“Damnit playa’” Anthony had cried over the message. “You better get your ass back here. We’re down on the second deck and we’re in a whole loada shit. I mean like mountain of shit. Like truck loads!”
“Yeah, I got the point,” Joshua responded.
He was already on his way to the second deck of the Motherboard building. This particular floor housed Coby Games’ main I.T suite. It was also where the Main Information Local Drive Reader and Encryption Device sat, or MILDRED for short. MILDRED was the main Coby server. Putting it simply, she was the main power house of the Coby Games empire. She was the heart of the Motherboard.
On this morning, as Joshua rushed to see who was gaining access to MILDRED’S information, he was greeted by a man in black.
“Good morning, Mr Coby,” he greeted. “I’m Professor Lynch.”
The Law Maker pin on his lapel introduced his purpose before he said anything further.
Beads of sweat had started to gather on Josh’s forehead but his body language remained composed.
“If you have a warrant I’d be happy to open up the servers for you.”
Professor Lynch smiled. It would have been personable if the man weren’t so sure of himself.
“The warrant is within. You don’t have to worry. We already have access to your servers. If you’ll be so kind and step inside with me. My charge has some questions he would like to ask about what he’s found so far.”
Professor Lynch pushed the door open to the main frame room. The heat within was like stepping into an oven no matter how many fans were operating. At the table next to MILDRED, hidden mostly by a hefty laptop with the Law Maker symbol on the lid, was a boy of about ten years old. His name was Sanjay Rappapor. He was a remarkable young man. Certified genius at age seven he already had degrees in information technology from Kingsgate University.
Coincidentally this was where he had met his handler, Professor Lynch. Lynch was a retired academic. His specialty was history and communication. He had been tasked with overlooking the boy, honing his skills and providing service to the Office of Law Makers’ forensic accountants.
He was a part of their ‘Hell Hound’ team, the other two of which we’ve already met.
Joshua looked to the registry screen.
‘LIL_SNIFFLES LOGGED IN’
That was the name he went by in the cyber world. He called himself that as a tongue in cheek play on the name the Black Bands gave him when they learned of his ability to spread viruses through online communities. He was a Subala native, raised by Van Holder himself. He had been brought to Coldford and educated by Judge Doyle.
Lynch went on to explain, “We’re going to start by searching the archives for any time the name Tabitha McInney turns up.”
The search Lil Sniffles had initiated produced one result.
“We’ll copy those files as part of our investigation,” added Lynch. “You’ll find the details in the warrant.”
BLEEP. BLEEP. BLEEP.
More search finds popped up.
“We’ll take into account the sensitivity of some of the other user data on the servers, employee details etc. Only information used in evidence will be presented.”
BLEEP. BLEEP. BLEEP.
Sanjay looked up from behind his computer. To Joshua he seemed delighted by what he had found.
BLEEP. BLEEP. BLEEP.
Sanjay raised an eyebrow at his screen. He then tapped on some keys.
BLEEP. Another one? Does that win a prize?
The door was thrown open by Anthony.
“Wooooh!” he gasped having rushed from his office on the fourth deck. “Got here as quick as I could.”
Professor Lynch addressed the Coby lawyer. “You must be our legal correspondent. You will have been made aware we’ve been granted at least three hours of your server time to gather what information we can.”
“That little mother fucker is going to cause all kinds of shit,” Anthony said to Joshua in an aside.
“I’ve not done anything wrong,” Joshua maintained.
Anthony agreed. “I know but they ain’t going to see it that way. If our users find out the Law Makers are tracking servers they’re going to pull out. Your dealings with the Boss Lady…”
“God damn it, will you shut that thing up!?”
Sanjay scowled behind his laptop screen.
“Feel free to go about your business for now,” said Lynch. “We wouldn’t want to hold you back. I think we have everything we need here. We’ll call you should anything turn up.”
A cacophony of bleeps sounded from Sanjay’s laptop then. He stopped. He leaned back in his chair. He took a sip of the milkshake that had been brought for him.
