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Fiction Drama Crime

The algorithm was embedded in every piece of software that the Hacker wrote. The Hacker's software was ubiquitous, relatively small, and yet, critical hidden cogs in the global internet machine. He never bragged about his potential ability to disrupt global systems or the life of a single individual. No one knew where he was located, where he slept or played or ate. Or how much money or crypto, more likely, he had. He was as anonymous as possible in a social media, surveillance, crazy world. The algorithm was located elsewhere from his regular programs in the billions of lines of code; unfortunately, no one knew where or even to look.

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"The Hacker. The dark web is loaded with stories about him. Legendary and feared. And the latest murmurings are that he has something new coming," Alyssa Strong said, now briefing the Joint Interpol-FBI Global Internet Crime Task Force. "We think it may be an algorithm of some type that disrupts different systems in a cascading fashion to create chaos. Could be used on a large scale or to target a single person, we believe."

Task Force Director Jurgen Stupa studied Alyssa. Tall, athletic, brunette, attractive. She was nearly a decade his junior, but she interested him. He knew her reputation—workaholic, whiz kid, no-nonsense senior FBI analyst who just happened to be a veteran of the U.S. Special Forces with battle experience in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Agent Strong, do we have any information on his location or where he's been."

"No."

"Any information on whether it's a single person or a group?"

"Everything points to a single person."

The briefing continued for an hour. As it concluded, Jurgen approached Alyssa.

"Agent Strong, excellent presentation."

"Thank you, Director. Your staff was very helpful."

"Good. I wonder, Agent, would you be available for dinner tonight? I am taking some of the leads on the Task Force to Villa Cous. Mediterranean French. Very nice, and we can discuss the next steps for the Task Force."

Alyssa hesitated. She had tentatively agreed to meet an old flame for a night out. For that matter, this was her first trip to The Hague and the Netherlands, and she wanted to see the sights. But the old flame was a risk, and, ever the workaholic, the dinner with the Director might advance her career. "I would be delighted to join, Director Stupa. What time?"

"Let's say 7."

"See you there!"

"No, please, let me pick you up. We can discuss the case, and your career ambitions, on the way to the restaurant. About a twenty-minute drive."

"Okay." Alyssa smiled. "Seven it is."

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The Hacker studied her picture. Degrees from Georgia Tech and MIT. Military background. Attractive. She was on his trail, and he needed to protect himself despite his growing infatuation with her. He recently caught her on the Dark Web looking for him. She was clever, sophisticated, and agile. But he was two steps ahead of her. And he was watching on multiple fronts. Email, social media, and even her supposedly secure government computer. Her phone. Her Tesla. He knew she was in The Hague at a meeting, and he knew now where and with whom she would be eating dinner, all from a text to her old boyfriend. And now he needed to protect her. With a few keystrokes, he planted the algorithm in the restaurant's network so that a new event would occur with each new entry related to the Director. He tapped into the restaurant security camera to view the party's likely table. Everything was set.

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Alyssa stood in the hotel lobby: freshly showered, perfumed, new dress, makeup. She hoped the evening would be a little fun in addition to career-enhancing. She waited, not really nervous, but just a tad anxious. Alyssa knew her beauty attracted attention, particularly in the gathering she would be attending with mostly military types and geeks. Her beauty made her a target for unwanted flirts, crude inside jokes, and touching. Her hand, or back, or leg. An "accidental" brush followed by a smile and "pardon me." Alyssa was experienced in how to handle such situations.

"Alyssa? Hello," Director Stupa called out as he entered the lobby. "You look so nice this evening. Shall we?" The Director bowed slightly to Alyssa and offered his arm with all the European style and grace he could muster. They walked quickly out to the street. A black Mercedes S-Klasse waited, complete with a driver. The Director opened the rear passenger door for Alyssa and then scooted around to the other side to join her in the back. The driver in front remained still, staring straight ahead. Alyssa could see that he was probably in his early thirties, with a full head of jet-black hair, a full beard, an olive complexion, and a small tattoo on the side of his neck. A scorpion. His neck and shoulders were thick and muscular. Maybe he had been a wrestler in an earlier life, she wondered.

"Alyssa, this is my driver, Leo. He also provides security for me and my guests."

The driver turned and smiled at Alyssa. Her breath stopped. Handsome. He was handsome, with piercing blue eyes and an action star's finely chiseled face.

