Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

I always remember the secret my great-grandfather told me: “Absinthe was never to blame, my dear. It’s what was added to the absinthe that caused problems. By accident or design, adulteration led to unexpected side effects.”
There’s a bottle of vintage absinthe on the table in front of me, next to the data store and my computer. It’s the last bottle from great-grandfather’s cellar. I’ve been saving it for a special occasion.
Glancing out the window, I see flashing lights reflecting across the buildings. The eyes of a cat on a window ledge opposite reflect the kaleidoscopic display. A flicking tail is all that betrays annoyance at humans disturbing its nightly foray.
‘Adulteration leads to unexpected side effects.’ So true. Like adding an independent programmer to a dedicated team because they don’t have the skills necessary to enable the outrageous things they’ve created. I came highly recommended and reasonably priced. They tripled my rate and paid half in advance; too much, too soon. I arrived with the certainty I was never intended to spend the bounty, but addicted to the challenge and confident I could get out from under.
Sure enough, the programming was wonderful to do and behold. Intricate and innovative. Ground-breaking, in places.
Then Tokyo went dark. A million people died before infrastructure and services could be restored. I looked at what I’d created and mentally filled in the functions of the subroutine stubs with breaking a metropolis in mind. Allowing for a margin of error and inevitable paranoid interpretations, I became sure a scaled-up version of my ‘prototype’ was being used in the wild.
Survivors of the first night Rio de Janeiro went dark could only describe the holocaust that happened in biblical terms. I vomited myself dry, then sought and detected sufficient data traces to confirm my fear.
In too deep to get out, I chose to be honest and made an adjustment to the next release, along with spiking the backups and clones.
Berlin went dark for eight minutes before my revised coding halted the whole suite of programs, flashed up the postcode of my employer’s headquarters on every display still capable of holding an image, then deleted the suite and itself.
My apartment is on the seventeenth floor and my employer’s kill teams are on the fourteenth. Anti-terror units are on the eleventh, with armed personnel from assorted agencies on floors nine through five. Somewhere amongst the back markers is the help I called. At least they’ll be able to identify my corpse and fill in the details when the coming battle is over.
I use a hammer and chisel to crack the containment on the data store. Pouring myself a half-tumbler of absinthe, I take a pause with my other hand poised above the drink. With a smile, I tip the store. The liquid hits the absinthe without a splash and I watch as the suspended nanoparticle clusters form a beautiful black rainbow that spirals in the wake of the narrow silver spoon. Soon, six terabytes of unique programs and their support libraries are swirling prettily.
As the kill team starts work on my door, I pour a measure of champagne into the mix. I’m going to be a little late for a ‘Death in the Afternoon’. Hope Hemingway will forgive me.
The outer door gives way. I drink the glass without pause for air or second thoughts. A strange, cold energy assaults my senses. Not sure if it’s real or hallucination.
The inner door collapses. A shotgun-toting armoured form rushes in. I raise the empty glass toward my murderer.