C-Max Prison, Pretoria
I don’t fucking believe it…
Joost Klopper stares hard at the parquet floor, avoiding the warden’s eyes.
It’s a trap…it’s got to be a fucking trap…but why?
‘Well Klopper…cat got your tongue…? Speak up man…’
Joost looks up into the warden’s cold gaze, clearly sees the fire of malice in the man’s eyes.
‘I…I don’t know, sir…’
‘What the hell do you mean, you don’t know…what’s there to think about? I’m giving you a chance to get out of this god-forsaken cesspool – a chance to make good, for god’s sake…’
Klopper nods, knows he has no choice.
‘Of course sir…I’m deeply grateful…’
‘And so you damn well should be…’
The warden pushes a neat stack of forms across the desk. ‘All you have to do is sign here, and you’ll be on your way…’
‘For pity’s sake, Klopper, it’s just the usual release papers and consent for us to tag you, attach you to our new external monitoring program…what more do you want?’
Joost nods, leans forward to the warden’s desk, picks up a pen and scratches away at each page. Who the fuck cares what’s in here, anyway?
The warden nods pleasantly. ‘That’s the way, Klopper; you know it makes sense….cigarette?’
Pushing the papers back across the desk, Joost nods…why not?
‘Sir…could you tell me a little more now?’
The warden nods graciously. ‘Not much more I can tell you, Klopper, I’m afraid. But cheer up…you’ll be out of here tomorrow and off to a new life…after we’ve completed the implant, of course…’
The warden’s small, porcine eyes gleam in amusement.
‘But of course Klopper…nothing to worry about…just a small implant to ensure your good behaviour.’ He nods at the forms on the desk. ‘You’ve signed your consent already, so be a good chap and don’t make a fuss now.’
Joost tries, but fails to suppress a tell-tale shiver. He sees his death written in the warden’s eyes.
‘Now be a good chap Klopper, and begin packing for your journey. You’ll find your possessions such as they are, in your cell…’
Razor taps furiously at the greasy, finger-stained keyboard. On the screen in front of him, an array of matrixes appears, each containing a set of coded, nonlinear number sequences. Above the mathematical puzzle, isolated by its simplicity, a single white line of text scrolls slowly sideways….//ARMSCOR SECURE INTRANET…PASSWORD?//
Meagre rags of dappled sunlight daub the walls like islands of glowing leprosy. Scattered pizza boxes litter the floor, and the unmade bed carries ancient stains of sweat and semen. Razor is at home. He wipes the sweat from his brow carelessly, dripping salt fluid onto the keyboard.
Fuckit. Swiftly, he removes his tattered T-shirt, wipes the offending fluid away before it can do any damage. The rings around his eyes and haggard, unshaven appearance belie his youth, smearing his handsome features with a cracked patina of age and decay. Razor is locked into his sixtieth our of combat with his opponent’s formidable defences.
‘Come on….come on….’
//Sequential Stealth Proxy Access…Running…//
//Random proxy hop…Running…//
//IP Encryption Matrixes…Running//
//Negotiating with Host…//
//Host Virus Loaded…//
The display snaps to black, carrying only a single flickering cursor at its centre.
Razor stops breathing. The wittering babble of shoppers and other assorted creatures of the day filters through to his focused consciousness. For a moment, he wonders what day it is, rubs his protesting eyes.
//Level 6 Access Granted…//
‘Yes!!!! Yes!!! Gotcha you bastards…’
Still tapping a demonic rate, Razor buries his probe into the voluminous top secret files of South Africa’s Armaments Corporation. Time is limited. Within a few seconds the AI protecting the files will wake from its forced slumber and detect him. But for the next few minutes, he is the master.
Razor taps again…//UNISECS//
//Searching…Sorted by relevance…These files are read-only…//
Fuckit!... //Load *.*//
The polymorphic virus begins its work, loading unloadable files to a temporary storage area, removing itself, re-entering the system clothed as the system’s own AI, streaming the data half a world away over the planet’s electronic skin.
