The Bet


The Bet

by Daniel Sobral

Rated: Unrated

He kept watching the screen, waiting for it to happen. "Come on, tripwire, do your job!". There are two kinds of computer psychiatrists: the "normal" kind, for your everyday problem, and the ones that have to license AIs like they were guns. And it doesn't take long to figure why.

AIs are unpredictable. They might start acting strange all of a sudden, by themselves. But when a AI gets hacked, you get the same result: a weird-acting computer program. And since hacking is usually done with another AI, it usually takes a third AI (or more) to evict the criminal (not to mention track him down and prosecute him).

For many years now, an AI used to hack or to counter-hack a system (there is little difference between them) has to be registered with the police, and the "programmer" must have a special license to employ it.

And, when the tough get going, there is nobody better in "fixing" an AI, be it a "mentally stressed" one, be it a hacked one, than Doctor Walter P. Hartford, Computer Psychiatrist.

So, it is of no surprise that soon the image of a bright red star appears on the screen, and informs Doctor Hartford that an illegal connection has been detected, and tracking is in progress. In half an hour, the police are telling Doctor Hartford that the hacker has just being arrested. "One more for the Doctor, that was too easy!" he congratulates himself.

He then proceeds to insert the special memory card into which his programs are then retrieved, and returns to his office. "Ms McDuffin, would you please see that Baker Pharmaceuticals receive the bill?" "It's on the way, Doctor."

For the rest of the day, Doctor Hartford reads some files on his other clients, and then tweaks a little bit his AIs, and decides again not to start today this new AI he has been thinking of, Pixel.

After getting back home, he fixes himself a small dinner, and then gets ready for his most beloved hobby: hacking. He always had a passion for the sophisticated techniques used in hacking. And he also very much liked besting himself against other hackers.

First, he logs onto a few anonymous hackers' chats, taking the necessary precautions.


  • Hey people, look who is here: The Doctor!

  • Hiya, Doc! Haven't seen you for a few days... Whattyou been doing?

  • Hey, you know, even momma's boy needs money from time to time... and don't call me Doc!

  • Sure, man, keep cool!

  • Y'know Doctor, I don't see it that way. Money might still be physical, but property is not. What I want becomes mine, if you get my drift.

  • Tell, Doctor, you know who was here earlier?

  • Santa Claus?

  • Nah, Santa Klaus was busted I tell you. It was Master CP himself, the greatest!

  • Willy, boy, it isn't born yet the man who will best me!

  • You talk a lot, Doctor, but HE said you would be appearing here later. I guess he had you on his 'scope again, didn't he? Tell, Doc, how does it few to be spied upon??

Flushing with anger and not a little part of shame, Hartford replies with a "Don't call me Doc!", and throw the chat rooms to background. Still angry, but more at himself now, he gets himself a bear, puts some football on the 3D, calms down a little, reads and answers the mail from a few colleagues in profession, and starts doing what he likes most: chasing other hackers.

Of course, that means entering others' people systems without their previous consent, but it can't be helped, can it? And hiding his tracks makes everything even more interesting, particularly when he happens to fight other hackers in those systems.


  • Priority mail has arrived.

  • Thank you, Dorah. Play it...

"Nice work today, Doctor. But it wasn't really that difficult, was it? I mean, your tripwire could do it with it's hands tied. If it had hands, of course. But don't worry, one day I'll give you one REALLY interesting challenge. Nice talking to you. End of line."


  • The message was signed by Master CP.

  • Of course. Who else. Damn it, he was watching my programs, and I didn't even notice him! Well, Master CP, you may have beat me before, you might have hid yourself this time, but I need to best you only once... Your time will come, or I won't be called Doctor Walter Hartford!

A Small Gas Station/Restaurant in the middle of nowhere, Arizona, 15:30, day 8

The man was obviously uncomfortable with something, thought the waitress. She might have inquired into it, if not for the inconspicuous bodyguards. That was dirty business, she knew, and she wanted nothing with it. So, she just served coffee asked for, and tried very hard not to notice anything.

Five minutes later, the man stood up, went to the bathroom, and, coming back, entered a small videophone booth. He was not only uncomfortable being there, but he was mightily upset at having to do this himself. A man in his position not only ought be able to avoid getting his own hands onto work, he must avoid it. But it couldn't be helped. He had a very high target in mind, and the only way to accomplish what he wanted was using the best man around. And the best man around had his own rules.

He barely had sat down when the phone ringed, startling him. "May I speak with the boss", said in an artificial voice the man hidden by a voice-only transmission.


  • I am the boss. Are you the master?

