Fanfic: “Tron: Invasion” (Tron 2.0 adaptation) Chapter 7
on Thursday, February, 02, 2012 7:26 AM
From: ISOlated Thinker
Date: February 18, 2010
I refuse to be intimidated or moved by these idle threats. It's not going to stop me from the work. The calculations are almost finished, and we have safeguards. There is no need to put anyone else in danger. I'll handle this. As soon as I have the algorithms, I will send them to you directly.
To: ISOlated Thinker
Date: February 19, 2010
I know you too well, and you are still a terrible liar. Please don't let your pride cloud the issue – these death threats aren't just the work of people trying to scare us. I have a horrible feeling they're serious. We have fought so long and hard to try and rebuild what got lost. And even if you're going to be stupidly brave about it, think about “Yori” and “Mercury.” If you won't tell them, then I will!
Seth Crown was not going to let the little things stop him. His parents struggled all their lives to move out of Harlem, and pushed him to work hard in school. If he got less than an “A” on anything, his parents would voice their disappointment very clearly. He learned early on that there were no excuses for failure. People judged him for his former neighborhood, his skin tone, his choice of profession. In response, Crown doubled down and fought all the harder. . He was proof that anyone could claw their way up, and if you had to ruin some less-savvy types to get there, no one would weep for the losers. Ultimately, results and success were the only things people respected. “The Rules” were things that lesser people used to justify their laziness and lack of ambition.
At the time he was hired, Future Control Industries was a promising Internet start-up specializing in data storage and records management. A Harvard Law degree and high marks on the bar meant he could take almost anything he wanted, but when he heard what the company founder's vision for F-Con was, it certainly beat out the notion of being a junior partner or token in some East Coast firm. The longer he worked there, the more he was entrusted with the day to day operation. On paper, F-Con was completely his. It wasn't like the boss was ever going to show up in person.
Of course, while he could handle the business end, he was not a master of computers. That's why he hired Esmond Baza fresh out of Leicester University. Baza certainly knew what he was doing on the technical end, and readily responded to promises of riches and fame. Already, he was being paid very generously for his work. The other factor in Crown's favor? For all of Baza's smarts, the other man was a coward. If the carrot didn't work, the stick certainly did.
Crown opened the door to the basement lab. “Baza, what do we have?”
Baza looked up from the computer terminal closest to the door. “What we have is a deadline and numbers that refuse to crunch, but we were able to keep the corruption off our servers and send it directly to Encom. Once this reaches the press, I'll estimate their shares will take a nosedive.”
“Leave the legal and finances to me, Baza,” Crown warned. “You are here to handle the technical end.”
“I'm aware of that,” Baza replied, hunching over his terminal, his wrinkled shirt gaping open. “But unless we'd like a repeat of the Thorne incident, we'll have to continue tweaking the protocols. By the way, when the inevitable queries come about his whereabouts, what do we tell them?”
Crown nearly cracked a smile. “We just tell everyone he came down with a very nasty virus.”
“I see. Well, short of finding Mister or Doctor Bradley and extorting those laser codes from them, I don't see how this is going to work.”
Crown folded his arms. “Funny you mention that. I've got the man trussed up in a closet right now. “
“Pull my other leg, Crown.”
“No joke. I sent out two of our prospective Wraiths to deliver him like a Christmas present.”
Baza's dusky skin blanched as he processed this. “And you don't think the police won't come banging down our door for this? Programming the Wraith project is one thing, but when you start crossing the line into -”
Crown grabbed Baza by the shoulders, gripping just tightly enough to let the other man know he was serious. “What you've done already would get you locked up in Federal prison for life. If you were going to chicken out, it's way too late for it. Go big or go home.”
Baza looked around nervously. “I...I never signed on for that. You told me no one who didn't agree to the risks was going to get hurt! You said that the Wraiths were the only ones who might! I never agreed to kidnapping anyone!"
“Too bad.” Crown's tone of voice implied a threat. As in “one more word out of you, and you'll be next in front of that laser.”
Sure enough, Baza caved. “You...have a point.”
