|Fanfic: “Tron: Invasion” (Tron 2.0 adaptation) Chapter 9|
on Monday, March, 19, 2012 2:14 AM
To: RMackey @ encom . Com
From: Crown @ fCon . Ind
Subject: F-Con merger
A courier should be arriving shortly to deliver out final proposal. I trust the terms will be acceptable and in order. You will, of course, find that you and your fellow board members will be given generous parachute offers.
The merging of our companies will lay the groundwork for a profitable future for all of us. Thank you for realizing, Mr. Mackey, that this is not a personal failing. It is merely a necessity for your business to remain profitable and join the twenty-first century. We both are smart enough to know the eighties are over and Encom needs the new life that our leadership can give it.
S. Crown III
Senior Exec Vice President
Future Control Industries
To: Crown fCon . Ind
From: RMackey encom . Com
Subject: F-Con merger
We certainly agree on the major points, and I'm giving this one last look through by legal, just to make sure all the "I's" are dotted and "T's" are crossed. I also agree that your severance offer for the executives is generous indeed.
There is one complication, however. The company charter requires a majority vote of shareholders to agree to a sale. The board is currently split. While I agree that a merger would be a good idea for both our companies' long-term futures, our largest shareholder is...eccentric. We could certainly override him with enough votes on the board. However, we also have two other major shareholders – Alan Bradley and Edward Dillinger Jr. - refusing the sale. Now, Ed's a businessman. He sees the potential for this to go over big on Wall Street. Alan is more set in his ways. I'm sure, however, that he can be made to see reason.
To: RMackey@ encom . Com
From: AlanBradley @ encom . com
Subject: F-Con merger
I mean no disrespect, Richard, but this merger is a bad idea. Future Control Industries seems like a promising company, but I've been in the computing industry long enough to see a lot of promising companies turn out to be fly-by-night operations. I suspect this is the case with F-Con.
The company allegedly specializes in secure data storage and retrieval, but when I asked their so-called information security officer about their procedures, I didn't like the answers he was giving me. If you want me to bore you with the details of encryption and firewall protocol I'd be happy to, but suffice to say, even I could hack their so-called network security blindfolded. They're a house of cards, and Encom deserves better. I'm not selling, and neither will Sam. Junior also smells a rat here. Two other board members are undecided.
I realize the economy is in a bad state and that the company has been struggling, but we are making a profit, and that profit has gone a long way in the R&D department. Several promising new technologies are just on the horizon (once the bugs are worked out) – technologies that are miles ahead of Microsoft, Apple, or even Google.
Well-written software, research applications, and cutting-edge technology offerings have always been our edge over our competitors. Offering the consumer a quality product for a reasonable price is the business model that has lasted over 100 years and will last 100 more.
Alan wasn't a man who resorted to swearing often, but he let out a few choice ones as he kicked the old game console in sheer frustration. It barely qualified as a motherboard, just as the old dial-up modem was painfully slow and kept dropping connections. He uploaded Mercury and gave it the emergency command, but the poor connection meant he lost his program somewhere in the system and couldn't get back in.
As he was about to redo all of the connections, he heard footsteps. Hastily, he grabbed the tarp and threw it over his mess of circuitry and parts. When the door opened, there were the two thugs that attacked him in the lab – one which had a very nasty bruise on one cheek and sported a black eye. Alan had to take a little pride in being able to score a solid hit on a professional tough half his age. They were escorting a petite, auburn-haired woman in a sharp suit and too much makeup.
Alan crossed his arms and allowed some of his anger - and none of his fear - to show on his face.
"May I help you?" he drawled.
The woman's smile was predatory, almost reptilian. "You already know what we are after – the location of your research data on the digitizer," she said, her English thickly accented. "Perhaps some time to think it over has changed your mind about our offer, no?"
"Sorry, I'm afraid not," he answered, shoving his hand in his lab coat and feeling the thin scrap of envelope in his pocket.
