To: All Personnel
Subject: Police Activity
Dear Encom Employees:
We are, as you know, under attack by a viral attack that is a case of suspected industrial espionage. Several members of Los Angeles police department and the FBI will be investigating the incident and a security breach on the lab floor. If stopped by one of them, please do not answer questions, but refer them to senior management and company security. We are working on this and would like to make sure they are given correct information instead of speculation and rumors that could hamper the investigation.
Subject: ANY sign of Thorne?!
We have half of LAPD camped outside, F-Con is trying to alter the terms of the sale, and the media is tearing us to pieces. Thorne has been MIA for nearly a week, and he is our security director. Can you be our point man on this?
Thorne goes missing, and it seems both the Bradleys have gone missing, too. Didn't even realize until today Bradley had a son, much less that he worked here. You'd think his father would have put the kid into management to be an even bigger pain in the ass than he already is.
Subject: I'll handle it.
LAPD Lieutenants Jorge Ramirez and Antonio Cortez were not strangers to the darker sides of human nature. Random shootings, the occasional drug deal gone sour, celebrities thinking their ephemeral fame made them immune from the law...
But there was something genuinely creepy about Encom. Maybe it was the too-perfect tower of glass and steel or the sterile white and blue corridors within. Maybe it was the fact that everyone was just a little too calm about one of their big shots being attacked and kidnapped from that tower in broad daylight. They were just waiting on headquarters to hurry up with the warrant so they could do a little detective work of their own before the Federalis showed up and threw their weight around.
Their questioning of CEO Richard Mackey having gone nowhere, the next step was to try and get a quick and dirty warrant to start checking computers.
"Y'know," Cortez remarked as they sat in the squad car, waiting for the warrant to go through. "My uncle worked the Flynn case, back when he was a sergeant."
Ramirez chuckled. "Heard that guy lost his marbles or was like DeLorean, pulling cocaine deals on the side. Thought he was spotted in Costa Rica under an alias."
"Not what my uncle told me. Couldn't spill too much about the case, but he's still certain to this day somebody offed Kevin Flynn to keep him quiet. About what? We'll probably never know."
"Really bizarre that two Encom bigwigs end up falling off the face of the Earth. Didn't figure the 'glamorous' world of software was this cutthroat."
Cortez pulled out a cigarette, rolled down the window, and silently offered one to the lieutenant. Ramirez waved it off. Cortez shrugged and lit his. "I'm hoping Cold Cases gets another crack, especially in light of this shit. Maybe the same perps figure they got away with it 20 years ago, why not go for round two?"
Ramirez drummed his fingers against the dashboard. "Look, I gotta pick your brain here, but was there anything to what Mackey said about Bradley and Flynn being thick as thieves?"
"Thicker. Thieves snitch on one another if you give them a shot. Bradley was the right hand man of the operation, the secret weapon. Some figured he was the one who got Flynn out of the way so he could step into the spotlight."
"Was he cleared?"
"Three rounds of questioning, two rounds on a polygraph, and airtight alibis provided by a dozen co-workers and phone records to his wife. Cleared within a week."
"Any other enemies?"
"That was the fun part. Flynn was a bad boy. Pissed a lot of people off. Supposedly, he got his job by sending his predecessor to Terminal Island for a few years."
Ramirez shook his head. "Was that predecessor found? Questioned?"
"Nah. Funny thing – committed suicide a year before Flynn vanished. Can't slap cuffs on a corpse."
"Damn. And I thought being a cop was the life of danger. Should have gone into software."
Cortez shrugged and stubbed the butt out on the car door. "Probably would pay better. And jackpot." He pulled up the laptop. "One made to order warrant. Three cheers for modern technology."
The halls of Encom were still eerily...normal for a crime scene. A forensics team was already in the lab, and had the section roped off. The rental-cop security paced or collected in knots of two or three, muttering uncomfortably. One, a girl that was obviously working through college, judging from the stack of textbooks at her workstation, seemed terrified.