“But I don't think like a computer geek. In his position, where would you hide those files?”
“Probably somewhere like a secure FTP site or in some harmless-looking folder. I might even embed it into a document or even a video file. It would have to be readily accessible to implement on the Shiva Mark Two.”
“What about his artificial intelligence he was working on, the one that was in the press?”
“Ma3a? Something like that would be of more interest to our friends on the other side of the monitor, don't you think? And the sheer complexity of the Math Assistant Three would make it a risky choice to hide those calculations. No, he's probably hidden it so deep in Encom's systems we could run a hundred seekers for a month and not find it.”
“Then you're coming with me when we pay our distinguished guest another visit.”
“Uh...what? But should he contact the police...”
“He won't. We can handle him, and so can our 'friends.' It wouldn't be the first time that they've made an Encom bigwig disappear.”
Baza's thin lips pressed into a line and he started to try and break Crown's hold on him.
Crown tightened his grip and lowered his voice. “You get me those files. I'll take care of our guest. Got it?”
The door opened again, and the distinct click of stiletto heels on concrete followed. “Ah, Doctor Popoff, nice of you to make an appearance,” Crown said.
Popoff folded her arms. She was a petite woman with dark red hair and heavy makeup, who usually wore high heels and expensive suits as to compensate for her height and otherwise non-threatening appearance. Her voice gave her away, a scalpel's sharpness in her thick French accent as she quickly cut any matter to the basics of money, time, and efficiency.
“We have our candidates. I have three-dozen for our first prospective launch. They are being run through the environmental simulators now, and the biological stress appears to be minimal. Of course, the true test will be actual contact with a digital environment. We will select the top six candidates to go first.”
“Provided Baza here can get us our correction algorithms.”
“You want them, then you go shake down Mr. Bradley for them. I'm going with the numbers we have and attempting to compensate.”
Popoff rolled her eyes and set her hand on Baza's shoulder. "Relax, Baza. No permanent harm has come to Mr. Bradley. And none will, as long as he gives us the codes." The smile and calmness in Popoff's voice didn't reach her eyes. The strange glint in them sent a slight chill down Baza's spine.
“Well, Popoff, you heard the man. Time to visit our honored 'guest' and give him some incentive to cooperate.”
Dulles International Airport in Washington DC was heavily-trafficked, the sweeping curves of the main concourse letting in the fading afternoon light. Roy Kleinburg didn't carry more than a laptop and a change of clothing. He didn't dare check his bags anymore, and was frankly uncomfortable running anything through a security scan. Pulling his tattered denim jacket around him, he looked nervously around for the person he was supposed to meet.
Alan is not going to like this, but better to ask forgiveness than permission, especially given that stubborn pride of his.
“Roy! Roy, over here!”
He saw her sitting on one of the hard benches, two cups of coffee next to her. Unfortunately, she didn't look any healthier than the last time he saw her in San Francisco. She cradled the cane between her knees, and her face looked even more gaunt than the last time.
He made quick strides over to her. Despite the fact he was not as young as he used to be, he prided himself on still being able to walk or bike with the best of them. He hated to drive.
“Lora. Thank you for coming to pick me up and for answering my email.”
“No,” she said. “Thank you for warning me. Alan's heart is in the right place – it always is – but hiding things like this to 'protect' me...” Lora sighed. “I'm parked in the main garage, and the cup on the right is for you. I made sure the coffee place is kosher.”
Roy couldn't help a smile as he picked up the mug. “Thank you. Do you need -?”
“Just give me a few seconds.” Grasping her cane, Lora slowly pushed herself off the bench and winced visibly with pain. “I can go without for a little while, but I feel it the next day.”
“Getting old isn't pleasant, but it beats the alternative,” Roy said, trying to make light of the situation.
Lora winced again and leaned heavily on the cane, gesturing for him to follow. “Come on, whatever you flew all the way out here for is probably not meant to be shared with half the airport.”
Roy nodded. Her condition has become much worse since I last saw her. Alan isn't the only one trying to hide unpleasant truths.
