Code Breaker: An Alexander Hastings Novella
By A.J. Trevors
Copyright 2016 A.J. Trevors
The young boy was bent over his phone screen, trying to contain his rising excitement. His greasy thumbs mashed against the screen repeatedly and his eyes were riveted to the game. Anyone passing by the innocuous bench on Swanston St would think it looked like a kid harmlessly playing with his phone. Some would call it a malaise of this generation, too sucked in by technology. Some will say that he is unsociable. Others would call it cute.
But the game that Alexander Hastings was playing was far deadlier than anyone could ever know.
The screen shone a sickly blue light on his face as his brown eyes traced the 0’s and 1’s that raced across his screen. His fingers danced at the speed of light, imputing code after code until the 0’s and 1’s dissolved and the word, “Override Accepted” appeared.
Gotcha, the kid thought, bubbly at the thought of success. Roman is going to be so happy when he sees this. Who said hacking into the police armoury was hard?
Live CCTV footage flashed up on his phone screen. Two guards were sitting by a desk, evidently bored by the way they were playing with their own phones. One was playing “Cosmic Cube”, a game that heralded back to the ever-popular Tetris in the early 2000’s.
Can’t get more old school than that, Alexander mused.
In the entire one week of staking out the place, the night shift was probably the most uneventful one to Alexander. The sleepy demeanour of the guards agreed with Alexander.
Well, boys it’s gonna be a little different tonight, Alexander thought with a smile edging the corners of his lips
Swivelling his camera, he got a glimpse of the heavy, double barred gate that lay between him and his prize. The armoury of Melbourne PD, recently upgraded courtesy of the new security budget, which included hooking up all the security measures, from the cameras to the bio-lock for the gate, to the AuCS.
Alexander had no head for politics but, whoever the Prime Minister was, God bless the man.
He clicked a button and, after a loading screen, the door schematics came into view. It was merely a simple task to move the tumblers, disconnect the wires to the silent alarm and…
His screen blinked yellow.
Shit! he thought as his phone screen dissolved to black. His screen jumped back to life after a few seconds with a message that read, ‘Caught you’.
Panicking, he got off the bench and set off in a dash. Somebody sniffed out the hack, he realised. The police department must be keeping a resident hacker just in case somebody tried to mess with the AuCS. Now, they were on to him. He could hear police sirens closing on to him as he cut a corner and ran down an alleyway.
His escape came to a halting end as he reached the end of the alley, faced with a high brick wall. A dead end.
Turning around, he heard the squawk of com channels and the clipped tones of police officers as they closed in on the alley. He frantically searched about for a weapon. Nothing, just steam pipes and fuse boxes.
Fuck, Alexander cursed. How did they find me so fast?
Whipping out his phone, he noticed that the yellow light hasn’t stopped blinking.
Realisation hit him then.
The hacker dropped a bead on my signal, he thought, furious with his carelessness. I should have known.
Roman is gonna be so upset.
With a stroke of his finger, the bug was gone. Too late, Alexander mused darkly
Alexander looked up to face the end of four barrels smiling at him like a shark cornering its prey. The light blue uniforms and chequered vests of Melbourne PD stuck to the bodies of the officers in patches of sweat as the heat of an Australian summer beat down in waves on the five individuals in that alleyway that night.
“Give it up, kid. We know it’s you”
“Your hands up now! Phone where we can see it!”
Oh, you will see it alright, Alexander thought. Smiling innocently, he raised both his hands in the air. With his left, he tapped his thumb on the screen lightly.
The steam pipe burst, spewing forth all manner of hot gas and water onto the unsuspecting police officers. They screamed in pain, dropping their weapons in favour of protecting themselves from the burning water. Another tap of the phone and the fuse boxes blew, showering the already beleaguered officers with sparks that burned on touch.
The lights for at least a block went out with the fuse box. Alexander got on his knees and crawled amidst the cacophony of screams and flailing limbs. It wasn’t that smooth of an escape either. An errant knee, probably from an officer seizing with pain, crashed into Alexander’s face with so much force that he almost blacked out.
Instead, he gritted his teeth and moved on. He finally got out of the wailing officers and ran in the dark towards the opening of the alleyway. And freedom.
