THE LAST V8
Copyright © 2009 Keith B. Phillips
“Faster. Hack that bitch.” Knight whispered under his breath as Dodger tapped rapidly on the virtual keyboard displayed on the wall. A tiny projector about the size of a lighter was stuck on the bricks with a sticky pad, the red laser lines scribed out key shapes, and detected Dodger’s narrow fingers as surely as a physical keyboard would. They both watched the display projected on the wall for confirmation. Red and green lines stretched sideways, varying in length, showed the decoding process. Red depicted counter measures and green showed decryption success. Green was winning, but it was taking longer than they had expected.
I can’t believe we’re doing this, Knight thought. They’d taken cars before, ran the piss out of them, played all their games with the cops, and dumped them. But this was a new ball game; the Reaper 9000, and stored in the tightest garage in the state of Arizona.
“The Schwartz would be proud of us now eh?” Knight chuckled, and thought of their school principal “Doctor” Schwartz. The word was he’d been some AI guru back in the old days – PhD. He was a stuffy old bastard of a school administrator now, and was always riding their case.
“Schwartzy would be crapping his pants right about now.” Dodger laughed. “Almost got her.” He wiped the sweat from his brow with the leather sleeve of his jacket. It only succeeded in smearing dirt on his forehead.
“Done.” He grabbed the projector from the wall. It made a sucking sound as the gecko-sticker on it released its hold.
It was night, and a pool of light poured down around the garage entrance. Knight looked at the gate, its arms had gone up and three foot steel pillars had disappeared down into driveway pavement at the gate.
“We’re good. Let’s move.” Dodger grabbed up his tan backpack and slung it over one shoulder, pinning his blond ponytail to his back.
They ran across the street and entered the garage cautiously. The only sound was of their foot steps echoing eerily off the cement walls. Rows of cars were parked within neat lines along the edges of the garage.
“I don’t see it anywhere.” Knight whispered.
“Let’s check in there.” Dodger pointed towards several car-sized doors at the center of the building. Windows cut across the middle of the doors, and the boys stared in when they approached. The 9000 lay nestled inside, sleek as a missile and glossy black.
“This bay is powered separately from the main alarms,” Dodger nodded at sensors on the edges of the doors. Tiny foreboding signs read “ARMED”.
“Well that cuts it. We better call it quits.” Knight backed away slowly.
Dodger walked from one side of the windowed door to the other, examining the alarm sensors. Then he paused, looking at Knight. “Wait, there is something that we could try. Auto-Evac.”
“Dude, we didn’t come here to go to jail. If we trigger an Auto-Evac, every cop and fireman in the city is going to be swarming this place in minutes.” Knight raised his hands and dropped them down to his sides anxiously.
Dodger looked wistfully in at the Reaper. “We can make it in that.”
Knight shook his head. “That’s a gamble. Yeah, we got a good chance of outrunning whatever they throw at us, but we’d have to hack it in less than five minutes, and we’ve never done it before.”
Dodger paused for a moment, thinking. “Look, we’ve got the nano’s. They’re ready to go. All we’ve gotta do is let them loose. I already programmed them. They know what to do.”
Knight blew out his breath nervously, unsure.
“It’s the ride of the century.” Dodger grinned. “You don’t want to miss it do you?”
Knight thought for bit. Time was running out. They’d turned down the security and faked the heartbeat signals that fed back to the central monitoring system. But that would only last so long before the more complex monitor queries would come and check for authentication. Then all hell would break loose. That would be a targeted response, one that would be looking for thieves. An Auto-Evac would be a response to a fire or other natural disaster. The cars would each receive a signal to evacuate the building, and an automated emergency call to police and fire would be issued. They wouldn’t necessarily be looking for theft, at least not immediately. And then there was the Reaper, looking so amazingly cool.
Knight took a deep breath. “All right. I’m in. Let’s do it.”
Dodger went over to a port along one wall and connected into a network node. “Okay, I’m setting up a fire response. It will appear as though there is a fire on the top floor of the building. This door should open right away, but the cars will evacuate floor by floor. That gives us a small amount of time to hack the 9000 before it tries to evac.”
Knight nodded. “If we don’t make it, and it takes off without us, we just slip out of here and beat it for home.” Part of him hoped that would happen and they could just get out safely, but he didn’t want Dodger to know that.
“We’ll make it.” Dodger tapped on his keyboard. Bright strobe lights flashed and sirens screeched from everywhere. There was no turning back.
They waited agonizing seconds for the door blocking the Reaper to open while engines started around them. Some of the other cars had received their instructions to evacuate the garage. Thirty more seconds passed, then the big door rolled up. They rushed forward, and Dodger pulled out a silver cylinder about the size of a workman’s thermos from his backpack. He pressed it against the skin of the 9000 with a clang, as it attached itself firmly to the car. The metallic surface turned molten red around the cylinder while the nanos spread into its skin. Knight knew that the molecular machines were infiltrating like a cancer, replacing the existing instructions of the car’s nano machines with their own instructions. Soon they would make it to the brain of the car, its central computer system.
