Another one bites the dust in my morbid scheme to kill people for money. Fictionally speaking, of course. I wouldn’t actually kill these people in real life for $5, that’s ridiculous. Maybe for $1,000, but not for $5.
My first two contestants in the wheel of death:
This week we welcome to the cold slab, Shawna Bergen.
Download the Files
Shawna describes herself as being a computer nut, and indeed one of the three images she sent me for the project had her wearing a T-shirt that read, “Nerd is the New Cool.”
The image above of Shawna helped set a mood for the look I wanted to pursue for her in the story, and her description of herself as being a computer nut also helped set a tone for my direction with the character and plot. She had heard of the opportunity through Google+ and I was able to look over some of her public posts there, and this post of hers featuring the song Everyday People by Sly and the Family Stone hit a soft spot for me in the creative juices as well. I love this song a lot, and the idea of working it into the story as sort of a theme or backdrop to the story gave me a lot of momentum. I also worked in a thing or two from her About tab on Google+, see if you notice them. You can find her on Google+ and Twitter.
And now, let’s stop talking about it, and post the story. Enjoy!
Shawna Bergen had been tweaking the code of her virus for months. The virus was designed to infiltrate the virtual vaults at Free Citizens United Bank and Trust, and perform a series of transactions that would flood the system with unintelligible data in the moment. During this it would also transfer twenty billion in digital credits to a Swiss bank account of hers through micro transactions. These micro funds would eventually filter into the account over a period of 72 hours. After all of that was finished, the virus would launch a DDOS attack on Free Citizens United and she’d be walking out of the bank one, very rich woman.
That was the plan.
She stood up from her desk in the living room of her small apartment. She looked around the room as she stretched her back, and twisted her torso left and right. The apartment was old, rundown and not her own. The last was the most important. She stepped into her bathroom, and pulled back the shower curtains. She had installed her own microbrewery in the bathtub, and had been hiding it from her landlord. She looked forward to finishing her job at Free Citizens United, so she could take a pile of the cash and purchase a little place to call home. Something outside of the cities. She heard there was still such a place, where the countryside was untouched by the progression of man’s ambitions.
She grabbed a cup from the sink and poured herself a fresh beer of her own making. She smelled it and took a sip. It hit the spot, as her nerves were starting to cramp up in her stomach. Tomorrow was the day she walked into Free Citizens United and stole a lot of money.
She stepped into the living room once more, and laid her cup on the coffee table. She grabbed a black hoodie off the back of the couch and put it on, zipped it up and threw the hood over her head. She shouted a command to her computer and it started playing Everyday People by Sly and the Family Stone. She picked up her cup, took another sip and laid her head back. She closed her eyes, and then focused on breathing and listening.
Michael Markus was Chief Security Officer at Free Citizens United, and he performed a routine check of the systems at 3:30pm every day, just before heading into the afternoon meetings before heading home. He often wondered why meetings were held in the afternoon, and so close to closing time for many of the higher management, it was just asking for lazy and boring meetings.
He was in a particularly good mood on Tuesday, February 9, 2076. It was his wedding anniversary, he and his wife Audrey had been together for almost ten years. They had three beautiful children, and for the first time in seven years they would be celebrating their anniversary without the kids to interfere. His day was flying by so fast, and nothing could ruin his mood.
He burst into the security office and looked around at everyone with a smile. They all looked a little concerned. “I’m in such a good mood, folks, that we’re starting this test early and finishing early.” He said. “How fast can you check the systems? Make me proud.”
Everyone cheered and spun around in their chairs. The systems check was usually a long, drawn out occurrence, as Michael was very meticulous about every detail that passed through their system. In his mind, running the security for a bank was like running a casino. It was a game, his game, and anything that was out of place was cheating the system in place. His system.
Shawna walked into the enormous skyscraper of glass, which was the main headquarters of Free Citizens United Bank and Trust. She had timed her withdrawal to come at a time when the bank was at its busiest. This also came just before the Chief Security Officer, Michael Markus, performed his daily systems check. She knew she’d have to be quick to blend in with the crowd of transactions, but miss the systems check as well.
