The Hacker’s Mistake

He used to spend his days – when he wasn’t diving through the City’s computer networks – staring out across the street lights from his office. It was on the very top floor of the The Parnassus, in the heart of the City’s most luxurious sector, overshadowed only by Olympus Tower, and had cost millions in rent every month. Prometheus had made trillions and he hadn’t cared.

Now he looked down at the bloody concrete floor beneath him. He couldn’t move his head. He didn’t have the strength to do so, even if it hadn’t hurt whenever he moved his neck or tugged on the restraints that held his arms behind his back. The plastic ties hadn’t been replaced in a week. The tears in his skin had begun to fester.

Someone had come to pay him a visit for the first time since they had dragged him here three weeks ago. Prometheus could tell that it was a visitor, not another guard come to beat him bloody or tear out his fingernails or play deafening music directly into his ears, from the visitor’s shoes. They lacked the hobnail clicks he had grown at first to fear and then to despairingly accept.

The visitor, whoever it was, stood over Prometheus and watched him for some time. He must have been drinking in the sight of Prometheus’s tortured body, for when he eventually began to speak it was obvious he couldn’t entirely hide the smugness in his voice.

“You really shouldn’t have ended up here, you know.”

Prometheus recognised the voice. Any denizen of the City would. It was Zeus.

He didn’t reply.

“You should probably have ended up in an assassin’s gunsights when you pissed off the wrong corporation,” he continued, leaning against the wall and warming to his theme. “Either that or you’d have eventually made enough money to buy off those who wanted you dead and joined us on Olympus. Most of us appreciate selfish bastards who trade in other people’s hard work. Or maybe you’d have retired to a private moon with a harem of nubile young men. I don’t know what floats your boat.

“You know how many data traders screw up and die?” Zeus asked. Prometheus still said nothing, but the guard standing behind him grabbed his head and slammed it from side to side. Prometheus gasped with the pain.

“I thought not,” Zeus said. “Pretty much none of you know when to quit while you’re ahead. You’re the first one I know of not to die in maybe a century.”

Prometheus would have smiled at that if he could. “But you’ll kill me soon enough.”

Zeus just laughed quietly. “But you fucked up completely, didn’t you?”

He’d been caught red-handed with the arms data, that much was true, but it wasn’t the first time he’d had to improvise in a crisis. There’d been a server behind a firewall between him and the enforcement avatars. A tough firewall too, but it hadn’t been too difficult for him to dump the data through it in one punch. Touch and go, but nothing he shouldn’t have been able to handle.

How was he to know that the server had been in Ilium?

“My analysts suggest you’ve prolonged the war by a year,” Zeus said. “Quite probably more. I honestly don’t think you could have condemned yourself more, which is good work for a self-serving boot kisser who’s paid good money to be on everyone powerful’s right side.

“But of course, you have condemned yourself more.”

Prometheus had little idea how they could be. He was going to be killed and his body thrown to the dogs for sure, once they’d tortured him enough to satisfy their need for revenge, or had out their frustration, or whatever sadistic urges were driving them to this.

Zeus must have known what Prometheus was thinking. Of course he did. He smiled. “Congratulations, Prometheus. You’re an Ilian folk hero. They love you. No matter how many times we tell them the truth about you – and we tell them the truth, there’s no need to add anything to make your character less appealing – they insist on thinking we’re unsubtle enough to say nothing but lies. I hear they’re even writing songs about you.”

And at that Prometheus couldn’t help but laugh at last. It was a dry, cracked laugh, as much of the relief of final realisation as of amusement at the depth of his doom.

Smiling also his dry, dark smile was Zeus. “So you see, we won’t be killing you, Prometheus,” he said. “We won’t make you any more of a martyr. Instead we’ll have to rip the soul out of whatever movement you’ve inspired.

“The heart of that movement is you. So we’re going to rip that heart out again, and again, and again. We’ll keep you here and slowly uncover all of your sins. Some of them we will have had you do, but of course you won’t be responsible for them all. It hardly matters. All that matters is that you are exposed as a lily-livered coward, a government stooge, a heartless crook, whenever anyone might forget that you’re not. And if any faith can remain in you after that, it’ll be so slim that it won’t be a problem.”

Prometheus sat, head bowed, before the boss of Olympus.

“Congratulations,” he said. “For now, Prometheus, you live for eternity.”