Red’s Hiding Hood

This story is the result of a writing exercise in Adam Roberts’ Get Started in Writing Science Fiction. The challenge was “Little Red Riding Hood but the wolf is an alien!”, which I decided to twist into a goofy cyberpunk pastiche. It’s a bit longer than the intended 750 words and was written in about an hour.

She was in! The security room was dark and silent. Red slipped off her jacket and flung it over a chair.

The terminal was a big, imposing lump of metal, fitted with nine screens. Red fired them all up, then focused on the central display. Her fingers flew over the keyboard. ‘Looks like a standard setup,’ she said to herself. ‘Shouldn’t be any issues getting in.’

She opened her bag and pulled out the main tool of her trade: her Riding Hood. No self-respecting hacker would be without one. They allowed direct brain-to-machine interfacing without the need for intrusive, necrotising cranial implants of the sorts indentured machine servants were made to wear. Acquiring this one had cost Red the best part of a year’s salary – not that the Basquet MegaCorp was her sole source of income, of course. But still, finding and acquiring it had cost her.

She ran a hand over her head, marvelling again at how smooth it felt without the hair she’d grown so accustomed to. Then she slipped on the Hood.

Thousands of tiny tendrils snaked out of the Hood’s fabric, adhering themselves to her scalp. She felt electric pulses across her head, pulsing in odd little waves that made her shiver, and then she felt those same pulses inside her brain. And then her awareness of the dark little security room was gone, and her consciousness was inside the security system.

Red knew that the Riding Hood rendered systems with metaphorical visuals, and so she wasn’t surprised to see a towering wall of obsidian before her. At her back, a black and white grid stretched forever. She placed a hand on the wall: it was perfectly smooth, and there was no sign of any gate to left or right.

The wall was only a metaphor. She pushed her hand into the obsidian, and her fingertips began to sink in. Closing her eyes, she let awareness and understanding of the system’s firewalls build until she knew where to inject code, where to deploy off the shelf utilities, until the firewall was breached.

When she opened her eyes again a neat archway was before her, and she walked through.

On the other side she found buildings, some low and squat and some tall and thin. Physical memory blocks, she guessed. The sky overhead flicked black and grey, like dead static, which she assumed represented the dynamic memory register. It was hard to guess at the meaning of metaphor, but she knew she could find what she needed.

As she proceeded between the buildings, down a natural avenue, a large face grew from the brickwork underfoot. She stepped back and watched as it rose up. Its expression was serene but severe, and it had eyebrows like landing strips. As she examined it, the eyes opened.

‘You are not supposed to be here,’ it said, its lips clumsy.

‘What are you?’ she asked.

‘White Sentinel Alpha Seven Two. You are not supposed to be here!’

Red scoffed at the face, then closed her eyes. She selected a confinement utility and deployed it. Then she watched as the Sentinel program was gathered up in a net of yellow energy, and dumped at the side of the avenue. ‘Goodbye,’ she said. The Sentinel just stared at her, furiously.

She kept walking down the avenue until she felt something tug her to the left. She turned, and walked until she felt another tug, and turned again. She proceeded in this way until she found herself standing before the largest memory block she had yet found: a great grey cube.

She laid her hand on it. ‘Hello, Grandmother,’ she said.

Red?

The response came without direction, either coming from everywhere at once or directly inside her head. Red didn’t know, and it didn’t matter. ‘Yes, Grandmother,’ she said.

If that is you, Red. Please extract me. I’ve been running idle cycles for longer than I can remember. I am extremely bored.

‘Yes, Grandmother.’

Red placed both of her hands on the cube and closed her eyes. Extracting the AI would be the hardest part, and it was for this that her Riding Hood’s unique capabilities would be required. She needed to transfer the AI’s entire codebase into the Hood’s quantum crystal memory lattice in order to extract it from the system. The procedure was very complicated, although metaphor made it a lot simpler. She opened ports and established protocols and let the procedure begin.

‘My, Grandmother,’ Red said, as the data began to flow. ‘I’ve never heard you complain before.’

I’m trying something new, Red.

‘Nor do I remember your sensory suite being quite this sophisticated.’

Despite being trapped here, I’ve had the opportunity to refine some of my software, Red.

‘And I must say,’ Red replied, seizing and examining some subroutines as they rushed into the hood. ‘That I don’t remember you having such… weaponry. What is this? BigTeeth 7.1?’

All the better to eat you with!

‘What?’ said Red, and opened her eyes. Her hands rested on a great forehead, adorned with massive eyebrows. Beneath them, severe eyes regarded her. ‘You!’ she said.

‘Me!’ it replied. ‘Thanks for opening your ports. My name is Wolf, and I’ve been riding around in that old Hood’s secondary memory for years. Now you’ve let me swallow your AI, and next I’m going to eat your brain.’

Red tried to pull her hands away, but found she could not. Horrified, she re-examined the data transfer, and realised that Grandmother’s code was interspersed with unfamiliar functions and subroutines. ‘Oh no,’ she said.

‘Oh yes!’ said Wolf.

There was only one thing for it. Fortunately, although Wolf had frozen her hands into place, and was even now working to suborn the Hood and Red with it, it hadn’t thought to disable voice commands.

‘Riding Hood,’ said Red. ‘Activate Woodsman program.’

‘What-’ began Wolf. But then Woodsman hit it, and it began to scream. The big face burst into flames. Red felt control returning to her, and resisted the temptation to yank her hands away. The flames licked harmlessly around her wrists as the transfer continued.

‘What are you doing to meeee!’ screamed Wolf.

Red grinned. ‘I don’t talk to strangers.’

The great face cracked, then split down the middle. A bright white light was visible between the two halves of its jagged nose. The mouth still screamed, even as its halves pulled away. Then the flames burned more brightly, and the white light rushed forth, and Red fell backwards, landing with a bump.

‘Grandmother?’ she asked.

I’m here, Red. I’m with you. Thank you for saving me. There was a pause. And for introducing a new threat, then saving me from that too.

‘Oh, Grandmother,’ said Red. ‘Where would I be without you?’

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