Hermes Steals Things Winner! “Hacked”
At long last I present to you dear and patient readers, the winner of the “Hermes Steals Things” contest! Henry Lattimer won $300 for his short story “Hacked.” I love his creativity, and the way the characters of Solan and Hardeep brought Apollo and Hermes to life. True to the archetypes, and a blast to read. Enjoy!
Nothing existed but his body. His legs were strength and speed. His lungs were sails that kept him moving. He was a machine, well oiled, sweat dripping down his back and gathering in his brows.
He kept up his pace until passing the finish line, and then doubled over in a half squat, hands on bent knees, panting and watching his sweat drip off his brow to splatter on the rust-red track. The brisk wind that was always present on the roof of Solan’s New York home and business center, 46 floors over the streets of Manhattan, cooled him. Up here, the wind nearly drowned out the sound of the traffic, but the ever-present susurrus of the city still came through enough to keep him company.
It was all the company Solan needed.
He tapped the sensor strapped to his arm, turning it on. A gentle gong sound emanated from it. “Hydration and electrolyte levels below adequate. Please drink some water, Solan.”
Solan grinned like a child. Still early in the trial run, but so far Sol worked perfectly.
“Sol,” he said, and he could speak without pausing to catch his breath between words. Good. “What’s my heartrate?”
“Heartrate is 189 beats per minute,” came the female voice from the round sensor. She sounded too mechanical; off-putting for most ordinary people. He’d have to modify the code.
“What was my time?” he asked.
“Time was 56 minutes,” Sol replied.
“Damn,” he said to the track. He could do better than 12 miles in 56 minutes! His best was 44!
He was performing at less than his best today. It was unacceptable.
No—Solan stopped himself. This was his best today. It was good to be ambitious; it was detrimental to be uncompromising. His goal was not to outdo his peak every time. His goal was to consistently raise his peak over time.
Enough pep-talk platitudes. Time to hydrate.
Solan’s legs were still thrumming, resonating like the plucked string of a guitar as he headed to get some water . . . and in a rare moment of clumsiness ran into a chaise lounge, bumping his tibia. He grunted and paused.
Sol’s gong sounded. “Contusion forming over right tibia. Please supplement with Pack 13 to support the integrity of blood vessels, reduce inflammation, and facilitate rapid healing.”
Well, Solan could drink his water while taking his supplement pack.
He went inside, taking only a moment to allow his eyes to adjust to the shade of what he called “The Fuel Room,” where he kept water, protein drinks, energy bars, fresh fruit, and his patented Supplement Synthesizer.
He grabbed a bottle of water and went to the Supplement Synthesizer on the buffet counter. He pretended he didn’t know what he was doing. An ordinary person would have to be able to use this, and they probably wouldn’t read the directions or remember any of the supplement numbers. Every aspect of Sol had to be intuitive and impossible to mess up. He touched the screen and it came to life immediately. The screen read:
Hi, Solan. I’m seeing that you need to supplement with Pack 13. Is that right?
“Sol,” he said, “what should I supplement with again?”
Sol’s mechanical voice said, “Pack 13 to support the integrity of blood vessels, reduce inflammation, and facilitate rapid contusion healing.”
Solan touched the big word YES that appeared on the synthesizer’s screen, and the soft whirring sound began. Fifteen seconds later, a small door opened in the front of the machine, displaying a paper cup with a single white pill in it.
Solan grinned, swallowed the pill, and gulped down his water.
Solan relaxed on the contusion-inducing chaise lounge and fitted his Bluetooth over his ear. The sun warmed his bare skin as he dialed up a number on his phone. It was answered on the third ring.
“Hi, Mr. Addison.”
“So nice to hear your voice, son. How’s your father? How’s he liking married life?”
Solan grunted a laugh. “He loves the married life, Mr. Addison. That’s why he got married for the fourth time.”
“Well, I saw him in the paper this morning at some ribbon ceremony with . . . what’s her name?”
“Maya, right. They look happy. Does she always wear saris?”
“She does,” Solan said. “She used to live in India and she’s deeply spiritual.” Not to say eccentric. And not to mention that she came with a child, an eleven-year-old boy named Hardeep who was now Solan’s step-brother. The only time he had met the boy was at the wedding.
Solan suspected he would share about as much interaction with Maya and Hardeep as he currently shared with his father—which was to say only at inescapable social occasions. Public events substituted for holidays in their family.
