“The Suffragette’s Election” by J.S. Bangs
The cop’s fingers squeezed Harini’s pad and thrust it into his reader. He groped through her data, his lips pursed in a voyeuristic sneer, and he asked, “Mrs. Rangarajan, do you appreciate your right to vote?”
She had years of practice being meek, so she said without hesitation, “Of course I do. What is this about?”
He didn’t answer. He was busy tearing through the tatters of her privacy. After a moment, without looking up he said, “We have tracked a vote hacker to your neighborhood.”
Her breath caught in her throat.
But the pad that the cop had was clean. Her real one was hidden in the locker – she had checked it just last month. There was no way they were here for her. She hadn’t touched a cracking tool in years. She stayed on the public net. She had a regular job. She voted like a good citizen.
“How old are you, Mrs. Rangarajan?” the man said.
Snap out of it, she told herself. It’s not about you. “Thirty-eight.”
His eyes wandered over her face and body. “You don’t look thirty-eight to me.”
“I work out a lot.”
The corner of his lip lifted in a tiny sneer. “I’m sure you do. Now, we’re looking for an nineteen year-old Caucasian female, 1.76 meters tall, blonde. Have you seen anyone unusual of that description?”
“I don’t pay much attention–”
That was a mistake. His expression changed from contempt to hostility, and he dropped the pad to his side so he could look her full in the face. “Mrs. Rangarajan, the duty of every citizen is to watch out for the enemies of democracy. Now, have you seen anyone who matches that description?”
“No,” Harini whispered, like she should have the first time.
He eyed her carefully, and then glanced over the data his reader had stripped out of her pad. With a chirp he ejected it from the reader’s grasp and handed it back. “You seem like an honest citizen, Mrs. Rangarajan. This is a serious matter. If you see anything suspicious, or have any reason to believe anyone you know is involved with vote hacking, you let us know. I’ve planted a police tag on your pad – you’ll see it on your main app screen – and you can tap it any time to contact us. It will delete itself in twenty-four hours, but you won’t be able to delete it until then.”
She could delete it in twenty minutes if she put her mind to it. But she nodded solemnly and said, “I’ll let you know if I see anyone suspicious.” She just wouldn’t look into the mirror.
Finally, the man waved her past the cordon of police cars splattering the sides of her building with their red and blue lights and let her into the building. The armed guards at the door verified her tag, then she slipped into the darkness. The entryway smelled of rotten piss, and broken glass crunched under her feet. Someone, probably the cops, had shattered the lights. She sighed, turned on her pad’s flashlight app, and walked up the stairs to her apartment.
She was putting her groceries away in the freezer when her pad chirped with an incoming message. It was probably her mother. Had the hacker fugitive made the news? Her mother would be concerned (though not half as concerned as she should be), and Harini would entertain her with a rant about the incompetence of the police. They should vote to change things, just like they did every day.
It wasn’t her mother. Magenta border on the alert, and three words:
lost_pixie: r u suffragette?
Bile rose in her throat.
The magenta border meant strong encryption of unknown origin. Her pad – this one, anyway – didn’t have the muscle to trace the source. She should delete it and pretend she never saw it. She should report it to the police. She should not, by any means, respond.
She typed back:
who r u?
The response took less than a second:
lost_pixie: im in ur apartment. i wont hurt you.
Shit. Harini whirled around, her fingers closing over the stun gun in her pocket. Her studio was packed with a bed and a few tilting bookcases. Not a lot of place for someone to hide.
“You might as well come out,” she hissed.
The floorboards under her bed creaked, and a pile of clothes toppled out of the way. A girl crawled out. Blue jeans, dirty and ragged in a way that suggested use rather than fashion. Hair dyed pink, shaved on the sides, pulled into a loose ponytail. A black tank top held together with safety pins and duct tape. She spoke in a quiet, husky voice.
“Are you Harini Rangarajan?”
“Who the hell are you?”
“My name is Britten Surrey.”
“You’re the one they’re looking for?”
Harini took out her pad. “I’m calling the cops.”
