Romance Science Fiction Suspense

Oliver took a moment to appreciate all those before him. Those who hadn’t had a computer, who read green words off a black screen, who never had a holograph option.

Then he activated the virus.

Technically, he completed the first step of the activation process, but the rest would be done – albeit, unknowingly – by those working at Tomorrow Today. He leaned back and sipped his drink, eyes running blindly over the code with even greater appreciation.

The coffee shop’s door tinkled. The strawberry blonde with the vintage Paw Patrol purse strode in, and Oliver fumbled to put his mug down. Eyes on her, he removed himself from the system and pulled up the crossword he had created earlier. She was at the counter, only a few feet away. He slouched and picked up his pen, tapping it on the table while staring at the screen. He glanced at her. She was still looking at the menu. He looked back to the screen and hummed, thinking deeply. The pen tapped.

“Chai latte, please. Medium.”

The worker behind the counter entered the order. The Paw Patrol woman paid, and the machine dispensed the drink automatically. She turned and began walking out.

Oliver’s head jerked up. “Hey! Miss!”

Her heel paused in the air. The handful of other patrons in the shop looked up from their devices. Oliver swallowed. “I just . . . I had a question for you.” He gestured at his screen. “It’s about . . . um . . . well-“

She walked to him. Oliver tried to swallow again. He took a quick sip of his coffee and awkwardly put it down to the side, leaning with it, as she stopped in front of him. Her blue eyes blinked once. Twice. “Yes?” she smoothly asked.

Oliver managed to swallow his spit without choking.

“Well,” he coughed, motioning towards his screen again, “I was, um, playing a crossword- solving a crossword, and I kind of, um, got stuck with it, and-“ he looked up at her because he wasn’t going to waste what he had “-I’m a little stuck. It’s on classic cartoons, and I saw your Paw Patrol purse.”

He was pleased to see her blush. She clutched the child’s purse to her side, to the side, turning slightly to hide it even more. “I forgot I had this today. My regular purse broke, and I was running late.”

“It looks good.” Oliver cursed himself as she gave him an odd look. “I mean, the red, um, the red of Marshall, with his fireman’s hat, you know, and everything, that looks good with, um, your hair. Cause your hair. It’s red. Kind of.”

She pressed her lips together, still hiding the purse, but smiling. “Thank . . . you?” She laughed once. He flashed a painful smile. Her shoulders relaxed, and she finally looked to his screen, bending behind him. “Classic Cartoons. Well, it is as on the tin.” She glanced at him. He flicked his eyes to the screen. For a moment, he thought he could feel her smile next to him.

She raised a finger, her arm only a few millimeters away from his cheek, to point at the screen. “Marshall’s name would go there.”

“Oh!” He gave another smile, entering the data. The boxes lit up green. She raised her brow. He cleared his throat. “Sometimes I miss the obvious things.”

“Of course.” She smiled with perfectly straight white teeth. Oliver wondered if she had them lasered but dismissed the thought. The smile disappeared. She cleared her throat and stood. “Is that all you needed help with?”

“Uh . . .” Oliver stared at his screen, the crossword only half completed. “Would you, um . . . if you’re not busy, maybe, help me . . . with, um, some more? Possibly?”

He looked up. She was biting her lip. Upon him noticing, she stopped, the flush creeping up her neck again. “Well.” She swiveled her head back, moving loose hair out of her vision. She bent down a little more. Oliver hadn’t realised how tall she was. She gave a little, tight-lipped smile. “Do you have a place for me to sit?”

Oliver would 3D print one if that’s all she needed. He moved over, and she slid in next to him. For a moment, he marveled at the soft warmth of her body, somehow intrinsically different than the mechanic heat of technology.

As they completed the crossword, her shoulders relaxed further. She was Radon, like the element. He smiled broadly, “You certainly look noble enough for it.” She laughed, red on her cheeks, and pointed to the boxes to give another answer. He ordered her another drink just a few minutes before they finished. She gave him a knowing look but accepted it with a smile. Not too long later, virtual fireworks exploded over their table at the crossword’s completion. She laughed, the flashes of color reflected in her bright eyes.

Gripping his cup with both hands, Oliver stopped his fingers from twitching. He smoothed his face. “Thank you. That helped a lot.”

“Of course.” She grinned into her nearly full cup. “Are you a big crosswords fan?”

“Are you?”

Another laugh from her, and he swore she was putting helium into him. She shook her head. “I asked you first.”

He grinned, shrugged, swayed a little in his seat. “Depends.”

“On what?”

“On who I’m doing it with.”

Her smile softened. “Well, then, would you like to do another crossword next week?”

Helium. He’d swear it was helium. “I’d enjoy that very much.”

“Maybe you could make one on famous 21st century authors.”

