Market Value

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

A number. That's all anyone is, just a number. It's all up to investors to determine yours. Your market value. Manipulation is the name of the game.

Market Value

 

by J.R. Kost



 

It always rained in L.A.  He thought about the days when the sun used to shine as much as it rained now.  That was a long time ago, before his time, but he’d seen pictures.

He sat at the sushi bar under the canopy while the night moved on at its usual, hurried pace. The neon lights flashing, blinking, and calling out to whoever might notice.  The drink in his hand was drowning his sorrows while the rain soaked his spirit through to the core. 

“I’ll take two of those and two of the egg rolls too.” His orders were only half heard by the vendor as he motioned toward what he wanted.

“You have only one of each.  One of each.” the vendor shot back in his Chinese vernacular.

“OK, but I want sauce too.” He demanded.

Ben was not a happy man.  As he looked up at the Big Board it only reminded him of what his life was worth.  Flashes of green followed by red as the symbols and their associated price increased and decreased in value every few seconds.  He looked down at his arm as it lit up when he turned it toward his eyes.  The nano-cells illuminated a smaller version of the Big Board.  At the bottom, the way bottom, his symbol and value read out.  He watched it slowly tick lower as the vendor took his take.

Ben Ryan was a “Gen-p”, which was slang for a power generating peon.  Almost everybody was a “generator”, but most had some other type of vocation to supplement their income.  Ben did too, but he was less than successful at selling the static generator modules that were quickly becoming obsolete. Fed Corp. introduced newer technology faster than Ben could sell the old. But he worked the poorer side of town so the case next to him was all his employer would give him to sell and it was losing value with every drop of rain that landed on it. 

As he walked home through the dark and rain driven night his obsolete static generators, located on the inside of each leg, crackled as the static electricity built up between the two and then was transferred to a battery pack, also an obsolete unit, on Ben’s back.  The rain and moisture in the air wasn’t helping.  He figured he had at least a few credits to his name built up in the battery, but was sure it wasn’t going to be enough to pay his full rent that was now past due.

“How’s it goin Ben?” the transfer attendant asked as Ben approached the entrance to the power transfer station.  The station was one of hundreds scattered throughout the city.  They provided locations for “offloading” stored energy.  They would offload the stored energy through wireless transfer as a gen walked through the ten foot long tunnel.  Fed Corp. was the quasi government entity that ran the stations.

“Same as always.” Ben said less than enthusiastically.  “You going to take all my credits again Joe?  I could really use my fair share for once.”

“You know how this works.  The city needs the power, Fed Corp. needs to make a profit, and you only need enough to keep alive and bring in more energy.”  Joe said quietly as he looked around to make sure no one heard him.

Ben passed through the station looking at his nano-cell display as his credit balance slowly started to tick higher.  He reached the last part of the tunnel, where Fed Corp. took their share, and watched in dismay as his earnings dwindled.  He’d cleared enough to eat tomorrow, but not much more.  He was going to have to pound the pavement a lot harder tomorrow or he was sure he’d be sleeping on it soon.

*****

Manhattan was gone.  At least most of it.  The increased frequency of hurricanes, along with rising sea levels, had destroyed much of the infrastructure and left only empty skyscrapers as reminders of days long past.

But the city was not completely empty.  The isolated environment was perfect for a secure compound like no other.  It was home to one of the largest corporations in the world.  It was home to Fed Corp.

Fed Corp. was known to be ruthless and unsympathetic to the competition.  Its investors did not like to lose and the only acceptable contract was one that was theirs and theirs alone.  Market value meant everything and their investors had the power, resources, and mercilessness to make them the richest in the world.

The compound was composed of several skyscrapers interconnected with tunnels above the waterline.  An electromagnetic field surrounded it to ensure no electronic signals, like those from a hacker, could get in.  It was an impenetrable system, consisting of state-of-the-art technology.

That’s why Liu Min had to go in from below.  She was one of the best at what she did.  Espionage, sabotage, and anything else for the right price.

Her wet suit fit her slim body like a surgeon’s glove.  Her compressed air respirator would give her just enough air to get in and get out.  She slid into the water at the designated point and made her way to her target.

She found the old subway tunnel without problem.  Soon, she found her entry point just above the waterline near the old subway station and next to the supply depot where Fed Corp. brought in what it needed to run the compound. There were going to be guards there, but she knew what had to be done.

There were only two, but there was no way to get by them without action.  Yet, she couldn’t dispose of them lest they be discovered and give away her presence.  She slid behind the first and pressed the taser in the nerve center of its back.  A few sparks flew as the humanoid robot slouched to the ground.  A temporary shut down that should give her enough time to finish her mission once she did the same to the other.

Liu had the air shafts and her route memorized.  It didn’t take her long to reach the primary server room.  She quietly lowered herself in making sure no security devices were evident to capture her intrusion.  It was dark, with only the blinking green, red, and yellow lights of the servers illuminating the room.  Within she found a maintenance terminal and proceeded to expertly hack into the system.

Predator was a virus like no other.  Liu had developed it specifically for this mission.  It knew how to track down the technical data that was of most value to her clients.  But first, she would need to get into the right server and memory locations.

As she dug into the system she soon realized what she was seeing.  There were inconsistencies.  Something didn’t add up.  She needed to make copies.  The unexpected information would be very valuable to her clients, she thought.  This discovery was more valuable than the technology she was here to steal, more than her clients were looking for.

After the copies were made, Predator was launched and the desired technical data retrieved.  Liu knew she had not only completed the immediate mission, but may very well have obtained information that would put her market value in the top echelon.

The door opened.  Liu looked down from the air vent to see another guard making its rounds.  She carefully closed the air vent panel behind her.  She was lucky, and behind schedule.