"I'm sorry, officers, but I can't reach Mr. Thorne at all. He's the one in charge of building security, and would be the guy to handle stuff like warrants. No one's heard from him in days. The last notice we got was that he'd come down with some kind of flu."
"When was that?" Ramirez asked.
"About three days ago. Could...could you guys go to his house or something and see if he's okay? I mean, if it's not too much trouble..."
"Not a problem, miss. We're probably going to want to talk to him anyway. Has there been any other break ins or trouble at Encom Tower lately?"
She shook her head. "Nope. Nothing since Mr. Flynn's last check-in back in December."
Ramirez scowled. "Check in?"
Cortez chuckled and elbowed his partner. "You don't read the headlines on the tech page? Company's biggest stockholder is Kevin Flynn's kid. Shows up every year on the day of his old man's disappearance to play a prank on the company. Since he technically owns the place, we can't charge him with anything."
"Then why hasn't he shown up in regards to his company being for sale?"
The security guard started shuffling on the balls of her feet. "I...I don't know, but I think I can get you to someone who can help you..."
What they "got" was a corner office on the thirtieth floor and Edward Dillinger Junior. He looked like any other hipster stereotype – button down shirt and slacks, glasses, fashionably skinny with carefully maintained stubble. Behind the look, however...
"What we know – the security cameras were taken down by a sophisticated viral attack that came in through the email systems at the security desk, then spread to the labs. Two to five minutes later, we have what appears to be a break in and a brazen kidnapping of Mr. Bradley from his basement lab. We're dealing with a viral attack and the media, so my question is why you both are not at the crime scene." Edward didn't have to raise his voice or anything other than an eyebrow, but everything about him dripped annoyance and contempt.
"We got a forensics team down there now. What we're looking for is motive. From what Mackey was saying earlier, it looked like Bradley had enemies. What kind of enemies could a guy like him make that could prompt something this brazen?"
"Perhaps the real motivation had nothing to do with his tenure at Encom and more to do with his private life. So often, people have their hands in things no one suspects. Maybe a secret life – drugs, women, men, gambling debts, ties to organized crime, shady political ideals, questionable scientific experiments..." He pushed up his glasses. "It's always the quiet ones who have the biggest secrets to hide. I'd really like to know what you find when looking closer at Alan Bradley."
Cortez muttered under his breath, "I'm sure you would." It was just loud enough for Ramirez to register it, but it didn't seem Edward heard it.
"Sounds to me that you don't like him much," Ramirez said, trying to steer things back to the case at hand.
"I'll be honest – not particularly."
"Aside from the fact that he and Flynn ruined my father?" Edward rolled his shoulders back like there was a knot in them. "The board is split, and our largest shareholder is MIA like usual. Take this sale – Encom could profit immensely from a merger with a rising star in the industry like Future Control Industries. As second-largest shareholder, his is the vote that truly matters.."
"But Bradley isn't the only hold out. He's leading half the board against it, and you aren't voting for the sale either," Cortez pointed out.
He answered with what might have been a shrug. "Say the vote goes through and we sell to F-Con. If I was on record as voting against them...well, my future with our new owners would be short and unpleasant. If the sale does not go through, and I'm on record as voting for it, then my tenure at Encom would be short and unpleasant. No, I worked too hard to get my way to the top. I'm not going to throw it away when abstaining is the smarter option."
Ramirez didn't look like he could help himself. "Anyone ever tell you the nastiest spots in hell are reserved for guys who play both sides during a conflict?"
"I'd have to believe in hell to start with. Furthermore, the quote is that the hottest spot in hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of moral conflict. There is no moral conflict here; just a business decision." Not even so much as a change in his voice.
Cortez was still wanting to work that angle. "But Bradley was holding things up. He was old and in the way, and not in a position where they could force him out, either. That had to make someone mad; enough to decide to use violence to get rid of him."
"And in addition to being an old pain in the ass, I take it Bradley was one of those holding your dad's indiscretions against you," Ramirez added.