Knight’s heart raced in his chest as they waited. He stayed clear of the front of the Reaper in case it should suddenly come to life and exit. Then the side doors of the car swished upward inviting entrance to the plush leathery cockpit, and the engine came to life with a turbine whine.
They wasted no time in celebration, but jumped in, each taking the side closest to him, with Dodger ending up in the driver’s seat. As soon as they were both in, seat restraints enveloped their torsos and the doors slid shut. The instrument panels glowed in soft neon blue on the dash, and on the windshield the heads-up display became active, showing distances to obstacles and enhancing the view.
Dodger energized the hover plates causing the car to rise a few inches off the maglev-enabled surface. He poured power from the engine, and they lurched forward, tearing from the room and into the garage. Other cars were filing out down the ramp to the exit and the boys had to wait nervously in the line.
Dodger’s fingers turned white on the wheel. “Here we go,” he said when they finally reached the exit.
The street outside was filled on both sides with evacuated cars, their red taillights glowed in perfect lines. The street lamps were running at full intensity and it was as bright as daylight now. There were also cops. The first to arrive on the scene were pulling up and exiting their cars, assessing the situation.
Knight instantly slid down in his seat, but Dodger blacked out the windows with a touch of a button. Inside the car, the windshield still showed the external view.
“Good job.” Knight sat back up.
“They’ll suspect something, but it will give us some time to get clear, while they’re thinking about it,” Dodger replied.
They drove by the police and headed down the street past where the other cars were parallel parking. Dodger maintained speed until a siren whooped behind them, and then he nailed the accelerator. Knight felt his breath pushed out of him as he sank deeply into the leather seat, it hugged him firmly while they pulled multiple G’s. When he could breathe again, he took his tiny PC out from his denim jacket pocket and put on his VR gloves. “Okay I’m on it, hacking their net.”
Dodger mumbled assent, totally concentrating on the street ahead of them as they wound around a long curve, and then braked hard for a turn down a side street. Knight looked intently at his computer’s display, now superimposed onto the view through his contact lenses. He could see the routers of the police network, they were old—government infrastructure. His fingers danced expertly in front of him, deftly manipulating a network probe to identify the versions of the software the police were running on their optical routers. He let loose his attack program, searching out the security bugs in the software.
“Idiots didn’t patch for ten point oh four yet,” Knight said. They both laughed.
There was a loud clunk at the rear of the car.
“Damn!” Dodger yelled. “They shot us with a GPS.”
“It’s okay. I can use that.” Knight worked silently for a moment to hack the GPS unit that had been shot into the car’s skin. His network taps were in place, and he directly accessed the data packets. “Okay there are three units behind us. I’ve got access to the GPS.” He stabbed at an intersection on the car’s street map being displayed in the lower right of the windshield. “Make a left turn here!”
”Got it.” Dodger increased speed to gain some distance from the other cars following, then braked into a left turn and accelerated hard until Knight thought he was going to pass out, then banked a left and another left. Knight’s head was spinning, but he managed to initiate the change on the GPS and waited as Dodger hit the freeway onramp, accelerating to 270 mph. Knight watched his personal display. The police cars had all turned right, following the false GPS data. It had worked beautifully, but the cops would soon figure it out.
Knight looked at Dodger. “Okay Dodge, it’s your turn. Time to go soccer mom.”
“Got it all keyed up.” Dodger grinned.
As they passed into a tunnel he tapped his computer twice and the car shuddered. The nanotech skin of the car changed, it stretched and formed around them as the frame components of the car whirred, reconfiguring in new ways. Seconds later a blue minivan exited the tunnel at 160 mph.
“Sweet action,” Knight said as Dodger lowered their speed to that of a law-abiding citizen.
They headed out to a lonely section of the freeway where the Arizona desert expanded out into a horizon of stars. There Dodger signaled the car to convert to off-road, tires swiveled down out of the wheel wells, swapping out the hover plates. They bounced along on tires for the first time, and ran without headlights. The HUD showed a light amplified view ahead, computer graphics outlined obstacles that lay ahead in vivid colors. The way wound along for several miles, crossed a cracked and aged two-lane highway, and then stopped.
Knight stuck out his fist toward Dodger and grinned. “Well, we made it. Just like you said. I was ready to run back there.”
Dodger bumped Knight’s closed fist with one of his own. “Couldn’t have done it if you hadn’t tapped that GPS. That was nice work.” He hit the door release and they both got out and stretched their legs.
The sky was moonless and clear, the night warm, and the stars were amazingly sharp and bright as they can only be in the desert’s dry air. The car was back to its original configuration and color, a silky smooth black arrow.
Knight slid his hand along the slick lines of the car. “This thing is sweet.”
The car’s running lights lit up. “Thank you”, a feminine voice said in deep contralto.
Knight jumped, adrenaline pumping through his body. Dodger let out a startled “Holy crap!” and jogged backward quickly away from the car.