When she arrived back at the depot the guards were just starting to reactivate.  They wouldn’t remember a thing if Liu could get back into the water before they were cognizant.  She slid behind some crates and was soon back into the water none too soon.

Her air lasted just long enough to get her back to her entry point.  She hid her wetsuit in a garbage bin and headed for her antigrav cycle.

As she walked confidently she looked down at her nano-cell display on her arm and transferred the technical data to her client.  Simultaneously, she watched as her market value climbed quickly as the payment credits came through.

A man with piercing eyes came onto the screen.  “These data will be invaluable to us.” he said.

“I have additional data that may be of even greater value to you.”  Liu said.

“What kind of data?”

“It’s something that could bring down Fed Corp. all together.  I would think that it is worth at least another million credits.”

The man turned his head and conversed with someone out of the picture.

“My employer will give you half now and the other after you send it on and we determine that the data is as valuable as you say.”

Liu watched as her market value climbed with the initial payment.  She then sent the data.

“Yes, this does look like it might have value.” the man said.  “The rest of your credits are being transferred.  Good night.”

She was pleased with herself.  Another successful mission.  Another boost to her market value.  Others would be seeing this increase in her value too and invest accordingly.  Even after the payment was fully received her market value continued to climb.

She got on her cycle and started the engine.  She loved that bike.  She didn’t realize that a bolt had been loosened, a bolt instrumental in holding the front guidance assembly on.

She didn’t have enough time to see the pavement before it pulverized her face and her body beyond recognition.  Another bad cycle accident.  Rider was going too fast when a mechanical malfunction caused the accident.  Or so the accident report would say. 

*****

Elise Turner loved her job.  Writing is all she ever really wanted to do and getting this job at the L.A. Sun was just what she needed to launch her career.  Granted she didn’t always get the best assignments, and the pay wasn’t that great, but she was making it on her own.  Without the help of her overbearing and rich father.

She looked the part of an investigative reporter too.  With auburn hair tied up in a bun and a look of determination she wore almost twenty-four hours a day.  She was slim and fit and left no doubt that she could handle herself.

She was at her desk reading some of the other local newspapers when the email arrived.

“Hey Dave, look at this.” she said with a sense of confusion.  “It has no information as to who sent it.  What the…?”  She couldn’t believe it.  Couldn’t believe that she could get a tip this big.

Dave, her cameraman, came over to take a look.  “Must be some kind of joke, a prank.”  He said confidently.  “There’s no way that information can be legit.”

Dave laughed and walked off toward the coffee.  Then, at the bottom, Elise saw the P.S.  “If you want to expose this scandal, a travesty against the people, then come to this address at 1:00 am tomorrow morning.  Only you, nobody else, or you’ll ruin your chance to blow the lid off this.”

*****

Ben couldn’t believe his eyes.  He was down and out and what should appear, but the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eye’s on.  She was going one way, he the other, in more than one sense of the word.  They literally ran into each other in the fog that hung heavy after the rain finally stopped.

“I’m sorry.  Are you alright?” Ben asked apologetically.

“I, I’m fine.  Please, I’m in a hurry.  I have to be somewhere.”  Elise said exasperatedly as she knew she was pushing time.

“My name’s Ben.  Ben Ryan.”  He blurted as she hurried away into the fog.

There and gone.  How could he let her get away that easily?  He decided it wasn’t going to end as fast as it had started.  There was something about her.  She moved quickly, but Ben decided to go after her.  He wasn’t going to let this one get away.

Elise checked the address again.  Yep, this was it.  She could only think about how creepy this place was.  The night was black in that part of town, no lights, no bustling crowds.  And the fog was thicker than usual.  Her typical confident persona was fading fast.

The shadow appeared out of nowhere.  “Did you come alone?”  It asked in a low, raspy voice.  Elise tried to get a look at him, but he wore a hat and a scarf over his face.  But yet, there was something familiar about him.  Even in the dark and shadow of his hat his eyes were piercing.

“Yes, I’m alone.  What information do you have for me?”  she asked hesitantly.  “I’m here as directed and alone.  Let me have the information so I can follow up on this.” she stated.

The man handed her a tiny memory chip inserted into a slightly larger plastic case.  “This contains all the information that you will need,” he said.  “You must expose these criminals and bring them to justice.” 

Just as he handed her the chip a racket startled both of them.  Someone was approaching.  Before she could turn back around to ask who he was, the mystery man was gone.

The two thugs had one thing on their mind and one thing only.  The two of them with one beautiful girl.  It was going to be a fun night after all.  They separated and went around Elise from both sides.

“What ya think Carlos?  Think she wants to have some fun?” the larger of the two asked the smaller.  Both were not that small, though and Elise was terrified thinking about what she knew they had in mind.

“It will be a lot easier on you pretty girl if you cooperate.” the other said.  They both closed the gap.  Carlos soon had a hold of her arm and was pulling her to him when something hit him in the head, knocking him away from Elise as he tried to protect himself with hands on his head.

“Get away from her you bastards!”  Ben yelled as he grabbed another one of his inventory battery packs out of his case.

“The odds are against you man.”  The other thug stated confidently.  “You’re dead meat!”

As they now moved their attention to Ben, Elise moved away, looking for a weapon.  She soon found a brick and threw it at the thugs missing, but gaining back their attention.  At that moment Ben grabbed two static generators from his case and connected them to the battery, but with reverse polarity.  Now they would act like a taser and send a jolt once contact was made.  He ran up behind Carlos and applied the generators, now turned taser, to his back.  Carlos immediately dropped to one knee in pain.  In the meantime, Elise found a pipe that the other thug didn’t want to meet.  They both took off running at that point and didn’t look back.

“I’m not sure if I should thank you or take this pipe to your head.”  Elise said sternly.

“What are you talking about?  I just saved your ass from getting raped and maybe killed!”  Ben replied.