“No, wait! I know you were the Suffragette–”
Harini slammed her pad onto the table. “Are you insane?” She began to shake. After all these years… “Why are you here?”
“I need help.” Britten’s lips drew together and her eyes got milky with tears.
Great. The girl had just ruined Harini’s life, and she was about to do it crying. ” Pull yourself together. If you think I can help you, start by telling me who you are and why the feds are after you.”
Britten stiffened and blinked away the red in her eyes. “I cracked the vote net. Me and some friends.”
Harini laughed. “Every script kiddie with a compiler thinks they’ve cracked the vote net. What did you really do?”
“No, it’s the truth. Me and the Tea Party–”
“Tea Party? Was the Mad Hatter involved in this?”
“What? No, he just hosts the net.”
Harini nodded in relief. The Hatter was an old friend from back when she was on the crypto net, and she hoped he was staying out of trouble.
Britten went on. ” We wanted to bring down the vote net, you know? So we wrote an exploit. It’s still live. But the rest of my team is dead.”
This was either a very ballsy lie or the truth, and if it was true then the girl was leet beyond Harini’s initial guess. Harini’s own exploit had only been live for 48 hours before a countermeasure was deployed. “Well if the feds found you, then your exploit couldn’t have been that good. Obviously you made a mistake somewhere–”
Britten shook her head. “Someone on the team was a tarantula. I don’t know who. But the crack, it’s straight glucose. It’s viral, but it doesn’t do anything yet. The feds can’t stop it cos they don’t know how to find it. But I have a trigger on my pad. When I fire it, every infected voter spews mojibake at the servers. The election feeds can’t handle that volume of noise. They all shut down. And the whole vote net goes down at once.”
Harini glanced up at the clock. Four minutes had passed since Britten first messaged her, and the cops hadn’t broken down her door yet. Something else must be going on. “So the feds want your trigger?”
Britten pulled a scuffed pad from her pants pocket. “That. And my source code. They’ll never repair my exploit without it.”
Harini sighed and slumped against the kitchen table. “Well, dammit. I don’t think I can get out of this with my current life intact – thank you for that, by the way.”
Britten pursed her lips. “I thought you’d understand.”
“You were the Suffr–”
“Don’t say that out loud.”
Britten looked miffed. “You were the first vote cracker. You understand what we want.”
“No, actually, I don’t.”
Britten eye-rolled her exasperation. “You know the vote net is straight toxin. People vote, but they’re all stupid. Stuffed on ads and spin-bots. Most people just let their autovoters do everything. We have to tear it down.”
Now, Harini rolled her eyes. ” Tear it down for what? Do you know how it was before? No one got to vote except a handful of corrupt bastards in the capitol. The best you could do was choose which one would lie and take your money.”
“I know. I went to school.” Britten shrugged. “So why did you attack the vote net?”
“I thought the protocol was fundamentally insecure. Or at least that’s what I told myself. But really, I was young and stupid, and I wanted the challenge.”
Those words finally seemed to pierce Britten’s shell. She slumped forward a little, closed her eyes, and bit her lip. The warble of police radios leaked in from the street. “So you’re going to turn me in, then.”
Harini rubbed her temples. It would be harder to run with two. She barely knew if she had the stamina to do it again herself. Hard… hard, but not impossible.
“No,” she said. “I have to run, too, now. Hell, I should be running already. But I remember how it felt to be like you, and I know what I had to do to get away. This doesn’t have to be the end of your life, too.”
Britten grinned. She leaned forward and tossed her scratched and dented pad to Harini. The blue and red police lights pulsing through the window lit her for a moment like discotheque strobes. “I knew you were glucose –”
Britten stopped short. Her chin slumped against her chest. For a moment Harini thought she had fainted. Then she saw the shards of the window, glass dust sparkling in the air like frost, and the hole in Britten’s forehead as she crumpled, dead.
A second sniper shot buried itself in the wall behind Harini. She hit the ground. Britten’s blood soaked the rugand spread across the linoleum. There was a commotion in the hallway. Old instincts screamed: run.
“Sorry, kid,” Harini whispered. Then she leapt into motion.
