The band gets back together! mASSHtrOLE gets punched in the face. Again. Exclusivor has some bad news about Sindictive. Mature audiences only (Recording contains brief nudity).
I am six years old. I wake up. It’s Christmas morning! I jump out of bed, go to open my bedroom door, but it’s locked. I can’t get out. What the hell? Then I hear a buzzer. A voice over a loudspeaker says, “Open cell C-32.” I hear a click. My door opens. I walk out. I’m in prison! Prisoners jeer and yell. One says, (F:)“see you on the outside, asshole!” Another says, “say hi to your wife for me!” and laughs.
I’m at a window. A guard dressed … as Santa? … gives me a box of my belongings. He points to a door. I walk through it. The razor-wire-topped fence is behind me. The sky is blue. I can feel the sun in my face. I’m a free man! Free! I -
I woke up. On the next bed over, partially covered by a pretzel of bedsheets, were my quarantine roommates for the last two weeks, mASSHtrOLE and Preature.
It was a dream. And then I remembered. My Kevorkian coronavirus quarantine is over! I’m free!
I called Lita and told her! I’m Free! What the fuck - A reprise! Look: Birds, bees; Yes, please! Have you lost your - A breeze through the trees! From my knees, God heard my pleas! STOP! Just, stop. How are you free? Are you going to help Fishburne hunt Exclusivor? Yeah, I caved. It was either that - You can’t - – or I get a room at the Grand Hotel Guantanamo. They can’t really send you to Guantanamo. You’re American. Look, I’m just buying time. As soon as possible, it’s gonna be, `sayōnara, don’t let the auf wiedersehen hit you in the aloha!’ Why are you being so annoying? I just spent two weeks quarantined with Fishburne, mASSHtrOLE and Preature.
Gotcha. Well, it’d be fun to see Fishburne’s face when he realizes you’ve burned him.
Lita was right. Maybe I should have planted a hidden camera to capture that Kodak moment.
Anyway… didn’t happen. Because someone showed up in Seoul and tossed my plans out the window.
WAR ROOM So, we’re in this big room with a big table and a big wall, twenty feet tall covered in all these maps. Everyone was like, wow, (Z: “ooh, ahh, cool, etc”).
They had this holographic 3D screen in the middle with all kinds of data, technical readouts, maps, information. I said, “Hey, this is like Star Wars!”
mASSHtrOLE said, “You mean at the end of both A New Hope and Return of the Jedi, where they had the big screen showing the progress of the Death Star?”
I said, “Exactly. That’s exactly what I meant.”
“Nope, man. Not seeing it.”
I hate mASSHtrOLE so much.
So, there were ten people, mostly Special Agents, but a few of us hackers, too, including mASSHtrOLE, with his recently broken nose, and his partner Preature.
We were all facing the big 3D screen and Fishburne was droning on about safety protocols , local customs and the plan to find Exclusivor. ((monotone): “Remember to wear your masks at all times; it is customary to…”)
I heard the door open, then close. Someone walked in the room and sat down by the wall. But my eyes couldn’t quickly adjust from the bright screen in the middle of the dark room. A few minutes went by. Fishburne was saying something along the lines of “Exclusivor can’t hide forever. No one is long for hiding from the FBI!”
From the corner, I heard a voice “You’re such a dumbass, Sam.”
Oh. My. God. I knew that voice.
“Who said that?”
All the Special Agents - Fishburne’s hand-picked list of ass-kissers - whirled around, trying to see in the dark. Then, she stepped into the light.
I thought Fishburne was going to choke. He stammered, “Z, Z, Zoe?”
“Sam, you couldn’t even catch the coronavirus.”
“Z, Z, Zoe.”
Exclusivor sauntered over to a table with a pitcher of water and some cups, poured some water, and walked it over to Fishburne.
She said, “Sit down, Sam. Take a drink. I got it from here.”
Fishburne took an awkward sip and looked around absently. When it became apparent their fearless leader was indeed going to sit down, Special Agent Dickweed gave up his seat and Fishburne sank into it.