"And perhaps you still believe you have a choice in the matter, Mister Bradley. There is much we are prepared to offer, and every man has a price."
Alan actually laughed. "You're trying to bribe me? Really? After all this?" he indicated the room, and his bruises.
"As Mister Crown has pointed out, we know that we must take...greater measures to ensure your cooperation. I have studied you – your papers, your biographical data. You are a...complex man, one that is not easily persuaded."
"I'm not inclined to speak to criminals, no."
"Would money buy your cooperation? It works for most." She waved her hand as though dismissing the idea. "But you are not 'most.' Perhaps the idea of comfort – you want for nothing for the rest of your days. You would not have to be a coast away from your wife. She is working with you in secret on this, am I right? Would she be inclined to talk if it spares your life? Would you talk to save hers?"
His eyes narrowed. They could threaten him all they liked, since it seemed a likely bet that he wouldn't come out of this alive. Threatening Lora? Inwardly, he scolded himself; he really should have seen that coming. It didn't do anything for the fear he was trying not to show.
"The laser is her life's work. Should she not be able to see it completed before her illness proves fatal?"
They were looking for weaknesses – he knew that. Someone had given them the full book on him, and they were looking for the vulnerabilities. Mentally, he started to go through the list of people that might have betrayed him. If he knew their mole, he would at least have an idea on how much they knew. "I'm sorry to disappoint you, but the laser technology is nowhere near -"
"Spare us the charade, Mister Bradley. We know how far along you are in your research."
"What? You can't calculate some simple math problems yourself?"
She laughed sharply. "Simple? You discount yourself. But I suppose you have had a long pattern of doing so. Always one step behind, always cleaning up after another's sloppy work..."
Alan's hands clenched into fists and he forcefully restrained himself. Don't react. Don't give them anything they can use.
She glanced down at her clipboard before looking up at him, probably checking some psych profile. "You have always believed yourself good and honorable, the white knight in a dark world. You never seized glory for yourself. Even as CEO of Encom, you were telling the press that you merely held the seat until your...companion returned. Which he never has. You raised his child as your own. And the pager? Very charming."
Alan stayed silent. The more you talk, the more time my Mercury program has to to its job.
The woman tucked the clipboard under her arm and circled him, looking him over like a fascinating artifact. "To hold out hope for twenty years? No man is so honorable. There is always a baser element, even if you deny it so that you may sleep."
Alan made no response.
She pulled the pager from her pocket and began running her thumb across its top. "What was he to you? Why would you risk your career and your fortune so many times on a man that should have been your rival?"
"He was a friend, a good one. That wasn't a secret."
"A friend, you say?" her voice was frankly disbelieving. "You walked in his shadow through your entire professional - and personal – life, Mister Bradley. You did so much of the work, but your charismatic partner got the credit and titles. No one would go to such lengths for someone who was just a friend."
Alan was hard pressed to keep from laughing. God knew that rumor had been floating around the Encom boardroom for years. Let her go down that track if she wants to, he thought, amused.
"If you wish to keep your silence to the grave, then it is your business. But if we are to negotiate for the algorithms, then we will need to find out what it is you want. If money and comfort do not motivate you, then perhaps an appeal to your honor and loyalty." She opened her palm to fully show off the pager. "We know of your hunt for answers, the questions that haunt you enough to carry this little totem. Perhaps trading information for the laser's codes?"
Alan tried not to react, but couldn't stop the sharp intake of breath. If he hadn't found the scrap, he would have dismissed her out of hand. The prospect of a solid lead, of answers for what happened, maybe even a way to give his friend a proper burial...It was still a deal with the devil. "I want you to go to hell," Alan said coldly.
The woman nodded to her thugs, who quickly backed him into a corner and grabbed his arms, effectively immobilizing him.
"It is too bad you choose to not to take this seriously. But I'm sure that we can find a price for those codes you would be willing to pay." She snapped her fingers and motioned for the thugs to follow her. "Portez-le à Monsieur Crown!"