Coffee in one hand, he offered the other arm for her to lean on if she needed to.
As soon as they were in the car, and the doors were shut, Roy opened his backpack. “The emails came through the Flynn Lives boards. We dismissed them as just a bunch of idiot trolls at first, but then they started filtering in...details.”
Lora turned the key and looked behind her before backing out of the parking space. “What kind of details?”
“Little things. Like a mention of Encom internal protocol, or a picture that had Alan's home in the background, and things about the proposed sale that aren't in the press.”
“I can't believe half the board is so eager to sell the company.”
“Blame that idiot Mackey. All he wants is a quick buck and a one way ticket to the Caymans. You know that Alan is one of the very few people who is standing in the way of selling the company.”
Lora pinched the bridge of her nose. “Him and Sam both.”
“Which is why I flew all the way out here as soon as I could book a flight. I only found out about the death threats by accident. I'd been working with him on those 'off the record' modifications to Ma3a when I...”
She still had a beautiful smile. “I know you hacked his computer, Roy. Or tried to.”
“I didn't have to, not when Ma3a showed me the emails herself.”
“I don't know whether to be impressed or terrified by that thing,” Roy admitted. “Anyone other than Alan working on it, and I'd swear they were trying to re-create Master Control. That incident still makes me wake up in cold sweats!” He pulled out the hard copies and arranged them in chronological order. “He's been working on Ma3a extensively, shutting himself in that lab at all hours to work on some sort of algorithms, but even I can't get details out of him. He's burning himself up, Lora. I can't get through to him. These threats have just made him dig in his heels all the more.”
Lora sighed. “I know what he's working on, Roy. I know why he's working on it. And as soon as we're at my apartment, we'll trade information. Deal?”
“Yes,” he said. “I just hope we're not too late.”
That's when Lora's cell phone rang. She engaged the Bluetooth speaker. “Hello?”
“Is this Doctor Lora Bradley?”
“Yes, it is. How can I help you?”
“It's Sergeant Cortez from Los Angeles PD. I've got some bad news.”
Lora and Roy looked at each other.
“What is it?” she asked.
“At about one thirty, there was a break-in at Encom Tower. Whatever the attackers were after, we can't tell, but there was a struggle in one of the labs. Your husband's missing...and no one can seem to find your son, either. Jethro's boss called us after he failed to come back from lunch. One of the techs said that he ran off to check on his father. We think that the same kidnappers got both of them.”
Lora turned ashen.
“Rest assured, Doctor, we're doing all we can. The FBI's been called in on this one, too. We're going to find them...”
Neither of them paid much more attention to the platitudes and assurances of the policeman, and the assurances that the detective would call with more detailed questions to assist in the investigation. It was all a blur as they drove along the side streets and into the apartment parking lot. As soon as the engine cut, Lora slumped over the wheel.
Roy put a hand on her back. “Lora...”
“Roy, get me upstairs. Show me whatever you have, and set up your laptop, including the tricks you claim not to have.” She looked up. There were tears in her eyes, but the rest of her face seemed fixed on something between anguish and rage. “I'm not going to sit on the sidelines waiting, because it didn't work last time.”
He said nothing more, packing his papers back into the backpack and opening the car door.
This was not Richard Mackey's day. It seemed half of LAPD was camped outside Encom Tower and the other half invaded his building. This would not do. Absolutely would not do. He was responsible for Encom's public face, and they could not under any circumstances afford this kind of publicity.
He marched down to the lab level, running his hand through his hair, and strode down the hall. Crime scene be damned, this was still his building. He was stopped cold by a pair of detectives who physically blocked his path. “Are you Mr. Mackey?”
“Yes, and I'd appreciate it if your department acted discreetly. My office has been hit with a shitstorm of angry and worried calls. This puts the company in a bad light at the worst possible time.”
The first of the detectives, a wiry Latino in a suit a size too large, flashed his badge. “Detective Ramirez, LAPD. I don't think you understand the situation here.”
“And I don't think you do! This company is conducting highly sensitive merger negotiations. Bad publicity will send the stock price to the basement and ruin it all.”
