I had a couple of different ideas of how to start off the A-Z month, but a little bit of fiction seemed like a good fit. Then I had trouble picking just the one idea to flesh out. So you get two!
The smart blinds rolled slowly up the windows, revealing the bright blue of the Pacific skies outside the windows, though still muted slightly from full brightness. Van Sant rarely chose to unmute those crystal tones unless he had company, and certainly not when he first woke up.
As he stood and stretched, and padded towards the shower, his mind truly began to wake up. The data ghost of his digital consciousness began to check in with his waking mind, slowly drip-feeding the results of the various overnight tasks it had accomplished. After breakfast, when he felt his consciousness truly integrated once more, that drip feed would ramp up in frequency as data began to pour in from across the city and further afield.
Dossiers on various potential contacts and recruits had been compiled, notes on new products had been collated into a single document for analysis before production, the automated stock trading program had noted several potential new investment opportunities and not red-flagged any sudden damage to his portfolio, and the message notification counter for anything requiring more than an cursory response sat well below fifty. All in all, a peaceful but successful night’s sleep.
As he ate a light breakfast and drank fine imported coffee, the newsfeeds scrolled through his peripheral vision, articles highlighted for any of his key search terms. He read a handful on pharmaceutical research, one on gang violence flaring in the northern end of the city, one or two on organised crime arrests of black-hat hackers.
Whilst the authorities had been quoted urging for calm in the latter item as the investigation was ongoing, his muse made a note to research software upgrades for his personal and business datameshes, and began to run a more detailed check on any outside access from the last few days for any irregularities.
Finally, dressed and ready for the day ahead, Adam van Sant moved to his personal office space, the desk overlooking the city below from the corner of his penthouse apartment.
As the hardware decks began to spin up and his muse began to interface with the various more powerful AIs that inhabited them, he began to respond to his messages from his recruits in the north of the city.
Product was being intercepted, protection for further shipments was needed. Van Sant would be only too happy to provide it.
After intercepting a rival’s product shipment, they found he had new lines in pills and stims, images included. Van Sant could provide a dealer for these.
New arms shipments received, the plan went without incident. A joy to hear.
Rivals had been scouting claimed territory, help required. Van Sant had a friend with a lot of arms who owed a favour.
New clients looking for something out of the ordinary. Not an issue, new products based on cutting edge pharmacopoeia available soon.
Finally, he opened his bandwidth and activated his voice address and began the tasks of the day.
He needed to replace some employees who had made the mistake of getting caught. The AIs began seeding tests to the mesh networks like a breadcrumb trail for potential recruits to find.
And then the phone began to ring.
“Candyman,” he smiled, “what do you need?”
* * *
The screen blinked it’s *ACCESS RESTRICTED* message whilst Fletch’s smartbar got to work. Within a couple of seconds, she was through. A couple of taps at her screen and the government access point forgot she’d even tried to gain entry. The white hats would write it off as faulty wiring again just like the day before and she could get to work.
Someone had been leaving a trail to follow in her usual hangouts on the mesh, and other black and grey users were dropping comments all over the darkfeeds and geocache messageboards of other clues to find. Fletch’s curiosity was peaked, but it seemed like a lot of trouble to go to just to find employees.
Then she’d found the encrypted layers to the trail.
Built beneath clues, which were now being called breadcrumbs by everyone who found them, layers and layers of encrypted puzzles had begun to point her to other points of the mesh. It looked like other users hadn’t cracked much of the encryption yet, and she was sure she was definitely the only one collecting data from geocache dumps around the city, data that didn’t look like much but had begun to form a geographic pattern across the city.
Today she’d begun to find the hidden geocaches, ones only pointed to by the pattern of street numbers and names and not by any of the online breadcrumbs. They’d started giving her more to look for, and a lot more to worry about.
And a phone voice address to call once she was sure she’d pieced together the solution to the puzzle. A voice address with a countdown timer.
But there was no fucking solution.
Fletch had spent the day scouring the city in search for the answer, getting increasingly desperate. She’s hacked a handful of blockchain accounts to pay for taxi spinners to take her across the city. She’d accessed all kinds of feeds and meshports looking for any kind of pattern. She’d been popping whiteout stims for the past two days, and it was starting to take its toll.
The voice address self-destructed in a few minutes. Her throat felt dry as she swallowed, and tapped her throat-mic to life.
The connection rang.
“Congratulations,” said a man’s voice. “You’re the first person to call this number. I was beginning to think today would not be as successful as yesterday. Have you enjoyed the game?” He sounded calm, cold.
Fletch didn’t know what to say. “Y-yes?”
“Good. Now, miss…” he trailed off for a moment, then she could hear his smile in his words. “Miss Fletcher. Good. Do you have a solution?”
How the fuck did he know her name? “N-n-no. That is, there is no solution. Just this number. Is that right?”
There was a long pause. Finally, he spoke again.
“It looks like you are correct, there was no solution for your puzzle Ms Fletcher.” My puzzle? How many fucking puzzle were there? A sinking feeling crept in to her stomach.
“Do you know who I am?” he asked, as cold as before.
“I can make a guess,” she replied. The fucking Candyman. Fuck. Great going Fletch.
“Good,” she could hear his smile again. “Would you like a job, and would you like to be fabulously wealthy?”