Her fingers tapped an old code into her pad, muscle memory completing a sequence she hadn’t used in years. She glanced around the apartment, considering what she could take. No. She was soft. Before, she wouldn’t have needed to remind herself to leave everything.
The doorframe groaned and the door flew aside, revealing the gloomy silhouette of a police officer. She was already sprinting, the horns of her stun gun out and ready. She leapt into his embrace. His arms wrapped around her, but she planted the weapon in his neck. He screamed, convulsed, and dropped to the floor. Harini hit the ground running.
In a few paces, she reached the fire escape, vaulted the rails and leaped down the steps four at a time. Shouts and radios squealed behind her. Doors clattered open as cops poured onto the fire escape. No matter; the door to the garage was just ahead.
Harini’s scooter crouched in an alcove near the exit, lights on and motor running, activated by the panic code she had typed in her room. It looked like a standard model, white with baby-blue pinstripes. Harini straddled the seat and revved its very non-standard motor. The tires squealed. She shot out of the garage.
A cruiser blocked the exit, but the space before its nose was wide enough. An officer scrambled out of her way. She zipped down the alley, weaving between dumpsters, then skidded onto the main street.
Police cruisers growled into pursuit behind her. She gunned the motor and moved onto the dashed line between the lanes. Car horns whined as she rushed past. Ahead, another cruiser pulled onto the street, lights blazing.
Just where she expected. Cops were so predictable. She cut to the right, and imagined her pursuers’ delight: she was headed into a cul-de-sac. Two cars squealed into place behind her, cutting off her retreat. She braked gently and swerved onto the sidewalk. Townhomes with white façades blurred past. At the end of the cul-de-sac was a greenbelt fenced by a tall juniper hedge, but like all fences, it had holes. She knew from experience that the children in this neighborhood kept the gap well-trampled . She pointed her scooter to the spot, put her head down, and squeezed the accelerator.
Branches gouged her forearms and tore at her hair. Her tires skidded in the dirt. For a moment she thought she would spin-out on the grass, a meteor of glass and metal. But the scooter righted itself. It slowed. The sirens wailed on the other side of the hedge, mourning their lost prey.
She found the footpath that slinked between developments and guided the purring scooter down to the highway. Then she slid into traffic and crept out of town.
Dawn broke as she pulled into a truck stop that smelled of fries and motor oil. She parked her scooter in the pay garage – couldn’t risk it being stolen, not now – and went to the locker she kept there. Inside, a change of clothes, an envelope stuffed with cash, and a real pad. A few minutes of scrubbing in the bathroom cleaned the blood from her arms and face. Once clean, she changed, then entered the restaurant and ordered breakfast.
Obviously, her life in the city was over. It had always been a precarious thing, settling down and hoping she’d buried her trail deeply enough. Britten might have done her a favor by getting her on the move again.
Britten. Her curiosity aroused, Harini pulled up the logs on her autovoter. Like most people, she never read the election feeds, letting her programmed autovoter handle the legislative torrent. Looking now at the unfiltered view she remembered why. Hundreds of entries scrolled past: bills to tax everything from green shoes to hair dye; bills to repeal the taxes passed the previous day; bills to criminalize chewing gum and owning small dogs; bills to legalize tiger ownership and rape. She spot-checked a dozen or so, but nothing seemed amiss. But of course it wouldn’t be that obvious. She checked the internal integrity tables, verified the checksums, and looked at the packets that had passed through. Nothing. Either her pad wasn’t infected, or Britten’s work was too subtle for her to spot.
But it would have to be. No ordinary exploit would get this kind of attention. The feds had chased Britten into a corner and shot her the moment the pad left her hand – and now they knew Harini had it.
It was the only bit of leverage she had, and she needed help to use it.
She tapped an address into her pad. Years had passed since she had connected to this net, and she could only hope that someone answered.