He laughed. “I think you were born in the wrong century!”

She shrugged, still smiling. “I can appreciate that time period’s art without actually living there.”

“You’d consider The Simpson’s art?”

“We consider cave drawings art. It’s a low bar.”

He choked on his drink. Her smile brightened. With a flounce she turned, waved, and left. He swore he heard a giggle on her way out.  

Oliver was left to clean up his spit from the table.

He smiled. Helium, he’d swear.

The following week, the worker smirked at him as he prepaid for a medium chai latte. He sat down and threw the screen up, privacy settings on. Even though only those in his immediate vicinity could see what he saw, he was still overly cautious. He fingered his glasses as he hacked into Tomorrow Today’s system. He was making privacy glasses at home, something only the military currently had, but he’d had to reconfigure the design for the parts to be 3D printed off his machine instead of bought. That set him back at least six months.

He hummed in appreciation at the upgrades Tomorrow Today had done to their system. This was art. His fingers skimmed over the keys as he worked, an old and worn excitement still flaring in his chest.

Scanning the company database, he noted grimly that most of the data had been stored elsewhere and reuploaded. The overall data load was lower, though, a consolation giving him some small satisfaction. Even a stumble slowed a giant down. He toyed with the idea of integrating another virus, making it the start of a blitzkrieg perhaps. An innocuous-looking file labeled ‘The Cities’ caught his attention instead. He double clicked to open it.

He sucked in a breath.

After a moment of stunned silence, he downloaded the file and exited the system. He reopened ‘The Cities.’ The projected plan was naught but a five-kilometer square, designed with pristine urban planning down to the amount and location of potted plants. It could’ve been any start-up city, though on a smaller scale, save for the mechanics beneath the buildings. Oliver ran the model and watched with a sickening awe as the streets moved mesmerizingly, smoothly, from one section to the other. In less than a minute, the city was entirely rearranged. He ran it again. Again.


He jerked, slammed the lights of the laptop off. Radon flinched back, eyes wide.

Oliver swallowed. “Hi. I was . . .” He gestured uselessly. Radon gave him tight smile. He winced. “Sorry. It wasn’t anything . . . bad. Just private.” She looked at him, expressionless. The shade under her eyes was darker, her shoulders slumped. A regular purse hung loose around her. Oliver frowned. “Are you all right?”

She closed her eyes, body tensing as if to answer. She didn’t, just let out a breath and motioned at the seat. “May I sit?”

“Of course.” Oliver moved out of the way, positioning the laptop away from her to close the program down properly while she sat. He debated about opening the crossword but kept it closed, putting the laptop to the side. “What’s the matter?”

Radon shook her head, one hand rubbing the bridge of her nose. “It’s just been a long week at work.”

“Coworkers?” Oliver asked. She looked to him, starting to smile. He shifted uncomfortably. She grinned and looked away. “I just mean-“

“No.” She waved a hand, still grinning. “I just was amused because that response fits you perfectly. From what I see. I mean, you don’t work with people often, do you?”

Oliver let out a little huff. “No, not really. I retrieve data from damaged equipment or get it back from Ransomwares when possible. Not a lot of people to work with, at least not for long.”

Radon nodded. She rubbed the bridge of her nose again before dropping her hand. “I work with people more, but I like them. For the most part, I mean, but this week’s just been crazy. You know about the attack on Tomorrow Today?”

Oliver’s leg froze in its bouncing. She cocked her head. He let out another little huff. “How could I not? It’s all over the news.”

“Yes, well-“ she rubbed her forehead this time, “-I work at Tomorrow Today, and it’s a been a . . . challenging week. As you can imagine.” Oliver nodded numbly. Radon sighed, putting her head completely in her hands. “Part of me is glad I don’t understand technology too well because this whole thing is a mess, and the other part of me wishes I did, so I could-“ she waved her hand about in the air, “-do something. You know?”

Oliver hummed. She sighed again, rested her head in her hand, and looked to him. She gave him a tired smile. “Anyway. Enough about that. Did you create another crossword?”

He had. They started it, and he bought her a second medium chai latte, and they talked and finished the crossword. Fireworks exploded over the table, and she giggled and kissed him on the cheek and walked out as before, only a little less flounce in her step.

Oliver watched the fireworks for another minute. He threw out the rest of his drink. He left.

He wasn’t planning on showing up again.

He was there next week, and she was there. The week after, the same. Again. Again. Oliver watched with sickening awe as they mesmerizingly moved closer and closer together. A good attempt bound to fail.

After two months, she kissed him fully, and he tugged her all the way down, no more departing flirtations. The worker whistled. The other patrons stirred. She pulled back with beautiful wide green eyes. She twirled a strawberry blonde curl around her finger as she left. Oliver downed his drink. Computers, he knew. People – he sighed heavily, including himself  in the count – people were best left alone.

