Bullets rang out as Nucl3arsnake took cover behind a toppled vending machine.
Armed only with his trusty laptop, the roguishly handsome hacker hunched over the keyboard, typing with the speed of a gatling gun. Nearby, a gang of terrorists drew nearer, their position defended by an intimidating cluster of ceiling-mounted turrets. Cornered and outnumbered, a lesser man might have given up, accepting his death in a shower of bullets and burst soda cans. But not Nucl3arsnake.
“We're gonna get you!” shouted one of the gunmen, just feet away from the hacker's hiding place.
“Ha!” said Nucl3arsnake, a cigarette dangling from his smirking lips. “Taking me down would require brains!”
With one last keystroke, Nucl3arsnake's cybersecurity hack went live. The turrets stopped shooting in his direction and turned on the terrorists. Shouts of confusion filled the warehouse, only to be replaced with howls of terror. In a blaze of gunfire, the terrorists were torn to bloody shreds.
Within seconds, the turrets powered down, filling the abandoned warehouse with a ringing silence. Nucl3arsnake chanced a look over the vending machine, and saw the terrorists' motionless bodies tossed about like the world's goriest salad. The turrets chirped, registering his presence as a friendly one. He gave himself a satisfied smirk, and wiped a small amount of sweat from his otherwise clean forehead.
“Oh, Nucl3arsnake!” came a female voice. Nucl3arsnake looked in the voice's direction to see the president's beautiful daughter rushing toward him. “You did it! You saved me!” Her deep brown eyes cut through Nucl3arsnake's stoic heart like a virtual knife through cyber-butter.
“All in a day's work, baby,” said Nucl3arsnake in a deep, masculine voice. He stood up, flicking away his cigarette, and stepped around the vending machine.
“I'm so glad you showed up!” she said, throwing her arms around him. “After that useless ex-cop was too stupid to even find the entrance to the warehouse! Oh, Nucl3arsnake! How can I ever repay you?”
“I can think of something,” Nucl3arsnake said, with a sly lift of the eyebrow.
“Ooh, Snakey!” the president's daughter squealed. She leaned in closer to him, parting her glossy lips-
An urgent beeping sound interrupted Frank Pritchard.
He looked up from his work, a script revision for what he hoped would be the pilot episode of Nucl3arsnake: Hacker Extraordinaire. He had been so engrossed in his writing that he felt momentarily confused, wondering why he was sitting in his home office, and not in an abandoned warehouse. The clock on his computer screen read 11:42pm.
Rubbing his eyes, he swiveled his chair around. His home office was spacious, with electronics, figurines, and old food wrappers cluttering nearly every surface. The familiar sight jolted him back to reality, more effectively than the blaring alarm. The sound, he realized, was coming from the apartment's security console.
Pritchard lived in a secure, upscale apartment building, not far from Sarif Industries. He chose it not only for its convenient location, but also because it was the only one he'd been able to find with a landlord who tolerated his incredibly sophisticated and comprehensive security system. He liked to say that if anyone within a 10 mile radius even thought about entering his apartment, he'd know.
He approached the console and logged in, shutting off the alarm. Built into the wall next to the apartment's front door, the console (which Pritchard had designed, programmed, and constructed himself) outwardly consisted of a simple keyboard and monitor. Despite its basic appearance, however, it served as the command center for his home security system, tracking all of the surveillance camera feeds and motion sensors installed throughout his apartment. The warning that flashed across the screen told him that the motion sensor installed outside his front door had detected movement.
He called up the surveillance feeds, though he didn't expect to see much. Pritchard rarely received visitors, and all the neighbors on his floor knew better than to approach his apartment unannounced. The last time the alarm had gone off, it turned out to have been a loose Golden Retriever belonging to the woman who lived three doors down from him. (He seemed to remember calling the woman who owned the dog a “stupid slack-jawed cow.”) He figured the intrusion would be something of that nature – a loose animal, an ignorant new neighbor, or an obnoxious Mormon.
What he didn't expect to see was nothing.
He watched the recorded footage, then rewound it and watched it several more times to be certain. All he saw was an empty front doorstep. He checked the file's time stamp, then verified that the console's internal clock was correct. He enhanced the footage and enabled the infrared layer to see if someone had been using a cloaking augmentation, which turned up nothing.
Confused, he unlocked his front door and poked his head out. The hallway was empty, save for his next-door neighbor unlocking her front door.
“Evening,” she said to him.
Pritchard glared at her and slammed the door.
Not wanting to take any chances, he decided to search his apartment. He checked all of the obvious hiding places: under his bed, in the closets, in the air vents. Next, he looked behind the shower curtain, in the cabinets, even inside the refrigerator.
Pritchard never thought of his borderline paranoia as irrational. To an anti-augmentation terrorist trying to hack Sarif Industries' computer system, Pritchard was the gatekeeper. He knew that there were plenty of neo-Luddite extremists willing to kill for the knowledge that he possessed. This simple fact, so obvious to Pritchard but apparently lost on his dim-witted and lazy subordinates, made him feel justified in looking for threats in strange places.
After his search turned up nothing, Pritchard returned to his home office. As much as he hated to admit it, the only possible explanation for the false alarm had to be a malfunction of some kind, likely a programming error.
Deciding to inspect the coding, he sat back down at his computer. He flicked the mouse to dismiss the screensaver of bikini-clad anime girls that had popped up during his search.
His breath seized.
On the screen, where his script used to be, was a blurred, pixelated image of a face.
For a moment, Pritchard thought it was a still image. But then he noticed that it shifted in subtle movements – clearly a video, or a feed.
The face seemed to look right at him, despite the distortion of its eyes. From what he could make out, the face appeared to be that of a man on a gray background.
Its mouth, or what could be seen of it, cracked into a malevolent grin.
Pritchard gaped at the screen. Although it was difficult to make out, the sight of the face stirred a half-forgotten memory, something deliberately buried years ago.
“Razor?” Pritchard said, barely above a whisper.
At the sound of Pritchard's voice, the face on the screen began to laugh, the voice modulated to sound like the mechanical grunts of an old computer.
Pritchard sprang up, his chair toppling behind him. He took a step backward, resisting the urge to run as the sickening laughter echoed through the room.
He felt paralyzed, unable to process the fact that a network of his own design had been infiltrated. And if that face on the screen was who he thought it was...
In one swift motion, he stepped forward and yanked the computer's power cord out of the wall. The room went silent with a suddenness of a gunshot.
He ran to his bedroom, heart hammering, and pulled on the first pair of shoes he saw. Flinging his closet door open, he grabbed a jacket and shoved his left arm into a sleeve, forgetting the right sleeve in his haste. With the jacket hanging down the middle of his back, he grabbed his knapsack from its spot in the corner of his bedroom, and hurried out to the hallway.
He shot one last look into his office, still lit by the glow of the lights he left on. Though the power cord lay tossed on the floor like a dead snake, he half expected the computer to be turned on once again, but the screen remained dark.
Without bothering to turn off any lights, Pritchard bolted out of the apartment, the electronic lock clicking into place the moment the door closed behind him.