I took in a deep breath of freezing air and exhaled before taking another long drag of what passed for a cigarette in 2218. A small itch grew in the base of my throat. I covered my mouth with my hand and coughed up a little phlegm, which I then swallowed. I had a drink of the sake I heated up in the microwave, but the room was in the subfreezing range, so the cup was just as cold as it had been five minutes prior.
The heat in my office had been on the fritz for a damn month, and I was starting to feel it in my bones, moving its way through the tunnels under my flesh, slowly crystallizing the marrow beneath.
I called the landlord about a thousand times. The cheap bastard was stubborn as any prick wall I ever met. He wouldn't fix the heat till I paid the rent, and I wouldn't pay the rent until he fixed the heat. I was pretty confident that neither of us would ever be the one to budge. I was doomed to a lifetime of frigid winters.
So I sat there, alone, cold, waiting.
My office had seen better days. It was a reasonably small space at forty square feet, though I preferred the term "cozy." As a result of neglect and my heavy nicotine addiction, the smoke-stained blinds were brown and unwelcoming. The grey walls were chipped, broken, and covered in watermarks from dripping pipes beneath the drywall. I had a pretty good idea as to why my landlord wasn't particularly willing to sink any more money into the shit hole, but I didn't give a damn, I was not going to let that son of a bitch win.
Wrapped in my tan, wool trench coat, matching hat over my eyes, I stayed in my dank, arctic office waiting for another job to stroll through the door.
It had been several weeks since my last assignment, and I was restless waiting for another. My previous job was possibly the least exciting of my long tenure as Davis R. Glenscope, Shamus extraordinaire.
I was on a routine point-and-click job. Some dame named April Dorian (at least that's what the credit transfer said) wanted me to snap a few of her husband Jonas cheating on her. Taking pictures was easy when the target was a naive and inexperienced nerd like Jonas Dorian.
In my line of work, you don't make squat without extorting a few rich folks every now and again. Unfortunately for myself, this one didn't have any money. The guy was indeed fucking a woman, only, not in the traditional sense. He was fucking her, over. But, the moron made a mistake that got him deeper into the company's bullshit than he thought.
Jonas Dorian was a mid-level employee in charge of network security for the Sang-Sung Corporation. A boringly typical story of being overlooked, passed up and generally made to feel like a drone ant, Jonas, fed up with his worsening financial situation, decided to take matters into his own hands. See, Jonas had a gambling addiction and he owed a lot of money to the kind of people most would cross the street to avoid.
In an attempt to embezzle the amount of his debt from the Sang-Sung Corporation, the largest, most influential company in any universe’s history, Jonas Dorian, drunk on delusions of grandeur, a full helping of rage, fear, and a shit ton of rum developed intrusion software under the nose of the board of directors.
Now, here’s the fun part. Sometimes the most brilliant plans will overlook the most basic of details, a fatal error in nine out of ten crappy plans.
Focusing all of his efforts on the program itself, Jonas didn’t have a contingency plan for being caught physically. He assumed no one other than the security guards would be there and, since he often worked after the lights were off, no one would think anything of his being in the building past core building hours. According to Jodi Sung’s schedule, she was out of town on business, verified by press coverage and her public itinerary. Jonas’ plan required him to install the program by hand at a terminal that directly connected to the corporation’s network. The most secure company in history, Sang-Sung’s infrastructure was impenetrable unless of course, you included an embedded program into an update that would siphon funds into an untraceable overseas account.
The night Jonas installed his program, Ms. Jodi Sung, CEO of the company, caught him at his terminal and had him interrogated by the company's law enforcement team. Jonas wasn't much of a liar, and he found himself stumbling to answer Jodi's questions to her satisfaction. But, instead of having Jonas imprisoned, Mrs. Sung decided to join him.
So, Jodi Sung, as corporate greed would inform, “extorted” Mr. Dorian into helping her. No one could prove any of this of course, as I had obtained the information through less-than-legal means.
Jonas' very suspicious wife, April Dorian, hired me to take pictures of her husband fucking another woman. I took them, was a little disappointed I couldn't get any extra out of it, gave them to her, and got paid for my efforts plus a few credits for expenses. She wanted me to dig a little deeper into why Jodi Sung would do something as self-sabotaging as helping Dorian, but I knew a shit case when I saw one, and I told her to shove it. Looking into Jodi Sung was a can of worms I preferred to keep sealed tight. It was sweet that April went from harming her husband to helping him, but in my experience, there is no such thing as a selfless act.