They jostled and kicked him as they pulled him down the hall, accompanied by the sharp staccato clicking of the woman's heels. At the end of a twisting, musty-smelling hallway, her keycard tapped a panel and a large section of metal wall slowly pulled outward.
Now that's a big door...The old sarcastic comment floated into Alan's mind without invitation. Once it was wide enough to permit access, the woman nodded to the thugs, and Alan was pushed inside.
The light in here was dim, like the basement lab of a mad scientist. Banks of servers and supercomputers running at full capacity made the room sweltering hot while arrays of fans barely kept up with making sure they didn't overheat. And the far edge of the room had what looked to be a transporter pad from the old Star Trek series with three cameras...
Not cameras, he realized. Lasers, and ones that are more sophisticated than the surplus parts I had to beg off the DoD or salvage from the research labs.
A small cubbyhole with an old wooden table and step stool passing for a workstation was off in a corner. A dusky, East Indian man sat at the computer while Crown hovered over him, stopping to address the new arrivals.
"So, Dr. Popoff, you negotiate a price with our guest?"
"He has not named his price."
"Didn't think he would," Crown said, gesturing to a flat panel TV mounted on the wall. "But as you can see, we're also researching the technology. And we've made a bid on Encom for the rest."
The TV was tuned to one of those 24-hour news channels with a stock ticker on the bottom. On the screen were arrays of tech stocks – Microsoft, Apple, Google, IBM. Encom's symbol had a red arrow and the stock price had taken a sharp dive. As the announcer droned on his prepared speech, turning to a bleached blonde (also reading from a teleprompter) and discussing the potential impact of a virus outbreak that current security measures seemed unable to defeat. The talking head in an expensive suit was clearly reading a teleprompter just off stage.
"The virus, called 'Z-Lot' by Encom's security team, has completely overwhelmed the company's servers and essentially shut down the world's second-largest tech firm. This has caused its stock price to plunge in heavy trading and will be of benefit to Future Control Industries, an aggressive tech start-up that's interested in taking control of the ailing giant. Unfortunately, the Z-lot virus has also shown signs of spreading to the open Internet, putting any computer running an Encom OS in danger..."
"What did you do?" Alan asked, covering his dismay with anger.
Crown raised an eyebrow. "I'm not the computer expert. You'd have to ask the man behind it. As you can see, however, your frumpy company is no more. Your talents, however antiquated, can still be of use in more forward-thinking hands."
The technician rubbed the back of his neck. "And when we come up with a means of defeating that virus, thanks to your algorithms, then we'll be known as heroes. Encom will fall, and we will be there to pick up the pieces."
"Enough, Mister Baza," Popoff scolded. "We do not pay you to provide commentary."
"There's no offer you can make that I'll accept," Alan said. "You've made no attempt to hide your identities, your company, or your plans. Therefore, I have to assume that you do not intend to let me leave this building alive."
Crown and Popoff looked between themselves. Baza's shoulders drooped and he made a show of going back to work on his terminal, clearly unsettled by the situation. Crown and Popoff probably aren't as technically minded, so they need him, but they don't treat him well. That makes Baza the weak link here. I might be able to start them infighting if I get through to him.
"We got a secure line?" Crown asked.
"Yes, it's all ready when you are, along with voice distortion and some added encryption."
"You can obscure the IP address?"
"I already am, but it isn't going to help much after a couple minutes. I can only spoof the IP address of the call for so long. The VPN adds another layer of protection, but if that's -"
"You can get me two minutes?"
"Yes, Mr. Crown. You have two minutes."
Crown marched up to the conference call phone on the desk and nodded to the thugs. They pulled Alan over to the desk, and one of them drove a knee into the small of his back, sending shooting pain through his body and dropping him to his knees.
"Hello? Who is this?"
Alan's heart sank, recognizing the voice on the other end. Lora...
"Who is it?" Roy finished the last connection to his laptop, looking at her worriedly. "Is it the police again?"