He didn’t utter a sound as something crashed into the back of his head, causing him to finally black out.
“Oi mate, wake up! Do I hafta repeat myself?”
Alex looked up and smiled at the police officer sitting across his desk.
“Sorry, mate”, Alex apologised, shifting his muscular bulk on his swivel chair. “Just remembering old times.”
“Aye, you can do that after I give you the briefing, you muppet”, huffed the man. “You don’t want me to give you another blow to the back, do you kiddo?”
The uniformed man shot a wicked grin and Alex had to laugh at this.
Tobias Joffrey was the man sitting across from him, twenty years after Alexander got caught by the very same man for hacking into the police armoury with a blow to the head. Back then, Tobias was just a police officer, fresh out from the academy with a set of special skills.
He was posted to the nightshift as a resident hacker against any potential hackers who came looking for easy pickings in the police armoury. From what he could gather, Alexander knew that he was the first one out of dozens of professional hackers that was able to override the security systems.
Tobias had been the one that apprehended him that night in an alleyway in Melbourne City but he did not go to jail. He convinced the then police chief to release the hacker boy into his service. The chief was sceptical but after much convincing on Tobias’s part, he agreed only if he adopted Alexander and took care of him.
Since then, it has all been uphill for Alex. He forgot his old hacker gang and renounced a life of crime for one of justice. Tobias had kept his end of the bargain with the chief well. He had no spouse and no kids but he was a model father, sending Alexander to school in the mornings, helping him with his homework and on most nights, training and teaching him the art of hacking.
When Tobias had found him, Alex was already a skilled hacker. His own gang leader, Roman Caster, had taken the talented ten year old off the streets and under his wing. He taught the boy all the basics. What Tobias taught were specialised skills supplementary to his own rudimentary ones, such as breaking a high end electronic lock or triangulating a suspect’s position using his own cell phone.
When Tobias became Police Chief, he offered Alexander the job of resident hacker but Alexander always had a rebellious streak about him.
Instead, he had opened up a private investigation firm and since then has been a moderate success. His firm was located in a run-down building near the outskirts of the city that Alex bought for cheap. The petrol station right opposite his office is the hideout for the local drug peddler and his neighbour worked as an enforcer for a local gang.
Alexander only knew because he hacked his damn CCTV by mistake one day, causing goose bumps to pop out whenever he ran into the guy on the stairwell.
However, Alexander would not have it another way. He came from the streets and has seen everything, from petty car thieves to serial murderers, during those tender eight years so nothing surprises him now. He lived close to danger because he wanted to let criminals out there know that he was the danger they should be afraid off. The plaque set onto his office door said it all, “Alexander Hastings, Detective – Hacker Extraordinaire”. People mistook it to mean that he caught digital hackers.
On the contrary, he uses digital hacking to catch the real criminals, and he was proud of it.
Shifting in his chair again, he replied, “So, Tobias, you said something about my old gang?”
“So, you weren’t listening. Sod it, do I have to repeat myself?”
“Please do tell.”
Tobias exhaled an exasperated sigh that Alexander knew so well before restarting from the beginning.
“Lately, Alex, there was been a spate of heists on local hardware companies in the CBD. Nothing big, just some chips, transistors and spare parts. We always tell these firms to keep a tight lock on their warehouses but they constantly ignore us.”
Alex nodded, knowing exactly what Tobias meant. Hardware companies use most of their floor space for the actual production of electronic goods and have no place these days to store miscellaneous items, such is the scarcity of land in the city. Hence, they purchase any dilapidated old warehouse by the docks to store all their useless inventory and do nothing on security.
Although they only keep small or mildly broken parts there, Alex knew that even with those you could make some mighty impressive gadgets. He himself made his first transformer manipulator with some springs and a midget transformer raided from these very same warehouses, which could shut down the power for an entire block. Unfortunately, he never had time to play with it until Roman saw an opportunity to use the gizmo and took it away from a bawling five year old Alexander.
“The Melbourne PD has plenty of high quality detectives who deal in corporate theft. Why turn to me, Toby?”
“Because we believe that Roman and your old gang are the ones behind this”
There was a moment silence that hung heavily in the air before Alex responded softly, “How do you know?”
