Malleus Maleficarum 2.2 – Part 3
AKA: Hammer of Witches 2.2 - Part 3
“Those that can heal can harm; those that can cure can kill.” Celia Rees
“Everything changed once we started injecting technology into our bodies.”
“Everything changed the second we put two sticks together and made fire.”
“Stop making light of this,” Ava told her subordinate, and best friend, a man she’d known for eons, or so it seemed.
“We’ve put together the most extensive list of johns ever, Ava. “We are the change they should fear.”
Ava closed the CNN article she’d been reading on her phone. The one about the new biochips the UN was insisting upon. They wanted a way to track infections, you see… but everyone knew it was a hoax. Just like they were doing with the currency crack downs.
Things were getting tougher and tougher these days, and most people were on edge. Especially those with the most to lose, like politicians, and media moguls.
“Just think if they hadn’t started the Nemesis project back in Austin years ago, using companies like ‘22 and Me’ and ‘DNA ME’ to track down and blackmail all those famous and political johns,” Gareth told his best friend, a woman he trusted with his life. If not his car.
“Just think what it will take to stop us now. I mean… even as we speak, right now, names and DNA is being databased at an incredible rate. Along with their fetishes, encounter details, and even photos in some cases. You combine that with what we took off the Feds… and we have enough to control every politician with serious stakes in the game.”
“Not all of them,” Ava scolded him with a bit of a rasp to her voice. As she had screamed herself hoarse recently, and only now was starting to get her voice back.
“Enough. Enough to control both the house and the senate.”
“It’s still not enough. Those are just the puppets. We need to get to the money behind the strings. We need bank accounts. We need Swiss account numbers and pins. We need a digital platform and we need it now.”
Gareth stood about five-foot-seven, barely taller than Ava, and yet, he always felt like a giant next to the tiny blond.
“That’s why we’re here. We sign this deal and we’ll be able to take payment via any major form of digital currency.”
“Or so he says.”
“Or so he says,” Gareth said with a smile, as he turned towards the door he expected the programmer to use.
But after another ten minutes his smile faded as he looked back to the anxious looking Ava, who sat next to him in the lobby of a Best Western.
“Perhaps he’s not coming.”
Ava was nervous, her slight hands were shaking, though she did her best to hide it from the man she felt responsible for.
“He’ll come,” Gareth said, obviously telling her what she wanted to hear. Because his smile held absolutely zero confidence.
Five minutes later, however, a thirty-year-old with a head full of blonde hair and a red beard walked in and sat down next to them.
“You know, you shouldn’t talk so openly in public spaces,” he said with a smile. A bit of leftover sandwich still clinging to the tight curls of his bright red beard.
“Oh?” Gareth asked, nerves sounding plain as day in his voice.
“Yeah. See that laptop over there?”
Both Ava and Gareth turned to look towards where the man had gestured. Where a woman sat using a laptop in a breakfast nook some twenty feet away.
“Yeah,” Gareth said, already knowing where this all was heading.
“Yeah,” the programmer said nonchalantly, as he put a foot on the coffee table in front of them.
“I’ve been watching and listening to you both for the past ten minutes.”
“Oh? And what have you learned?” Ava asked sharply, a look in her eye that gave the gamer-turned-private-hacker a moment’s pause.
“Nothing useful. Total waste of time. But sometimes it ain’t. If you know what I mean,” the man said, with a nod and a significant look to both of them.
“Let’s take this conversation to my place,” he told them abruptly, with a smile that never seemed to reach his eyes.
Ava leaned over and whispered into Gareth’s ear and then the two of them hopped up and motioned that they were happy to follow.
Twenty-nine minutes later they were pulling into the back side of a condemned gas station.
“Really? You live here?” Gareth asked, wrinkling his nose in disgust.
“Don’t judge a book by it’s cover, man,” the man said in a very Gen-Z ‘you can’t ban our books’ kinda way.
Down they went. Down a total of three stories beneath the sleeping city above, in fact.
“Holy shit,” Gareth breathed, as the metal elevator finally came to a stop and the doors slid open onto what looked like the coolest man-cave ever.
“Seriously though,” Gareth said breathlessly, as he admired the man’s wall of TVs and row upon row of refurbished arcade games.
“People don’t steal what they don’t know is there,” the programmer said with a wink.
“Have a seat,” he told them, motioning towards a white leather sofa in front of a row of computer monitors.
“We’re going to use a QR code,” he informed them almost right away.
“You can’t be serious,” Ava said, as if she couldn’t believe how easy it was all falling together. How all of the loopholes the folks in charge had created to keep them oppressed were now going to be instrumental in launching The Ides into the most powerful position in the world.
“Totally. Initially we’ll give you a QR code to use with those you already have blackmail information on. It’s how they will pay for the ‘secure storage’ of their data,” the programmer said, using air quotes to emphasize the words ‘secure storage’.
“The QR code will install and permanently open our private app ‘Pandora’. Luckily, we take all major forms of digital currency,” the programmer quipped gleefully, as he placed a bowl of mixed nuts on the glass table in front of them.
“Alongside this, my partner and I have set up a second QR code.”
“We didn’t ask for a second code,” Ava said with a degree of side eye that implied she did not think fondly of taking unauthorized initiative.
