Short Story: “Infantry Hack”

With all the press about military tech they’re willing to admit to having, you have to wonder what all those black development projects are about…

Infantry Hack
by P. Orin Zack
(June 2003)

“If you don’t back off right now, I’ll tighten your LifeSkin tourniquet the rest of the way. You know I can do it!”

That’s Edgar Brannock screaming in my earbud. He’s been rocking back and forth behind that grimy warehouse window over there for the past ten minutes. See the glowing smudge in the infra-red overlay of my gunsight? Yeah. That’s him. For someone responsible for a major terror attack on New York, you’d think he’d be geek enough to know not to yell at a bugged window.

“I’m not going anywhere, Edgar.”

Cripes. Why do these jerks always have to be so melodramatic? It’s not like I haven’t noticed the auto-constriction band digging into my arm. Targetting someone with something as fuzzy as an IR overlay is hard enough when you can feel your fingers, but doing it with purple sausages is a real thrill. And telling me to back off? Give me a break. They’ve even given up using that tired ploy in the movies.

“How’s you’re arm? There are lots of other constriction bands in that thing you’re wearing, you know. Want a demo?”

“No thanks. I think I got the idea. But hacking into my teamLAN isn’t going to do you much good. Reinforcements are on the way, and they’ve been alerted to your game. You won’t be able to do the same thing to them.”

I hope he buys that load of bilge. The only backup I’m likely to see is my partner wondering why I haven’t checked in. But if the ploy keeps him talking long enough, I’ll have him.

Edgar laughed in my ear. “Nice try. What’s your name, cop?”

“It’s Roger. Why? Did you want to be my friend or something?”

“No. I just wanted to mark the controls.”

“The what?”

“Controls. There are a lot of LifeSkins in this town — police, fire, security — and I wouldn’t want to get them mixed up.”

“Listen, there’s something I’ve been curious about.”


“Yeah. It’s about that nanobot attack.”

“Are you still on about that? Didn’t you read the statement I sent to the press?”

“Yeah, yeah. I know that you only meant to destroy all the bridges over the East River, and that you never intended the things to survive once they hit the drink, much less infect the rest of the city.”

“What then?”

“How’d you do it? I mean, the Army’s teamLAN was supposed to be hackerproof. How’d you get control of my LifeSkin?”

He stifled a laugh, and his fuzzy IR image jittered nervously. “Hackerproof? Do you really take their claims seriously? Tell me something. Have you ever worked on a government contract?”

I hope he isn’t watching my vitals too carefully. “You mean one of those tech development projects? Sorry, no. Why?”

“Security on those gigs is a joke. They make lots of noise about how well their secrets are protected, and then hire idiots to enforce their hare-brained rules.”

“And I suppose you just broke in and grabbed some passwords?”

“Do you ever get claustrophobia in that tiny brain of yours? No, I didn’t have to break in. I was one of the idiots they hired to run security on the project.”

“So you’ve been sitting on access to these things since before the Army rolled them out during last fall’s skirmish in Europe?”

“Sure. Might as well let them run some field tests first. Dense Personal Networking was a great idea, you know. All that tech gear — and I’m not just talking about the LifeSkin — is all they need to turn any cop or infantry grunt wearing it into a node in a mobile surveillance web. You’re a damn walking sensor for the wingnuts at base. It also means you’re expendable.”

Come on Edgar, spill. I don’t know how much longer I can wait. Purple, bloated fingers aren’t exactly what this trigger was designed for, but under the circumstances, they’ll just have to do. If I survive this, I’m going to steal a tactic from the Air Force and order some guns that fire when I say bang.

The IR signature faded.

Nope, he’s not by the next window either.

“What’s the matter, Edgar? Getting nervous? Need to stretch your legs?”

He stepped back to the window. “No, but you might want to stretch yours.”


My legs stung from circular whip welts as constriction bands in both thighs suddenly snapped in unison, and then released. Breathing sharply, I lowered my gun and rubbed the wounds with my still-functioning hand.

“Come on, Roger. You might as well take a break. After all, I’m trapped in here, and your backup is due any time.”

I glared at the distant window. “What was that for?”

“A test. But then, this entire incident is a test. Or didn’t you realize that?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Did you think that you were a rational target for terrorism? Come on, Roger. I mean, think about it. It’s the US government we’re trying to take down, the armed thug fronting for the multinationals that really control the world. Without their henchman, they’re about as powerful as the Wizard of OZ.”

Gotcha. Your confession was all I needed to tie up the loose ends in this case. Now just hold still, and I’ll finish the job.

“So if this is just a test, Edgar, what’s your real objective?”

The IR signature at the window stopped moving. “Everyone wearing one of those LifeSkins is a potential puppet. The researchers who designed them wanted to provide remote medical support for troops wounded in combat, but they weren’t the ones who fitted them out for action. The DOD had other ideas.”


“That’s right, Roger. They lied. That injection pod you’re wearing isn’t filled with morphine. They never intended to give you painkillers in the field. It’s actually set to dose you with a psycho—”


Bullseye. You really should watch your mouth, Edgar. Getting a confession is one thing. Revealing the truth is quite another.


Copyright 2007 P. Orin Zack


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