  • Yes, but you can call me CP. What do you want?

  • Are you sure this is secure?

  • I am not in the business to get caught, old man.

  • Err... I heard you could do any job, for a fee.

  • I'm an artist, not a jack of all hands! You provide the grunts for the grunt jobs, and I'll do the magic where needed.

  • Well, you better be a hell of a wizard for this one.

  • Do you have any doubts of my talents?

  • No, but even the master himself might find BETA a little bit hard...

  • BETA? I see... And what prize are you after?

  • The Supertrooper program.

  • Well, it will take some magic. Let me think... My, what an interesting idea. We'll need some smoke, senator, but I have just the man for the job...

Later, as he was going back to his air-conditioned office, Senator Wheiner seemed ready to forget his bad humor. The plan sounded very good, and it wouldn't be so costly to him. He would have to spend a few good professionals, sure, but he could easily hire them for the job, at surprisingly little prices, given the rewards. His bodyguard, who knew better than to know anything about what they were doing, saw a smile slowly crept into senator's face, making him look like a lizard...

Simon & Solo, Consultants, 2:30, day 43

" that we finally complete the transition to a more pacific agency, oriented to our current needs, enforcing the law generally making the universe a safer place to live. No more fiascoes like SuperTroopers. As you all know, I have always been a proponent of this program, even when nobody believed it possible, at the height of the military-oriented BETA. No more of that. We can live in peace with our aliens' friends, and prosper in commerce with them. We don't need to maintain an army that does nothing but spend OUR money. From now on, my friends, BETA will mean Galaxy Rangers, BETA will mean Law Enforcement, BETA will mean Peace and Prosperity. And all this, I did for you. Your humble servant, JP (???) Wheiner."


  • Man, you gotta love this guy, don't you? That's a man that will stand for my pocket!

  • Well, I can actually think of at least three or four "mistakes" in what his said...

  • What did you say?

  • Oh, nothing, I was just wondering... do you know the difference between a Ranger and a Bovo 7?

  • Oh, I don't that one! What is it?

  • About 3 IQ points and a funny hat.

  • Oh, that's a good one! And do you know why the Ranger went to Kiwi?

  • Why?

  • Neither did him!

It's bad enough having to wait a whole week for such a simple job, but why did they had to have this guy keep me company! He likes Wheiner, likes Ranger jokes... next thing I going to discover is that...


  • Oh, and do you know how do you tell a supertrooper is angry?

  • No, tell me?

  • He is not asleep!

Wincing in pain from the jokes being inflicted on him, Hartford spills the coffee on the ground.


  • Oh, I'll get a robot to clean this mess. Just a second...

Hartford feels so relieved at having a break (and turning off the 3D, to stop Wheiner too), that he almost misses the signal from Tripwire, just a little movement which would appear to be absolutely normal, except that it was programmed to do it only under very specific conditions. So he proceeds to give verbal orders to his program, like nothing had happened:


  • Tripwire, shake things up a little. I want you to do a full check up on the whole system. This guy might have entered undetected.

  • I'm on it, Doctor! A few minutes passes by, and the Tripwire returns: "I found one bandit, Doctor! Should I net him?" "You do that while I get the cops on the move."

After returning home, even after a whole week of terrible sleep "on the job", Hartford can barely wait to get on the net. He quickly hacks into the network provider and retrieves a program.


  • Firefly, report!

  • I got it Doctor! I know how he did it!

Feeling much more satisfied, he then proceeds to his normal routine, and when he gets a message from his old nemesis, he cannot help but smile to himself:

"That's it, Master CP! I got you! Next time, I won't be catching one hacker. I'll net two of them..." With a smile of satisfaction, he logged into the chat rooms, and, with good humor, endured the jokes about Master CP and him.


  • Well, guy, I have two things to say. First, don't you ever call me Doc again, or I'll even the odds between police and you. And, second, I'm the best, and I assure you I'll catch Master CP within a month.

  • Whoa! Looks like he is serious this time!

  • I don't know about that! I'll tell you what: it seems that by some weird management accident, probably computer fault, I say, you can't trust these things, right? Well, a shipment of these brand new CDU things was delivered to me. Well, a PO Box, anyway... Not that I'll ever use it again, but...

  • Hey, Jaw, spill it!

  • Easy, Exterminator 17, I was just coming to that! I say, I'll see that one of these CDUs gets into Doctor's hand if he can do what he says!

  • So set one aside for me, because I'll catch this guy, or I'll find myself another job!

But Walter Hartford was not the only person taking the first step in a big plan that day. Even as Walter exchanged Ranger jokes, something was taking place at Hangar 18, a high security base belonging to BETA...

