glow that clung to him.
But the memory was like the distant smoke, a ghost of warmth
she had no part of. The old anger rose and erased it. Her eyes
stung, and she wiped them with a woolly mitten.
“I’m sorry,” Tapani said. “I shouldn’t have said that. I just got
annoyed earlier. I never wanted us to become that sniping couple.
That was the whole point, wasn’t it? To keep things simple, never
make it a prison.”
He sighed. “How about we just start today over, hey? We can
meet up after I finish, get some food, all of us—Sini!”
Sini was beating Stinky the snowman with a branch. The
creature’s head came off, fell to the ground, and smashed to
pieces. Sini kicked at it with wicked glee.
Alina rushed to her and took her by the shoulders. “That was
mean, Sini,” she said. “You’re not supposed to do that.”
Tears welled up in Sini’s eyes again. “Why not?” she screeched.
Alina stared at her, at a loss for words. And then Tapani
“You shouldn’t break something just because you can,” he said.
“Do you want to be the kind of girl who smashes other kids’ toys
and then nobody’ll play with you?”
Sini shook her head.
“It’s okay,” Tapani said, gathering her in his arms. “You just
have to promise that we’ll make another Stinky tomorrow.”
“I promise,” Sini said. And then the car was there. Its engine
was so quiet Alina had missed its arrival. Its wheels rattled on
the gravel as it pirouetted on the yard gracefully, taking care to
avoid Sini’s destroyed snowman. Under the winter sky, the car’s
sleek silver lines made it look like an alien spaceship, come to
take them to another planet, far away.
Alina gritted her teeth and rubbed snow on her pulled muscle.
The cold made her see sparks but numbed the pain.
Then she took a crowbar, rubber gloves, and a large bundle
of data cable from her backpack and waded into the icy water.
She did not have much time. Judging from the autohacker forum
estimates, the autoDAO would send a drone to check up on the
lost vehicle in less than 20 minutes.
The car was still, floating in the water like a huge gray seal.
Alina found the side panel and rammed the crowbar into the
seam. It slid along the metal with a whiteboard screech. She
tried again, and this time the panel popped out, exposing flat
black GPU boxes and tangled optical fiber. Gritting her teeth,
she inserted the cable tip into a port, waiting for the zap.
The connector clicked. Alina let out an explosive breath.
BlackHatGal117 from the forum had been right: if the car floated
so that the wheel sensors lost touch with the ground, the safety
firmware decided the car was being towed or elevated in a repair
shop, and deactivated the intrusion countermeasures.
She squatted down in the snowbank with a grunt, took out
her ruggedized laptop, connected the cable that trailed from the
car, and opened a command-line terminal.
Tracking the car down had been the easy part. It belonged
to an autoDAO, a self-owning, decentralized autonomous orga-
nization that owned and operated cars. She had simply tracked
down the payment for the data that had destroyed her wedblock,
using the same scripts she had written for her clients to search
the main token exchanges. Even in the Northern Block, the
autoDAO vehicles sometimes had to use euros to pay recharg-
ing stations, and once you mixed crypto and old-school money,
anonymity went away.
Alina copy-pasted BlackHatGal’s zero-day exploit into the
terminal. The car’s headlights flashed. Now its firmware thought
she was a factory quality assurance inspector, with root access
She cd’d her way up the decision-making and reinforcement
learning directories, until she found the explanation dialog system.
“And now, mister,” she said aloud, “you and I are going to
have a conversation.”
On the day the wedblock terminated, Alina barged into
Tapani’s new company.
The hubbub of the office died. Half a dozen game devs with
wraparound AR goggles turned to look at her. They were young
and hip, with bioluminescent tattoos and in vitro leather trousers.
She hesitated, self-conscious with her practical winter coat and
Then she saw Tapani, hunkering behind his treadmill desk,
and the anger turned her into a giant.
“You,” she growled.
“Alina. I was going to call you. I didn’t know it would be so
She had been playing an AR game with Sini when she spotted
her wedblock ring blinking angry red. A bot informed her that
her wedblock contract with Tapani Juhantalo had terminated
at 2:03 P.M.
“You. Didn’t. Know.” Her face burned. “What the fuck did
“Let’s go outside.”
“Sure. Let’s go outside so your coworkers don’t have to hear
why you broke a wedblock with your wife of five years, the mother
of your child.”
She stomped out. Tapani followed her, wearing that infuriating dazed expression. She slammed the door behind them, and
the deep stairwell boomed. Then she leaned on the railing and
looked into the abyss, unable to face Tapani.