“I can take care of myself.”

“OK then, if you’re going to be like that.  Good luck!”  Ben retorted as he started to walk away.

Elise knew she was being coarse.  “Wait a minute.” she said.  “I know you were only trying to help.  Sorry for being so unappreciative.  Are you hurt?”

Ben was holding his arm where one of the thugs had cut him.  “I’ll be fine.”

“Why not come back to my place so we can get you patched up.  I’m warning you though.  No trouble or I’ll…”

“I’m the least of your worries right now.”  Ben said.

*****

The park was dark and empty as the car pulled up to the black limo already parked there.  A man in a black trench coat and hat got out of the car and approached the limo as the limo window started to go down.

“Did you get her the information?”  A man in the limo asked.

“Yes, but someone approached as I gave it to her so I had to get out of there.” The other man said.

“Did you see who it was?”  The man in the limo asked.

“Not right away.  I came back around to find two ruffians about to molest her, but soon after another man appeared and they were able to fight them off.”

“Was she hurt?”

“No, I don’t think so.  She and the other man were heading to her place I think.  He was cut and bleeding.”

“OK.  Keep an eye on both of them.  The plan is moving forward, but we can’t be too careful.  She has to get that information public.”

The window closed shut and the black limo drove away into the fog.  The other man glanced down at his nano-cell display on his arm and watched as his payment tallied up.  He was sure he would be attracting more attention from the investment community with his increase in market value.

*****

Elise unlocked the door and they entered her apartment.

“Nice place.” Ben said.

“It’s OK.  Gives me a place to sleep and get my writing done.  I don’t like working at the office.  Too many distractions and people looking over my shoulder.”

They went into the kitchen.  Elise motioned to a stool at the counter.  “Have a seat.  Let’s take a look at that arm.”

There was more blood than she thought.  “Get that shirt off so we can fix you up.”

Ben took his shirt off revealing a well chiseled body, but one that had obviously been through some misadventures along the way.  Elise wetted a wash cloth and began to clean the wound.

“Does it hurt?” she asked.

“Not with you working on it.” Ben replied.

As she worked on the wound something began to stir in her.  Ben was watching her intently.  Within a few seconds their eyes met.  Ben stood up and lowered Elise’s hand from his arm, bringing it around his waist instead.  He then grabbed a hold of her and kissed her.  It was a long, passionate kiss.  They looked in each other’s eyes again and dove into another, longer kiss.  They knew then, in the short time they had known each other, they were meant to be with each other.  At least tonight. 

*****

Ben woke up in an empty bed.  He got up and got dressed.  He found Elise out in the living room at her computer.

“What are you working on?” he asked.

“A big story.  One that could launch my career if I do things right.”

“What’s it about?”

She hesitated, but realized that after last night he was someone she could trust.  After all, he had probably saved her life, not to mention satisfied her desires.

“An unidentified source has given me proof that Fed Corp. is skimming extra money off of energy transfers.  Fractions of a penny per watt, not enough for anyone to notice, but nonetheless significant.  I’ve got foreign bank account information including specific transactions that can be traced back to Fed Corp. headquarters in New York.”

“No shit.” Ben said in disbelief. “I knew those damn industrial complex bastards were no good.  What are you going to do?”

“I’ve got to get a copy of this stuff to my boss at the Sun.  He’ll know what to do with it.”

Elise got dressed and then they headed down to the street.  The Sun offices were only a few blocks away.  Unknown to them, a pair of eyes were watching them intently.  Their owner smiled as he looked up at the Big Board on the street corner, greens and reds flashing with the up and down movement of the market.  “It won’t be long now,” he thought to himself.

*****

The newsroom was packed with reporters from all over the country.  From all over the world.  The L.A. Sun had a big breaking news story.  Elise stood up on the podium as the hour of the announcement neared.  She was excited, but scared too.  She couldn’t help but think about what Fed Corp. was.  The biggest and most powerful corporation in the world.  This story was sure to bring them down.  People were going to be held accountable.  Very powerful people.

“Can I have your attention please?”  The Sun CEO said, speaking into the microphone.  “We’re ready to start the news conference.  Elise?”

“Thank you, Tom.  We have uncovered information related to illegal activity going on at Fed Corp.”

The crowd couldn’t believe what they were hearing.  The noise built as the shock sank in.

“We have uncovered activity, including verified bank account deposits, which show that Fed Corp. has been skimming money off of energy transfer transactions.”

The crowd went wild.  Several reporters tried to ask questions, but were ignored.

“More detail will be forthcoming to the public once the case has gone to court and a judge has cleared the release of more specific information.  I cannot answer any questions until the case is completed.  I trust you all can understand this.  Thank you.”  Elise quickly stepped from the podium and was escorted away by security.  Ben was not far behind.

*****

The judge thought the information was solid enough to issue search warrants.  Before Elise made the announcement at the press conference authorities were able to verify what Fed Corp. was up to.  They had no chance to delete or otherwise cover up the data and information.  The jury found Fed Corp. guilty.  The verdict negated most of their contracts in energy transfer and other government related businesses.

Elise’s market value had sky-rocketed.  She was now a respected journalist and one of the top at the Sun and in the nation.  To celebrate, her father planned a reception in order to celebrate his daughter’s success.

Frank Turner was a rich man.  He had made lots of money in various businesses and he wasn’t afraid to flaunt it.  His mansion overlooked L.A. and was an often visited venue for the rich and famous from Hollywood and around the world.  There was no holding back on the extravagance and the invitation list for his daughter’s reception.

Elise and her father really weren’t very close.  He’d made sure of that by being submerged in his work twenty-four hours a day seven days a week.  She felt like she really didn’t even know him.  Her mother had died when she was five so she really never knew what it was like to have a mother either.