The guard was not then meters away when someone stepped out of the shadow. With security as heavy as they had in this place, there was little she could do but taking such chances. The job would be easier with a full squad of persons, but for reasons unknown to her, it had to be done by one person alone.

It did not matter to her, anyway. She actually preferred it that way. Though usually working within the bounds of law, she was attracted to the thrill of dangerous adventures as a fly to honey. The contractor would have preferred a man, of color, if possible, but she managed to assure him it wouldn't make any difference.

Soon, she was crawling on the roof. Make a small cut with a portable laser scalpel, attach a little black box, and there goes the alarms. She already knew the position of the cameras, and they would all fall under three categories.

Smartly, she avoided the regions covered by cameras of one of the categories, those that were watched from the main security room, as she sneaked inside the building. She retrieved a small crossbow, and fired the bolt across the monitored corridor. The bolt snapped on the door, releasing a gas. The guard opened the door just as she hid herself again.

The gas acted fast, and the guard dropped to the ground without being able to say a word. His companion, seeing him lying on the floor through the monitor, ran to him, fearing a heart attack. Soon, he joined him.

With the guards who watched the second category of cameras, she proceeded. Soon, she came to the last room. There, she easily opened the safe, and retrieved a number of data cubes. She did not know what was inside them, and did not care.

Later, when she was giving the data cubes to her contractor, she as asked:


  • And the hidden camera in the safe room?

  • No problems there. It will show one person working alone, but no hint of gender or skin color.

  • And, of course, the height is about right. Good job, here is your money.

She retrieved the small package, without ever bothering to look inside, and left.

After a while, the contractor spoke, apparently to no one "I still think we should erase her." A voice, coming out of the computer, replied "That is not needed. What is not needed, is trouble." "Whatever you say, CP, whatever you say..."

Doctor Walter Hartford Residence, 8:30, day 48

Fate was a chaotic Goddess. Unfortunately, she was also Walter Hartford's patron saint, and, for that reason, Hartford would regret having got out of the bed on that day for years to come...

As fate demanded, he was feeling really happy. The day before he had been in contact with a new client, and, finally, it had come the time to put his plan to bust Master CP in motion. He worked well into the night setting up his trap, but was up by seven in the morning, without a sign of fatigue.

His plan required that all his tweakers but one stayed hidden on the net, so he had to do the job, the one for his client, just with Tripwire. It did not bother him in the least, he was sure he would be able to pull it. Once more, he regretted haven't got Pixel together, and promised to himself he would start it as soon as this job was finished.

So, it was with immense satisfaction that he his house. As soon as he was out of sight, two men left a hover truck, carrying pool-cleaning equipment. Though this kind of work is usually done by a single person, they fitted so well the environment that it could have been an invisibility suit.

In the back of the house, they quickly put a drone to work on the pool, though it would also sound an alarm in their hidden headset if someone came, and entered the house. Quickly, one of them went to the wall, opened a small panel, and, inserting a small device, deactivated the silent alarm.


  • I just hope he was speaking the truth when he said the police station's computer wouldn't acknowledge the alarm.

  • Shut up. Let's just get this done and get the hell out of here.

Quickly, one of them cautiously opened a drawer and carefully hid a few data cubes in it, while the other one plugged a small device into the house network. Then, they nervously waited for a small light in it turn green. When it happened, they retrieved the device, got out of the house, got the drone, and, as if nothing happened went away.

Their presence did not go unnoticed, though. Small cameras in the house recorded their every movement. But the device plugged into the network inserted a worm that encrypted their whole visit, and then self-destructed. Though the sophisticated computer system in Doctor Hartford's house was good enough to keep records of the activities of the device, no record remained of who planted the device...

Wheiner Heavy Industries, 10:20, day 48


  • Here we are at last. This terminal is used to control the laser used in the experiments. It really ought to be kept out of the network, but the scientists went out of their minds at the thought of having to carry data cubes around. As far as we have been able to tell, the hacker is using this computer to get to a higher level access. We cannot shutdown the public access network, because of the impact it would have on our own research groups, and we have replaced this whole computer here twice, just to have the hacker back. I guess he might have inserted a virus of some kind into the scientists programs...

  • Don't worry. This is a very straightforward job. I'll have this hacker's head delivered to you in no time.

  • Thanks, Doctor Hartford. I'll sleep much better knowing no more secrets will be stolen. I'll leave you now. Phone me if you need anything, ok? See you!