Even though currency had gone completely digital in 2049, due to security concerns, most transactions with such currency had to be made via banks. Give a little, take a whole lot more is how it felt. She would have preferred setting the world on fire from home, but it just wasn’t an option. The only way onto the bank’s network was to be inside their building. And in her case, with the amount of accounts she wanted to affect, she would need to be on the twenty-third floor. The higher up you went in the building, the higher risk and more secure you were. Everyday people and their everyday accounts were accessed on the first levels.
She hesitated for a moment at the elevators, second guessing herself. She was squeezing on a memory stick in the pocket of her hoodie with her sweaty palm. The memory stick contained her virus, and all she would have to do is insert it into a bank ATM terminal to get it started.
“Going up, Miss?” A gentleman on the elevator in a suit asked her, holding the doors.
“Oh, yes,” she stepped onto the elevator and was at the front of a group of suits and skirts. “Thanks.” She whispered to the gentleman.
“No problem,” he said, “Which floor?”
“Twenty-three,” she said.
“Really?” He asked, hardly believing what he was hearing and seeing. A woman in a black hoodie and blue jeans, with untamed blonde hair, who did not look like she had much money to her name.
“Trust fund brat,” she said and rolled her eyes. She threw the hood up over her head and took a deep breath.
Michael Markus was standing in the middle of everything, as was his custom, eyeing all of the data coming and going across the screens in his security center. The test had been running smoothly, and he was feeling pretty good. Only a few more minutes were left before they’d have all the data they needed, and he’d be telling his team how amazing they were. But then something caught his eye.
“Wait,” he said, “Something just happened. What just happened?” He spun around on his heels, and looked at another screen over a man’s shoulder. “What is all this?”
“We’re busy, it appears,” the man said.
“Not that busy,” he said and walked over to another monitor. “Are these all incoming or outgoing?” He asked the girl at the monitor.
“Both, sir.” She replied.
Michael walked back to his place in the middle of the room, his eyes darting to and fro. Someone tried to speak up, but he raised his hands and shushed them. He stayed like that for a moment. His eyes watching, moving. And silence. “We’ve been hacked.”
Shawna was sitting in an ATM room, the door locked behind her. The memory stick with the virus on it was plugged in and working its magic. She glanced at her phone, she had thirty more seconds before it was complete. She was hoping when she opened the door to leave, there wouldn’t be a group of security officers waiting for her.
She licked her lips, and tried to swallow but her mouth was dry. She was rattled. She had calculated the whole process taking sixty seconds, but nothing prepared her for how long it would feel in the heat of the moment.
Michael was pacing about his command center, barking orders like a commander in the battlefield. “Tell me what floor it’s happening on, people!”
A girl jumped up from her desk with her hands in the air, “It’s level 23! They just pulled out, but it’s level 23.”
Michael pointed at two of his men, “You and you are with me.” He spun around and barked a command to show all cameras on level 23. He shushed everyone again and stood still, his eyes darting between the different monitors and screens of various security camera angles. There were seas of people everywhere, all in black, and everyone seemingly the same. “There. The hood. I want the hood. Why is there a hoodie on level 23? Bring me the hood.” He took off with the two men, grabbing walkie-talkies on their way out of the door. He spit orders back into the walkie-talkie, “Shut down elevators and stairs on 23. I’ll message you when to let us in. Keep an eye on the hood.”
“Yes, sir.” A voice garbled back.
The three men in suits picked up pace, running as fast as their dress shoes would allow.
Shawna turned a corner and saw a large crowd of people building up at the elevators. The thought of blending into the sea of people sounded promising, but then she noticed the red light above the doors indicating the elevators were locked. The people in suits frantically pulled out their cell phones and texted or made phone calls.