“They left their usual mark on the walls. “Technology for All”. You know, the usual mantra”
Alex nodded, all doubts dispelled. Roman only held one thing higher than stealing from rich corporations. He wanted to spread the gang’s message to all of Melbourne. Free from the control of the central operating system, the AuCS. Technology for all.
Alex sighed deeply before saying, “Alright, I accept the case”
“Good”, Tobias said as he got up to leave, “So can you hack it, my friend?”
The detective-hacker smiled at the familiar saying, before replying, “Give me three seconds and a good connection. I can hack into anything.”
“Excellent. Contact me when there are any developments”
Tobias got up and left the room, closing the door behind him, leaving Alexander to ponder about his past. He knew that if Tobias had not adopted him and taken him under his wing, he would probably be out with Roman and his gang, causing no end of trouble. He works for the other side now and the only way he can show his gratefulness for Tobias was to handle this for him. To fight against his old family.
His phone buzzed in his pocket then. Swiping it open, a 3D hologram of the city came to life, with a pulsing red dot in Box Hill, north east of the city. Sighing deeply, Alexander got up and wore his deep black trench coat.
Pocketing his prized phone, he exited his office with only one thought.
Time to find out what my old mentor has been up to.
The beeping red dot turned into a constant whine the moment Alexander’s car stopped outside an old abandoned building. The signal that Tobias gave him led him near the Dandenong region a few hours outside the city with little to see in terms of civilisation. There were leafy trees and sweeping views of the Dandenong Ranges. The only sign of civilisation was a rundown wooden barn that seemed to have been burnt down. The black charring that enveloped half the building confirmed Alex’s suspicions.
He stepped out of the car. Leaning his back against it, he inhaled a deep breath of air that was not from the city.
Alexander took his phone out of his pocket. The pulsing red dot on the screen transformed to a 3 dimensional imprint of the warehouse. Using a pirated satellite feed, Alexander ran a thermal scan to determine if there were any hostiles within the barn and a juncture imaging scan to pinpoint weaknesses in structure and points of interest.
The phone pinged after about five minutes. The thermal scan was clean but the juncture scan conjured a host of images for Alexander to consider. He swiped through tons of pictures that showed the structural damage to the barn due to fire before coming across two pictures that interested him. One was the logo of his old gang, “Technology for All”. The other was an overhead shot from space that managed to capture, through an opening in the ceiling, what looked like a body tied to a chair.
Judging by the cold blue glow, Alexander surmised it was a dead body tied to the chair.
Alex shut his phone and closed his eyes.
He never heard from his old gang ever since Tobias took him in and that’s the way he wanted to keep it. When he was young, Alex thought that Roman was just a rebel, leading the cause against a unified operating system that seeks to control all of Melbourne. He thought they were pirates, carrying the crusade against the crooked cops and helping dim-witted citizens see the light. That they should control technology and not let said technology control them.
As the slogan goes, “Technology for All”.
However, it was only when he began his education under Tobias that he learnt the truth.
Roman was, in fact, one of the most sought after cyber-terrorist in the world. A premier hacker, he was the one that caused two air planes to crash into the Burj Khalifa in Dubai back in 2017 and robbed $56 million from five major banks in Melbourne soon after that in 2020, which Interpol suspected has helped fund the growth of his gang of hackers, Black Binary, that rivalled the notoriety of old school hackers Anonymous.
Since opening up his firm, Alex has sought a way to use his own set of skills taught by Roman in order to apprehend Black Binary, but so far all his efforts were in vain.
But now that the gang is back in circulation, his chance was back again.
This time I will succeed, Alex vowed as he walked into the burnt-out building.
Old straw crackled under his feet as Alex surveyed his surroundings. It was a typical barn of the early 2000s, with red, wooden walls and pens where they would keep all sorts of animals, ranging from cows to goats and hens. Alex shivered at the thought of having no machines to help old-time farmers to take care of the animals and how smelly the place would be with all sorts of droppings.
Thank goodness for automated plantations
The dead man tied to the chair caught his attention. He was well dressed in a suit and tie completed with shiny black shoes. A Caucasian man with average height and build but, judging from the well-groomed moustache and the manicured fingernails, he had to be higher than a middle-class Melbournian.