He looked like he was going to start cursing at them for a second before seeming to deflate. Taking off his glasses, he rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Surprisingly? No. I should be grateful for that much. Shook my hand when I got hired and helped set up my office. He doesn't talk about those times, and I never wanted to bring up the subject. I'd like to think he regrets what he had to do. It changes nothing, of course. He was actually a pleasant change from the parade of interchangeable MBAs who can barely open their email, much less understand what modern technology actually does. Bradley knows the technology end, but never figured out the business aspects. "
Ramirez scowled. "And you think you have them both down?"
The glasses – and arrogance – were quickly replaced. "Top of my class in Computer Science and a double major in business. I clawed my way in here and to the top despite everyone's expectations. Again, not throwing it away. Bradley might, if he felt some ideal of his was threatened. Check into what he was doing on the side. I'll bet you'll find your answer there, especially since he was the only one targeted."
"Maybe not. No one's seen your security chief for the last few days, either."
"Again, check into their private lives. Bradley was the one who hired him as a personal favor back in 1992. I'll admit, Thorne performed his job, but he lobbied several times for a promotion his job performance didn't warrant. Thorne's so-called security team hasn't been effective in stopping Mr. Flynn's annual 'check-ins,' which disrupt at least a week's of production, depending on how vindictive he wants to be that year. We told Thorne that's why he was passed over, but he likely didn't take the hint."
Cortez really didn't want to ask this, but his gut overrode his good sense. "I was kinda wondering...you think there might be any relation between this kidnapping and the Flynn case from 89?"
The studied arrogance flickered ever so slightly. Was that rage? Fear? Confusion? In any case, the moment was over in a nanosecond. "Gentlemen, I was twelve years old at the time. And after my family was ruined by Flynn, with my father's incarceration and suicide, I wasn't in any mood to follow the story."
"And how about Jethro Bradley, Alan Bradley's son? You know anything about him? Any enemies he might have made? Two of you are about the same age, sons of the giants who built the company..."
Edward shrugged. "Never met him. I heard he worked for Encom, though it's surprising that he keeps choosing to slum it in the game department instead following in his father's footsteps. I guess he prefers building dream words to shaping the reality of a company. Now, if you'd like to question me further, please do so through my attorney and allow me to place a phone call to let him know. Go back to investigating crime and discover what Mr. Bradley was really up to."
He handed the pair two business cards with the name and number of a local law firm, and another pair of business cards with his own contact information. The police officers, sensing they weren't going to get any farther with him for the time being, took the cards and left.
Ten minutes later, a message under heavy, private-key encryption was sent from a secure terminal.
There have been complications...
Crown was still rubbing his fist. Been a long time since he had to punch someone, and it wasn't like someone of his station should be cracking heads. That smug old man had done a really good job of pissing him off, though.
He walked into the dimly lit office and took a chair, leaning back and trying to dull the throb of an impending headache.
Disembodied, slightly metallic, vaguely British-accented voice over the speakers. Almost, not quite human. "I saw that over the video feeds. Bad form, Mr. Crown. Though I would have liked to do that to Bradley myself."
Oh, the boss saw that. Big deal. "I'll bet you would have."
"What's even worse form is kidnapping a man in broad daylight. Did you not have the patience to wait it out until he was off the campus? Until he was out of Encom's sight? It was a simple disappearing act. With the right measures, we could have made it look like a suicide. Instead -"
Crown stood up and argued with the unblinking camera. "Thorne forced our hand. Shot him in, and he began infecting everything in sight. We turned him on Encom, but if Bradley had been allowed to remain there long enough -"
"There is a fleet of Los Angeles police cars surrounding the building with the FBI on their way. You and your thugs botchedthis, Crown. You had better give me some good news before things get...uncomfortable for you." The distorted, synthetic voice still dripped with impatience and barely contained anger.
"We found the algorithms. We have seekers deployed after his Math Assistant AI. Give us those and three hours, and it's not going to matter what they think they'll find."
"Very good. And anything else we can get from the Encom lab?"