The progress light blinked. Multiple levels of encryption clicked in to place like bolts on a lock. The connection went through, and a secure chat window appeared.
m4d_h4tter: suffragette? is that you?
suffragette: hatter! it’s been a long time.
m4d_h4tter: wow, 20 years. good thing i never took ur pubkey off my chain
suffragette: never throw away a good key
m4d_h4tter: lol. where have u been? last i heard u went into hiding.
suffragette: i did. but i got found. sorry to cut you short but i need some help.
m4d_h4tter: sure. anything for a friend.
suffragette: i need to crack some hardware. where can i find a dealer? close, b/c im in a hurry.
m4d_h4tter: where r u?
She gave him her zip code and waited for him to come back with a response. She had no interest in bringing down the vote net, but the threat of pulling Britten’s trigger might buy her freedom.
m4d_h4tter: i sent you a list of all the dealers i know. you pick the one you want
suffragette: thanx. btw, did you know lost_pixie?
m4d_h4tter: she was a regular, but i didnt know her personally. why?
suffragette: she was the one who found me. now she’s dead.
m4d_h4tter: b/c of you?
suffragette: no, she was into some heavy stuff and got the feds onto her. now i’m wrapped up in it. do you know who her frequent contacts were?
m4d_h4tter: just a sec. checking logs.
m4d_h4tter: top 5 contacts for lost_pixie are khelvin, r0ach, wshat, zomb33, and xiaobang
suffragette: whats the recent activity for each of them?
m4d_h4tter: looking… hmm? they all dropped offline a few weeks ago, but one of them recently popped back up: r0ach. i hope theyre not all dead
suffragette: i’m pretty sure they are. thats what lost_pixie told me. except for r0ach. hes a tarantula.
m4d_h4tter: i’ll ban him immediately.
suffragette: i don’t suppose you have his real name?
m4d_h4tter: not directly, but i can send you everything of his profile that i do have. what are you into now?
suffragette: oh, the same thing as always
m4d_h4tter: be careful
suffragette: thx. maybe we can talk again when this is over.
Harini closed the chat window and purged the logs. A few seconds later the Hatter’s package arrived, tied up in thick cords of encryption and obfuscation. She sipped the dregs of her coffee and looked over the list. The nearest trusted dealer was in the city, but she didn’t like her odds at slipping back there unnoticed. She picked an address about an hour away, then dropped some bills on the table and slipped out the door.
She found a bad motel a few blocks from the dealer. She picked a room on the second floor with a good view of the street and quick access to the exits, and she paid the front desk to pretend they never saw her. The room itself stank of mildew and lime, but she wasn’t staying long.
In thirty minutes, she built a relay across the net to obfuscate her point of origin – enough to look convincing, but not enough to keep the feds at bay forever. Then she arranged herself in front of a blank wall, encrypted her voice and video streams, and called r0ach.
A scrawny red-haired man with bloodshot eyes appeared on the pad. He took one look at Harini and said, “You’re not lost_pixie.”
“No shit,” Harini said. “Britten Surrey was shot by the feds. But you probably already knew that.”
” Who are you? And why are you calling me?”
“I’m the Suffragette, and I have something you want.”
He laughed. “If you expect me to believe–”
“Confirm it with your own field agents. Then call me back on a secure channel, because we need to talk.” She disconnected.
He called back in ten minutes. His key used a 1024-byte adaptive encryption algorithm, and it was routed through a relay twice as dense as the one Harini had used. He was trying to prove he was serious. Good.
The sneer had disappeared from his face, and in its place was an expression balanced on the knife-edge between hatred and fear. “I got the story,” he said. “I think we can skip the games. What do you want?”
“Tell me your real name.”
“Seph Logan. But you didn’t call to discuss me.”
“You killed Britten Surrey.”
“Her execution was legal. Tried in absentia and executed on sight. That’s what the law gives to vote hackers.”
“Not today you don’t. I’m not part of Britten’s anarchist cell, and I don’t want to destroy the vote net. However, I have the trigger here, and I will pull it if you don’t work with me. So I suggest you find a way to keep me alive.”
Seph folded his arms. “What do you want?”
“Amnesty. Total amnesty for myself, in perpetuity, plus plane tickets out of the country for me and my parents. And five hundred grand in cash to send us off. In exchange, I’ll give you the trigger and the source code to Britten’s exploit so you can make a permanent countermeasure.”