LET’S GO Then Exclusivor said, “Actually, everybody up. We need to leave. Sam, get us on a plane.”
Two hours later we were on our way to Budapest, Hungary. I snuck into the bathroom, and called Lita.
Budapest? What’s in Budapest?
A landing field. We’re sneaking into Kiev.
Again with Kiev.
Exclusivor says Sindictive is there, planning another attack.
What? Now Exclusivor thinks she can read minds?
She’s a hacker. She hacked his phone.
Fair enough. A hacked phone is better than reading minds.
PLANE ARGUMENT Later, I sat with Fishburne and Exclusivor at the front of the plane. mASSHtrOLE tried to join us. Exclusivor glared at him until he slouched away. Then she lit up a cigarette, took a drag and blew a billowing cloud. Fishburne looked like he was fighting back a cough but didn’t say anything.
“Look, we have maybe a week, probably not even that. Then, Sindictive launches his attack.”
“Zoe, there is no attack. I checked with the CIA and NSA, they’ve heard zero chatter. Nothing.”
“Sindictive is smarter than that. You’re not going to catch him with your 20th century spying.”
“We would have heard something.”
“I told you, I hacked his phone. They are plotting something and they bumped the timeline because of the coronavirus.”
“Zoe, COVID-19 isn’t a computer virus!”
“I know it’s not – Look, the US is distracted. It’s a perfect time. If it were me, I’d attack now. Maximize the pandemonium.”
“Maximize the pandemonium, what kind of person thinks like that? You hackers are all…
“Sam, you’re doing it again, you can’t just assume that everyone else is like you, I try to think how’d I do something so I can figure out what the enemy is thinking. Order? Change? I’m thinking like the enemy to stop the enemy! You are using old school - Light fires? I’m just - ”
Exclusivor and Fishburne went round and round like that for hours. I fell asleep until we landed.
BUS We then piled into what appeared to be a large tour bus.
mASSHtrOLE said, “Whoa man, this is rad. Nice ride!”
“Indeed. Wait until you see the comm room, mobile ammo depot, sleeping quarters and bathroom with full shower.”
“Killer, man. I could use a shower.”
“No doubt. Just clean up after yourself. This bus is on loan from the CIA.”
In a miracle, I was first in line for the shower. But, turns out, showering in a moving vehicle sucks. Anyway, I was in there and bang, the door slid open. Exclusivor stood there.
Okay, A) I swear I locked the door. 2) Exclusivor just stood there, with the door wide open. The shower room opened up to the rest of the bus. Everyone could see me. And, they were seeing me. And I was in my shower uniform, ya get me? Exclusivor said, “Hey, D.” Uh, that sounds awkward. Keep in mind, my first initial is D.
Anyway, I said, “For the love of God! Close the door!”
“Damn. Chill out.”
She came in and closed the door behind her.
I said, “I didn’t mean come in!”
SHOWER DEAL “Tell me what deal you cut with Fishburne.”
“My deal was that I help find you. Then they forget about all the shit they got on me.”
“So, you’re clear? The Banco De Espana hack, Buenos Aires, Paris, Ivory Coast? All of it?”
“Yeah, I guess I am?”
“What about your job?”
“I won’t be going back to the DoE.”
“I need you to.”
“Don’t worry about Why right now. Get the job back. Have a talk with Sam.”
“I don’t want that job.”
“Do it, okay?”
Just then, the door slid open again. I said, “Dammit, Fishburne, I’m in here!”
“I thought you were, then I just saw Zoe go in. Making sure you aren’t plotting anything!”
“What, you can’t bug the shower room?”
“Oh it’s bugged all right, but the running water makes it tough to hear what you’re saying.”
Then Preature and mASSHtrOLE appeared. “Hey man, we’re waiting to shower. You can’t jump the line like that.”
I yelled, “Everybody out!!”
Exclusivor slapped me on the ass and whispered, “Get your job back!”
INEBRIATED It’s a fourteen hour drive from Budapest to Kiev. After everyone showered, we still had twelve hours to kill.
