System of the Dead Excerpt #1

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Prologue

     The glow of the liquid crystal display penetrated the still darkness of Rock Rickman’s apartment. His eyes fixed on the computer monitor, pupils wide as they strained to digest the limited light. A list of words scrolled down the screen and his focus swelled as one piqued his interest. When the list was complete a white cursor fluttered at the bottom of his screen.
      The computer hacker wasted no time in typing the command “cd surveillance,” which changed the current working directory to the one labeled “surveillance.” Once done, he initiated another listing of the directory’s contents. Again a list of names scrolled down the screen, but this time Rock rubbed his hand across his chin in response.
      Look at what someone’s hiding. This was just before the incident.
      He began downloading a rather large video file and, although he was tempted to rise up from this rolling chair and get a drink, he remained planted where he was and waited. Two minutes later the file was sitting on his computer’s desktop.
      Rock opened a video player program and ran the file he had just stolen. The overhead view of a small corridor flickered into the player and for a few moments Rock simply watched the floor. The corridor was short enough that he could somewhat make out the doors on either end in an otherwise uninteresting little causeway. It appeared to him that was looking at a small security entranceway. He’d seen these before in top-secret installations where he’d once worked. Just as he thought he was about to be bored to oblivion, the door at the bottom of the player opened.
      The figure of a man emerged and was quickly followed by another. The picture was a bit blurred and indistinct, but Rock could see that the first man wore glasses and appeared frail while the second was certainly more athletic. The second man spun the first around and propped him against the wall as the door closed behind them. The voices were muffled but still audible.
      “Don’t you do this to me, Chris!”
      “Don’t you do this to me. Get off!”
      The second man pressed the man named Chris harder into the wall. “We’ve been friends as long as I can remember. Why are you turning traitor now?”
      Chris turned his head. “You’re the one turned traitor. What’s that in your back pocket?”
      “My wallet.”
      “Your other back pocket.”
      The aggressor freed a hand and reached into his right rear pocket. From it he pulled out a miniature compact disc and tapped Chris on the forehead with it. “It’s a backup, you idiot.”
      “Bullshit. You’re giving it to her.”
      The two locked eyes for a long, silent moment and Rock briefly wondered if the video player had frozen. His concerns were squelched when the second man returned the CD to his back pocket.
      The unidentified man mumbled something indiscernible then said, “You don’t know what you’re dealing with, Christopher. Maybe you ought to just get out. Get out now since you can’t handle the pressure.”
      “You’re the one that can’t handle the pressure. You’ve been drinking again. I can smell it on your breath and I know you’re going to go straight from here to the bar. I could expose you and your whole world would come crashing down.”       “You wouldn’t do that.”
      “Try me.” Chris tried locking eyes with the man but his stare just netted him a jaw full of fist. He toppled to the floor, glasses flying, and his assailant kicked him once in the ribs for good measure.
      Rock winced and sat up on the edge of his seat.
      “Don’t you ever threaten me again. Ever. Nobody threatens me. I’m the one that makes the threats around here, do you understand? Nobody fucks with my world.”
      Chris grabbed his glasses and staggered to his feet, clutching his side. “She’s got you by the balls and you don’t even know it.”
      “Who?”
      “Both of them. You’re the one that can’t handle the pressure of this monstrosity you’ve created. You think I don’t know about that gun of yours? Who are you going to use it on? Me? Yourself?”
      “I’m going to ascend to the top of the world, a place you couldn’t even dream of going. People everywhere, in every county, of all different cultures will know my name. Why would I use it on myself?”
      Chris cackled. “Because that big head of yours is about to explode.”
      The man with the giant ego slammed Chris against the wall again, then let him drop and stormed out the door at the top of the screen. The video player on Rock Rickman’s computer stopped.
      The hacker stared at the blank box on his monitor, contemplating what he had just seen. He knew the unnamed man in the video, the genius that he was, and the mess of a life he had led. However, Rock had never actually met him. He knew the man’s programming code and that was certainly enough to tell countless tales of brilliance, paranoia, and deceit.
      Rock played the video twice more then burned a copy of it to a compact disc.