Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Just another day at the office, sitting on my ladybird, chatting with my blue owl friend. I named him Percy, and he’s smarter than your average owl. Which he should be, being that up until 09:16:32 this morning, he was the icon for my personal AI.

“Any luck finding the intrusion?”

Percy sounds mournful. Think I should have named him Eeyore.

“No trace, no trail, not even the whisper of a flag reset. Whoever did this is a category above Wizard class.”

Not good. Wizard class hackers are supposed to be the best. But there is one, unofficial, higher category: Hazard class – because they’re a menace to anyone near them. Either by being crazy or attracting the attention of agencies with a preference for using area-effect weapons. Sometimes both.

Outside my window, the Mad Hatter lies amidst the debris of his tea party. The Queen of Hearts is curled, drunkenly snoring, in his lap.

“What do we have to track Hazard class?”

“Jill.”

A tingle runs up my spine. Should have guessed. My ex-wife is a ‘white-hat’ Hazard class. It’s why I divorced her: way too many bad people trying to kill her on behalf of worse people she’d upset. After my cat got converted into a three-metre scorch mark with barely a yowl of indignant surprise, I left. The divorce was finalised by Autolaw Processor within a week.

“What else?”

“Luck or prayer.”

I don’t remember adding sarcasm or humour modules.

“Your recommendation?”

“Jill Shaw.”

“Second recommendation?”

“Offline, military grade erasure, secure reinstall, monitored reboot with full logging.”

That’s a minimum of two weeks downtime, costing me a Eurodollar a minute, on top of non-delivery penalties for a pair of missed contract deadlines. I can’t afford that.

The White Rabbit hops into view, earrings catching the sunlight as she adjusts her bustier. She starts slipping the rings from the Queen’s fingers.

“What is Miz Shaw’s current rate?”

“She’s doing a free day consult and discounted long-term rates. It would be cheaper to engage her for a resident month than hire her for a week of onsite during business hours.”

Just a moment.

“Disguise origin via external routing and repeat query.”

“Two thousand a day with a non-refundable three thousand Eurodollar deposit.”

The White Rabbit winks at me.

“JILL!”

The White Rabbit leaps out of sight behind the table, leaving only a familiar pair of eyes floating in mid-air.

“I really meant it when I said sorry for Caffrey getting killed, Justin. But since you Autolawed the whole thing, I couldn’t contact you directly. After that, I moved to a townhouse in a properly secured community. There’s room for us to have several cats, if you like.”

“You hacked my office just to get my attention?”

“Actually, I’ve got your whole office block’s data and security infrastructures. Can’t have alarms going off while I’m trying to win my fella back.”

She’s a wee bit unhinged, very stubborn, and I still love her. Well, damn.

“If I agree to come and visit, will you drop this hack – and drop it tidily?”

“I even promise not to cook.”

She must be serious. Time to push my luck.

“You’ll order in from Esplendia?”

“Ouch. Then you’d better bring an overnight bag, you shameless man.”

Excellent; I’m doomed.

“Done.”