“Ladies and gentlemen, can I have your attention please?”  Frank said with a loud, demanding voice.  “As you know, we’re here to celebrate the achievements of my daughter.  I am a very proud father!”  The crowd began to applaud.

Elise and Ben stood off to the side near the front of the banquet room where her father now stood.  Elise blushed as she waved to the crowd, trying to smile.  As she glanced around the room her eyes met those of a man across the room.  She knew those eyes.  Where had she seen them before?

Just then her father announced “Elise, please come say a few words.”

She looked over at Ben with a worried look on her face.  “Come on, you’re a reporter. You’re not afraid to be in front of people.”  Ben said.

“That’s not it.” she said.  “It’s something else.  Something I can’t quite put my finger on.”

As she moved toward her father and the microphone she looked up at one of the large Big Boards that her father had all over the mansion.  Greens and reds flashed the market values of those that had a market value high enough to be displayed.  She recognized her father’s symbol.  His market value had increased substantially after…

 “Thank you, thank you everyone.” she stammered as sweat began to bead on her forehead.  “And thank you father for this great reception. The Fed Corp. case was an important one for this city, the country, and the world.  I’m glad that I could help the justice system put an end to their illegal activity.  Thank you.”  That’s all she could get out as she hurried toward Ben.

“We have to get out of here.  I need to tell you something.”

“OK.” Ben said.  “Let’s go over to that side room over there.”

They hurried across the room and through the door.  Ben closed it behind them.

“What’s going on?” he asked with concern in his voice.

“I recognized the man that gave me the Fed Corp. information.  He’s here in the mansion.  I know who he is!”

“Are you sure?” Ben replied.

“Yes, I’m positive.  Those eyes.”

“Who?”

“He’s my father’s right hand man.  He does all his dirty work.  I’m sure I don’t know half of it.”

“Holy shit!”  Ben said too loudly.  “What the hell are we going to do?”

“We need more proof.  Nobody is going to believe me based on his eyes.  But I know it’s him. He and my father must have gotten the Fed Corp. information somehow and I’m guessing it wasn’t by legal means.  They had everything to gain.  Have you noticed my father’s market value?”

*****

Elise knew where his office was.  It was up the winding staircase at the end of the long hallway.  They quietly left the room they were in through another door.  Soon, they found themselves at the door of her father’s office.

“What exactly are we looking for?”  Ben asked.

“Anything that can tie him to the Fed Corp. case.  Plans or emails.  I don’t know for sure.”

The door was locked.  But Elise had it under control.  She’d learned a few things as a reporter and gaining entrance through locked doors was one of them.

They were in.  Her father’s computer was on his desk, but they found that it was locked.  Neither one of them was a hacker.  The drawers were locked too.  Desperation crossed Elise’s face.

“What in the hell are we going to do?” she moaned.  “He could come up here any minute.”

Just then they heard footsteps and then the door opened.  It wasn’t her father, but perhaps someone even worse.  The man with the eyes was in the doorway, holding a blaster in their direction.”

“What are you doing in here?” he demanded.

“Uh, we were just looking for the bathroom.”  Ben said.

“Don’t give me that bullshit.” the man said.  “You’re Mr. Turner’s daughter.  You know where the bathrooms are.  Move away from the desk.”

“We know what you and my father are up to.” she said confidently.  “You’re not going to get away with it.  We have proof.”

“Proof? Proof of what?” he asked sternly.

“We know that you illegally obtained the Fed Corp. information.  We know that it was you that gave me the chip.”  Elise reported.

“You don’t know anything.  You have no proof.”

Just then Ben pushed a chair across the room into the henchman.  While the man was distracted, Ben rushed toward him and gave him a good punch to the abdomen and another to the face.  He was buckled over as the two of them made their escape.

He was right.  They had no proof.  They only had her word that it was him, her father’s man, who gave her the information.  But that wouldn’t satisfy a judge or jury.

As they quickly drove away from the mansion Ben asked. “So, what’s your plan?”

“We’re going to make a visit to some people that would like nothing more than to see my father in a cell right next to theirs.  If I’m right, they’ll give us the information we need.”

*****

“You bet I’d like to know who you got that information from!” the ex-CEO of Fed Corp. yelled.

“Well, we’re prepared to get them a room right next to you if you can provide us with some information.”

“What kind of information?” he replied.

“What we need is something that would identify your technology as that of Fed Corp.  Something that, say, a thief would not see or know was there.”

“We do have program code tags, which are identifiers that are encrypted.  If a thief were to use our design without stripping the tags then they would be easily identifiable.  Fighting criminal charges or not, the technology developed under Fed Corp patent is still ours!”

The CEO went on to provide more details as to how a code tag might be identified and the basic technology that could do it.  Ben understood the concept and knew people that could help him get the hardware he needed.

*****

“Hey Joe, how’s it goin?”  Ben said to the energy transfer attendant. “Nice new equipment you’ve got here.”

“Long time no see Ben. Yeah, new contractor.  After the Fed Corp. scandal you know.” he replied.  “What you been up to?”

“Oh, the usual.  Just trying to get by however I can.  Let’s see if I’ve got any credits in this battery today shall we?”

Ben proceeded to move through the transfer station.  He looked down at his nano-cell arm and watched as the small amount of credits added up.  Then, as he moved toward the end of the tunnel he activated a new application on the interface.  Incoming information was being processed.  The specialized query application found what it was designed to.  The findings were conclusive.

Ben smiled as he thought to himself.  They had Frank Turner.  They had Fed Corp.  And he had the boss’s, or ex-boss’s, daughter wrapped around his finger.  There was nothing that could stop him from gaining market value with all the people and information he had access to.  He was finally on his way.  He would finally have a market value worth tracking on the Big Board.