Patting his pockets, Alex felt something and dipped his hands in, withdrawing two items which were a wallet and, yes, a mobile phone.
The phone represented a host of opportunities to Alex but first he dealt with the traditional items. Flipping the wallet open, he thumbed through a multitude of cards until he found his ID.
Frank Walsh from Queensland. He took a picture using his phone and opened up an app.
This was a program that Alex cooked up for himself and it worked like a charm. The screen was filled with green lines and formulas popping up from the screen, measuring the dimensions of the card, checking to see whether the chemical composition of the card matches authentic Queensland ID cards and searching through Queensland online database for the identity number.
The app did this in all of ten seconds.
Alexander cursed under his breath.
Ten seconds? I’m must update the software soon. It’s lagging too much.
His phone pinged and the results came back as negative.
He continued his search until he found a drivers licence and a library card, both from Queensland as well but under different names. The app rejected the drivers licence but the library card was a positive, the screen blaring white as multiple windows popping up about the victim’s past.
Alexander read through each one carefully. The man wasn’t Frank Walsh but Franco “Skull Basher” Rock, a well-known bikey henchman from Queensland.
Flipping through his criminal record, Alex noted that most of his offenses were drug-related. Gang shootout during a drug shipment. Running meth labs all over Queensland. Working for one drug boss then switching to another.
The last entry, however, all but confirmed his involvement with Black Binary.
Caught stealing old mech parts in Melbourne, jail time two years. Just released last week, the same time Black Binary became a nuisance to Tobias again.
Why would drug muscle be working for Binary? Alex mused. Roman has never been big on the drug business. He always told anyone who would listen, “High payoff but fucking high risk as well!” He just didn’t like any job that did not give him control of the system in any way. Plus, drug trade in Melbourne is virtually non-existent due to the operating system watching your every move, so Roman’s fears were justified.
Storing those questions to be answered later, Alexander began to analyse the phone. It was a standard black smartphone from the technological boom of the 2010s so security shouldn’t be a problem. He connected the phone to his own with a simple wire and in less than five seconds, he was trawling through contacts, photos, messages and emails. Most of the phone has been wiped clean except for a photo of a bar code.
Staring at it, Alexander recalled that this was not a bar code, but a QR code. Unfortunately, he won’t be able to decrypt it
This would require outside help.
He disconnected the wire and trawled through his own contacts.
Alex hit “Unknown” and waited for a connection.
It clicked, a deep bass voice saying, “Hello, Alex”
“Good day, Two Bit”
Two Bit was one of Alexander’s personal success stories. About a year ago, one of his cases brought him face to face with a notorious hacker ripping off people’s bank account details from their mobile phones.
In a beguiling chase that lasted all of three months, Alexander finally found him by hacking through his television set. Back then, Two Bit was a scrawny seventeen year old kid that had a story just like Alex’s. On the streets, mixing with the wrong crowd but wonderfully gifted in terms of technology and hacking. Alexander decided not to bring him in but instead took him under his wing. Fast forward a year, Two Bit was now the go to man for anything forensic that the police or private investigators could not crack.
Alexander doesn’t know his real name, nor did he ask him. Even Two Bit told him he has always been known as Two Bit and that would never change.
“What could I do for you, sir?”
“I’ve got a QR code with me and I need you to crack it”
“A QR code? You jivin’ me? I’ve got more important things to do. Don’t you have an app that could help you with that?”
Alex smiled on the other end and said, “Come on, just a favour. Or else I tell Tobias of how you are still secretly stealing from everyone’s bank accounts, including his own!”
Some things Alex just couldn’t change.
“Ah, come on Alex! It’s only one cent from every account. I do it to keep sharp”, came the grumbling tones on the other end. “Alright, send me the pic and let’s see what we could get out of it.”
It did not take even a second after Alex sent it over that Two Bit replied, “Hell yeah. Easy ass shit. The code was hiding a location my friend. Chinatown, in a restaurant called Jade Dragon.”
“Fill me in as I make my way there”, Alex said, hustling out of the warehouse. One step closer to Roman.
His drive ended at the arched gateway leading into the narrow streets of Chinatown. Ignoring the horns, he parked his car in an alleyway and continued the rest of the journey on foot.
