Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Heartbreaker: Enticement

Technically, due to the order in which I've posted the exerpts, today's story chunk is a flashback. I think this one is a little rougher than the others, but hey, it's a first draft. If you were wondering about the message Telfeyan sent so elaborately, read on.


Singer entered the 14-digit password from memory on the second attempt. Case-sensitive. She then stared at the kitchen table, frowning as the document failed to appear. She glanced back at the kitchen to see the text window on the kitchen wall, where Suq's call had come in. Singer sighed. "Over here." The window immediately blinked to the kitchen table. That's what she got for using a little-known, ill-supported notebook program, even if it was better than the mainstream software.

Singer glanced over what she had so far. Not much left to be said, really. The meeting had gone worse than she had expected - at least, worse for the Schwartzsten Group. Great for the Corporation's client, who was trying to find a way out of the negotiations. Which reminded her.

“Attach a note for Fletcher. Audio only. Set password as 'hedgehog milkshake.'” She snickered at the inside joke. “Record.” The waveform graph popped into being, fluctuating with her voice. “Hey, Fletch. Possible mode of approach for the meeting. Don't directly advise Gorok to back out, just keep suggesting that Schwartzsten is less than honest. Their rep has a crazy temper just below the surface. Keep pecking at him, and he'll blow, guaranteed, and Gorok will have all the excuse he needs to pull out. You can thank me later. Get pictures.” She had looked up the dwarf's name after the meeting, and was hardly surprised to find out that Roter meant “red.” Red he had been.

Singer was about to begin her work on the report itself when the new message chime sounded, and the floating envelope icon popped to the left. She'd forgotten to silence it before getting to work, which usually ended up costing her an extra half our. That icon was awfully hard to resist. She reached over and tapped it, rolling her eyes at her own predictability.

A text-only window scrolled open, revealing two short paragraphs. The sender was identified only as Secondshadow. No one she knew.

I hope this note finds you well. It was certainly an effort to find you in the first place, and, I pray, a worthwhile effort. An opportunity of untold magnitude awaits you. If such a grandiose but dreadfully general statement does not entice you, perhaps this statement will: my kingdom for a knight who hears me.

Her eyes stuck in place. A singular rush of cold recognition froze her. Those were her grandmother's words to her when she was nine years old. They were at the end of a fable she never forgot. They were how she knew she would marry Suqarin. She hadn't told that story to anyone except him.

If you are at all curious, contact me.

“Reply,” she ordered. A blank message appeared, with Secondshadow as the recipient. “Who are you? Send. Yes.” She barked the commands, anticipating the inevitable confirmation prompt. What she didn't anticipate was the error message.

[Error: Secondshadow is not a valid recipient.]

Singer glared at the box and stood up. The account obviously existed ten seconds ago. “Search network for Secondshadow, one word. Include Corporation.” No one knew that story. She hated mysteries.

[No results found. Did you mean second shadow?]

“Display properties for message.” A separate box appeared with statistics on the message itself. At the bottom was a series of network addresses the tiny digital parcel had been routed through. Singer slid her finger diagonally across the bottom of the box, drawing a selection rectangle around the information. She simultaneously tapped the right and bottom edges and dragged away a copy of the selection. “Call Dana Baker.”

Dana in IT answered a moment later, her small, dark face appearing on the kitchen table. “Hey, Singer. Mail problems?”

“Kinda,” Singer grumbled. “How'd you guess?”

“I don't wanna talk about it. Just found out this morning someone actually hacked through to our mail list last week.”

Oh, really. That was no small task. The Corporation had written their own proprietary operating system based almost entirely on the principle of data security. Their entire network was under layer upon layer of encryption, and was all but shut off to outside access.

“Funny you should mention. I just got an odd message and was hoping you could trace it back.”

“Yes. Forward it on.” Dana's game face was firmly in place. She was after the guy.

No sense in muddying the waters. “How about just the relay information?” She dragged and dropped the image onto the video feed, and watched as Dana reached offscreen to tap at the control surface.

“Mmm-hmm. That's all I need.” Her eyes had drifted away from the camera, and were flicking between several open windows. “Thought so. This address looks like it came from the Midlands.”

“Seriously? I thought their net access was junk out there.”

“Oh, it's enough. I'll let you know what I find out. So, what did the note say?”

“Nothing anyone in the Midlands needs to be saying to me.”

“Ksh. All right. I'll get back to you.” Dana flicked shut the window.

Singer glowered at the note. Contact me. The game was on.

Singer also hated games. Mostly because she couldn't resist them.

She thought of something else, and flicked the video window back open. “Hey, Dana?”

Dana looked up. “Aye?”

“I tried replying, but it said the account doesn't exist. And the search didn't turn up anything.”

“It said 'not valid,' right?”

Singer glanced over at the still-open dialog box. “Yeah.”

“Put that together with the Midlands network address, and you've got a flicker. Someone made a new account, sent you the message, and cut the network connection. The message would have gone through if they were still on the net.”

Singer knew how hard it was to get off the net here in the north. It had to be easier in the Midlands, where the tech was decades behind.

“Thanks, Dana.” Singer flicked the window closed and leaned on the table, scowling at the wall. She dragged her finger back and forth, waving the mystery message. Trying to shake the secrets loose.

[more to come.]

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