Authors: Michael Parks
Three can keep a secret if two are dead.
-Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
Michael J. Parks
© 2016 Michael J. Parks
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the
product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance
to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
To my family
for their support and patience, especially Chris for being a sounding board for
ideas. To Laura (aka Matera the Mad), Daedlanth, Jim Giffen, and Dan Adams for
their frank critique and guidance. To Greg Meyer and Erin Tognetti for their
early encouragement. Special thanks to Tonja Wilcox and Angela Adams for their
support and belief in me on the long road.
This novel is dedicated to those who
dare peer into what is in order to understand what may be. The future is, as
always, in your hands.
It is also dedicated to my parents.
You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the
wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What
you’ll discover is yourself.
-Alan Alda, 1936 -, American Actor
From Milan to Mexico
to Palo Alto and ending in Munich, Crosstalk’s bots had blazed a trail armed
with heuristics designed to locate secrets. Any kind of secrets. Secret crimes,
secret transactions, secret affairs, secret events, secret money.
The one hook started
it, a brokerage firm in Italy. A deleted file on a USB stick left inserted in a
computer. Keyword matches triggered the auto-analysis for stage one. Email
addresses culled from the document helped widen the net. The mail server’s
message store yielded further triggers to reach stage two, causing bots to spread
out to the various mail servers found in the emails. Clues gathered lead to analysis
on database servers in the U.S. and Munich. From that, the bots created a stage
three profile of something covert involving big money and buried transactions.
At that point he had
options for any number of operations – theft, extortion, blackmail – depending
on what the profile indicated. Only things didn’t stay typical. After Munich
the trails became more exotic, the effort more manual, with the keywords and
content hinting at something truly special.
And so it began,
almost two months of picking and prying at servers around the globe. At the end
of it, the reward was an encrypted file that took twelve days to break open.
That had been three days ago.
Three days that felt like a week.
Crosstalk left his
computer and walked to the window, pistol in hand. Hacking was an art, a
serious hobby for sure, but it wasn’t supposed to be like this.
was fucked up.
He parted the blinds
and peered outside his flat. Night’s stillness gripped the London suburb of
Kingston. Almost two-thirty and the streets were empty. Down the way a lamp
over the cemetery’s gate flickered. For long moments it felt as if the dead were
using it to signal.
“I will send it out,”
he muttered. “The world will know.”
A sound from the hall registered
above the whir of the computer’s fans and he turned to look. The doorway held
potential, a shimmering vibe, as if it might suddenly fill with intruders. He
slid the semi-automatic’s safety to the off position. Thirteen rounds in the
They’ll know but will they believe?
He waited but heard
nothing more. Turning back, his eyes reflected from the window. In them he saw
a glint of fear and fanaticism. The last of disbelief was gone.
He returned to the
screen and set the pistol down. The upload to Alcazar continued. He started an
encrypted email to explain the file. Composing became an obstacle.
How to convey the unbelievable without
Short and to the point, with a link to the file. The
content would speak for itself.
He barely finished the
email when another sound came, louder than before. He snatched the pistol and
faced the hallway. The fans of the computer grew deafening against the silence.
Sweat gathered on his brow.
“Damn it.” He’d gone
too far, scraped too hard. The game had grown too close, too real.
The progress bar
crawled to completion, the upload done. Storing the file in Alcazar might
insure its safety. For the email, Magistrate would use conscripted servers to
secretly tunnel the mail to its destination.
But who to?
One person stood out: SlotZero. Intelligent and
open-minded, he would take it seriously and know what to do with it.
He clicked the send
button knowing it could be a death sentence.
For a moment regret
lingered – until a much stronger feeling took hold. As if the air pressure had
changed, he sensed another presence, maybe several. Pain bloomed in his skull
like a headache but modulated, unnatural. Anticipation arched into fear as it
spread. It hurt to see, breathe, to hear. Confusion eroded focus. The truth
dawned, rising to life from the stolen file.
They could do this
He almost missed the
tone signaling the email had gone out. Reaching down, he stabbed the power
switch and plunged the room into silence. Blood pulsed against his eardrums in
time to the pain. The weight of the pistol was a comfort but now only as a sure
means of escape from the hell of his body.
Had he only known, he
wouldn’t have done it. His motives had been naïve. Uncover the truth.
Everyone deserves to know the truth.
Straining from the
pain, he said, “No one deserves
• • •
Austin Bakken stood at
a fifth floor window in InterGen’s Folsom offices. The California sun glowed in
a sky hazed from a week of Sierra wildfires. Seen through tinted windows, it
looked like an alien star. For a few heartbeats, he stood in a starship in low
orbit, taking in the view.
His terrestrial post
felt like working in the dirt by comparison. In the distance, the Sacramento
skyline sprouted from the tree-covered valley floor like fence posts.
A hot Friday and most
of the office had already vacated. Instead of leaving, he had someone else’s
missed deadline to deal with. The server farm upgrade project was in shambles
and required saving. Never mind he had migrated from Servers to Network
Security – the treadmill just needed a runner on it and he was that guy.
He breathed deep and
let it out. Kaiya would be getting ready to leave work for class. Last night’s
talk was still fresh in his mind. Absolutely yes she was important, a huge part
of his world. His busy, often self-absorbed world. Between work and chasing his
dream, Kaiya time had taken a hit.
He sent her a text.
105 in the shade. Swim after class?
Making it big with his
home automation system was the dream, but she was, too. Hell, it was as much
for her as it was for him. They needed more time together and he wanted to give
it to her. It was just embarrassing to have to be reminded. He shouldn’t have
to be reminded.