‘LIL SNIFFLES HAS JOINED THE CHAT’
Joshua read the server screen. ‘I know that user name,’ he reflected. He was the one that wrecked the Lonesome Nights server just last year.
The game had been glitching all day. The support thread had been filling for most of the afternoon. People were asking a lot of questions as to where their profiles had gone. It was a major data breach. A lot of money was lost too, as users logged out and the stock at Beckingridge Tower dropped rapidly. One gamer tag, LIL_SNIFFLES, kept filling the error logs with complaints.
REG3 ONLINE – error code 1304
FINND ONLINE – error code 1504
LEXF1 ONLINE – error code 1104
It took two hours for Joshua, backed by two of Coby’s best technicians, to break the firewall that LIL_SNIFFLES had thrown up. When they finally managed to confront the user there were no verifications, no apologies, but his message had been simple.
LIL_SNIFFLES has joined the chat.
LIL_SNIFFLES: Your servers have now been infected by a rapidly replicating virus. In the next few hours it will have destroyed your mainframe’s hard drive. You will already be experiencing a 60% fall in your processing speed. I’m not looking to cause any permanent damage. I have the code to write the virus out.”
Joshua looked to Anthony at the time.
“What do we do about this?” he asked.
“Find out what the mother fucker wants,” Anthony suggested. “Those stocks are still falling and if we don’t do something about this we’re gonna end up flat broke.”
Joshua sighed. He took one of the stations.
COBYPLAYER1 has joined the chat.
COBYPLAYER1: What do you want?
It didn’t take long before there was a response.
LIL_SNIFFLES: The Murabe village in Southern Subala is under a constant wave of attacks from nearby rebels. I will send you a video file which confirms some of the atrocities. You will circulate this as far as your networks will allow. Once this has been done I will write the virus out of your system.”
Joshua checked the footage. It was difficult to stomach. There were graphic images of men, women and children being put to the slaughter. It was a humanitarian crisis in a part of the world that Coldford seemed to have forgotten about. It was brought back to mind that day. As agreed, the awareness was spread and the virus was removed. LIL_SNIFFLES had bested the brightest minds of Coby games, including Josh Coby himself.
Three hours after gaining access to the server room, Joshua returned to the second deck to check on them. He wanted to politely remind little Sanjay and his handler that it was time to leave.
When he entered the heat again Sanjay was still behind his laptop.
“Time now, Sanjay,” said Professor Lynch.
He had been pacing, admiring the Coby games hardware.
Sanjay logged out of the mainframe and stored his laptop away in a black shoulder bag. On this bag was the badge of the Subala Black Bands.
After they were gone, Anthony asked Josh how many occurrences of the Boss Lady being mentioned they found.
Josh shook his head. “Adding her full name, Shanties and Knock Knock Club to the search, two hundred and forty six.”
I didn’t get much opportunity to visit Cardyne. It was an area of the city that set itself aside from the rest. It is the technological center of Coldford, as previously discussed. As I made my way to my meeting point, I passed glittering arcades, hip hop dance demonstrations on the streets and swarms of smiling, excited faces. It was a buzzing, bright place.
I arrived at The Planetarium restaurant. To access the unique building, you were taken aboard a glass elevator with a 360 view. Once inside you were raised to the sky-scraping platform where the space themed eatery sat. The view over Cardyne you were given was beyond remarkable. The light show from the Gigantidome Complex as darkness set in was worth spending a few extra minutes at the restaurant entrance to watch.
Waiting inside at our reserved table was Joshua Coby. He was a down to earth man on first appearance. He waved me over but before I could join him, I was stopped by a waitress.
“Table for one?” she asked.
“I’m here to meet with Mr Coby,” I explained.
The waitress turned back for confirmation from Josh.
“He’s with me, Lorraine,” he confirmed.
The waitress handed me a menu with a smile.
“I’ll be your server,” she said. “I’ll give you a few moments. Can I get you something to drink?”
“Just coffee please,” I ordered.
“Thanks for taking the time out to meet with me,” I said to Josh as I took the seat across from him.