 

End


Cover Credit: 

Market Value

 

by J.R. Kost



 

It always rained in L.A.  He thought about the days when the sun used to shine as much as it rained now.  That was a long time ago, before his time, but he’d seen pictures.

He sat at the sushi bar under the canopy while the night moved on at its usual, hurried pace. The neon lights flashing, blinking, and calling out to whoever might notice.  The drink in his hand was drowning his sorrows while the rain soaked his spirit through to the core. 

“I’ll take two of those and two of the egg rolls too.” His orders were only half heard by the vendor as he motioned toward what he wanted.

“You have only one of each.  One of each.” the vendor shot back in his Chinese vernacular.

“OK, but I want sauce too.” He demanded.

Ben was not a happy man.  As he looked up at the Big Board it only reminded him of what his life was worth.  Flashes of green followed by red as the symbols and their associated price increased and decreased in value every few seconds.  He looked down at his arm as it lit up when he turned it toward his eyes.  The nano-cells illuminated a smaller version of the Big Board.  At the bottom, the way bottom, his symbol and value read out.  He watched it slowly tick lower as the vendor took his take.

Ben Ryan was a “Gen-p”, which was slang for a power generating peon.  Almost everybody was a “generator”, but most had some other type of vocation to supplement their income.  Ben did too, but he was less than successful at selling the static generator modules that were quickly becoming obsolete. Fed Corp. introduced newer technology faster than Ben could sell the old. But he worked the poorer side of town so the case next to him was all his employer would give him to sell and it was losing value with every drop of rain that landed on it. 

As he walked home through the dark and rain driven night his obsolete static generators, located on the inside of each leg, crackled as the static electricity built up between the two and then was transferred to a battery pack, also an obsolete unit, on Ben’s back.  The rain and moisture in the air wasn’t helping.  He figured he had at least a few credits to his name built up in the battery, but was sure it wasn’t going to be enough to pay his full rent that was now past due.

“How’s it goin Ben?” the transfer attendant asked as Ben approached the entrance to the power transfer station.  The station was one of hundreds scattered throughout the city.  They provided locations for “offloading” stored energy.  They would offload the stored energy through wireless transfer as a gen walked through the ten foot long tunnel.  Fed Corp. was the quasi government entity that ran the stations.

“Same as always.” Ben said less than enthusiastically.  “You going to take all my credits again Joe?  I could really use my fair share for once.”

“You know how this works.  The city needs the power, Fed Corp. needs to make a profit, and you only need enough to keep alive and bring in more energy.”  Joe said quietly as he looked around to make sure no one heard him.

Ben passed through the station looking at his nano-cell display as his credit balance slowly started to tick higher.  He reached the last part of the tunnel, where Fed Corp. took their share, and watched in dismay as his earnings dwindled.  He’d cleared enough to eat tomorrow, but not much more.  He was going to have to pound the pavement a lot harder tomorrow or he was sure he’d be sleeping on it soon.

*****

Manhattan was gone.  At least most of it.  The increased frequency of hurricanes, along with rising sea levels, had destroyed much of the infrastructure and left only empty skyscrapers as reminders of days long past.

But the city was not completely empty.  The isolated environment was perfect for a secure compound like no other.  It was home to one of the largest corporations in the world.  It was home to Fed Corp.

Fed Corp. was known to be ruthless and unsympathetic to the competition.  Its investors did not like to lose and the only acceptable contract was one that was theirs and theirs alone.  Market value meant everything and their investors had the power, resources, and mercilessness to make them the richest in the world.

The compound was composed of several skyscrapers interconnected with tunnels above the waterline.  An electromagnetic field surrounded it to ensure no electronic signals, like those from a hacker, could get in.  It was an impenetrable system, consisting of state-of-the-art technology.

That’s why Liu Min had to go in from below.  She was one of the best at what she did.  Espionage, sabotage, and anything else for the right price.

Her wet suit fit her slim body like a surgeon’s glove.  Her compressed air respirator would give her just enough air to get in and get out.  She slid into the water at the designated point and made her way to her target.

She found the old subway tunnel without problem.  Soon, she found her entry point just above the waterline near the old subway station and next to the supply depot where Fed Corp. brought in what it needed to run the compound. There were going to be guards there, but she knew what had to be done.

There were only two, but there was no way to get by them without action.  Yet, she couldn’t dispose of them lest they be discovered and give away her presence.  She slid behind the first and pressed the taser in the nerve center of its back.  A few sparks flew as the humanoid robot slouched to the ground.  A temporary shut down that should give her enough time to finish her mission once she did the same to the other.

Liu had the air shafts and her route memorized.  It didn’t take her long to reach the primary server room.  She quietly lowered herself in making sure no security devices were evident to capture her intrusion.  It was dark, with only the blinking green, red, and yellow lights of the servers illuminating the room.  Within she found a maintenance terminal and proceeded to expertly hack into the system.

Predator was a virus like no other.  Liu had developed it specifically for this mission.  It knew how to track down the technical data that was of most value to her clients.  But first, she would need to get into the right server and memory locations.

As she dug into the system she soon realized what she was seeing.  There were inconsistencies.  Something didn’t add up.  She needed to make copies.  The unexpected information would be very valuable to her clients, she thought.  This discovery was more valuable than the technology she was here to steal, more than her clients were looking for.

After the copies were made, Predator was launched and the desired technical data retrieved.  Liu knew she had not only completed the immediate mission, but may very well have obtained information that would put her market value in the top echelon.

The door opened.  Liu looked down from the air vent to see another guard making its rounds.  She carefully closed the air vent panel behind her.  She was lucky, and behind schedule.

When she arrived back at the depot the guards were just starting to reactivate.  They wouldn’t remember a thing if Liu could get back into the water before they were cognizant.  She slid behind some crates and was soon back into the water none too soon.