"Unfortunately not. Captain Encom nuked the drives. Not likely we'll get anything, even if we put a gun to Baza's head."
"Bradley always has an ace up his sleeve. He's the tricky one. Getting Flynn out of the picture was a comparatively easy venture compared to what it will take to destroy him."
"We got a lucky break. Sick wife on the line, and they believe we have his kid hostage."
Crown contemplated lying, but it wouldn't help. "No, but a pampered brat riding daddy's coattails isn't capable of getting in our way."
"Find the Bradley boy. Eliminate him as a threat. Make that your top priority. That is your only real leverage in this situation."
Crown scowled. "Got Popoff working on digging up any dirt, mostly so we could keep bluffing. You know something I don't?"
"I do not like unknown factors," came the reply.
Crown tried not to roll his eyes.I'll take that as a "no." "What would you like done with Bradley Senior?
"As long as he is permanently silenced, I leave the method of disposal up to you. Your timetable is short, Crown. I suggest you leave this office and get to work."
Crown choked down an impulse to argue further. Boss was right, even if he didn't like it. As soon as he walked out of the room, Popoff was waiting.
"We have three hours. Can't put off the timetable longer than that. And boss's orders – we find the Bradley kid and take him out."
"Does he believe the boy will look for his father? Planning some foolishly brave but futile rescue attempt?" Popoff was smiling faintly, despite the circumstances.
"You run the psych profiles, not me. What's your verdict?"
"What little I found suggests a dreamer, one of little merit or threat. However, I have just the thing for that," She pulled out a thumb-drive. "Clarence has been very good at finding the cracks in our DataWraiths. Amazing efficiency, this little script." She smiled wolfishly. "I cannot argue with the results. Our subjects now fight and obey without question. But we will set him to learn all he can about Mister Bradley the Younger. From there? I'm sure he can be destroyed. Maybe even set against his father. Should be interesting."
Crown pointed in the direction of the lab. "Then don't talk. Load the damn thing. We launch the Wraiths in an hour – algorithms or not."
Despite his best efforts, the walls were closing in and the air felt like it was getting stale. The latter, logically, Alan knew to be a trick of his imagination. There was a long, thin vent along one side of the room and the incessant noise of a fan going.
The side of his face was one large, dull throb of pain. Crown wasn't as strong as his hired thugs, but anger could definitely compensate for the lack of raw power. No teeth were loose, but it was both welcome and unwelcome distraction; welcome because it took his mind off visions of the walls closing in, unwelcome because it was not only painful, but a reminder that he was trapped on more than one level.
His makeshift computing rig told him that the reformat was complete. It was necessary, but just the knowledge of how much work was lost made him feel ill. Yes, it was for the greater good that it was destroyed; he couldn't let Crown have something that dangerous.
Lora, I'm so sorry. All of that was supposed to be for you.
He sat down on a crate and ran his hands through his hair. Nothing left to do now but...
Alan forced himself to look up at the game's screen again...
/Ma3a Online, broadcasting from
/Safe Upload complete
Ma3a made it out! He almost jumped to his feet (almost – he wasn't young anymore), and walked over to the machine, mind reeling, trying to open the right ports and make contact with the AI
"Ma3a, I'm glad you're still intact. I'm sorry about revealing you as the carrier for the correction algorithms. We had no choice."
Even though she was uploaded out of immediate danger, those bastards would still be tracking her. There had to be some safeguard he could use. Think, man, think!
There was one. It was dangerous, untested, cooked up a very long time ago, but he had to take the risk.
His hand gripped the joystick to "type" in a response, but the screen went to silver with blue lettering. For a moment, he feared the jury-rigged "computer" had crashed for good, but...
/Gu3st? D0 u Kn0W n Alan Br dley? T4y1ng to r# ach h1m...
Alan's heart leapt into his throat. Someone knew he was missing already? Someone trying to find him? Quickly, he started to punch in a reply.
If he could get that connection back, maybe he could signal for help. A darker, more cynical part warned that it was likely a trap, but there were few options. Whoever that was, it was likely the last chance he had.