The place was packed with tourists from all walks of life enjoying a nice stroll down one of Melbourne’s most iconic tourist destinations. The scents of the tourist town hit him hard. The sharp tinge of garlic and oyster sauce wafting its way from the open kitchen windows to the streets below. Every alley he passed was full to the brim with an assortment of rubbish which the rats scurried around, enjoying a buffet of sorts. Rickety neon signs were stacked against each other like Jengga, offering a host of services ranging from food, meditations, fortune telling, martial arts and massages.
After a few minutes, he arrived at the biggest building in all of Chinatown.
The Jade Dragon was a famous dumpling restaurant in the middle of the sprawling tourist destination. The line that stretched from the pavement to the middle of the road was a testament to the strong attraction people had to their famous dumplings.
However, Alex had intimate knowledge about the inner workings of the place.
The restaurant, as many places in Chinatown were, was owned by the Chinese Mafia.
Some of these stores and restaurants would be fronts for numerous illegal activity happening behind the scenes, ranging from illegal pokies to prostitution.
Bringing up the Mafia file on his phone, he searched through a list of their owned enterprises before resting his finger on an entry that stated, “Jade Dragon – Front for the prostitution den Tianshi Zhongsheng”.
Alex did not know what disgusted him more. That there were innocent people inside trapped in the sex trade or that this den was called “Angelic Beings” in Chinese.
Time to see what’s so important about the place that someone had to die, he thought
He opened his trusty hacking app. Command prompts and codes flashed before his eyes in blistering speed as he tried to crack their security encryption. Luckily for him, the Mafia hadn’t bothered updating their security system that seemed to have been built in the last century.
Who would have the balls to hack them in the first place anyways?
The guy with the balls smiled as his phone vibrated in confirmation.
His screen immediately segmented into six different sections, each showing a live feed of all the cameras in the building. Interestingly enough, none of them were located in the dining hall but were all focused in what seemed to be a basement of sorts. The screen on the top right corner of his phone was listed as “Waiting Room 01” where men of all ages were sitting down on worn couches, trying to avoid each other’s gaze as they stared into space.
A number was called and one of them leapt up, a cruel smile lighting up his face. A door opened and out came a girl that could not be older than seventeen who smiled and beckoned the man in.
The door shut behind him and that was when Alex started to pay attention.
Because a man exited the room before the girl beckoned for the next customer.
A man that Alex knew very well.
Roman looked to be healthy and in good spirits. A wide grin stretched from ear to ear that suggested mischief; eerily similar to the smile of the Cheshire cat. He had gotten fat over the years, an impressive belly bulging out of his button Hawaiian shirt. Sunglasses hid his mismatched blue and green eyes whilst his hands, although slightly wrinkled, were still wide and strong looking as he hugged the surprised receptionist, roaring, “That was a good lay! Thanks a bunch, Melinda.” The shaken receptionist merely nodded as he ambled out of the door.
Overall, he looked like an active sex tourist. And that was what bothered Alex.
The Roman he knew would never get into the prostitution business, be associated with prostitution or even visit prostitutes. Whenever he was teaching Alex the ropes of hacking, he would once in while lean in, with a fierce leer and say coldly, “Boy, if I catch you at any of our client’s places fucking with things that you aren’t supposed to know about, we will see how the police would like to pick you up, with a personally polished criminal record courtesy of me. Got it?”
Of course, Alex just nodded away. He would never go against Roman’s word and never did whilst he was with the gang.
He had fathered many other teens as his own network on the streets, most of them girls and he had always treated them as roughly and fairly as the boys. The girls had never been abused.
Beaten maybe, when they botched the odd job, but never humiliated or molested sexually.
Alex’s instincts were alight. Something else was happening in that den.
Well, he thought as he walked towards the restaurant. Time to find out what.
“Good evening, sir”, the oriental receptionist greeted Alex with her broken English and flat accent. “How can help today?”
“Good evening”, Alex reciprocated, with a fake British accent. “ I’ve just arrived from overseas and I’m famished, if you get my meaning. Could I browse through your collection and see what…excites me?”
Despite the bile that threatened to rise up his throat, he kept a straight face as the receptionist obligingly handed him a worn black leather-bound book.
Flipping it open, there were pictures organised on every row by name and age, the youngest starting from the front.