“The Express and the Daily have been hounding me. I had to file grievances against them when they both printed contradicting stories without my say so. They both have their agendas so I’d rather talk to you,” Josh explained.
Such was the way of mainstream press.
“I thought it would be better to talk to a guy who had been through it too,” he added.
“I appreciate it,” I assured him. I couldn’t help but feel a bitter glee at the thought of Sandra Wake’s reaction when she saw my ‘little blog’ had an exclusive interview with Mr 60 himself.
“Tabitha is clamped at the club for now until the Office of Law Makers do what they have to to lock her up again. How do you feel about that?”
“She’s really something,” Josh laughed nervously. “I knew this would blow up, that’s why I thought I had better set my part of the story straight.”
He seemed to think about how he felt about Tabitha’s limited freedom. In an expression that surprised me he seemed to be quite pleased at the idea. “It’s good for the Shanties, I suppose,” he said. “I heard the Baroness was back on stage at the club, too. They’ll be glad. A lot of people were put out of homes and left without help when the Law Makers shut them down.”
“A lot of people benefited from The Knock Knock Club,” I admitted. “Do you think it was worth the lives lost, though?”
“You can’t put a price on life,” said Josh. “All I know is we all gotta wake up to what’s going on around here.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” I said. “Freefall was a wake up for you?”
“I had never been more woken in my life. I don’t think I slept for days after.”
Click. Click. Click.
The noise of the high heels slowly crossing the marble floor resonated in Joshua’s ears. He clutched the huge Beckingridge table he was sat at. The dead body of one of the firm’s employees still lay on top.
He was shivering uncontrollably. It could have been the breeze. The window was still open where fifty nine people had fallen to their deaths.
Click. Click. Click.
“You seem a decent kinda guy, so I’ll level with you.”
Josh looked up. The girl in the red dress perched herself on the table next to him.
“I did what I did tonight because I’m standing up for those who cannot fight for themselves,” said she. “I’m like a fucking superhero.”
Josh cried, “I think you made your point.”
“Maybe,” replied Tabitha. “Do you think I’ve made my point?” she asked Reggie Penn.
Reggie snatched Josh by the collar and dragged him to the window. Josh emitted a shriek when he was held out. Given the height of Beckingridge Tower it was a little blurry but the mess of body, blood and brains below made his stomach turn.
“I had therapy for a while afterwards,” Joshua explained. “I’m doing better now but I was a mess at the time.”
“I can imagine,” I said.
Given all that I had faced since Tabitha came into my life I could completely understand.
“So, I got this.”
Joshua rolled up his sleeve, displaying a tattoo on his arm that showed the number sixty. I snapped a picture of it.
“It reminds me how close I came,” said he. “I came so close to spilling my guts on the Beck Tower courtyard. It reminds me every day that no matter what happens, I have to do business right. No matter how much easier it would be to cut corners. It was really my commitment to doing the right thing that saved my life that night. It stopped at fifty nine. It stopped at me.”
“Was anything mentioned about Mayor Feltz and what she had done with him?”
“No,” Josh stated with certainty.
“After what she put you through, why would you listen to anything she has to say?”
Josh thought about it. “It was fear at first,” he said. “I’ve never dealt with anything like that in my life. My games can be violent sometimes but never have I seen anything like that in reality. I’m Cardyne born and we’ve got a small community here. It’s a culture shock when you go into City Main. Reg Penn was no man to mess around. The triplets aren’t either. Tabitha? She was something else. As the night wore on, the more she dropped her stage act. She let her performance fall behind the curtains and I could see she was desperate. You would have to have been to do what she did. She was right on a lot of things though. Too many people were being overlooked. Someone had to catch attention.”
“That’s one way of looking at it,” I said. “I can’t agree with you, though. There was nothing right in what she did.”
Josh nodded. “I know, but if you were backed into a corner what would you do? I never thought I would find myself listening to the ramblings of a crazy little bitch in a red dress. If you had told me before I would have said, ‘I’d fight her off no sweat,’ but I didn’t.”
