Chapter 7:

The Calculated Boss

who I am is not who I want to be

Karma was the kind of person who seemed to revel in the act of controlling every situation, and her love for authority extended far beyond a mere preference—it was an integral part of her identity. While Zack might have described himself as occasionally obedient, Karma's penchant for being in charge was a driving force in their partnership. It was a means for her to not only steer the course of their endeavors but also to claim the lion's share of the rewards they earned.

Moody and bossy were the labels Zack had bestowed upon her, and they were accurate descriptors of Karma's disposition. She possessed a unique talent for retreating into her inner world during moments of introspection, an idiosyncrasy that she leveraged to make more astute decisions, mature, and recalibrate herself. In the realm of moodiness and bossiness, Karma was an undisputed master.

Yet, beneath the surface, it couldn't be denied that Karma was an exceptional hacker with an arsenal of technical skills that defied comparison. Her unwavering commitment to learning and her innate ability to discover novel, efficient hacking methods set her apart in the field. When Zack had started as a mere script kiddie, it was Karma's patient guidance that had led him to overcome his reliance on copy-pasting payloads, teaching him to craft his own malicious code.

As a formidable hacking duo, Zack and Karma embarked on various private bug bounty programs as ethical hackers, fervently hunting for vulnerabilities to report and reaping bounties as their just rewards. It was an arena in which Karma's technical prowess shone brightly. However, her insatiable greed for wealth often loomed larger.

One of their ambitious undertakings involved Starbucks, the multinational coffeehouse chain. After 13 days of grueling effort, they unearthed a server-side template injection vulnerability on Starbucks' website, a discovery that earned them a substantial monetary reward. Yet, true to her character, Karma introduced a rule for dividing the rewards – "NO MISCALCULATION ALLOWED." Ironically, she found herself frequently disregarding this very rule, often miscalculating the distribution of their hard-earned earnings. Zack, on the receiving end of her miserly tendencies, rarely received more than 35 percent of the total reward, with occasional increases to 40 percent. When he mustered the courage to request a larger share, Karma justified her actions by deducting a "tuition fee" for her mentorship.

Their disputes over financial matters were recurrent, and Zack's growing annoyance with Karma's insistence on labeling him as "Mister script kiddie" often found expression in their heated arguments. These clashes were marked by tension, as Zack yearned for a fairer share of the rewards he had worked tirelessly to earn.

Their disagreements, however, extended beyond the realm of finances. One fateful day, as their voices clashed in a park during one such argument, their attention was drawn to a mother attempting to soothe her crying baby boy. The mother's gentle efforts to calm the infant, through the offering of toys and comforting words, created a stark contrast to the turbulent exchange between Zack and Karma.

While Zack remained baffled by their sudden shift in focus, Karma's reaction was unmistakable—a palpable disgust for the infant and a swift departure from the scene. Zack, curiosity piqued, followed her, pressing for an explanation regarding her strong aversion to newborns. In response, Karma unleashed her anger, labeling the baby as a "miscalculation" and attributing her aversion to a past trauma she had endured. It was a facet of Karma's history that Zack would remain ignorant of for some time.

Left with a multitude of unspoken thoughts and emotions, Zack's mind yearned for an outlet. The voices within clamored to be heard, for he resided in a world where only visible things were deemed real—a world where truth and falsehoods intertwined, making it all the more challenging to navigate.

As he pondered the intricate web of their relationship, Zack couldn't help but wonder how long this had been going on. He had miscalculated it repeatedly, struggling to decipher the true reason Karma wanted to meet him. Initially, he had assumed it was because she wanted to confess her feelings, but that presumption had proven false. Her true intention, it seemed, was far more calculated, falling within the second stage of hacking known as Scanning/Enumeration.

For Karma, words served as tools, instruments meticulously wielded to scan and probe the emotional vulnerabilities of her target—especially Zack, who had unwittingly become her captive audience.

(Note: In the context of hacking, Scanning/Enumeration refers to the process of identifying specific vulnerabilities or weaknesses in a target system or website.)