With a last glance at
the alien star, he returned to his cubicle and got back on the treadmill.
Trading the chilled
office for a hot parking garage felt almost lusty. Wood smoke from the
wildfires brought to mind camping. He’d finished updating the project timeline,
including schedules. Murray would approve but the Boston server teams wouldn’t,
of course. Tons of overtime and two lost weekends. It was the only way the
project would make the launch date. InterGen’s new IQ Access service had to go
live on time and within budget.
His phone buzzed with
Swim no. They drained the pool :( Drought.
Surprise yes :) Working late?
His heart soared.
Being connected to her still had that effect.
A primer gray Honda
pulled onto the level and expertly missed him before it parked. Matt Phio
“Yo Mr. Bakken, what’s
He smiled at Matt’s
always-good mood. “Gettin’ the hell out of Dodge.”
“Hey,” Matt thumbed
towards his car, “Remember the AC took a shit? Get this: my
AC crapped out last night!”
“Cursed by the AC
gods, dude. Plenty cold inside. See ya.”
He replied to Kaiya.
Leaving now. Surprise?
Half an hour later he
turned onto his cul de sac and saw her car in the driveway. In the garage, a male
voice sounded from a Muzak speaker nailed to a rafter. It announced Kaiya’s
presence, a voicemail, and four personal emails.
“Thank you, Sam. How
long has she been here?”
A bump of pride,
still. His creation wove technology into ordinary life dramatically: the old
house seemed intelligent, aware. He headed for the kitchen and found his
girlfriend at the range stirring a pot and swaying to the music.
“Hey baby.” He kissed
her in greeting. “What happened?”
“Class was cancelled
and Nelson let us all go early.”
“No shit? Why?”
“Something about power
at the school. Nelson just said ‘happy Friday, go enjoy it’.”
“Wish I had a boss
like that.” He dropped his keys and wallet on the island. “What ya makin’?”
“Thai chicken and
noodles. You’ll like it.” She tapped the raw wood base of the countertop. “Um,
weren’t you going to work on the tile?”
He almost laughed. “I
was gonna do a lot of things this week. Been nuts at work. The alternator
fiasco didn’t help.”
“Hey, I tried to warn
you. BMW, big money waste.” She looked at him, gauging his mood. “I believe I
even looked up the year and model. It had problems.”
“All cars can have
problems.” He pulled a beer from the fridge. “Thankfully it was just the
“I noticed you made
progress with Sam.”
“I didn’t have to use
my key, he recognized my voice the first time. And I’ve been talking to myself
to try and activate him. Not one mistake. I’m impressed.”
“Thanks. The voice integration
is really coming together. The code’s been tough to tweak.”
“Well you’re doing
something right. Maybe it’s time to start attracting those investors. Or are
you still thinking a Kickstarter project?”
“Probably both. I
might be ready, yeah. Would need to do a demo video for sure. I’ve got some
“Cool.” She stirred,
waiting for him to take his first drink. “So, I talked with my mom earlier. She
wants us to visit for Christmas.”
He rolled his eyes.
“Us? Riiiight. Gee, I wonder if she knows that would mean a huge flight across
“Oh, I’m pretty sure
“Just her way of
separating us for the holidays. Or making me suffer the flight. She’ll never
According to Yuni
Wilson, her daughter wasn’t being exposed to the ‘higher class of male
specimens’ she deserved. Her mom didn’t hate him but she sure resented him.
“If you truly loved her, you would release
her to men more of her station. Her future is in question with you, no matter
After that he’d given up trying to win her approval.
“Not my fault you
chose me. And I didn’t make her sell the house and move back to Japan.”
“Um, she didn’t sell
“She told me today.”
She went to drain the pot. “Well, she let it slip anyway.”
“That lying old–” Her frown stopped him short.
“What? That’s a new low, don’t you think?”
“I told her what I
thought of her lying. Of course she didn’t exactly
but I think we won’t have a problem getting there next
month. I’m guessing you’d prefer Catalina over camping with all the smoke?”
He’d forgotten to
request vacation time. There it was again, the core of their recent problems. He
filed a huge mental note to put in for the time off. “As long she doesn’t show
Kaiya toweled her
hands and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Don’t worry, she won’t. And
Christmas? I’m not going. I just thought you’d enjoy her latest jab. She can
wait until my visit in March. If she misses us that much, she’s more than able
to fly out here.”
Around a kiss he
quipped, “Yeah, on her broom.”
During dinner thoughts
of work swarmed. He managed to ditch most of them and enjoy conversation
instead. Afterward, they took in a movie which she passed out halfway through.
It had been that kind of week for them both. Herding her upstairs to bed, he’d
mostly forgotten the day’s issues. Still, he knuckled the wooden banister just
in case. Work sometimes kept him up.
At the top of the
stairs a microphone poked from the ceiling.
“Bedtime, Sam.” In response, the AI sent instructions to
sensors and cameras around the property, slipping into night security mode.
System armed with zero
exceptions. Good night Austin and Kaiya.
The digital clock read
Chalk one up for work
up, he slid out of bed, pulled on some shorts, and headed towards the shop.
Built over the garage,
the shop was another unfinished project of the previous owner. Only the
incomplete work and the recession had made the foreclosure affordable and only
then with his father’s help. The sensors, microphones, and cameras were all up
and running and most of the walls had sheetrock hung. His free time went into
working on the feature set of the AI or with Kaiya so finishing the house
The lights flickered
on in the garage. He tapped a code on the shop’s door keypad to unlock it and
climbed the stairs beyond.