« Peacemaker », Chapter Eighteen   

Chapter Eighteen

Question: Why not turn your attention to some other facet of the computer business now that VPS has a lock on the operating system market?

Answer: My time will come. I’m a patient man.

---- from an interview with Alan Goldman in TechAdvantage.mag, 2008

 

Sunday morning, January 29, 2012

Through a camera hidden in the ceiling of Tidesco’s apartment, Ray watched her pour through the virus code. She worked well past midnight investigating the virus before finally going to bed. He could hear her snoring gently in the bedroom. Now was the time.

Using De Luca’s computer once again, Ray located the code that was running the security software for the facility and overwrote it with garbage. Immediately, the camera view went blank. He figured it would take ten to fifteen minutes for them to restart the software. He had to be in Tidesco’s room before they began scanning the halls again.

He left his hiding place and ran up the stairway, stopping at the first level to scan the hallways for Goldman’s patrols. He checked his watch. It was taking too long. Then up the stairway to the second level. Breathing hard, he quickly checked the hallways and spotted a guard. Luckily, the man was walking away from him and disappeared around a corner. Ray waited a moment to make sure the guard was gone and started up the stairs again. The thumping of his footsteps seemed much too loud, sure to attract a soldier.

He left the stairs at the third level and ran down the long, gray hall toward Tidesco’s room. Nervously, Ray checked his watch as he ran. He cursed silently; more than ten minutes had passed.

He pushed De Luca’s identification card into the security slot, and the door slid open. Tidesco’s desk light was on, painting the apartment in a weak yellow glow. Ray glanced at the ceiling camera and stepped into the apartment. Staying in the shadows, he crept along the wall toward her bedroom. He was breathing hoarsely – would she wake up? He pushed open the door and stepped into the dark room. Tidesco was sleeping on her back, a thin shadow in a large bed.

He glanced across the bedroom, hoping De Luca hadn’t planted a listening device. A bug could be hidden anywhere, but he had to hope for the best. Ray pulled out De Luca’s wallet computer and checked to see if the camera in her office was working. Shit! He could only hope they hadn’t seen him.

He recalled meeting Tidesco a few times at software industry conferences and other events, but had never really had a conversation with the woman. Probably nobody had. She always seemed to be alone, never socializing, always strictly business. Not that it mattered now.

Ray felt the pistol in his hand – warm from his pocket, becoming familiar. If Tidesco refused to give him the source code … after all, he was already a killer. He readied his finger on the trigger and walked quietly to the bed. Tidesco was sleeping but appeared to be having an unpleasant dream, mumbling something like, “…no good,” then rolling over on her side. Quickly, Ray placed his hand over her mouth and pressed the muzzle to her temple. She woke up, eyes shining with fear.

“Don’t make a sound or I’ll kill you. Nod your head if you understand me.” She nodded immediately. “If you do everything I tell you to do, I won’t hurt you. If you try anything stupid, you’re dead. Do you understand?” Again, she nodded.

Ray removed his hand from Tidesco’s mouth but kept the gun pressed against her temple. “I want the source code for the virus. I know you have it on your computer. Show me where it is. I want every bit of the code. If you don’t give me all the code, I’ll kill you.” He pulled the muzzle back a few inches from Tidesco’s head but kept the gun aimed at her. “Let’s get the code now.”

Blinking, Tidesco said, “The source code is on my computer in the other room. We can work in there.”

“Don’t play me for a fool. I know there’s a camera in that room. Bring the computer into the bedroom. I’ll have my gun pointed at you the whole time. There’s a good chance nobody is monitoring your office now, so I can probably kill you and get away with it. So don’t try anything.”

Tidesco got out of bed, put on her glasses and stumbled to the bedroom door, with Ray right behind her. She glanced at the gun, then at Ray. “I’ll get it.”

Breathing nervously, she shuffled across her office, picked up the laptop computer and came back to the bedroom. She stopped just inside the doorway and said, “Please don’t kill me.”

Ray pointed at the bed, and they sat side by side on the edge of the mattress. Ray pressed the muzzle into her side. “Show me the virus code.”

Tidesco fumbled with the keyboard and pulled a section of program instructions up on the computer display. “This is the first section of code. You can easily follow the links into the other sections.”

Ray examined the code, keeping the gun pressed against her. “Okay, this looks like the virus,” he said. “I’m going to knock you unconscious and tie you up. You’ll have a headache when you wake up, that’s all.”

“Before you knock me out, I want to explain something to you,” Tidesco said. “I assume you are going to try to kill the virus, so you must be looking for either the termination command or the authorization sequence. I found the termination command. I’ll show it to you.”

Tidesco pulled up a section of code on her computer and pointed. “That’s it.”

Puzzled, Ray nodded. “I know the termination command. Did you locate the authorization sequence?”

“No. If it’s in the code, it’s very well hidden. I can show you the sections we’ve examined. I’m sure it’s not in these sections.”

“Why are you volunteering this information?” he asked.

“They made me release the virus. It’s going to shut down all the computers today. Did you know that?” He nodded. “Thousands will die in the netwar, maybe tens of thousands.” Her eyes were incredulous. “I just can’t believe it.”

