Author: Jason Rayleigh

Before him sat an elongated table with seven silent strangers, dressed in elegant corporate attire. Their faces were digital distortions, scrambled puzzle pieces. Taki felt a sudden sense of unease, as if he had stumbled into a secret society meeting.

A gray-haired woman broke the silence, leaning forward with calculated poise. “Monsieur Souffre, you possess something of great interest to my employers.” The corners of her lips curled upwards. “You’ll find their offers quite… agreeable,” her voice a soft hiss.”

She tapped a command on the table, and a series of numbers appeared in a holographic display. Taki’s eyes widened at the sum.

“Half now, half upon delivery. Untraceable, of course,” she continued. “We’ll provide everything you requested, along with additional perks to sweeten the deal.”

Taki’s heart raced, torn between the opportunity for a new life and an unsettling doubt. “What’s the catch?” he asked cautiously.
Her grin widened. “No catch, Mr. Souffre. A simple test to prove the value of your creation.”

Taki frowned, “What kind of test?”

“We want to see your virus in action, on a target of our choosing,” she explained, her gaze piercing. “Succeed, and you’ll be handsomely rewarded. Fail, and your need for earthly possessions will be a moot.”

Taki swallowed, aware of his virus’s potency but uneasy about its use against an unknown target. Cornered and desperate, he conceded, “I’ll do it, as long as no innocent bystanders get hurt.”

“A hacker with a conscience! How refreshing,” the woman mocked. “But worry not, Mr. Souffre, we’ve prepared a simulation for you. Demonstrate your creation’s power.”

A digital cityscape materialized before them, teeming with life and powered by complex AI systems. A virtual playground to unleash Taki’s virus. “The target is an AI-controlled city grid. Disable it, and we’ll consider your demonstration successful.”

Taki initiated the program, and the virus infiltrated the virtual city, its presence rippling through the simulated metropolis. The woman observed, her eyes glued to the unfolding chaos.

In mere seconds, the city’s AI-driven systems crashed, the infrastructure buckling as darkness enveloped the digital landscape. The woman’s predatory smile grew. “Impressive, Mr. Souffre. My employers will be very pleased.”

As the simulation ended, the woman offered her hand. “Here’s half up front, as agreed. Grant us full control.”

Reluctantly, Taki typed a command and surrendered his digital monster, feeling as if he had just relinquished his soul. “Congratulations, Mr. Souffre. You’re a rich man.”

The virtual meeting ended abruptly. Taki removed his network helmet, only to find his room bathed in darkness. “What have I done?” he whispered, glancing out the window in terror.

The entire city had gone pitch black.