So, there I sat, in my office, waiting for another gig to drop into my frigid lap. Days bled into weeks as my icebox of an office became colder and colder in the howling January winds. On day ninety of my forced hibernation, I heard an abrupt knocking on my door that woke me up from the very nice daydream I’d been having about beaches in Hawaii.
"Come in!" I managed to grumble through a loud cough.
The door opened slowly and caused a draft that shot directly up my slacks.
“Hurry up! Close the fucking door!" I yelled, holding my coat tightly across my chest.
The short, balding man swiftly shut the door behind him and took off his hat. He flattened his coarse hair with his hand and extended a palm for me to shake. I got halfway up, shook his hand, and motioned for him to sit in the chair across from my desk.
“Cold in here, no?" the man said taking in the ambiance. “You ought to get that fixed, y’ know?”
Rolling my eyes into the back of my head I said, “how can I help you mister…?”
“Mykess,” he said. “Dr. David Mykess.”
“Dr. Mykess,” I repeated. “So, how can I help you, Doc?”
Dr. David Mykess was a stocky man who, despite wearing an expensive suit, had the air of a man who was barely able to dress. His salt and peppered hair was parted to the left and showed signs of continuing male-pattern baldness. He loosened his blue tie and unbuttoned the top of his white shirt to accommodate his bulbous neck. His fingers looked like breakfast sausages, with a dull silver wedding band on his left hand that would require the Jaws of Life if he ever decided to take it off. Between his profuse sweating in the freezing room, his upturned brow, and the lines in his forehead, I could tell the doc was nervous about something. I thought for a moment that he might piss himself right then and there. He didn't.
“I’m not even sure what I’m doing here,” Mykess said looking down at the hat he was holding in both hands.
“Let me guess,” I interrupted. “You want me to snap a photo of your wife banging the pool boy?”
“What? No, nothing like that,” he said. “Jesus, man, what’s wrong with you? I think I’ve been a victim of espionage.”
“A victim of espionage?" I repeated facetiously.
“Are you deaf, Mr. Glenscope, or just drunk?" Dr. Mykess asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Deaf? No sir, I’m not deaf,” I said. “Please, continue.”
“Yes, Mr. Glenscope,” he started again. “I believe that the company I work for has been stealing from me.”
“And for whom do you work, Doctor?" I asked.
I started writing the details on the holographic image my Personal Desktop Management (PDM) tablet displayed. A PDM is a small, round device the size of a half-dollar that projects a picture of your personal computer, phone, organizer, television, and whatever else you'd like to see. In most cases, I choose the classic method and use the image of a pen and notepad on which to write. Among all of its additional useless functions, the PDM has a recording device I use on clients, which isn't strictly legal, but is necessary for me to be successful in my work.
He let out an exasperated breath and said, “I work for the Sang-Sung Company.”
My heart rose up into my throat.
God damn it, I thought, wishing that he had said the name of literally any other company in the world.
“And what is it that you do for Sang-Sung, Doctor?" I said trying not to let him know that he’d shaken me.
"I head their genetics division in charge of human testing," Mykess said staring down at his hat. "Last week, I noticed an alteration to my codes from a user identity I don't recognize. Someone added it to the footnotes of one of our most important experiments."
“What experiment?" I asked.
“I’m afraid I can’t tell you that, Mr. Glenscope,” Mykess paused. “But what I can tell you is that the annotation was such that any subsequent test would result in the almost certain demise of any subject.”
"How did you find the mistake, doctor?" I continued my line of initial questioning.
“Unbeknownst to my superiors,” Dr. Mykess started, “I am working on an unregistered pet-project using the company’s resources. It’s nothing major, but Sang-Sung has a clause in their hiring contract stating that all projects, however big or small, are to be disclosed to the company. Sang-Sung’s resources are unbeatable, so I fudged a bit.
"Two weeks ago, when I got home from the lab and checked my notes, I noticed that someone altered an equation I had written only hours before. The next day, thinking I had made a simple mistake, I went to change the annotation only to discover that I no longer had access to make edits to that specific file and no others. I decided to go through my terminal records to see who the hell would be messing with my work, but to my immense surprise, they erased everything from the time I left the office to the time I got home. So, I checked the rest of my work, and there was a brand new footnote in one of our most critical human experiments.
“I promise you, Mr. Glenscope, this change will result in the deaths of hundreds, maybe thousands of innocent people.”