She seemed to be shrinking into her own thoughts, when unexpectedly, she erupted. “That Ordonez bitch!” Tidesco spat out, glaring at Ray. “She seduced Alan and convinced him to attack the Domain. Alan was not an evil man. He despised Dianne because she made Atlas the dominant operating system, even though Companion was superior to Atlas. Dianne lied, cheated and slept with anyone who could help her.

“Companion was superior until you brought speech recognition to Atlas,” Tidesco said to Ray, her voice training off. “I failed him there. Something died in Alan. He never got over being a footnote in the computer industry.”

The room was quiet for a moment; Tidesco appeared to be retreating into some sad, private little world, far from Ray and his demands. He jabbed the gun into her side, but she seemed not to notice the deadly pressure. Her voice reappeared; quiet and steady, moving forward at a measured pace.

“About a year ago Carmita Ordonez arranged to meet Alan at an industry conference,” Tidesco continued. “She flattered him, chased him and seduced him. She has this … this power to manipulate men. They kept their relationship a secret, but I could see him change. Once she had Alan in her power, she told him about the Domain. Blinding him with sex, playing on his hatred for Dianne, she convinced him to attack the Domain. Alan made me scan their computers to find out who was involved and get their real schedules. I never thought he could be a killer,” she added, shaking her head. “Carmita also convinced Alan to build a security force of some of the worst types of people you can imagine. The brute who leads it – Sadowski – was brought in by Carmita.”

Tidesco paused to gather her thoughts, and then her voice began again, stronger now. “As bad as Alan has become, he’s not a monster. Carmita is using him. She wants power, and she’s not going to play second fiddle to Alan. She’ll kill him when the time is right, which could be any day now. With both Dianne and Alan out of the way, Carmita will control PeaceMaker, and it’s not likely she’ll be a benevolent dictator.

“She may have fooled Alan, but she hasn’t fooled me. She has to be stopped.” Glaring at Ray, she said, “That’s why I helped you. I decided to kill the virus before you came into my room.”

Ray was surprised this strange woman had such strong emotions – any emotions at all, actually. Tidesco cared about Goldman, even though the man probably didn’t give two cents about her.

Yeah, but am I really any better than Tidesco.

Ray needed all the help he could get, so he decided to trust her. Ray put his gun in his belt and said, “Let’s work together. It’s too late to prevent the catastrophe, but maybe we can limit the damage.”

*

Murphy and his men were almost there. They reached the warehouse undetected and climbed a staircase to a long hall on the top floor. Dianne’s cell was just around the next corridor. Murphy checked his computer again, making sure he knew when the hall camera would turn off. In another minute, Goldman’s soldiers would stop viewing the hall through the camera for three minutes.

“Now!” he said to his team, and they burst around the corner, ran down the hall and stopped in front of her cell. Breathing hard, Murphy positioned his rifle so he could fire as soon as the door opened. His men were behind him, ready to attack. He nodded to one of them, who placed his key card in the slot.

Peering through the opening door, Murphy saw Sadowski lighting a cigarette as his thugs tied Dianne’s arms to a long table. Sadowski was still turning around when Murphy and the others opened fire. Bullets blew apart the big man’s head and chest, and Sadowski flew backwards, crashing to the floor. Neither of Sadowski’s men could fire before they were cut down. The slaughter was over in an instant.

Murphy cringed as he hurried to Dianne. Her face was battered, one eye was closed, and she was bleeding from the nose and mouth. The other eye was clear, however, and she focused on Murphy.

Dianne gestured to her bonds and said, “Quickly, now.” She continued speaking as Murphy untied her. “We need to kill Goldman and Ordonez immediately. After that we can deal with his thugs and free any other Domain people left alive. There probably won’t be many.”

“What about Ray Brown?” Murphy asked.

Dianne grimaced as she got to her feet, not able to speak until the agony lessened. “Ray may be able to destroy PeaceMaker,” she croaked, finally. Spitting blood from her mouth, she said, “We have to kill him, too.”

*

Carmita listened to Goldman’s quiet breathing as he slept. She felt wonderful. They made love three times tonight, and the sex had been very good. She was always surprised by how good Goldman was in bed. She caressed each breast, the gentle pressure making her body feel so vibrant and alive. She was ready for sex again.

Maybe I’ll have Sadowski tonight. No, I’ll have one of the soldiers. A young, innocent man would be a nice change.

Carmita slipped quietly out of bed so as not to wake him. Naked, she glided through the dim light and into the bathroom. She looked back over her shoulder and saw Alan was sleeping comfortably.

Perfect.

She reached deep into the linen closet and opened a hidden drawer. Her hand closed over the smooth butt of a pistol, a flush of pleasure accentuating her excitement. She smiled as she pulled it out.

Carmita walked confidently back to the bed, the pistol swinging lightly in her grip. Alan was still asleep, but he had rolled over on to his side, facing her. Should I wake him? She would love to see the look in his eyes as she pulled the trigger. Better not take any chances. Savoring the moment, Carmita raised the gun and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened – just a clicking sound. She did it again – nothing! What was wrong?

Goldman opened his eyes. “ Didn’t know De Luca planted a camera in the ceiling, did you?” He shook his head, pretending sympathy. “One of my men saw you hide the pistol. Of course, I replaced the clip.”

This was wrong, the thought seeped in. It’s not supposed to be like this. He pulled the sheet down, exposing a pistol. Carmita knew a moment of fear that choked off her breath. She saw his finger pull on the trigger. There was a searing pain and everything was gone.