Ramirez looked over to his partner, clearly keeping himself from rolling his eyes. “Mr. Mackey, there were signs of a struggle inside the lab. Whatever happened to Mr. Bradley, it was sudden and violent. A man's life is in danger -”
“Bradley?” Mackey sniffed with contempt. “Probably jumped off the same bridge Flynn did. Not really a secret how close they were. Don't waste your time.”
The second detective spoke. “His son, Jethro, works for Encom as well, correct?”
“I don't keep track of that. If he does, then he's a low-level programmer or something. If Alan Bradley was pulling strings to get his boy in the company, then you'd think he'd have promoted him to something in management just to embarrass the board.”
Ramirez scowled. “Your head of gaming was the one who called us when Jethro failed to come back from his break. According to Ted Daley, the tech in lab five, Jethro was last seen on the phone with his father and running toward the scene.”
“Well, I suppose if you want to know if either of them had enemies? I don't know anything about his son, but Alan Bradley himself is the most stubborn, prideful man you'll ever encounter. Maybe if he's found, this will finally persuade him to cash in his shares and retire. That way, the board can conduct twenty-first century business.”
The two detectives looked at one another. “So, he's not well liked?”
Mackey sighed. “He's seen as a hero by many of the younger and lower-level employees, and a handful of fossils who remember the Flynn era. Academia loves his work on quantum computing and artificial intelligence, even if it's not something that's going to turn a profit. Those of us on the board have been trying to get him to take the hint that it's not the eighties anymore.”
“Do you think he was up to anything illegal? Embezzling, fraud?”
“Oh, hell no.” Mackey laughed. “ If you want someone in handcuffs, try hunting down Joseph Daniel Thorne. He was our security director. He emailed, saying he's come down with the flu or something, but no one's at his house and hasn't been for days. Probably skipped town or something. I have no idea where he is.”
“So, is there a chance that Thorne and Bradley staged this? That they had some plan to bilk the company and skip town?”
“Thorne, maybe. He's still sore over being passed over for promotion in December. Bradley, though? Far too much of a boy scout. He's usually the one lecturing everyone else on ethics. Quaint, really. I think the man still uses an abacus to balance his bank account.”
“For all you say, why was he still on the board?”
“Because, he is the second-largest shareholder, a former CEO, has worked here since 1980, and as much as I'd like to see him off fishing somewhere, has pretty much maneuvered his way into where firing him would cause just as much bad publicity as half of the police force camped outside my tower.”
“What was Mr. Bradley working on in this lab? Seems a little strange of an executive to be slumming it on this floor.”
“I'm not entirely sure. He's been running an experimental artificial intelligence project. The grant money was good enough to keep him going, I guess. He calls it Ma-three-a or something. It runs a good portion of lab functions and distributed computing. The lab nerds adore it, though. Won him a ton of awards from the university set, too. I don't use it myself. It's very creepy. Rumor has it he modeled its voice and 'personality' off his wife or something.”
“So, you don't know of anyone who would want to do Alan or Jethro harm?”
Mackey pinched the bridge of his nose. “Look. Just...I don't care what kind of money I have to put into this to keep this out of the papers. Now, please...just finish what you have to do and leave - quietly.”
“Do your job, Mr. Mackey. Don't dictate how we do ours,” Ramirez said.
Seeing that he wasn't going to be able to throw his weight around with the detectives, he turned away and back to the elevator, pulling his Blackberry out of his pocket, frantically pushing buttons.
Ramirez rolled his eyes. “Can't arrest a guy for being a jerk, but how fast do you think we could get a warrant for his computer? And how much you wanna bet he uses 'ABC123' for a password?”
It's an entire universe in there, one we created, but it's beyond us now. Really. It's outgrown us. You know, every time you shut off your computer...do you know what you're doing? Have you ever reformatted a hard drive? Deleted old software? Destroyed an entire universe?"
-- Jet Bradley, Tron: Ghost in the Machine on why being a User isn't necessarily a good thing.