The waitress departed, and something nudged Jan’s foot.
“You said you need gym clothes, da? For your health?” The bulky blonde man across the table smiled at him.
There would be no cheating, but all the same Jan pulled the gym bag into his lap, keeping it out of sight as he peeked inside. As agreed, it was stuffed with zlotys and euros. He reached inside and felt the four gold bars at the bottom.
“Just my size!” he grinned, slipping the bag under the table. “Any company logo?”
“Nyet. No. No markings of any kind. I saw to it myself.”
“Ah, good. Are they made in China?”
“Likely. Or perhaps Pakistan.”
The waitress brought their supper, pierogies and borscht, and they were quiet for a while. Jan lived in a decaying industrial town in the Polish heartland, but this café was quiet and served good food. And if Jan often dined with strangers in suits? He did computer work for a firm in Warsaw, and on occasion, they needed to visit him here.
“A question, if I may,” said the visitor. “Only personal curiosity.” At Jan’s nod, he continued: “You use the alias Vector for your work. Does it indicate the mathematical meaning, or some other?”
Jan grinned. “English is a wonderful language. So ambiguous. Many words have the same meaning, yet other words have more than one meaning. In your maths, a vector has direction. Purpose, even. And in English, it may also mean the path a infectious agent takes to invade a living body.”
The other man — Jan was sure he was Russian, perhaps KGB — looked amused. “An almost poetic layering of meanings, my friend! But beware, living bodies often develop antibodies to resist such invasions.”
“Of course. Discretion is survival.”
“Very good.” The visitor rose. “Well then, you have your project and goals. I should leave you to it.” He looked at his Rolex. “I have plenty of time to catch the train back to Warsaw, but I like to arrive early. I can call the office and let them know everything is well in hand.”
At home in his flat, Jan got to work. Two wide displays, side by side, showed him the locations of thousands of computers around the world under his control. He’d come a long way in the years since he found a shabby old computer in a dumpster and brought it home, his first step to becoming Vector. He had direction, although the organisms he invaded thought he came from a different direction. Moscow wanted control of America’s satellite fleet, while making it look like a Chinese hack? A worthy challenge to be sure, but a challenge he was more than equal to.
(A relay clicks over, opening a valve. Gas hisses, pouring into the basement.)
Vector considered. His client wanted some blame to fall on Pakistan? That could be arranged. He had access to systems in Lahore and Islamabad; some were active. With a few keystrokes, his servers in China uploaded necessary software components.
(Through the apartment building, phones ring. People leave in haste, carrying what they can.)
Ignoring the commotion outside his door, he worked on. His viruses continued to infect more computers around the world. Cracking military networks was tough, but his infections gained him a toehold and opened a tunnel. What his client planned was not important —
(A surge through the power lines causes a switch to arc over in the basement, igniting the gas.)
Jan heard a thump, then the floor collapsed beneath him, dropping him and his tools into the inferno beneath. What few remains there were, were fused together in death as they never could be in life.
Living organisms develop antibodies.