Follow The Code by Tom King
The check passed. The green tick glowed reflecting in his heavy glasses as he leaned back, stiff from the neck down. He corrected his pose without a thought, the reflex action of military training, the step change of commanding officers that reached down to take that last ounce of self. Those he remembered only in series of rictuses.
To survive, he coded. He never thought his personal escape would be the thing they wanted most. Weaving love and humour between the lines of code of military school, they only saw the conclusion, never the beauty.
The inevitability of it all, he wasn't deluded, he had a gift, they wanted it, his little escape was tolerated.
"Not a risk", his report read, those thick glasses cast reflections from his officer's desk. He had bounced asymptotically towards this, just as they'd hoped, three generations of practice systematically honed. China did pandas, the Republic did soldiers, citizens, people, the term barely mattered. A tacit capitalism, he could mock, if mocking were allowed.
He had to admit, he had it easy. The illicit views beyond his window, passed palm to palm on USB sticks, showed that. That thin shim of the Internet that had never contradicted nor confirmed those scenes of grey fields running down to the river. People sliding, limbs catching, bodies slewing. The focus thrown to and fro on the faces of the those who reached the bank, gasping on the cold fog.
The green tick completed the code build, he was done, the mission over. Success was inevitable, it always is and always will be. The officer review will pour gratitude from the supreme leader downwards. "Team", the officer would slip when reading from the embossed letter. He'd assumed he wasn't alone. Tasks were set, hints of personality in the text, reinforced his own.
He doubted he'd met them in the mess hall. They all seemed like the model type. Taller, straighter, fitter, healthier. "My keyboard is my weapon!" he would counter, as he dreamed a conversation that would never happen.
The rewards, he'd gratefully receive. Tomorrow an eager-to-please youth will peddle the wrapped box to his door. The grin from his face, the little shake he'll give the box as he hands it over, belies his jealousy. His mother will show honest appreciation of the scents and lotions. The rest he'll trade for a few more of the flimsy paperbacks, better travelled than him.
What his labours actually did, he wasn't sure, they weren't paraded like others. Did they really paralyse the imperial armies? Were they so controlled by computer that they be stopped, felled by their own incompetence? Their machinery of destruction bearing down on all sides, seized by his soft hands and mathematical jokes.
He was too tired to ponder further. He slid the mouse over to the sleep button, the computer blew what seemed like a long childish, "Shhh", reminding him of being chided by his little sister so long ago. The screen went dark.