“I don’t think I can do that.”
“Then call up your chain of command until you find someone who can, asshole.”
“No, you don’t understand.” Seph rubbed his eyes and sighed. “Crimes against the Universal Congress cannot be pardoned except by a direct vote.”
Harini laughed. “You can’t be serious.”
“I’m dead serious.” A little of his sneer returned. “The people voted to deny pardon to vote hackers, so we can’t give pardon to vote hackers until the people vote otherwise. So if you want your amnesty, you’re gonna need to wait for it.”
“Give us 30 hours. A few hours to write the proposal, then the minimum 24 for a vote.”
“And until then? Will I have tarantulas crawling down my neck?”
Seph looked pained. His fingers flicked across an off-screen keypad, then he grunted. “There. You’ve got a stay of execution until the vote is complete.”
“Fine. We’ll talk again tomorrow.” She cut off the connection.
She looked at her watch. Thirty hours. Thirty hours to break into Britten’s pad and get the things she had promised. She even had a few hours to sleep.
The dealer’s address was a shopfront in a crumbling strip mall, marked by a moldy sign promising pad repairs. A bell jangled when she came in. A gangly man with a shaved head leaned against a case of dusty ram chips and flash drives.
Harini drummed her fingers on the glass of the display. “I need a pad repaired.”
“Five hundred plus parts,” the man said without looking up.
“Actually, I think I might do the labor on this myself.”
“Then what are you bothering me for?”
“A friend sent me. We met at a tea party.”
“Oh.” The man looked up at her for the first time, took in her wrinkled blouse and the blood-spattered pad she held. He arched his eyebrows. “Follow me.”
He opened an unmarked door behind the counter. The room beyond appeared to be a bathroom, with a stained toilet and a sink dripping rusty water. The man reached behind the toilet tank and grabbed a hidden handle, rolling up the wall like a garage door.
The room beyond was stacked floor to ceiling with equipment. Five wide-screen monitors at different heights, keyboards stacked in tilted piles, illegal crypto-cracking hardware bolted to the walls, top-of-the-line servers under the tables. Clear plastic cases brimmed with oscilloscopes and potentiometers and soldering guns, and bins overflowed with ram chips and flash drives and motherboards in green, orange, and indigo. A set of fine tweezers and a bulbous eyepiece bolted to the table rounded out the equipment.
“This should have everything you need,” the guy said, “and if there’s anything missing I should be able to get it in a few hours. A thousand bucks for every hour you’re in the room. Pay via anonymous credit to this account.” He handed her a card.
“How do I know it’s safe?”
He shrugged. “The Hatter trusts me. Now listen. The room is a Faraday cage, all six walls shielded against electronic eavesdroppers, plus insulated against the low-tech kind. Power supply is a generator under the floor.” He pointed to a pair of green LEDs next to the entrance. “If we get unfriendly visitors, I’ll flip a switch and these turn red. Don’t come out until it’s green again. Be careful.”
“You be careful, too. The last person I talked to wound up with a bullet between her eyes.”
“No need to exaggerate. We all like our privacy.” He pulled the false wall down, and she was alone.
She set Britten’s pad down on the bench. “Girl, I hope you weren’t as smart as you seemed,” she said. She turned it on.
A standard thumbprint prompt appeared. She didn’t have Britten’s thumbs, but a minute’s shuffling through lab drawers found what she needed: a thin adhesive film that lifted the pattern of oils and dirt laid down by myriad previous thumb-presses. She dropped the film on a scanner, and in a few minutes had a clear print reconstructed from the smudges and smears. She pressed a false thumb with the print against the device, and the pad unlocked.
She loaded the search program she’d written and scanned the device. The results came back almost immediately: nothing. Harini grumbled and poked at the screen, paging through innocent school projects and meaningless media files.
“Clever girl,” she muttered. It was a honeypot: a less secure, easily hacked partition that looked like the real thing. She powered the pad down and started it up again. Ignored the thumbprint. The real drive was somewhere else.