This made me think of Madeline, my former colleague and friend. I had been backed into a corner then both figuratively and literally. If someone had asked me, I would never have said I was capable of taking a life. I guess we can’t predict even our own behavior under certain circumstances.
The tone of our conversation, which was a polite and courteous exchange, was broken by a Coby games jingle that sang from Joshua’s pocket.
“Sorry,” he excused himself removing the device. “I have alerts on all the newsfeeds. It looks like the Daily has something.”
I shook my head. “This I’d love to see.”
“Becker screen, Shirley,” Josh called to the waitress. On receipt of her orders, she switched on a large screen that hung above the entrance to the kitchens. The screen showed a cartoon icon from a game called ‘Chomper Dash,’ rush across. It was then replaced by an image of Sandra Wake, standing before her camera lens, poised with a microphone in her hand. She was camped outside the Coby Games building.
“In the last hour we’ve received reports that Joshua Coby of Coby Games inc has been remanded in custody by the Office of Law Makers for being complicit in the Freefall Massacre event which saw the deaths of fifty nine members, associates and staff of the Beckingridge Firm. When the event occurred, Mr Coby had stated that he had no prior meetings with Tabitha McInney of The Knock Knock Club. He did have acquaintance with Reggie Penn of the Penn Auction House, who helped orchestrate the tragedy. A Coby Games whistle blower has confirmed that Mr Coby and Reggie Penn had a long friendship and it is alleged that the Coby Games servers were used to spread information regarding the victims, access the Beckingridge Tower and lead the victims to their unfortunate deaths. Mr Coby has claimed himself Mr 60 and said he was always grateful to have survived. It could have been luck on his behalf or maybe it is something more sinister. Mr Coby has refused comment. More to follow as the events unfold. I’m Sandra Wake of Coldford Daily, your only source for the real news in the Shady City.”
246 mentions found by Sanjay on his servers. Reggie had a lot of friends in that cyber world. Joshua had been confident he was innocent of any wrong doing as well he should have been, but the more he thought of his servers the more ill at ease he became.
“That rotten to the core witch,” I found myself grumbling.
I’m not proud of it but the idea of my old newspaper continuing to tear reputations apart got under my skin. If anyone was going to push someone like Joshua Coby to do underhanded things it was those hyenas. It strengthened my resolve to tell the true stories, no matter where I found them. The truth was Joshua was a good man. His empire brought thrills to many. His tactics of encouraging and inspiring was admirable. I couldn’t let him be dragged through the mud.
“It’s time to get the truth out Josh. We don’t have a lot of time before this spreads so I’ll make a quick video now and we can do a full piece later. We need a response to this before it gets too hot.”
Joshua looked nervous. He bit his lip at first but then he managed a smile.
I opened my phone to camera. The video we recorded isn’t of much relevance. It basically reiterated the details of Josh’s experience at Beckingridge Tower. I asked him his opinions on all those involved which he gave respectfully but truthfully. I gathered the video to upload quickly. We were in a race against time before the latest Daily drivel became viral.
ERROR 65 CANNOT ACCESS
“It won’t let me upload,” I said, feeling thankful at having the tech mogul with me. “Error 65.”
Josh raised an eyebrow. “You use the Scroll On software, right? That’s one of ours. Let me see.”
I passed my phone to him for examination. He peeled off the back. Pressed an inner button that allowed for some kind of reset. When he tried again, he sighed. He took his own phone. His screen asked him for his server I.D. When he presented this his screen also read Error 65.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“They’ve shut down our servers,” Joshua admitted. “I’m sorry, Sam. I have to go and check on this.”
Joshua departed our interview in a hurry. I warned him to be careful if Sandra was hovering around his building still. Left alone, I contemplated how I was going to get around my own predicament. If it was true and the servers had been shut it meant all my previous stories and interviews were gone. I had essentially been thrown into the media dark.
As I looked up at the Becker screen the image cut. ERROR 65 it now read.
Complete Season 1 is now available on kindle!