“Hm,” said Mr. Addison. “Well, she’s pretty.”
“She is. Mr. Addison, let’s not talk about my father’s latest venture into the institution of marriage. Tell me how you’re feeling?”
Mr. Addison laughed. “That’s my Solan! Always right to the point. And I’m feeling better than yesterday, Solan.”
Solan chuckled. “You say that every day.”
“Then at this rate I’ll be better by next month,” Mr. Addison said.
“I hope that’s true,” Solan said.
That would be a miracle. The best prostate cancer specialist in the country was treating Mr. Addison, and gave him eight to thirteen months to live. Miracles were certainly possible. But they were not given by gods. They were created by men who went above and beyond their peers. Who pushed themselves.
“So do I,” Mr. Addison said. “I want to be there to watch when you meet Bill Gates at the Wash Park Fundraiser in May and he hands you that award. You’re getting a speech writer, aren’t you?”
“I’m writing my own speech, Mr. Addison.”
“Lord save us, they don’t know what they’re in for!”
“Hey, I’m an exceptional writer! You know that.”
“I know you are, you’re as good with words as you are with everything else—and I won’t remind you again how unnatural that is—”
Solan sighed. “What’s unnatural is how many people fall short of their potential. Do you know how many advancements the world would have seen by now if people just pushed themselves? Got off their asses and out of their comfort zone? Found their peak and pushed it—”
“Save it for Bill Gates, Solan,” Mr. Addison laughed. “I just meant that you like to hear yourself talk.” That was true enough. “Are you still planning on introducing Sol there?”
“Will she be ready?”
“She’s ready now,” Solan said. “I just want to give myself several months with the trial run before unveiling it at the Foundation.”
“You . . . you’re testing Sol? Already?”
“But how? Don’t say on yourself!”
Solan tried to keep the soft smile out of his voice. Mr. Addison’s concerns were genuine, if unfounded. Solan explained.
“Right now, the chip I have implanted in my left temple is analyzing the myriad systems of my body with all the power of the world’s most intelligent super-computer. It’s as intelligent as the body itself, Mr. Addison. And its communication is more understandable and immediate than the body’s—there is less room for misinterpretation of the body’s signals, or confusion as to what those signals mean. It’s even able to help my body reprogram itself when something goes wrong. If a few cancer cells get out of control, or immune cells begin attacking a healthy system, Sol can trace the issue to its origins and reprogram the system to correct the issue before it escalates into disease. In circumstances where a necessary element is missing, such as a vitamin or mineral deficiency, Sol will tell me what supplement is needed to rebalance myself. It can even reprogram malfunctioning genes, Mr. Addison. It treats my body itself as a living computer—which the body essentially is, anyway—and it acts as a secondary brain. It’s going to revolutionize the entire medical industry—and more than that. It’s going to change our industries and the economy, too. Anything that’s affected by our health is going to be affected by Sol.”
Mr. Addison was silent for more than a few moments. Solan understood—it was a lot to take in.
“Damn, Solan. You’ve come a long way from mapping light patterns in my lab.”
“What would you prefer? I refuse to test it on a focus group, or use anyone as a guinea pig. I designed Sol myself, Mr. Addison, I have complete confidence in her. When I unveil her at the fundraiser, I want everyone to know that I’ve been using her personally for the previous six months.”
“Well. Does she work?”
Mr. Addison seemed to hear it. “Damn it kid, I can’t believe you put a fucking chip in your own head. Fucking cyborg. And it works. Your father’s going to be through the roof. As if he wasn’t already. Christ, Solan. That’s amazing. I . . . I can’t wait to try it.”
“You’ll be the first to get one, Mr. Addison.”
He silenced Sol while he ate a light meal and read Berger’s Theoretical Quantum Electrodynamics.
It had to function in ordinary people’s ordinary lives, and that meant it couldn’t be distracting them every other moment when they needed to urinate or rehydrate, or boost their vitamin C levels, or balance their thyroid with a bit of iodine. Sol could give daily or weekly updates instead of moment by moment ones.
Berger’s theories on quantum electrodynamics digesting along with his quinoa turkey salad, Solan reactivated Sol. Her gong chimed gently. “Immunity levels fallen to 70%. Viral intrusion detected.”
Hm, that was odd. Perhaps there was something in the quinoa turkey salad. He have to ask Natalia in the kitchens if they had changed suppliers. Solan took the recommended Supplement Pack, and prepared for his early afternoon swim. The infinity pool with the glass bottom overlooking the street always made swimming a thrill.