It took her an hour, but she eventually verified the CPU spike when she spoke at the thumb prompt, suggesting a voice password. Rough. Voice was harder to fake than a thumbprint, and she didn’t have any recordings of Britten to start from. There were too many dimensions to try to crack the passphrase itself: voice quality, intonation, speed, phrase length. She would have to do it the hard way.
As she worked through the night, her old skills awoke, unfurled, and stretched. Britten had been good – very good – and her pad had as much crypto on it as Harini had ever seen. But it was an axiom among hackers that nothing was ever perfectly secure. Harini exploited a weakness here, brute-forced a short-key there, tricked the machine into doing a man-in-the-middle attack on itself. The crypto-cracking unit grew hot to the touch even with liquid nitrogen trickling across its cores. She smelled food, and found that her host had left Thai take-out just outside the door. She ate, then forgot to eat as her eyeballs itched with hexadecimal.
At dawn, it broke. She had partially cracked the secure store that held the passphrase and reconstructed a waveform that would hash to the right value. It sounded like noise to her, but the voice-recognition system mangled it in just the right way to trip the locks. She was in.
She ran the search. Hundreds of chat logs with r0ach and others scrolled by, stored and indexed for relevance. She found the source code, annotated voter logs, classified protocol specs. The trigger itself was anticlimactic, a tiny script waiting for input and counting down to the moment when it would tear apart the vote net.
The evening’s stress drained out of her like water from a rag. Her head sagged onto the counter, indifferent to the silicate dust that settled into her hair and the computer cores shimmering with heat.
But she couldn’t sleep yet. Time to get back to the hotel and call Seph. She rekeyed Britten’s pad to her own voice and dropped it into her bag, then stumbled to the door. Her hand was already on the handle when she noticed.
The exit LEDs were red.
She skittered away from the door like it would burn her. How long had it been red? She hadn’t heard a thing.
Her pad chirped with an incoming message. Her immediate urge was to turn the pad off, but she glimpsed the sender as her thumb passed over the screen. m4d_h4tter: dont come out. theres a trapdoor under the workbench that leads to a maintenance tunnel.
m4d_h4tter: go down, then right 200 yards until you see another ladder. that will bring you into the building across the street.
m4d_h4tter: dont worry about me. i can talk my way out of this.
The Hatter. She was stunned. That was the Hatter. He must have realized who she was when she entered, but of course he couldn’t say anything.
“Good to finally meet you,” she said under her breath.
The floor panel was easy to unbolt and it led, as promised, into a muggy tunnel lit in dim electric light. Pipes and cables drooped from the walls and ceilings. She stooped and ran to her right, slipping in and out of the shadows between flickering bulbs, and almost passed the rusty ladder that promised escape.
She ascended through another trapdoor into an abandoned storefront. The windows of the shop were boarded up with graffiti-scarred plywood. She crept forward and peered out through the gap between two boards. Across the street, a trio of unmarked black cars huddled in front of the Mad Hatter’s repair shop. Her scooter was being molested by a pair of men in coveralls.
“Bastards,” she whispered. She would have to find another way out of town.
The back door of the store opened into an unguarded alley. From there she worked her way along narrow side-streets, hiding from the sleeping drunks, until she finally crept out onto a thoroughfare a half-mile from the Hatter’s store. No sign of pursuit so far. She took a moment to crack open her pad and ping the Hatter. There was no response. Of course, that’s not a problem, she told herself. Maybe the cops haven’t left yet. Maybe he stepped out for a smoke.
A black smudge of smoke marred the sky to the west.
She walked slowly, worming back through alleys towards the Hatter. She stopped a block away. It was clear there. The black cars were gone. Sulfurous smoke spilled from broken windows, and flames lapped at the roof of the old mall. Sirens began to wail, still distant. Harini wanted to wait, to know for sure whether they had taken her oldest friend. But she couldn’t risk it. She pinged him one last time, and marked her message urgent.
She stumbled through the door of her hotel room, its curtains drawn, dark as an empty monitor. She reached for the light. In the moment before her fingers touched it she saw the glint of a metallic reflection, and she knew.