Razor taps the edge of the keyboard impatiently with dirt encrusted fingernails.
A world away, an alarm blinks red on Dennis Blitzer’s desk. Within the night-time darkness of his office, his PC screen glows into life…
//LEVEL 1 ALARM!!!//
Obedient to its protocol, the PC sends coded bursts of encrypted data out beneath the surrounding woods. The optical fibres glow with urgency as emergency signals trigger silent sentinels around the globe and the hunt for the intruder begins. A host of AI’s surge through the web, seeking, tracking, organising data, probing a thousand servers and routers every few milliseconds, decrypting codes with a proficiency that would delight or horrify the world’s security agencies, rapidly narrowing down the intruder’s location. Dennis Blitzer wakes rudely from shattered sleep, reaches for his shrieking iPhone.
The front door stands wide open…inviting. Mike hugs the wall, runs to the yard at the back, sweating, breathing heavily.
Too old for this shit…
He slides the deadly Heckler from his waistband, eases into the small yard of the house next door, listening intently. Nothing. He looks up at the windows of his house – nothing. Climbing the low wall between the houses, Mike drops to his knees on the other side, clasping the Heckler in both hands. The back door is closed. Carefully, he slides the kitchen window open, listens again. Still nothing. Sliding into the small space, Mike again crouches and moves towards the kitchen door, waiting. Silence. His joints and muscles ache as he forces them to execute the stealth techniques he learned so long ago. At the foot of the stairs he pauses, undecided, and moves instead to the other rooms downstairs, peering through the partially open doors into each.
Step by silent step, he climbs the stairs, staying low, balanced, predatory. He pauses, pushes forwards and slips. The Heckler falls from his hand and clatters down the stairs.
In a few short bounds he clears the last of the stairs, tucks and rolls through the partially open door of his bedroom.
The house is empty. Pausing for breath, Mike sits on the edge of his bed, noting the unfamiliar mess. Mara’s clothes are scattered around carelessly and the ropes that bound her are gone. Mara…
He sees the envelope lying on the pillow and reaches carefully, picks it up by its edges. Inside there is a single small sheet from a notepad. It carries a single telephone number, a British mobile…Pay as you go…untraceable…but trackable…
He places the note back in the envelope and shrugs. Deep in thought, Mike walks slowly down the stairs, picks up the Heckler and heads for the kitchen.
Moses Kaluma moves blindly across the luxurious hotel room with practiced ease. Seating himself at the small work-desk, he flips open the laptop, waits a few seconds, recites in clear, neutral tones, heavily accented with the Creole of New Orleans;
‘Kaluma…One three zero, Alpha Bravo X-Ray.’
The PC responds in the staccato, synthesised voice of electronically engineered speech;
//Access Granted…Good morning Mr. Kaluma…//
‘Good morning, Rosie; run Thunderbird,’ Kaluma responds.
//You have one new message…//
//From Minstrel at Gmail dot com…//
//Wednesday ten- thirty a.m. GMT…//
//Father deeply concerned events New Orleans. SINNER traced Liverpool, England. Urgent interdiction required. Interrogation of following persons required:
………David Bloom aka Raven………Hacker……Verified contact SINNER 14h40GMT Tuesday 31st July. No known threat parameters. No relevant history. Data file attached…
………Peter Bell AKA Razor………Hacker. No relevant history. Data file attached…
………Shelly Kruger AKA Mampara………Hacker. No relevant history. Data file attached…
Recommend deep probe interrogation, summary disposal. Confirm//
‘Reply message Minstrel at Gmail dot com,’ Kaluma instructs the computer.
//Sending…transmission complete…acknowledge received…//
//You have no more messages, Mr. Kaluma//
‘Power down, Rosie.’
The computer obeys. Moses packs for the drab winter chill of Liverpool.
To be continued...