Lora put the phone on the table and engaged speakerphone, quickly gesturing for Roy to keep quiet as she plugged it into the USB on his laptop.
The voice was a sharp baritone, filtered through heavy modulation. "Missus Bradley."
"That's 'Doctor' Bradley, actually. Who is this?"
"Are you alone?"
Roy did his best not to breathe, opening one of his home-brewed, and not-quite-legal, applications.
Lora lied through her teeth. "Yes."
"We have your husband. Cooperate, and he lives. Fail to comply, and you will never see him again – not even a body. Understand?"
Her knuckles were white as she gripped the table, trying not to shake. Roy gulped. "Put him on the phone."
"Lora," There was some distortion on his voice, but she clearly recognized Alan's voice.
"Alan, are you all right?"
Even with the distortion, she could tell he was fatigued...maybe worse. "I love you. I always have and always will. I'm sorry." There was a finality and resignation in his tone that chilled her, and she couldn't stop the stinging in her eyes or the tremors through her body.
There was a cry of pain over the line, and Lora almost leaped out of her seat. "Alan?"
The first voice came back on. "He's alive for now. If you want him to stay alive, give us the location of the laser's correction algorithms."
She quickly glanced over to Roy. Roy mouthed the words "Keep talking."
"Why? Why those?"
"You do not need to know, but his life depends on them."
A coast away, Alan steeled himself against the pain when one of the guards twisted his arm almost to the point of breaking it. The TV in the background continued to drone on, and then he heard it.
"At this hour, Encom executive Alan Bradley has been reported missing. Also missing is his son, Jethtro 'Jet' Bradley, who works for the company's gaming department. At this hour, no further information from Los Angeles Police Department have released, but foul play is suspected..."
Out the corner of his eye, he saw the split screen. His own face was on the left, Jet's on the right. Dry vital statistics like age, height, weight, hair, and eye color scrolled into view. Sacrificing himself, he could handle; hell, he had been committing a slow form of suicide for the past twenty years.
He was aware of his arm and knees shooting signals of pain, the other hired goon's hand keeping him forced to the ground. He was aware of Baza's nervous typing, Crown's hawkish gaze, Popoff's cold, analytical impatience. It all seemed detached and unreal. The only thing that was real was the horrible realization that his son was in danger, his wife was alone, and he couldn't do anything to protect them.
Baza pointed to the timer on the screen.
"Thirty seconds. Talk, or your husband and son are both dead." Crown nodded to the thugs. The one who didn't have Alan's arm twisted behind his back pulled out a tazer and powered it on, giving a little smile and nod to the laser platform. Alan had a terrible suspicion about how they were planning to dispose of him.
I tried. I wanted to save her. I'm not ready to lose her. And the last conversation I had with Jethro was yet another foolish argument. I was trying to keep him from getting involved. He bowed his head. They might as well get it over with. I failed...again.
Lora made the judgment call. "Ma3a. The codes are in Ma3a. The rest is on the lab server. Just don't -"
"Thank you for your compliance, Missus Bradley." Crown ended the call.
The thugs eased up on the pressure, but not their grip. "Now," Crown said. "Since your wife was good enough to cooperate, you provide us with the password, and we can do this the easy way."
"It's too late," Alan said. "Your virus attack forced me to initiate a re-format and automatic overwrite of Ma3a's home server. Even if you manage to get those hard drives, you'll find nothing. You have me, but let my boy go. He's not involved in the laser research. He doesn't know anything."
Crown pounded a fist into his palm, sparing only a momentary glance over his shoulder. "Baza."
"We are dealing with a man who pioneered computer security."
"Emphasis on 'pioneered,'" Crown said.
"If he really has done what he said, then whatever we might be able to get will be incomplete and corrupted – assuming we get anything at all. Unless that program of his can upload itself out of trouble, we've lost our chance."
Crown brought up his fist and punched Alan in the jaw. Shaking his hand to relieve the pain of impact, Crown ordered the thugs, "Take the old man away before I really hurt him."