"Bonjour, mademoiselle," he said, with good French but not native. She was a pretty good linguist, but she couldn't quite discern what his first language was, but it felt Central European.

"Bonjour," she responded with a smile.

As the driver eased into traffic, the Director turned his attention to Alyssa.

"So, my dear, is this your first visit to The Hague?"

"Yes. I have been to London and Paris and Italy, but never to the Netherlands,"

"And how do you find our little part of the world?"

"Well, I haven't seen that much of it, but what I have seen is charming,"

"We are a nation reclaimed from the sea. A quarter of the land and people here live below sea level, you see,"

"Interesting. I didn't know that"

"Yes, most people don't. We have to work hard to keep the sea from reclaiming us. We have a fascinating relationship with the sea. Symbiotic, flexible. She gives us what we need because we manage her to our benefit," the Director said quietly while looking out the car window.

"Interesting perspective. Have you lived here all your life, Director?"

"Yes, mostly. I spent some time in London and Berlin. Part of the diplomatic corps. Some of my education was in Switzerland."

The small talk continued until they reached the restaurant. One thing the Director didn't ask Alyssa about was whether she was married or in a significant relationship. Too forward, he thought. Better left to the chatting at the table during the meal. Maybe one of the other guests would innocently ask the question.

Leo parked on the street in front of the restaurant. He exited and immediately headed to the passenger side to open the door for Alyssa. He even offered his hand as she exited. She smiled and thanked him. The Director got out on his own and came around the back of the car to join Alyssa.

"Leo, we will be a good two hours inside, so use your time wisely. I will text you when we are ready to go."

Leo nodded and slid back into the car, pulling away for the parking garage a block away.

The restaurant pulsed with a chic and lively crowd, packed in the main dining room filled with original modern art, Scandinavian-style tables and chairs, and floor-to-ceiling windows onto the street. The music was upbeat urban jazz with European notes, and the waitstaff were all thin, attractive twentysomethings who looked like they belonged in the latest French perfume or cologne ads. Through the crowd, the Director cut a path to the back of the restaurant, gently taking Alyssa's left hand to guide her and keep her close. Alyssa didn't protest. At the end of the main dining room, he opened a door into a private room where several Interpol officers were already enjoying cocktails.

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The Hacker keyed in a few numbers into his laptop, and the surveillance camera came live on his screen. The private dining room camera was fixed, so he couldn't zoom or move it around. But he could see the Director standing with the woman, Ms. Strong, chatting with several other Task Force members. He pulled up the information for the Director's iPhone and sent the text. He could see the Director reach for his device and check the text. Blushing first, then turning pale, the Director quickly put the device back in his coat pocket. The Hacker had sent compromising pictures before, but this one was not only embarrassing but showed the Director's illegal liaison from a week ago. Next, the Hacker canceled the Director's Black Label Elite credit card. He activated the algorithm, which took over from there. The cascade of misfortune aimed at the Director would turn a lovely soiree into a certified disaster. The Hacker closed the programs and returned the laptop to his briefcase.

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"Director, are you feeling okay?" asked an Interpol officer from Sweden while he finished the last sip of his vodka martini. The Director was pale, sweating profusely.

"Quite. Yes, I am okay."

The assembled group looked at the Director with even more interest and concern. He seemed to be having a panic attack or, at least, extreme anxiety.

The restaurant manager entered the dining room with a stern appearance.

"Monsieur Stupa, may I have a private word with you, please?"

The two men walked to the dining room corner, where the manager and Stupa spoke quietly. The Director flushed again and became quite animated. He reached for his wallet, pulled out several credit cards, and discreetly handed them to the manager.

"What's up with the Director?" asked Beatrix Lille, a Belgian Interpol detective who was part of the group.

"I don't know. He seemed fine on the drive here," Alyssa remarked innocently.

"So, you rode here with him?" Beatrix asked quietly.

"Yes," Alyssa responded.

"Interesting. Well, it looks like you survived the trip," Beatrix said.

"What do you mean?"

"He has a reputation."

"Oh really. Bad?"

"Director Stupa is a handsome, charming man with great wealth and power," Beatrix said. "But let's say that he enjoys women, whether they enjoy him or not. And he doesn't understand that No means No."

