about what we’re doing today. Because I know our security is second to none – another thing I have you to thank you for. This goes well, I’ll bump your profit share up. That’s a guarantee. Are you feeling me, Winner?’ 

Winner couldn’t help feeling satisfaction that the chief had used that nickname again. His doubts about the ethics of the new project seemed to have melted away. 

‘I feel you, sir.’

At last, Mr. Arcadia let go of his shoulder. ‘Good. Goddess will bring them by for you after nine. Make sure you’re ready. I’ll expect a full report this evening.’ 


As promised, Goddess escorted the visitors into Lab 6. There were six men and four women, none of whom looked over twenty-five. They were all hackers, tempted by offer of a few thousand dollars for a few hours’ work. There had been sixty-one applicants in all but Winner and Robert had set various tasks to ensure they ended up with the cream of the crop. 

Winner felt himself flush as Goddess smiled at him before shutting the door. Then he realized everyone was looking at him. 

‘Okay guys, take a seat.’

The test subjects all sat down at their desks. Each was equipped with a laptop and a bottle of water. 

‘The object of today’s exercise is to test our new firewall product – Guardian 7. You people bring a wealth of experience and skill. On your screens you will find the homepage of a fictitious company. There is only one piece of encrypted information within the network and it’s protected by Guardian 7. A three-digit-code. If any of you can find and decrypt it, you’ll receive another five thousand dollars. We will finish at twelve noon.’ 

One of the women put her hand up. She was wearing a red cap and a Ded Airship  t-shirt. ‘Can we use our implants?’ 

‘Of course,’ replied Winner. ‘We want you to give this your best shot. Start now.’

As they did so, he met Robert by the door.  

‘Coffee, boss?’ 

Winner answered with a nod. As his assistant left, he watched the hackers. Some of the implants were clearly visible on their wrists or forearms. A couple had small metallic attachments on the sides of their heads – almost a badge of honor within their community. Winner’s own implants were affixed above each eyebrow, colored a cool green. 

He wasn’t so different from the hackers. He knew how they thought. He could see the focus on their eyes; the tension in their shoulders. A couple were smiling, relishing the opportunity; the competition. They lived for this. 

Winner smirked to himself. They knew nothing.

After the hackers had left, Mr. Arcadia called Winner into his office. He drank half of a green vegetable smoothie then gestured for his subordinate to sit. 


‘No one found the code, sir, because there was no code to be found. But all went as planned. Worms were uploaded into all ten hackers’ implants. We will receive burst transmissions every time the system detects they are in a deep sleep. I will keep the contents on one of the level six servers. Only you and I have access.’ 

‘Worms?’ Goddess was standing beside a window, holding her tablet as usual.  

‘Please explain,’ said Mr. Arcadia. ‘Goddess and I have no secrets.’

There were rumors at Cynfo that the pair were more than just colleagues; Winner was starting to believe them. 

‘Worm is a term for a monitoring program that burrows its way deep into the heart of any computer system.’

‘Winner’s been working on this particular incarnation for weeks,’ added Mr. Arcadia proudly. ‘I was able to … obtain the plans for a military version that gave him a head start.’ 

Winner continued: ‘We will know not only what those hackers are doing for their numerous employers but how they’re doing it. We’ll also be able to keep up with current trends and new tech. Basically, we’ll stay ahead of the curve.’

Mr. Arcadia turned to his assistant. ‘Well, Goddess, what do you think?’ 

She flashed another brilliant smile. ‘I think it’s another win for Winner.’