Massive beads of sweat dripped down Dr. Mykess’s forehead, careening down his neck and soaking into his collar. The doctor loosened his tie a little more, then wiped his brow with a handkerchief that he produced from the pocket inside his jacket. His brownish-green eyes were darting back and forth across the room like a cat chasing something only it.
What seemed at first like a lack of confidence was turning into what the conversation was revealing to be genuine fear. I’d seen it hundreds of times. Their eyes always gave them away. There’s no way to hide it, try as they might, and when you’re as observant as me, you eventually pick up on the exhaustion and desperation that’s hidden in the blood vessels, veins, and muscles of every human eye. It’s always in their eyes.
“So, what do you want from me, doc?" I asked annoyed. “Corporate espionage is not exactly my forte.”
“I’m offering up fifteen point five million credits to a discrete person who can quietly investigate without police involvement,” Mykess said. “Law enforcement can’t find out. If they find out, you don’t get paid. If you get caught, you don’t get paid. If any whiff of this comes back to me-”
“I don’t get paid?" I said, cutting him off.
“That’s right,” Mykess said patronizingly.
“Jesus, Doc. What kind of formula was it?" I asked with a half chuckle.
“Does it matter?" he asked rhetorically.
After a few moments of awkward silence, he said, “never mind about that. All you need to know is that I’m going to pay you a shit ton of money to figure out what the fuck happened to my life’s work.”
“Fair enough,” I said in retort.
He was right. It was a shit load of money. I didn't care what the formula was for, and I didn't want to know how they made the sausage. The equation could have been for cereal for all I cared. All I could react to was the insane amount of money he had just offered me.
“So?" he asked. “Do we have a deal?”
“I believe we do, doctor,” I replied with as calming a tone as I could force.
Mykess slowly rose up out of his seat, put his coat and hat on and turned to me.
"Listen, Mr. Glenscope," he said softly. "This is extremely important. You can not screw this up."
“I promise, doc, I won’t,” I lied.
As Dr. Mykess left my office, I couldn't help but smirk. The job was going to be hard as shit, but the idea of retiring in a couple of weeks was right at the forefront of my alcohol-soaked brain, and I liked it.
Now, I knew nothing about computers or any of that networking bullshit myself, but I did know the best hacker on this side of the Republic of Planets. John "Mousy" Bagginder had more general knowledge in his pinky toe than most people would accumulate in a lifetime and luckily, he liked me enough to help out with some of my more trying cases.
Given his nickname for being short with big ears that stuck out just a little more than the average male, Mousy didn’t look it, but he was one of the toughest sons of bitches I’d ever met.
He was the perfect partner. He never asked questions and never asked for more money than he was worth. It was the only mutually beneficial arrangement I could remember.
I arrived at Mousy's apartment early that evening. He refused to use phones, so if he wasn't home, you had to sit there and wait until he was. The longer you waited for him, the more he trusted your commitment. There was a time I waited six hours for him to come home, an impressive feat considering the strict rules of the city's security force. Loitering for any amount of time in a residential area was extremely illegal, so I had to be careful. I had to find the balance of making sure I didn't spear to be a vagabond, while also making sure they didn't think I was loitering. Both were crimes punishable by extended prison sentences.
Despite all of the risk, it was worth it. Mousy was the best.
I knocked on his door. After a moment or two of silence, I hit the door again.
Shit, I thought.
It wasn’t a big deal. It wasn’t my first go-around with Mousy, so I had come prepared. Anticipating a long wait, I brought two flasks of cold sake, a ham sandwich, and the day’s periodical. To make sure I had some privacy, I set up nanobot droids at both ends of the hallway and set them to signal my PDM if any human or android entities were approaching. I took a big sip of the sake, moved my hat over my face and closed my eyes, using the paper as a blanket.
I woke up an unknown amount of time later to a swift kick to the abdomen.
“Ahhhhhhh, fuck,” I said grumbling and coughing. “What the hell was that for, Mousy?”
“You wouldn’t wake up,” Mousy replied extending a hand to help me up.
I took Mousy's hand, stood up and dusted myself off. My alarm system was a rousing success.
“How the hell long have I been here?" I asked, rubbing my eyes.
"Not sure," Mousy said. "I left about twelve hours ago, and you were lying here when I got back. I tried waking you up a few times but it didn't work, so I went inside and made some food."
He paused for a second, looked me up and down and said, “Jesus Christ Dave, you look like shit.”
“Save it,” I said. “Come on, let’s go inside. You got any coffee?”
“Just brewed a fresh pot. You want some breakfast?" Mousy asked with a smirk.