He pulled on his sleek black swimsuit, and Sol’s gong chimed gently once more. “Immunity levels fallen to 60%. Viral intrusion detected.”
What . . . ?
His swim would have to wait. Solan reached for the round terminal strapped to his arm and pulled up the screen. The device had to be malfunctioning. As he navigated to the sensor’s history and information intake, the gong chimed again.
“Tension detected in right quadriceps. Oxygen and cellular delivery to the area compromised.”
Immediately, Solan’s right quadriceps seized in a cramp. The pain was so sudden and acute that he nearly dropped Sol’s sensor. He gripped the muscle and massaged, breathing deeply and trying to move his thigh from the hip.
Sol’s gong chimed again and Solan’s emotions took him over in a way they rarely did—dismay and uncertainty. Whatever was happening, it was not simply confined to Sol’s software.
“Hi there,” said the female voice from Sol’s sensor. “Heartrate elevated.” And then, “Ohh, looks like I do have your attention. How satisfying.”
“What is this?” Solan demanded, realization dawning. “You’ve clearly hacked my system. Why and how? And who are you?”
“So many questions,” said Sol’s mechanical voice, but there was clearly a human behind this. “Are you impressed? Or—cortisol levels elevated—oh, looks like you might be a little concerned?”
“Yes, alright,” Solan admitted. “Both. My system should be unhackable, I designed it myself. I’m alarmed. And my right quadriceps is in a considerable amount of pain.”
“Hmm,” said Sol. After a few moments, the pain in Solan’s leg eased, like a vice releasing its grip. He took several deep breaths, continuing to massage the muscle. “How’s that?” asked Sol. “You did design this thing to correct physical malfunctions, didn’t you? How’s it work?”
“Better, thank you.”
“Ah, nicely done. This thing is really slick.”
“Thank you. Who are you and what do you want?”
“Oh, now you disappoint me. Young genius, the pride of his family, the promise of a bright future for his generation? Cortisol levels rising. Hmm, still a bit stressed, I see.”
“Tell me who you are.”
“I’m sure you’ll figure that out for yourself and I don’t want to deprive myself of seeing how long it takes you.”
“Fine, then tell me what you want?”
“That I will do. I want a few things, and—Muscle spasms in right arm.”
Solan’s right arm began spasming. His hand hit him in the face a few times before he managed to hold it down with his left. The muscle still proceeded to twitch and contract, though. It was uncomfortable.
“Oopsie,” Sol said. “Cortisol levels rising. Still? Might want to practice some deep breathing.”
“I do practice deep breathing,” said Solan.
“I can tell,” said Sol. “You’re much less alarmed than I’d anticipated, even with the cortisol levels thing. Since you’re still able to comprehend my words, I’ll tell you what I want: a Jarlsburg grilled cheese. And for your father to divorce his new wife. He’s already cheating on her and everyone knows it. A large settlement in her favor would be appropriate.”
“Ah.” Well, that explained who was behind this. “Hardeep.”
“Hey big bro.”
“No. And it’s Hardy, by the way. I hate Hardeep. My mother named me during her Sikh phase. My name is cultural appropriation. I hate Hardy too, for the record. Hardy makes me sound like a construction worker or a sandwich. Speaking of which: Jarlsburg. Rosemary sourdough. On a panini press. Have your chef make it, the pretty one with the big you know.”
“You must be nearby, if you want my chef to make you a sandwich,” Solan said.
“It just so happens that I am nearby. But you won’t find me, so. Grilled cheese. Divorce. Settlement.”
It was true that Solan’s father was a notorious womanizer. And, now that he was married, a philanderer. But he also loved Maya, and Solan knew for a fact that the woman was happier now than she had been before meeting his father. He had no doubt the marriage would fall apart, but that must be allowed to happen in its own time.
“I’m not going to make decisions about someone else’s relationship, even if I could,” he said. “I generally have as little to do with my father as possible.”
“Artery walls thinning. Location: frontal cortex. Aneurism impending. Please supplement with Pack 105 as soon as possible. Oh dear, this looks bad.”
“Don’t!” Solan said. “Hardeep, stop! Please, think this through.”
“This will be a tragic loss for your generation,” said Sol—no, Hardeep.