“Just hear me out,” the thin man in the oversized flannel said, as he took a seat in a chair opposite from them.
“We have a second code we deploy to your collective of sex-workers. All they have to do is to get the QR code in front of their johns’ cameras. The phones don’t even have to be on. Most phones scan for codes now even while asleep. It’s a new UN tracking protocol hidden within all major mobile phone models. And we hacked it,” he told them with a degree of pride.
“But there’s no way we can get the QR code to all of them at once. And we can’t rely on the victims’ silence. I estimate that once we begin activating QR codes on their phones we’ll have three days before word gets out. Five days before the code, and that particular tactic, are totally dead,” Ava chimed in, as their host poured her a glass of champagne.
“But that’s the most beautiful thing,” he told her smiling wider than ever. “We don’t activate them. Not until we’re ready. Instead, the QR code simply does a soft-install, until we send out a signal. Then, once we ignite the torches, as it were, all of the codes activate at once. Hijacking all of the phones and locking them into our ‘Pandora’ ap. And from that moment on they’ll all be forced to make regular ‘maintenance’ payments in order to secure their secrets. You’ll have influence over both their wallets and their votes.”
“It’s not that easy. We’re not the only puppet masters in play here.”
“Oh, I know,” the programmer told the sharp woman with the nervous smile.
“When we’re ready to deploy: their microphones, their cameras, and all of their stored data instantly becomes ours. We’ve even tested the code and ap on Dark Vault phones, the ones military intelligence uses. And because we use a quantum-based algorithm and all encryption happens real-time on the phone itself, we are able to fool all of their primary security protocols. No one will be safe from our ap. No one.”
“Well then,” Ava said, “what will you need from us to secure the deal?”
“I’m assuming you’ve already read over the terms my partner sent over?”
“Yes,” Gareth said, “though we haven’t yet met this partner of yours. Emma… I think she said her name was, in the email.”
The programmer smiled, and then clicked a remote which caused one of the monitors to click over to a computer-generated image of a beautiful woman. The woman smiled and said, “How can I help you?”
“Janet, meet our guests,” the programmer said, with a rather nervous looking grin.
“Hello,” the AI system said, as pleasant as any serial killer might.
“Oh, hello,” Gareth said brightly, his own voice suddenly showing signs of distress at seeing the AI image of the woman everyone had known as Princess Diana.
“Anyway,” the programmer said a bit nervously then, as he clicked off the AI monitor and then set the remote back down on the glass table, so gently you’d have thought it was a bomb.
“I want thirty-percent of everything you make in digital currency. And I want the politics to favor the open web.”
“Twenty-five, and I can’t do anything about the politics. You know that. That will all be committee based. We’re not doing all of this so that we live in another out-of-control oligarchy. We’re doing it so that everyone matters. Finally.”
The hacker smiled his first genuine smile of the evening. And then he said, “Thirty-percent. And I guess I’ll just have to write some new code to get what I need…”
There was an odd noise just then, from the speakers, almost as if the AI he’d introduced as Janet had snickered, but just briefly.
“Thirty-percent, but only if you take over all digital security for The Ides. Which includes access to our satellite,” Ava said, making the last sentence sound as if it was the real temptation, not the cash.
Because Ava was an expert in human behavior.
“That was everything we needed. And for a reasonable price too,” Gareth told her later, as they sped across the harbor in a rented speedboat.
“It was. Given that we retain rights to all political leverage. The influence is where the real money is made; with the billion and trillion dollar contracts.”
“Others will be leveraging those same people too. The same folks who’ve been blackmailing and leveraging them from the start. And they’re not going to like us encroaching on their territory, any more than a gangbanger would appreciate a rival encroaching on his street corner.
“No, and these gangbangers play for keeps,” Ava said, sniffing the salty sea air, as if it were a memory she wanted to keep.
“What then? We walk-head-first into the smoke and pray there’s no fire?” Gareth asked, his stomach more nervous now than when he’d done his first solo flight.
“Oh, we know it’s not smoke we’re walking into,” Ava told the man, reaching up to stroke his face. “It’s a goddamn inferno. But we have no choice. That’s what being brave is, Gareth. It’s doing the insane thing, the thing nobody wants to do, just because it’s the right thing to do. Someone has to stop this nonsense. Someone has to pull these tyrants from their stolen thrones. Someone has to make our children a priority again. And that someone is us, Gareth. It’s us and those like us who are banding together to fight. It’s the only thing we can do…”
Gareth sniffed at the salty sea air as if it were the last air he might ever breathe, and suddenly it tasted different. Sweeter. Yet with a bitter aftertaste.
“We’re pulling more and more kids off the streets and outfitting them with cameras, the images are coming in at an incredible rate,” he reminded them both. “We will have our roots so deep they won’t ever be able to pull us out.”
Ava pulled the man by his lapels until she could kiss his cheek.
“I love you Gareth. No matter what happens. You will always be my very best friend.”
© Raena Exe 2022-2023
*All characters, places, and events are completely fictional.
*All rights reserved.
Beware! Some stories begin at the end and finish in the middle!!
Also, please note: I'm a storyteller, NOT a writer.