As soon as the door shut behind Alan and the guards, leaving the three to themselves, Popoff started tapping her foot. "We do not have his son, and if he has gone missing, there is a chance he is looking for his father and will trace us here."
"So long as the Bradley couple don't know that, we'll use it to our advantage. Add it to your grocery list, Baza. We need to see if we can beat the format to Ma3a, and we need any dirt we can dig up on Bradley's son."
"What about Thorne?" Baza asked. "We can't control what he's become any more than Encom can stop the viral attack he's started. It could just as easily attack our systems as theirs, especially if we go poking around in there after the Ma3a program."
"We keep that firewall up and make damn sure that we nuke any drive that shows signs of Thorne getting access." Crown paced the floor. "Just because that idiot gave us bad information doesn't mean we have to be the ones paying for it. We use him as long as we can, and cut him down when he becomes a liability."
Popoff looked at the door. "I certainly hope this plan does not run into further delays. Our superior has been waiting a long time for this, and he will be most impatient if we do not comply with his timetable."
"We'll deliver, one way or another. After that, we won't have to worry – not even about him. That digital frontier and the world it controls will belong to us."
As the line cut, Lora slumped over and buried her face in her folded arms, her body shaking with sobs. "Did you get anything, Roy? Anything?"
Roy put his hand between her shoulder blades. "I think so. It was a voice over IP call routed through a VPN. They were using some very sophisticated encryption and trying to keep their IP address anonymous. I recorded the whole thing. I'll crunch the data as fast as I can. Lora, I..."
"Don't make a promise you can't keep, Roy. Please don't."
He knew what she meant. "I won't."
Roy marched into the bathroom and got Lora a damp washcloth to wipe her tears, then set to work, determined not to fail this time. Alan and Jethro were coming home or he'd die trying. He couldn't promise her, but he could swear it to himself.
A second phone call was made from F-Con's office. It rang to a private number on a Blackberry in Encom Tower. Richard Mackey sat in a darkened office, tastefully decorated with the usual bookshelf of business titles, a well appointed desk with an integrated workstation, a couple chairs, and potted plants. In one corner, a small gray safe sat a few feet from the executive desk.
"Mr. Mackey, this is Seth Crown over at Future Control Industries."
"Crown? What do you want now? I thought the deal was already signed."
"The deal's no good."
"But I gave you the paperwork. I got most of the other board members to -"
"But not the three largest ones. Now, we are prepared to re-negotiate the terms of the deal, especially in light of the recent misfortune your company's suffering from."
Mackey glanced up at the TV. He had it on mute, but the CNN banner was spelling out, "Z-Lot virus source unknown...Computer virus may have spread to the open internet...Unconfirmed report saying no repair known...Antivirus programs fail to stop spread." And the ENC stock ticker kept dropping in price the longer he stared at it.
"What's the deal?"
"Check your email."
Mackey pulled up his Inlook email program and gave a cursory glance over the new terms. "This is preposterous! We'll all be ruined!"
"The way Encom's circling the drain right now, you're damn lucky we're offering anything above a dollar. Mackey, it was on you to convince the holdouts to sell when our offer was more favorable. It's not our fault you can't keep out a virus attack. The news is also reporting that one of your executives was kidnapped from company headquarters, so your building's security is just as porous as your email's."
"Yes, yes. It is not my fault that Bradley wanted to go jump off a bridge or something, is it?"
"Apparently, it is. I'll call back in a couple hours. Hopefully, we won't have to negotiate the deal any further." There was a click and the sound of a dial tone to punctuate Crown's sentence.
Mackey turned out the lights, locked his office, and opened the safe. There were three items inside – a bottle of fine bourbon, a rock crystal glass, and a .22 pistol. He took out the bourbon and glass, poured a measure, and watched the monitor as Encom's stock price continued.
He'd wait until Crown called back to see if he'd need the gun.
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.