Damn it, the child was eleven years old! He had hacked Solan’s most sophisticated bio-computerized health system and he was entirely unconcerned with using it to commit murder! Who was this person his father had brought into their lives? Had he known about the threatening nature of the child’s monstrous intelligence and lack of conscience? Did Maya know?
“Hardee . . . Hardy. I’m going to find you, and you are going to stop this.”
“You’ll never find me.”
“Of course, I will. I designed the architecture for this building myself. I know every nook and cranny. There’s an 80% probability that you’re in the cupola over the solarium where the banana leaves block the view from the floor.”
“. . . Damn it,” said Hardeep.
Ha! “There, see, now stop this charade. Neither of us can determine what my father and your mother do with their relationship. The grilled cheese, I can manage. I’ll have the chef bring it to . . . ahm . . .”
“Poor neuron communication in the pre-frontal lobe,” said Sol. Then the mechanical voice asked, “Where am I, again?”
. . . What was going on?
“Sol?” Solan asked.
“Poor neuron communication in the pre-frontal lobe,” said Sol. Then, oddly, Sol laughed.
The poor neuron communication in his pre-frontal lobe probably accounted for why he couldn’t remember what was going on.
The laugh was unsettling, though.
“Um,” Solan said. “Who are you?”
“Oh dear. You’ll never find me now. I think you should agree to my demands. You have 24 hours.”
“24 hours to what?”
“24 hours to get your father to divorce my mother, and then your self-control is restored. Unless you find me before then. If you do find me, I guess I’m screwed and you win. But you won’t, so: divorce.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Solan said.
“Might want to write down my demands. You’ll probably forget them in a few moments. And tickity-tickity-toc before that aneurism becomes more than a threat.”
Why was this voice coming from Sol telling him he was going to have an aneurism? Should Solan call 911?
But the voice wasn’t Sol, Solan was sure of that. Sol had been hacked, then. Damn it, and the chip was already implanted and well integrated with Solan’s system, which meant the hacker could cause an aneurism at any moment. And it meant . . . something else . . .
The clock read 7:30 PM.
How had it become 7:30 PM?
What day was it?
And why was Solan studying the blueprints of the building he himself had designed, where he lived and worked every day?
At his side was a sheet of paper with his handwriting on it:
SOL HACKED. SHORT-TERM MEMORY COMPROMISED. WRITE DOWN GOOD HIDING PLACES IN BUILDING. CHECK THEM FOR HACKER, HE IS HERE. BRING JARLSBURG GRILLED CHEESE MADE BY NATALIA. DEADLINE 4:23 PM WEDNESDAY THE 12th.
Jarlsburg grilled cheese?
That must be something he’d forgotten about.
Why would he forget about it?
Oh. Because of the short-term memory loss mentioned on the paper. Of course.
Had Natalia already made the grilled cheese? Where was it?
No, the grilled cheese probably wasn’t made yet. Solan was looking at blueprints of his forty-five story home in New York, where he was right now. It looked like he was still in the process of finding the best hiding places in the building.
Written on the paper were five likely hiding places:
1. Solarium, behind banana leaves in the cupola, floor 45.
2. Music hall, behind the curtain on the stage, floor 15.
3. Sauna, in the shadowy east corner, floor 23.
4. Food storage, floor 2.
5. Elevator shaft, spanning entire building.
Only five? Solan must not have been at this very long. And it didn’t look like he was going in numerical progression through the floors, he’d just listed the most likely ones that he could remember.
Had he even started studying the blueprints yet? How long had he been at this?
Damn it. He had to develop a more methodical system.
At least he had plenty of time before 4:23 PM tomorrow.
He grabbed a red pen, studied the sheet before him—floor 45, where he’d marked the solarium with an “X.” That must mean he’d already written “solarium” on the list of hiding places. Solan wrote DONE in big red letters across the sheet and set it aside.
Good. This was a good system. There were forty-five floors. It might take some time to get through them all, slow and steady would win this race.
Why was he carrying an insulated lunch box? What was . . . Oh, look at that. Grilled cheese.
Was that Jarlsburg?
The paper said he was going to the solarium, the cupola hidden by the banana leaves. Apparently a hacker was up there who was fucking with Sol’s systems, and Solan’s short-term memory.
He climbed the ladder, parted the banana leaves, and saw . . . a kid.
A kid was sitting there, maybe ten or eleven years old. He wore jeans, a t-shirt covered in a Where’s Waldo scene, and red Converse high-tops. He was surrounded by banana peels and tapping away at what looked like a Mac laptop that mated with a transistor radio. His hair was sandy and well-cut, but unkempt.