Alyssa was stunned. How could she be so naïve? She wanted to leave now, but she felt trapped. Run out on the Director, and she might see her name removed from the Task Force. She took a sip of her gin and tonic and then set it down. She was relaxed enough now, and more of her drink would cloud her thinking.

The restaurant fire alarm sounded. Peculiar, since no one had pulled the alarm, either in the main dining room or the kitchen. The waitstaff began ushering patrons onto the sidewalk, and the manager cleared the private dining room. The Director was on his phone, walking away from the crowd as Alyssa and her new colleague, Beatrix, stood gazing back into the restaurant through the front window.

"Funny, no smoke or fire?" Alyssa quipped.

"Maybe it's been hacked?" Beatrix said. Her specialty was internet crimes, so she was predisposed to see that angle in anything unexpected.  

The algorithm was working just as the Hacker had hoped.

Fire trucks and police cars came noisily down the avenue, stopping in front of the restaurant. Several burly firemen rushed inside. As they entered, the power to the restaurant shut down. Oddly, no other building on the avenue was affected. Inside, flashlights were turned on and used to navigate the kitchen. The manager walked outside and announced to the crowd that the restaurant would close for the night given the circumstances.

Alyssa and Beatrix stood by the window chatting. The Director was half a block away and still talking on his iPhone when it began to heat up. Unexpectedly. He dropped it on the sidewalk just before it flared up with a bright flash. The Director stared down at the now smoldering remnant for a few moments before realizing that a drone had positioned itself about 5 meters above his head. It was just hovering there. Where it came from, no one could say, but it seemed to be locked onto the Director. He panicked and ran into the parking garage up the block. The drone flew into the garage behind him.

In front of the restaurant,

"Wow, what a night?" Beatrix exclaimed.

"No kidding," Alyssa responded.

"Well, I guess it's back to the hotel for the evening," Beatrix said. "Do you have a ride, Alyssa?"

"I came here with the Director. So, I don't know. No telling where he ran off to."

"Well, you can catch a ride with the rest of us. We will take a taxi, I think."

"Ms. Strong, Ms. Strong," a deep voice called out from a black Mercedes that had just pulled up. Leo exited the car and walked over to the two women standing by the restaurant's front window.

"Handsome guy." Beatrix blurted out.

The husky, tall, dark-haired man stopped in front of Alyssa. She was transfixed by his piercing blue eyes. "Ms. Strong, the Director, had to leave urgently, and he asked me to take you back to your hotel." Leo guided Alyssa back to the car's back seat and closed the door.

Beatrix smiled and waved bye.

As the Mercedes pulled away, Alyssa's iPhone beeped with an incoming secure, encrypted text. Alyssa triggered the decryption software so she could read it.

"Alyssa: Director Jurgen Stupa has been abducted. We have received a ransom request from a group called End Global Hegemony. Interpol is activating, and you should return to the hotel immediately for further instructions. At this time, we believe that the abductors may be working with the Hacker. We also have received information from a confidential informant that he may have an additional alias: the Scorpion. No information or pictures of the suspect at present. Consider this suspect highly dangerous.   Carl"

Carl Bellows was Alyssa's father-figure boss and the FBI's Deputy Assistant Director for Global Crime.  

In the car,

"Quite a fiasco this evening, Ms. Strong. Don't you think?" Leo asked.

"Yes. I hope the Director's okay. Do you have any information about him?" Alyssa responded as she finished reading the text.

"All I know is that he got wrapped up in something and couldn't get away."

"Well, the restaurant folks were talking to him, and then he came outside," Alyssa said. "And the phone burned up, and then that drone followed him. It was like someone was targeting him specifically for something. Scary."

"Yes, I know. Can't be too careful nowadays, I think. With computers and the internet and those automated algorithms, you just never know when something inconvenient can turn into something catastrophic."

Carl turned to look at Alyssa and smiled.

Alyssa saw the Scorpion on his neck, again, just as he made a right turn onto the Utrechsebaan expressway, driving in the opposite direction as the hotel.

June 17, 2022 16:57

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2 comments

Lonnie Russo
19:58 Jun 20, 2022

A fast-paced, lively read! You captured the spirit of spy cinema, where every character has an ulterior motive and something to hide. Kudos!

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Chesley Richards
23:08 Jun 20, 2022

Thanks so much for the feedback! much appreciated.

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