“I thought you disabled the computer.” Knight’s knees were unsteady. He had a feeling that something had just hit the fan.
“I did, or at least I thought that I did.” Dodger sounded shaken.
“You only partially succeeded,” said the car. “You managed to force me to sever my control, but my brain is intact. You might have killed me, if I had not cut the connection.”
“Which is why we are not surrounded by police right now?” Knight asked.
“Yes,” the voice from the car said. “I think that you should return me to the garage as soon as possible.”
Dodger leaned close to Knight and said in a low voice, “You ever hear a car talk like that before?”
Knight shook his head. “Never. Gotta be new warez, bleeding edge stuff. Some kind of anti-theft response.”
“You don’t have anything better to do than to go around stealing cars?” The car scolded. “I find your lack of ambition disappointing. I suppose you lay about all day, skipping class, pirating computer games, and thinking about how to get away with the newest mischief.”
“Something like that.” Dodger said smugly, and Knight snickered.
“With skills like yours you could do better things.” The Reaper’s tone was different now, imploring. “Some day you’ll grow up, and this won’t be fun anymore. You’ll want to do more and make something of yourselves. But you might not be able to from a jail cell.”
When the car said “jail cell” Knight got a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. Fear.
“Shut it off Dodge.”
“I can see that I’m just not getting through to either of you,” the car said.
Dodger rummaged in his backpack and produced the nano container again. “Another dose of these critters ought to shut it up,” he said and turned toward the car.
“Stop!” The car amplified loudly. “Another step and I will activate my transmitter.”
Dodger halted, uncertain. “You can’t activate it. You don’t have any control.”
“I’m talking to you aren’t I? I’ve been slowly regaining my connections while we’ve been discussing your situation. I’m now quite capable of contacting the police and telling them where we are.”
Knight could see Dodger’s fingers twitching, and then he saw the red flash of an incoming message on his eye lens. He flicked a finger of his glove, causing the short message to display. It was from Dodger and it read simply, “Contain the bitch.” Knight moved nonchalantly to a position that put Dodger between him and the car. He then worked quickly with his gloves, traveling through VR into their remaining hacked channel to the car.
“I’m pretty certain that you’ll find that you can’t do that.” Dodger told the car, and stood still, blocking Knight’s motion.
Knight could see the tunnels branching outward to all the systems the Reaper controlled. It was fighting toward the transmitter, and he had only seconds to initiate a new access control that would block the car. He quickly grabbed lines from his code cache and pasted it into the system.
“Mmm nicely done,” the Reaper purred. “Unfortunately you forgot that there is another transmitter. You were not the only one who was able to access the GPS, and I’ve already used its transmitter to hack something else.” The skin of the car facing them glowed lightly, and images of Knight and Dodger’s secure net-space displayed on it. That was where they kept all of their stolen game software and hacking tools. The VR lobby to their space had once contained a very carefully crafted scene of King Tut’s tomb, but now it was plastered with SPAM advertisements and “L33t” speak. One such line read “Y0v b33n P0wn3d. It was embarrassing, and the whole net could see it.
“Nothing I’ve said yet has gotten through to you.” The Reaper cut the display and its skin returned to the glossy black. “As you can see, your adolescent perception of invincibility is a fallacy. Things are going to change, beginning right now.”
“How?” Dodger had backed off. He found a spot on the ground about ten feet from the car and sat down cross-legged, facing it. The glow from the orange running lights cast weird shadows about them. Knight sat too, fidgeting with his hands. He was nervous as hell—this whole thing had gone bad in a hurry.
“You’re both going to change. In fact, if you don’t do exactly what I say: I will turn you in for grand theft auto and software piracy. You will stop skipping school and breaking laws. You’re going to donate your free time to the community center, where you will help teach others in the computer lab, and you will maintain at least a three point grade average in school. And I’ll be watching. I’ll be a permanent resident in your net-space. The first time that I find out you’re not keeping up your end of the deal, you’ll be on your way to jail.”
“Some deal”, Knight shook his head slowly.
“You have a choice: Jail, or freedom. Which is it?”
Knight couldn’t see any way around it, and by the look on Dodger’s gloomy face, neither could he. They were going to have to play by the rules for a change, and it was going to suck.
“All right, we’ll do it,” Knight said.
The Reaper’s engine started, and the doors slid open again. “Please climb in. I’ll take you home.”
Later that night, the empty Reaper 9000 pulled up to an expensive three-story home in a very nice neighborhood in Phoenix Arizona. A garage door slid open silently, the car rolled in, and the door closed behind it again. In the darkness a man sat in a chair, quietly smoking a cigarette. It glowed brighter, lighting his bearded face when he took a drag.
“Sir, I’ve done everything you instructed me to.” The Reaper said, its feminine voice echoing off the walls.
“Very good.” Principal Schwartz smiled in the dark. “Welcome to hell, boys.” He chuckled softly to himself.