The Encryption Ward

Sawyer Trill was intuitive, observant, and a quick learner. He was a talented coder. Dealt a different hand he could have led a comfortable happy life. Instead, the most responsible role model he’d had was his mom’s hush dealer—guy called himself the Glass Man, and everyone else did too because his real name didn’t matter. Most things didn’t matter. But Sawyer learned early on, as all aspiring adults do, that money is what matters, so he put his talents to use.

He made thumb print skimmers and left them all over town, but then he realized he could make more money with less risk if he just sold the damn things to other small-timers. It was good going until he took two grand from an undercover cop. Sawyer’s mouth was smarter than his brain, so he spent a week in a crowded cell before his court appointment. He managed to get off with community service and time served—the legal system was as broken as his family—and he thought himself more slighted than wrist-slapped.

In any case, that’s how he ended up on the third shift at Shale County Medical Center. A thousand hours would take him six months to work off. He was furious—until he showed up. They put him in the encryption ward. He hadn’t even known such a thing existed.

It was a lot like a coma ward, but the patients hadn’t suffered brain injuries or OD’d on hush. These were all upper-middle class suburbanites with expensive nanoware implants; educated white folks who could afford to boost their immune systems and speed up their thoughts and index their memories. And someone hacked them. Encrypted their consciousnesses. Took their minds for ransom.

Most families paid the hackers out of some misguided sense of love—probably just a long play at securing an inheritance—but sometimes they listened instead to the cops and the insurance adjusters and refused to pay. And that’s why an encryption ward existed.

Sawyer was an enterprising boy who insisted he was a dangerous man. There was a lot he could learn in a thousand hours. And then everyone else would see just how dangerous Sawyer Trill could be.

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