She turned and looked out the window at the overcast sky, it was beginning to rain. Rain was slowly trickling down the glass in front of her, teasing her at how close to freedom she was and only trapped by something as fragile as glass.
She headed off down another hallway, the stairs would have to do. Perhaps it had nothing to do with her, perhaps it was a fire drill or some nonsense. Before she was even near the staircase, she could see another large crowd of people, and the door was closed. They had been caged in like rats.
She stepped into a nearby bathroom, and closed herself off in a stall.
There was no physical evidence to trace her back to the hack. She had done a thorough job of making sure there was nothing on the memory stick to link her back to it, or link it back to her apartment. When they searched her apartment, they would find nothing of any consequence. She had even cleaned out and decommissioned her microbrewery the night before. She just wasn’t sure she could handle the stress of being caged in and rattled around, poked at with a stick.
She took a deep breath and stepped out of the stall. She washed her hands and face in the sink, and the cold water was refreshing against her nervous skin.
She stepped out of the bathroom and there were three men in suits, she recognized one as Michael Markus. She had seen a picture of him and studied him for some time in preparation for the heist. Even admired him. And to prove her admiration wasn’t misplaced, she hacked his personal computer and was pleased to discover she still liked him.
“Hello, Miss,” Michael said to her, “My name is Michael Markus, I’m Chief Security Officer here at Free Citizens United. Can I have a few words with you?”
“Sure,” she said.
“Were you just in room 2318?” He asked.
“A few minutes ago, yes,” she said, trying hard not to feel or look nervous.
“Did you notice anything unusual?” He asked her.
“Other than myself?” She said, laughing a little. It eased her nerves a bit. “I’m not exactly the suit type.”
“I’ll repeat the question,” Michael said, neither laughing nor smiling, “Did you notice anything unusual?”
“No,” she said, “It was pretty much in and out in a few seconds, like most guys.” She saw the two men with him smirk a little, he gave them a look. “Look nothing was out of the ordinary. But I don’t know how I can help you, if that’s the only question you’re gonna ask.”
“I’m gonna need to see your memory stick,” he said.
“OK,” she said and reached into her pocket.
“And you’ll need to be placed under house arrest for the time being,” he added.
“Now wait a minute,” a voice spoke up and she turned and saw the gentleman from the elevator. “What’s going on here?” He looked at her with a disapproving look, “What have you done now?”
Michael looked confused, “You know this woman, sir?”
“Yes, I should say so,” the gentleman responded, “She’s my daughter… well, stepdaughter, and she’s in a lot of trouble.”
“I’m not sure I’m buying this,” Michael said.
The gentleman shook his head, “She’s a trust fund brat, the worst kind.” He looked back at her, “You up here taking out more money, no doubt? Your mother is going to be so upset. I don’t know how she’s going to get through this.”
Michael shook his head, he really didn’t like the way things had turned. “Now, just give me a minute.”
“What?” The gentleman said.
“I said shut up,” Michael snarled, “I need a minute to think.” He stood there for a moment, motionless, staring at Shawna. He bit his lip, “Alright, I still need to borrow your memory stick for a moment. We’ve had a breach, it might have a virus.”
“Oh,” she said, acting surprised, “Why didn’t you say so?” She pulled out a memory stick and handed it to him. The memory stick with the virus she had left in the trash can in the room.
He handed it to one of the men with him, who stuck it into his phone, and it spat up information about her. But it was all misinformation. As they looked over the information, a voice came through on the walkie-talkies.
“We found the memory stick with the virus,” the voice said, “Discarded in the trash can.”
“Thanks,” Michael said. He turned back to Shawna and gave her the memory stick. “Sorry for any inconvenience, Miss.”
“It’s no problem,” she said and pocketed the memory stick.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me,” the gentleman said, “I’ve got some scolding to do.”
Michael rolled his eyes, “Right. You do that.”
Shawna and the gentleman walked around the corner, and Michael and his men headed off in the other direction. To her left was a large glass window displaying the rain which had broken out in full force. She wanted outside so bad. To lose herself in the rain, and get as far away from the city as possible.