Her air lasted just long enough to get her back to her entry point.  She hid her wetsuit in a garbage bin and headed for her antigrav cycle.

As she walked confidently she looked down at her nano-cell display on her arm and transferred the technical data to her client.  Simultaneously, she watched as her market value climbed quickly as the payment credits came through.

A man with piercing eyes came onto the screen.  “These data will be invaluable to us.” he said.

“I have additional data that may be of even greater value to you.”  Liu said.

“What kind of data?”

“It’s something that could bring down Fed Corp. all together.  I would think that it is worth at least another million credits.”

The man turned his head and conversed with someone out of the picture.

“My employer will give you half now and the other after you send it on and we determine that the data is as valuable as you say.”

Liu watched as her market value climbed with the initial payment.  She then sent the data.

“Yes, this does look like it might have value.” the man said.  “The rest of your credits are being transferred.  Good night.”

She was pleased with herself.  Another successful mission.  Another boost to her market value.  Others would be seeing this increase in her value too and invest accordingly.  Even after the payment was fully received her market value continued to climb.

She got on her cycle and started the engine.  She loved that bike.  She didn’t realize that a bolt had been loosened, a bolt instrumental in holding the front guidance assembly on.

She didn’t have enough time to see the pavement before it pulverized her face and her body beyond recognition.  Another bad cycle accident.  Rider was going too fast when a mechanical malfunction caused the accident.  Or so the accident report would say. 

*****

Elise Turner loved her job.  Writing is all she ever really wanted to do and getting this job at the L.A. Sun was just what she needed to launch her career.  Granted she didn’t always get the best assignments, and the pay wasn’t that great, but she was making it on her own.  Without the help of her overbearing and rich father.

She looked the part of an investigative reporter too.  With auburn hair tied up in a bun and a look of determination she wore almost twenty-four hours a day.  She was slim and fit and left no doubt that she could handle herself.

She was at her desk reading some of the other local newspapers when the email arrived.

“Hey Dave, look at this.” she said with a sense of confusion.  “It has no information as to who sent it.  What the…?”  She couldn’t believe it.  Couldn’t believe that she could get a tip this big.

Dave, her cameraman, came over to take a look.  “Must be some kind of joke, a prank.”  He said confidently.  “There’s no way that information can be legit.”

Dave laughed and walked off toward the coffee.  Then, at the bottom, Elise saw the P.S.  “If you want to expose this scandal, a travesty against the people, then come to this address at 1:00 am tomorrow morning.  Only you, nobody else, or you’ll ruin your chance to blow the lid off this.”

*****

Ben couldn’t believe his eyes.  He was down and out and what should appear, but the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eye’s on.  She was going one way, he the other, in more than one sense of the word.  They literally ran into each other in the fog that hung heavy after the rain finally stopped.

“I’m sorry.  Are you alright?” Ben asked apologetically.

“I, I’m fine.  Please, I’m in a hurry.  I have to be somewhere.”  Elise said exasperatedly as she knew she was pushing time.

“My name’s Ben.  Ben Ryan.”  He blurted as she hurried away into the fog.

There and gone.  How could he let her get away that easily?  He decided it wasn’t going to end as fast as it had started.  There was something about her.  She moved quickly, but Ben decided to go after her.  He wasn’t going to let this one get away.

Elise checked the address again.  Yep, this was it.  She could only think about how creepy this place was.  The night was black in that part of town, no lights, no bustling crowds.  And the fog was thicker than usual.  Her typical confident persona was fading fast.

The shadow appeared out of nowhere.  “Did you come alone?”  It asked in a low, raspy voice.  Elise tried to get a look at him, but he wore a hat and a scarf over his face.  But yet, there was something familiar about him.  Even in the dark and shadow of his hat his eyes were piercing.

“Yes, I’m alone.  What information do you have for me?”  she asked hesitantly.  “I’m here as directed and alone.  Let me have the information so I can follow up on this.” she stated.

The man handed her a tiny memory chip inserted into a slightly larger plastic case.  “This contains all the information that you will need,” he said.  “You must expose these criminals and bring them to justice.” 

Just as he handed her the chip a racket startled both of them.  Someone was approaching.  Before she could turn back around to ask who he was, the mystery man was gone.

The two thugs had one thing on their mind and one thing only.  The two of them with one beautiful girl.  It was going to be a fun night after all.  They separated and went around Elise from both sides.

“What ya think Carlos?  Think she wants to have some fun?” the larger of the two asked the smaller.  Both were not that small, though and Elise was terrified thinking about what she knew they had in mind.

“It will be a lot easier on you pretty girl if you cooperate.” the other said.  They both closed the gap.  Carlos soon had a hold of her arm and was pulling her to him when something hit him in the head, knocking him away from Elise as he tried to protect himself with hands on his head.

“Get away from her you bastards!”  Ben yelled as he grabbed another one of his inventory battery packs out of his case.

“The odds are against you man.”  The other thug stated confidently.  “You’re dead meat!”

As they now moved their attention to Ben, Elise moved away, looking for a weapon.  She soon found a brick and threw it at the thugs missing, but gaining back their attention.  At that moment Ben grabbed two static generators from his case and connected them to the battery, but with reverse polarity.  Now they would act like a taser and send a jolt once contact was made.  He ran up behind Carlos and applied the generators, now turned taser, to his back.  Carlos immediately dropped to one knee in pain.  In the meantime, Elise found a pipe that the other thug didn’t want to meet.  They both took off running at that point and didn’t look back.

“I’m not sure if I should thank you or take this pipe to your head.”  Elise said sternly.

“What are you talking about?  I just saved your ass from getting raped and maybe killed!”  Ben replied.

“I can take care of myself.”

“OK then, if you’re going to be like that.  Good luck!”  Ben retorted as he started to walk away.