Between the ten of us, there was whiskey, cigars and cigarettes, and pot. People’s opinions were lubricated, and slipping out all over the place. mASSHtrOLE asked,
“What’s in Kiev, man?”
“Sindictive. Zoe thinks he’s plotting a cyber-terrorist attack.”
“What’s his plan?”
“Well, it was going to be something with auto-driving cars, like he did in 2017 and 2018.”
“Zoe thinks Sindictive is going to try something new this time, due to the pandemic.”
Exclusivor knocked back her scotch and said, “I’m not totally sure what, but this looks like a propaganda attack. Just based on the people he’s communicating with.”
Then I realized something. I said, “Kiev is where he launched much of his 2016 election dis-information campaign. When he launched his auto-driving car attacks, he was in Singapore.” Exclusivor nodded.
I added, “That’s how Sindictive killed her brother.”
Exclusivor winced but didn’t say anything. She finished her glass of scotch, reached over the big table we sat around, grabbed the bottle and poured another.
Then mASSHtrOLE said “Some guys on the Dark World forums said your brother committed suicide.”
FIGHT Exclusivor exploded out of her seat and reached across the table for mASSHtrOLE. Shot glasses and ash-trays went flying. Exclusivor was up on the table, pounding mASSHtrOLE. She held him by the neck with her right hand and repeatedly punched him in the face with her left hand. One, two, three. Preature and the Fishburne were trying to pull her off of him. It was chaos. Seven, eight - “Don’t. Ever. Say. That. A–gain!” (count to ten like chanting, plenty of space in-between.)
Finally, they pulled her off of him. It took a few minutes to settle her down. I just sat there. I roomed with mASSHtrOLE and Preature in quarantine and it was like living on a porn set. Watching Exclusivor punishing his face was the best thing that had happened in a month.
Preature got mASSHtrOLE a towel and he bled pretty good, but surprisingly didn’t slink off to his seat.
DOXXED Exclusivor sat back in her seat, staring at the bus’ ceiling, deep breathing. “You are so aggravating, Todd Grider.” Probably every agent on the bus knew mASSHtrOLE’s IRL name but no hacker likes being doxxed. mASSHtrOLE’s face turned gray.
Everyone watched Exclusivor. I know her pretty well, and I knew she was loving the attention. Exclusivor smoked an entire cigarette before she spoke again.
“My brother did not commit suicide. I’ll tell you what really happened.”
Then, Exclusivor lit another cigarette, and told the story. When she was done, mASSHtrOLE looked around the table, then at Exclusivor, and said, “Lemme get this straight. You expect me to believe you BASE-jumped off a skyscraper in order to pull off a hack?”
I said, “Todd, do you believe anything?”
“Hey, man, as John Dewey said, ‘Skepticism is the mark and pose of the educated mind.’”
Whaddya gonna do?
CLAIRE sExclusivor’s story had reminded me of something. When the bus stopped for gas just inside Ukraine, I got off, found a private area and called Lita. I had forgotten that I promised her information about a woman named Claire.
Oh, I know all about that now. It’s old news.
So you know Exclusivor didn’t murder her?
No, I think she absolutely did murder her.
Are you crazy? Why?
She BASE jumped off the Bank of America building in Dallas, right?
Right, she hacked the NSA commops operation, planted a drop box for exfiltration, BASE-jumped, spooked Claire, crash landed. End of story.
Not end of story. Claire goes to the police, tells them what happened, Exclusivor freaks out, worried they’ll put two and two together, and locate the drop box. So she goes in and kills her. The missing photos say everything.
Oh, shit. You’ve been reading the Dark World forums haven’t you?
What if I have?
Look, the bus is leaving, I gotta get back on. Stay away from those conspiracy theory idiots, okay? I’ll explain later.
They aren’t –
ATTACK I hung up and I hopped on the bus. Fishburne said, “Where were you?”
I told him I was using the bathroom inside the station. His eyes narrowed.
Exclusivor said, “Hey - It happened.”
“Sindictive launched a coronavirus propaganda attack on Italy, Spain and the US.”
“It’s gonna be bad.”