“Hello, Suffragette,” said Seph Logan.
He was sitting in a chair at the foot of her bed, his hand holding a sleek, black, government-issued pad. A man holding a gun stood behind him.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“Oh, I don’t live too far away, and I asked for the assignment to come meet you myself. You are the most famous vote-hacker in history. And not many more people will get to see you alive.”
“What are you talking about? I thought we had a deal.”
“Your stay of execution ends in,” he glanced at the pad, “four minutes.”
“And the Hatter? You killed him.”
“He had a list of capital crimes a meter long. We had no deals with him.”
“So now you shoot little girls through windows and burn down storefronts.”
Seph raised an eyebrow. ” They were criminals, and they were punished according to the will of the people. The bills enabling summary execution of vote hackers were very, very, popular on the vote net.” His face brightened. “Speaking of which, have you checked the comment threads on your amnesty vote?”
Harini tensed. She squeezed the pad in her left hand.
Seph went on. “Sentiment analysis suggests that the vote is going about 70% against you. Of course, the comment threads don’t necessarily predict the vote itself, and there are always surprises. That’s the beauty of democracy.”
Harini pulled up her own pad and began to navigate to the voting forums. “If this is true, then why are you waiting here for me?”
“You have until the vote is complete. We keep our word.”
Harini twitched. Her own analysis produced the same results as Seph’s . Her hands danced across the surface of the pad, bringing up other, older routines. “So am I just supposed to stand here until you kill me?”
“First give me Britten’s pad. Now that you’ve unlocked it for us.”
“Why would I do that?”
“That was the deal.”
“The deal was that I lived.”
“That depended on the vote.” Seph looked at Harini gravely. “I’m sorry. You said you were a friend of democracy.”
“Democracy…” Harini tapped another button on her pad. “My opinion of democracy has gone down over the last few days.” A program she had written decades ago appeared. “You killed Britten Surrey. You murdered the Mad Hatter. And you call it justice–”
“Yes,” Seph said. “I call it justice. We live in the most just society that has ever existed, Suffragette. We’ve eliminated every position of power that stands over the people, killed off every king and bishop and president and senator. We’ve made the law into the perfect instrument of the people’s will. And those that oppose and subvert that system… They deserve what the law does to them.”
“So our lives mean nothing?”
The pad in Seph’s hand began to beep. “Time’s up,” he said. He nodded to the man standing behind him. ” Give me Britten’s pad.”
Harini turned her pad towards Seph. “I guess democracy doesn’t agree with me.” She pushed a button and clenched her eyes shut.
The surface of Harini’s pad lit up like a stroke. A glass-shattering shriek pulsed through the room. Harini dropped the pad before the electronics could burn out. She was through the door and on the balcony when she heard the gunshot shatter the glass of her motel room window.
She vaulted the rail and landed on the roof of a car. Her hand was in her jacket pocket, pulling out Britten’s pad, fumbling to input the passcode by feel. She tumbled off the car and scrambled under the balcony. Above her, shouts. A gunshot pierced the hood of the car.
There were three alleys that let into the parking lot on the far side of the hotel. She picked one, and ducked into an open doorway halfway down. She had just a few seconds.
The trigger program was in the center of the screen. Her thumb hovered over the button. She hesitated.
Better be sure. She pulled up the election feed and checked: 64% against Harini Rangarajan’s amnesty, and 36% for it. The top rated comment was, “I vote that they find her and kill her now.”
“I vote for something else,” she said. She pulled the trigger.
The election feed exploded into a burst of chaotic noise, then went blank. For a moment Harini stared at the empty darkness and imagined autovoters across the net dying in a final spasm of noise, servers collapsing beneath the load, network linkages bursting and decaying. Far away, police sirens erupted. She laughed.
She threw the pad into a dumpster and ran.
About the Author
By day, J.S. Bangs works as a mild-mannered computer programmer somewhere in the American Midwest. By night he slays princesses, rescues dragons, and writes stories about it. You can see more at his site, http://jsbangs.com.