Elise knew she was being coarse.  “Wait a minute.” she said.  “I know you were only trying to help.  Sorry for being so unappreciative.  Are you hurt?”

Ben was holding his arm where one of the thugs had cut him.  “I’ll be fine.”

“Why not come back to my place so we can get you patched up.  I’m warning you though.  No trouble or I’ll…”

“I’m the least of your worries right now.”  Ben said.

*****

The park was dark and empty as the car pulled up to the black limo already parked there.  A man in a black trench coat and hat got out of the car and approached the limo as the limo window started to go down.

“Did you get her the information?”  A man in the limo asked.

“Yes, but someone approached as I gave it to her so I had to get out of there.” The other man said.

“Did you see who it was?”  The man in the limo asked.

“Not right away.  I came back around to find two ruffians about to molest her, but soon after another man appeared and they were able to fight them off.”

“Was she hurt?”

“No, I don’t think so.  She and the other man were heading to her place I think.  He was cut and bleeding.”

“OK.  Keep an eye on both of them.  The plan is moving forward, but we can’t be too careful.  She has to get that information public.”

The window closed shut and the black limo drove away into the fog.  The other man glanced down at his nano-cell display on his arm and watched as his payment tallied up.  He was sure he would be attracting more attention from the investment community with his increase in market value.

*****

Elise unlocked the door and they entered her apartment.

“Nice place.” Ben said.

“It’s OK.  Gives me a place to sleep and get my writing done.  I don’t like working at the office.  Too many distractions and people looking over my shoulder.”

They went into the kitchen.  Elise motioned to a stool at the counter.  “Have a seat.  Let’s take a look at that arm.”

There was more blood than she thought.  “Get that shirt off so we can fix you up.”

Ben took his shirt off revealing a well chiseled body, but one that had obviously been through some misadventures along the way.  Elise wetted a wash cloth and began to clean the wound.

“Does it hurt?” she asked.

“Not with you working on it.” Ben replied.

As she worked on the wound something began to stir in her.  Ben was watching her intently.  Within a few seconds their eyes met.  Ben stood up and lowered Elise’s hand from his arm, bringing it around his waist instead.  He then grabbed a hold of her and kissed her.  It was a long, passionate kiss.  They looked in each other’s eyes again and dove into another, longer kiss.  They knew then, in the short time they had known each other, they were meant to be with each other.  At least tonight. 

*****

Ben woke up in an empty bed.  He got up and got dressed.  He found Elise out in the living room at her computer.

“What are you working on?” he asked.

“A big story.  One that could launch my career if I do things right.”

“What’s it about?”

She hesitated, but realized that after last night he was someone she could trust.  After all, he had probably saved her life, not to mention satisfied her desires.

“An unidentified source has given me proof that Fed Corp. is skimming extra money off of energy transfers.  Fractions of a penny per watt, not enough for anyone to notice, but nonetheless significant.  I’ve got foreign bank account information including specific transactions that can be traced back to Fed Corp. headquarters in New York.”

“No shit.” Ben said in disbelief. “I knew those damn industrial complex bastards were no good.  What are you going to do?”

“I’ve got to get a copy of this stuff to my boss at the Sun.  He’ll know what to do with it.”

Elise got dressed and then they headed down to the street.  The Sun offices were only a few blocks away.  Unknown to them, a pair of eyes were watching them intently.  Their owner smiled as he looked up at the Big Board on the street corner, greens and reds flashing with the up and down movement of the market.  “It won’t be long now,” he thought to himself.

*****

The newsroom was packed with reporters from all over the country.  From all over the world.  The L.A. Sun had a big breaking news story.  Elise stood up on the podium as the hour of the announcement neared.  She was excited, but scared too.  She couldn’t help but think about what Fed Corp. was.  The biggest and most powerful corporation in the world.  This story was sure to bring them down.  People were going to be held accountable.  Very powerful people.

“Can I have your attention please?”  The Sun CEO said, speaking into the microphone.  “We’re ready to start the news conference.  Elise?”

“Thank you, Tom.  We have uncovered information related to illegal activity going on at Fed Corp.”

The crowd couldn’t believe what they were hearing.  The noise built as the shock sank in.

“We have uncovered activity, including verified bank account deposits, which show that Fed Corp. has been skimming money off of energy transfer transactions.”

The crowd went wild.  Several reporters tried to ask questions, but were ignored.

“More detail will be forthcoming to the public once the case has gone to court and a judge has cleared the release of more specific information.  I cannot answer any questions until the case is completed.  I trust you all can understand this.  Thank you.”  Elise quickly stepped from the podium and was escorted away by security.  Ben was not far behind.

*****

The judge thought the information was solid enough to issue search warrants.  Before Elise made the announcement at the press conference authorities were able to verify what Fed Corp. was up to.  They had no chance to delete or otherwise cover up the data and information.  The jury found Fed Corp. guilty.  The verdict negated most of their contracts in energy transfer and other government related businesses.

Elise’s market value had sky-rocketed.  She was now a respected journalist and one of the top at the Sun and in the nation.  To celebrate, her father planned a reception in order to celebrate his daughter’s success.

Frank Turner was a rich man.  He had made lots of money in various businesses and he wasn’t afraid to flaunt it.  His mansion overlooked L.A. and was an often visited venue for the rich and famous from Hollywood and around the world.  There was no holding back on the extravagance and the invitation list for his daughter’s reception.

Elise and her father really weren’t very close.  He’d made sure of that by being submerged in his work twenty-four hours a day seven days a week.  She felt like she really didn’t even know him.  Her mother had died when she was five so she really never knew what it was like to have a mother either.

“Ladies and gentlemen, can I have your attention please?”  Frank said with a loud, demanding voice.  “As you know, we’re here to celebrate the achievements of my daughter.  I am a very proud father!”  The crowd began to applaud.