Doctor Walter Hartford Residence, 12:17, day 48

Inside a black van, the intelligence officer reported that all squads reported ready. Their commander hesitated for a moment. This was no low-life here. Doctor Walter Hartford as a widely respected Computer Psychiatrist, with worldwide fame. Rich, famous, educated in the best schools, even good looking, he was! Why would such a man turn to crime? Usually, he would never have set this operation in motion for just an anonymous call, but the data stolen was of utmost importance, calling for all possible efforts to be made. And it was the kind of data such a man might be interested in...

After a small nod of their commander, he transmitted the signal for the teams to move in. Soon, small teams of four men were pouring in the house, guns drawn and ready. On their backs, signs reading "POLICE".

After confirming the house empty, they began a fine search, while computer experts examined the computer (which, being Doctor Hartford's computer, wasn't much friendly to strangers). Soon, a few data cubes were found inside a drawer. These were inserted into one of the computer experts. With not a small surprise, he noticed the serial numbers of the data cube, which uniquely identified every data cube produced, identified them as the stolen ones. "The fool", he thought to himself, "I'd have just copied the data, encrypted it, and rid my self of them." With a big smile on his face, he then said "Captain, I think I found something..."

Wheiner Heavy Industries, 13:52, day 48

"What these police officers are doing here?" Doc wondered.


  • Are you Doctor Walter Hartford?

  • Yes, what can I do for you?

  • Doctor Hartford, please come with us. You are under arrest. You have the right...

  • Hey, wait, if this is about those speeding bills, I can explain...

Police Station, 17:30, day 48


  • I told you, I don't know how these cubes went there! Hey, look, I might do some fencing now and then, but I'm just not cut for this kind of action job, even if I wanted to do it!

  • Whatever. You might have someone do it for you. Doctor, you might just tell us the truth.

  • I AM telling you the truth! Why can't you accept that? Look, I know what. I have secret cameras in my house, they'll show the people who did this!

  • I was wondering when it would come to that.

The detective inserted a small disk in the computer, and a 3D image of Hartford house appeared. A small clock indicated the passage of the time, at a very fast rate. Now and then, the image would blur with Hartford walking around the house. A little after he left the house, the image disappeared, replaced by static, to reappear a few minutes of "real time" later.


  • They erased it! Isn't it obvious?! Why are you interrogating me then?

  • Doctor, are you telling me you wouldn't be able to program your computer to do that to the tape, in case your house was raided?

Almost unable to believe what was happening, Hartford sat back and said, "I think I'll want to see my lawyer..."

"As you wish, then," replied the detective. He stood up, and got away from the room, with the required witness with him, leaving Hartford alone.

Suddenly, the 3D came to life. Little squares, disposed in a circle forming a cylinder, were turning around fast. They began then to slow down, and suddenly stopped with a jerk. One square was missing, revealing a line rendered face, facing Hartford.


  • Good afternoon, Doctor.

  • Master CP! Then it's YOU behind this!

  • I see your reasoning capabilities haven't left you yet. That is good.

  • Tell me, you bastard, what do you want from me?!

  • You tried to pull me into your game, Doctor, so I decided to pull you into mine.

  • Huh? What do you mean?

  • That is not important for now, Doctor. You got caught too easily. That is not interesting to me, nor I find it amusing. I'd rather see you being chased around a little bit before you fall.

  • I see... you want me to distract the cops while you do some of your mischief's, eh? Well, forget it.

  • Doctor Hartford, you disappoint me. You must realize that I won't be stopped by something so small as you not running away from the police. What I offer you, Doctor Hartford, is a chance to clean your name. Of course, you won't be able to relate me to any of this, but you'll live to play the game another day.

  • "Well... ok, what's the deal?" asked Hartford after hesitating a little.

  • The only way to clear your name is to get the person behind this. That will be somewhat hard, since this person always have others do the dirty work for him. The map you are seeing right now indicates were the tugs this person have doing this job for him are right now. You tell this to the police, and the building will be empty when they arrive.

  • I don't understand... you know who this person is, so why don't you just tell me?

  • As I said, Doctor, that would not benefit me. I need you running around a bit.

  • A decoy. Well, and how do I know you are telling me the truth? How do I know there will be anyone there?

  • You don't, Doctor. Very soon, a small-time criminal is starting some trouble. He doesn't know who hired him, so don't have any ideas.

  • Hey, wait a second, how am I supposed to get out of here?

  • That is up to you, Doctor. The trouble has just started. You'll find the door is unlocked. End of line.

With that, the 3D went off again. Hartford hesitated for a second, checked the door, and, in an impulse, retrieved the disk from the 3D and went out...