“That was exciting,” the gentleman said.
“You’re kinda stupid, you know that?” She said, “You don’t know me. You don’t know what you may or may not have just got yourself mixed up in.”
“It doesn’t matter,” he said, “I had fun.”
Michael kept moving at a hurried pace, he was going to investigate the room for himself. Something wasn’t right, he didn’t buy that the woman with the hoodie wasn’t their perpetrator. There had to be a connection somehow, and he’d find it. He always found the connection.
“Sir,” the walkie-talkie sparked up, “We’ve got a bit of a problem.”
“What is it?” Michael said.
“Chief Information Officer Linton got wind of the breach, he thinks you’re not doing your job,” the voice said, “He’s sent the muscle.”
“Do they know about the hood?” Michael asked.
“That’s where they’re headed now, sir,” the voice said.
“Try to talk him down!” Michael shouted into the walkie-talkie. He spun around and started into a full sprint after Shawna. The two men with him were right on his heels.
Shawna stopped, and grabbed the gentleman by the arm when the door to the stairs up ahead came open from the inside. A group of men in tactical gear stepped out with assault rifles, pushing the crowd of business suits back and yelling at them. Threatening to use force, if they wouldn’t back up. A member of the squad spotted her.
“There’s the hood!” The officer shouted and raised his gun at her. Within seconds all of the squad had guns aimed at her.
She and the gentleman threw their hands straight up without hesitation. “Step aside from me, old man,” she whispered to him, “They’re gonna kill me.”
He turned and looked at her, “What did you do exactly?”
“I made a withdrawal.” She said.
There was silence as the tension slowly built. A few of the officers broke away from the squad and made their way towards them. “We’re going to approach you, and cuff you,” an officer said, “Do not move. We will use lethal force, if necessary.”
Shawna looked over at the business suits, and they had backed away from the officers. Some were watching, others were holding up their phones recording the event.
“She’s got a gun!” Someone shouted. Shawna couldn’t tell if it was an officer or one of the business suits.
The officers closest started shooting first. They opened fire and the bullets sprayed her body and all around her. The old man was also getting hit with a spray of bullets. They fell, wrapped into each other. And the shooting kept coming, even when they landed on the floor and tried to shield themselves with their arms and legs.
Michael and his men turned the corner just as the shooting broke out, and one of his men was hit in the leg. The other man was hit in the arm. Michael fell from the momentum and shock off the shooting. He slid across the floor and into the glass wall. He threw his hand up and started shouting for them to stop shooting. He held his badge in his hand.
“STOP FIRING. I am the Chief Security Officer,” he yelled, but it seemed to have little effect. He kept yelling it over and over. He rose to his feet and came towards them with his arms raised, his badge visible in his left hand. “I am the Chief Security Officer, stop firing!” Finally, he took the badge in his right hand and pitched it as hard as he could at the point man in the squad, “I’m the Chief Security Officer! Why am I here? Why am I even here?”
The point man raised his gun and almost shot Michael, after getting hit with the badge, but after they made eye contact he called off the shooting.
The business suits were laying on the ground for cover, some had even ran for cover down the hallway and around the corner. There were a few in front who still had their phones out recording the event, though they too had retreated to the floor for cover.
Shawna crawled up and looked into the old man’s eyes. He was staring off into nothingness. Death had taken him quick. He was riddled with bullets, completely wasted and for no good reason. She looked over at the squad members, who looked a little stunned at what they had done. They had lowered their weapons. She looked up at Michael, who looked completely frustrated as he looked into her eyes. Behind him a portion of the glass had been completely shattered, and the rain was now pouring into the hallway and inching towards the old man’s body.
“I’m sorry,” Michael said.
“It’s not your fault, Michael,” she said, and his eyes perked up when he heard his name. “I am the virus.” She rolled across the old man’s body with just enough energy to push herself up to her feet and take two, long steps and then jump out the broken window.
She freefell with the rain.