It was at the coffee shop when he saw the news on the feed. 

“. . . and we asked Leader Radon Kvichalon what steps Tomorrow Today is taking to prevent future hacks.”

His breath came short, then not at all.

She spoke through the hologram, “As you all know, the last hacker has not attacked again in over three months. We have updated our systems and included other defenses to deter hackers. We take the security of the information we collect very seriously and protect it better than any other company.”

The newscaster returned. “Yet Tomorrow Today has been hacked three times in the past year. What do you say to that, Leader Kvichalon?”

She flicked the hair out of her face, just as she had done the week before. “Only that this persistence has made Tomorrow Today even more determined to hold fast to our ideals of equality and technology. People will always fear change, but we embrace it. The hackers have only encouraged us to continue to innovate our systems. They can be assured of tha-“

He felt her lean forward and jerked. Her holograph disappeared as the newscaster reappeared. She was behind him though, behind him and able to see everything including the opened system.

She gave him a light smile, eyes flicking to him once before returning to the company’s secure data. She hummed. “I guess we’ll have to update the security procedure again. You don’t waste any time, do you?”

Swallowing hard, he exited and shut it down. Her eyes traced his fingers as he worked. He stopped, stared forward, tried to breathe.

She sat down next to him, nearly sitting on him as she did so because he was not ready for it. He moved over. She moved closer.

He looked to her.

She smiled again, and he cocked his head, confusion and terror warring.

She leaned in closer, still smiling. “We don’t have to agree.”

Oliver looked forward. He glanced at her and shifted. “I’m an illegal hacker targeting the company you basically run-“

“-with the help of other leaders-“

“-and you think we can just pretend that doesn’t matter?”

Her eyes flashed. “I didn’t say that it didn’t matter. I just said that we don’t have to agree.”

He snorted, grimacing immediately afterwards. “No. But it helps.”

“I’m a Leader. So what?”

He peered at her, leaning away. “I’m the hacker. You can’t have missed that.”

“I already knew.”

He stopped, looked at her fully. Glinting red and blonde hair framed her feminine face. Her eyes glinted a dangerous, intelligent green.

“I’m not dumb, Oliver.”

“No.” He looked down, rubbed a finger along the table. “I know.”

She was looking at him or looking away or maybe looking at the door. He didn’t look up.

She leaned closer. “I know it’s not perfect. I know that, but . . . I can disagree with your actions without hating you.”

“I’m a criminal.” He kept his eyes on the table. “Don’t sugarcoat it.”

She let out a noisy breath. “Yeah. I’m not particularly pleased about that, but so were the French revolutionists, the minutemen, dissenters of Franco. I’m not saying-“ she grimaced, nose scrunching, “-I’m not saying that all the people who disobeyed the law were right or even if you should, because you shouldn’t, but I can understand why you feel the need to do it that way. We don’t have to stop seeing each other.”

Oliver’s heart skipped a beat even as it sank. “And when I’m about to release a new virus? Or the company puts a new tracker bug into the system? What then?”

She shook her head, putting a hand over his. “It won’t come to that-“

He shook it off. He shrugged. The solid weight of bitterness settled onto his chest. “Perhaps. Perhaps not. But you’re certainly not with me.”

“I’m not against you either!” she hissed.

The bitterness leaked into his laugh. “You can’t have it both ways, no matter what you say. That’s what I’m fighting against.”

“You’re fighting against the company-“

“Yes!” Oliver paused, lowered his voice. “The company, but . . . everything else, too. Not everything, but everything they are. It’s a monopoly, and they want to know everything about us. Complete control.”

“For the betterment-“

“Of whom? Us? Maybe in the short run, but what happens when that stops? When the power corrupts as it does?”

She scoffed. “There’re always exceptions.”

“I disagree.”

“And that’s okay.” Radon forced a smile.

Oliver’s frown deepened. He tapped on the table. Radon’s smile grew fixed. He shook his head. “You can’t have it both ways.”


“You said it yourself.” He stared at the table, at his finger, tapping. His stomach continued lurching unpleasantly.

“Said what?” she snapped.

He shrugged, squinting as he finally looked to her. “There’re always exceptions. You can’t fake into being.”

The table shook as she stood. She wiped at her face once. “You’re such a hypocrite.”

Another bitter laugh. “I’m not the hypocrite, Leader Kvichalon.”

She scoffed, red hair, red cheeks, red eyes, dull green round the center. “Apparently, you’re not the man I thought you were.”

She took a breath. She turned. She left.

Oliver listened to the light jingle of the bell.

Softly, to anyone who cared to listen, he whispered, “Neither are you.”

June 09, 2021 14:16

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