Elise and Ben stood off to the side near the front of the banquet room where her father now stood.  Elise blushed as she waved to the crowd, trying to smile.  As she glanced around the room her eyes met those of a man across the room.  She knew those eyes.  Where had she seen them before?

Just then her father announced “Elise, please come say a few words.”

She looked over at Ben with a worried look on her face.  “Come on, you’re a reporter. You’re not afraid to be in front of people.”  Ben said.

“That’s not it.” she said.  “It’s something else.  Something I can’t quite put my finger on.”

As she moved toward her father and the microphone she looked up at one of the large Big Boards that her father had all over the mansion.  Greens and reds flashed the market values of those that had a market value high enough to be displayed.  She recognized her father’s symbol.  His market value had increased substantially after…

 “Thank you, thank you everyone.” she stammered as sweat began to bead on her forehead.  “And thank you father for this great reception. The Fed Corp. case was an important one for this city, the country, and the world.  I’m glad that I could help the justice system put an end to their illegal activity.  Thank you.”  That’s all she could get out as she hurried toward Ben.

“We have to get out of here.  I need to tell you something.”

“OK.” Ben said.  “Let’s go over to that side room over there.”

They hurried across the room and through the door.  Ben closed it behind them.

“What’s going on?” he asked with concern in his voice.

“I recognized the man that gave me the Fed Corp. information.  He’s here in the mansion.  I know who he is!”

“Are you sure?” Ben replied.

“Yes, I’m positive.  Those eyes.”

“Who?”

“He’s my father’s right hand man.  He does all his dirty work.  I’m sure I don’t know half of it.”

“Holy shit!”  Ben said too loudly.  “What the hell are we going to do?”

“We need more proof.  Nobody is going to believe me based on his eyes.  But I know it’s him. He and my father must have gotten the Fed Corp. information somehow and I’m guessing it wasn’t by legal means.  They had everything to gain.  Have you noticed my father’s market value?”

*****

Elise knew where his office was.  It was up the winding staircase at the end of the long hallway.  They quietly left the room they were in through another door.  Soon, they found themselves at the door of her father’s office.

“What exactly are we looking for?”  Ben asked.

“Anything that can tie him to the Fed Corp. case.  Plans or emails.  I don’t know for sure.”

The door was locked.  But Elise had it under control.  She’d learned a few things as a reporter and gaining entrance through locked doors was one of them.

They were in.  Her father’s computer was on his desk, but they found that it was locked.  Neither one of them was a hacker.  The drawers were locked too.  Desperation crossed Elise’s face.

“What in the hell are we going to do?” she moaned.  “He could come up here any minute.”

Just then they heard footsteps and then the door opened.  It wasn’t her father, but perhaps someone even worse.  The man with the eyes was in the doorway, holding a blaster in their direction.”

“What are you doing in here?” he demanded.

“Uh, we were just looking for the bathroom.”  Ben said.

“Don’t give me that bullshit.” the man said.  “You’re Mr. Turner’s daughter.  You know where the bathrooms are.  Move away from the desk.”

“We know what you and my father are up to.” she said confidently.  “You’re not going to get away with it.  We have proof.”

“Proof? Proof of what?” he asked sternly.

“We know that you illegally obtained the Fed Corp. information.  We know that it was you that gave me the chip.”  Elise reported.

“You don’t know anything.  You have no proof.”

Just then Ben pushed a chair across the room into the henchman.  While the man was distracted, Ben rushed toward him and gave him a good punch to the abdomen and another to the face.  He was buckled over as the two of them made their escape.

He was right.  They had no proof.  They only had her word that it was him, her father’s man, who gave her the information.  But that wouldn’t satisfy a judge or jury.

As they quickly drove away from the mansion Ben asked. “So, what’s your plan?”

“We’re going to make a visit to some people that would like nothing more than to see my father in a cell right next to theirs.  If I’m right, they’ll give us the information we need.”

*****

“You bet I’d like to know who you got that information from!” the ex-CEO of Fed Corp. yelled.

“Well, we’re prepared to get them a room right next to you if you can provide us with some information.”

“What kind of information?” he replied.

“What we need is something that would identify your technology as that of Fed Corp.  Something that, say, a thief would not see or know was there.”

“We do have program code tags, which are identifiers that are encrypted.  If a thief were to use our design without stripping the tags then they would be easily identifiable.  Fighting criminal charges or not, the technology developed under Fed Corp patent is still ours!”

The CEO went on to provide more details as to how a code tag might be identified and the basic technology that could do it.  Ben understood the concept and knew people that could help him get the hardware he needed.

*****

“Hey Joe, how’s it goin?”  Ben said to the energy transfer attendant. “Nice new equipment you’ve got here.”

“Long time no see Ben. Yeah, new contractor.  After the Fed Corp. scandal you know.” he replied.  “What you been up to?”

“Oh, the usual.  Just trying to get by however I can.  Let’s see if I’ve got any credits in this battery today shall we?”

Ben proceeded to move through the transfer station.  He looked down at his nano-cell arm and watched as the small amount of credits added up.  Then, as he moved toward the end of the tunnel he activated a new application on the interface.  Incoming information was being processed.  The specialized query application found what it was designed to.  The findings were conclusive.

Ben smiled as he thought to himself.  They had Frank Turner.  They had Fed Corp.  And he had the boss’s, or ex-boss’s, daughter wrapped around his finger.  There was nothing that could stop him from gaining market value with all the people and information he had access to.  He was finally on his way.  He would finally have a market value worth tracking on the Big Board.

 

End

 

Cover Credit: Katrina.Tuliao (CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons)

 

 





 

 


Submitted: December 08, 2022

© Copyright 2023 J.R. Kost. All rights reserved.

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