He looked up at Solan’s entrance and grinned. “Did you bring the grilled cheese?”
That must be in the insulated lunch box.
And this must be a dream, although Solan hadn’t had such confusing dreams since he was very young. Most of his dreams were lucid these days. He held up the heated box and gave it to the kid.
“Oh, good,” said the kid. He unzipped the lunch box like a drug lord ensuring all the money he was owed was there. The sandwich must be as expected; the kid’s eyes lit up and he said, “Yeah, that’s the stuff,” and took a big bite, melted Jarlsburg oozing out between the crisp, toasted slices of bread.
Solan watched him chew.
“Oh yah, hang on,” the kid said around a mouthful. He tapped a few times at the computer, and Solan felt the quality of his consciousness change. The dream he’d been experiencing shifted into a sharp, clear awareness that he now recalled was his usual state. The previous hours (Hours? Days? How long had it lasted?) were like a montage of quick moments standing out in a fog of confusion.
Sol said, “Neural activity in pre-frontal cortex restored.”
The kid took another bite, lifting his brows over his sandwich at Solan. “Better now?”
This was Hardeep, of course. Solan didn’t remember most of the past hours, but the salient points came together. “How dare you.”
Hardeep’s brows furrowed. “C’mon. I could still press a few buttons and fuck you back up again.”
Solan reached out and snapped the laptop shut.
“Hey!” Hardeep said, turning up the palm of his sandwich-free hand as though to ask What the hell?
Solan climbed the last few steps of the ladder and sat down beside the child. “That was diabolical.”
“Oh c’mon, it was just a bit of fun.”
“Fun. Hijacking someone’s physiological processes. Interfering with their biological and neurological functioning.”
“S’what you get for putting a chip in your head,” Hardeep muttered, sitting back amongst the banana leaves, his back to a potted jade plant.
“Threatening murder. Demanding the ruin of a relationship.”
Hardeep sighed and took another bite. “People take everything so seriously. It’s really not that big a deal.”
“. . . Anything?”
“Except your mother’s marriage, you mean.”
Hardeep glared from the shadows of the banana leaves. “I guess so, yeah. Except that.”
“Well, your plan was poorly thought out,” Solan said.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean you were more interested in impressing yourself with your little trick than in pulling it off with any kind of logic. You want me to make my father divorce your mother with a sizeable settlement. And your plan was to kill me within 24 hours if I did not agree.”
Hardeep shrugged one shoulder. “Sounds pretty good to me.”
“And if I had died? How would you have achieved your goal?”
The child dipped his pointed chin and smirked at Solan from under his brows. “Come on, you know I’d think of something. You were just the easiest way I could think of first.”
Ah, so threatening Solan in the most impressive way possible was the only way the child could think of for accomplishing his aim? Perhaps.
It was more likely that impressing Solan had been part of the goal.
And if that was the case . . .
“Hardeep, how about this: do you want a job?”
“A job?” Hardeep stuffed the last bite of grilled Jarlsburg into his mouth and slapped his hands together, brushing off the crumbs.
Solan said, “You hacked the most sophisticated system I have ever engineered. I could use your help in making sure no one else can do the same thing.”
Hardeep bit his lip, thinking.
“Please,” said Solan. “What you did was impressive. If deeply disconcerting and wholly unconscionable. I want this system to be ready in six months; a dear friend’s life depends on it. I want it to be safe for him.”
“I don’t know,” said Hardeep. “I mean, I had a great time hacking your bio-supercomputer and making you hit yourself and wander around your house for a while, but actually working on the system? That sounds like . . . well, it sounds like a lot of work.”
“You don’t want to work?”
“I’ll make it fun for you. All the Jarlsburg grilled cheeses you want.”
“And you’ll get your father to divorce my mother?”
Solan sighed and joined Hardeep in sitting against the jade pot, banana leaves parting to make way for him. “I actually wouldn’t worry about that. I think that will work itself out in time. My father is not a one-woman kind of man, as you know, and unless your mother is the free love kind of Bohemian—”
“Ugh,” Hardeep said. “Stop.” He considered. “Natalia makes them?”
© 2017 Henry Lattimer. The content of this article, except for quoted or linked source materials, is protected by copyright and is the property of the author. Please contact Mythraeum to request usage, and I will reach out to the author.SUBSCRIBE