“What does this mean?” I demanded. 

“I’m asking you the same question! I feel embarrassed, being a security expert and all, allowing my workstation to be hijacked like that. This thing has just appeared on my screen 5 minutes before you arrived and I have no control over my computer anymore. It doesn’t even want to turn off. I pulled my emergency killswitch and nothing happened! Hell, they hacked my killswitch! I didn’t even know that was possible.”

“Listen, I have no explanation for this, but I’m not entirely surprised,” I said thoughtfully. 

I glanced at his new girlfriend and thought that too many people are getting sucked into a potentially dangerous situation. 

“Maybe we should talk alone,” I said tentatively.

“Ah, don’t worry, we have no secrets. Come on, spill! I’m waiting,” Mark replied, still furious and now apparently annoyed with my hesitation.

I shrugged and then I told him the whole story as I described it here, more or less. It felt really nice to let it all out. He listened so intently that I think he forgot to blink. Tia hadn’t heard most of the story before, and while she started listening with a sceptical expression on her face, her eyebrows went higher and higher as the story continued. In the end she reminded me one of those anime characters with gigantic white eyes. It looked so comical with her neo-emo makeup that I almost laughed.

“A-a-and, here we are…” I concluded.

“Oh… My… God…” Tia said.

Marc just stared at me in total silence. At that very moment, the monitor blinked and the message on the screen changed. Now it said this: 

“They tracked you via phone and face recognition. They have access to most databases and networks. Police cannot help you, their communications are compromised. You have to leave now, alone, in disguise. Nice shades BTW. I like the rhinestones.”

As soon as I finished reading, the message blinked out and a new one has appeared: 

“Both your enemies and I have identified you via subway CCTV cameras. They have stopped the train to trap you, but you escaped”

– blink –

“I have figured out where you would be by correlating subway malfunction with the nearest address of contacts in your address book. I planted a fake lead for them, but it will not delay them for long.”

– blink –

“I strongly suggest everyone leaves the apartment within 5 minutes. Leave the building separately and go in different directions. Art, please follow my instructions precisely”

– blink – 

“Exit the building, cross the road to e-scooter rental station, and take a scooter. Your unlock code is 12345. Write it down. I’m kidding. Memorize it.”

– blink –

“e-scooter GPS has the destination programmed. Go there. Jump the fence. Cross the railroad tracks. You will see a green box next to the pole. Retrieve the phone from the box. I will contact you and provide further instructions when you turn it on. Now go!”

We stared for a few more moments, but apparently that was it. 

“Art, what the hell did you get yourself into?!” said Marc – but as it didn’t really sound like a question, I didn’t trouble myself providing an answer. 

The real question was why should I listen to this anonymous benefactor? My life could depend on the answer. I knew I wanted to believe that someone is interested in helping me, but what if this was just a hoax created by my adversaries? Hmm… Not very likely, I thought. That would mean they know where I am. They would just come and kill me right there, why complicate things, scare me off,  and make me go somewhere else? If they wanted me alive they wouldn’t have tried to assassinate me. Believing the messages seemed to be a lesser risk than ignoring them. I realised then, that I was basically rationalizing a decision that I have already made. So be it, then.

“Look, guys, I think we should go. Somebody tried to kill me at least twice today. Marc, please take Tia’s contact info, so we can make sure she’s OK later. I’d appreciate if I can borrow some  cash from you, and a sandwich, or whatever passes for one at your place. This is going to be a long day, that is unless it is cut short by my mysterious enemies.”

– blink –

“You won’t need cash where you’re going, and I promise to make you a nice sandwich when you get there. Go. Now. If you want to make it alive.”

“Shit! He’s listening too!” – Marc shouted. “I’m going to re-evaluate my level of expertise in network security after today. That,” he pointed on the screen, “should not be possible.”

I said “OK, scrap the cash, but I’m getting a sandwich and I need to borrow shades and a baseball cap. Please find me some right now.” 

While Marc was looking for my Inconspicuous Disguise Version 2.0 I went to the kitchen and hastily made myself a cheese sandwich. I have to say, Marc knows his cheeses. In his fridge he had none of those no-name brick cheeses that almost but not quite match the taste and consistency of rubber. I saw a couple of good French ones, a Brie from Quebec, and an open St. Agur cheese which I could not resist. I grabbed whatever bun happened to be around, slammed some blue cheese on it, and left. Marc was coming out of his bedroom with the requested components of my new disguise, which I grabbed and put on, returning Tia’s shades and bandana to her.

“I’m sorry but we really have to split now. I’ll call you when it’s safe, OK?”

She looked at me furiously, and opened her mouth but then closed it again, apparently having nothing convincing to say. Then I saw a spark of an idea flash in her eyes and she said “You know what? Call me when you need a ride, I’m really good at getting places fast. You might need it.” 

There was something new in her voice now – a mix of fear and defiance maybe, or was she worried about me?

“Thanks, I might take you up on that offer.”

I looked at my smartwatch. Shit! It was, obviously, smart. In other words, it could potentially be hacked and tracked. Not likely, because It normally used my phone for internet access, but it did scan for wi-fi, so who knows what devious ways would my pursuers have up their sleeves. I had to get rid of it – better safe than sorry. So into the trash it went.

“We’re out of time. I’m sorry I got you into this mess, but you all have to leave now. I’ll go first. Tia, count to 20 then go. Then you Marc and err… what’s your name?” I asked his girlfriend. 

“Luna,” she whispered.

“Hmm, that figures,” I thought to myself, “I know of at least two cats called Luna.”

  • Konstantin Medvedev
    Posted at 16:05h, 17 June Reply

    Regarding this one:
    “I have figured out where you would be by correlating subway malfunction with the nearest address of contacts in your address book. I planted a fake lead for them, but it will not delay them for long.”

    Some time earlier you said Marc is not in your address book or a contact list. Did you?

    • roman
      Posted at 16:26h, 17 June Reply

      I think I have corrected that since. He was address book initially, then I removed him when reviewing before posting, but then was stuck because Marc’s address needed to be found after the subway incident. So I went back and corrected the address book issue, unless I missed it somewhere else…

  • Konstantin Medvedev
    Posted at 16:19h, 17 June Reply

    Nice active chapter with short and live dialogues.

  • Konstantin Medvedev
    Posted at 15:04h, 26 June Reply

    typo > “If they wanted me alive the wouldn’t have tried to assassinate me.” the > they

  • Konstantin Medvedev
    Posted at 15:33h, 26 June Reply

    No reason to send smart watches to trash in Mark’s house. It is enough to leave on a bookshelf. Everybody is leaving. No difference.
    But it makes sense to shutdown.

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