He looked through pictures of innocent girls smiling for a camera until he happen chanced upon the one he was looking for.
“What about this one?”
“Oh, certainly sir. Excellent choice.”
Nodding slightly, he followed her as she walked up to the same room Roman was in and knocked quietly.
“Is everything okay in there?”
There was the rustle of sheets and the door opened, revealing a beaming middle-aged man.
“Just about leaving, Mira”, he said as he tightened his belt.
“Have fun in there”, the man said, slapping Alex’s back and winked at him before leaving the room with a satisfied sigh.
Alex didn’t even give Mira the chance to say her own encouragement before slamming the door in her face. Pulling out his phone, he pressed the phone against his back awkwardly and snapped where the guy slapped him
Looking at the screen, the phone had captured and recognised the fingerprints which Alex sent to Two Bit. The police will be knocking on his door within the hour. He made a mental note to spare time during the next month for court proceedings.
Lifting his eyes, he saw the dishevelled girl at the end of the bed. Her slight frame was slightly hunched as she eyed him with tired but practiced eyes.
She produced probably the most fake smile he had ever seen in his life before she said, “Sir, you want to tr-”
Alex pressed another button on his phone and heard the satisfying whine of the CCTV powering down. The girl was alarmed, watching the camera descending into its cradle as Alex ran a security scan of the room. He fried another bug located at the back of the bed’s dashboard and a hidden cam located on the top of the mirror.
Now, they were all alone.
Crouching next to the wary girl, he clasped her hands tightly and asked softly, “What is your name?” A short silence ensued before Alex prompted her urgently, “Don’t worry. I’m here to help you. I’ve disabled security so they won’t know about us talking. I promise.”
A tear streaked down her cheek before she quietly burst into tears, nestling her head against Alex’s shoulders. Despite his need for answers, Alex found himself consoling the girl with one hand whilst the other scrolled through his phone for the body matrix scan. The security scan had not detected any anomalies within the room so Alex could only guess that Roman came here not for the room, but for the girl herself.
The scan barely took a second when it zoomed in on symbols that have been tattooed on her scalp, hidden by her long black locks. Curious, he scanned it whilst the girl finished soaking up his shoulder.
His phone beeped red.
Hmm, another QR code perhaps, he thought as he brought up his email. Within a few taps and swiped, he sent the attachment to Two Bit along with a message to Tobias about the girl.
He would have to wait for Two Bit to decode the symbols, which in Alex’s experience, would definitely take longer than the QR. However, that unfortunate delay is balanced out by the fact that at least this sickening enterprise would be shut down soon.
Alex lifted the girl’s head until her bright blue eyes met his own.
“What’s your name?”
The girl remained silent, stifling her sobs as she looked at Alex with tear stained eyes.
“Look here, whoever you are”, he said, wiping her tears with his fingers. “The police will be here soon and recue you and your friends, okay? Just last one more day and it will all be over.”
He smiled as she nodded her head and patted her shoulder comfortingly.
He stood up and exited the room. The attendant didn’t even notice him leaving or that one of her cameras were knocked out as she was pleasantly explaining to another customer about their ‘range of services’.
Once outside, he lifted his hood against the chilly air and wipe his hands against each other.
“That business is done”, he muttered as he swung the corner to get to his car. “Now just gotta wa-”
There was a sudden thunk, a bright explosion of pain, and a descending darkness crossed his vision.
“Time to wake up, my old friend”
Alexander peeked and shut his eyes just as quickly as bright neon light sent daggers into his pupil. His head felt like someone cracked it in two and he felt like throwing up.
He tried to move his hands but he found them locked tight, the jiggling of a metal chain can be heard as Alexander struggled against his bonds.
“Still as feisty as he was almost ten years ago, don’t you agree Tobias?”
He forced his eyes open.
The pain brought a single tear streaming down his right eye as he saw his mentor.
Both of them.
They were in what seemed to be an abandoned warehouse. Metal and cardboard boxes filled with scrap were littered across the warehouse floor. So were black clothed guards that were milling around on the ground and overhead walkways. Alexander seemed to be in the middle of the warehouse, with no chance of escape. But he wasn’t focused on that right now.
He was just looking at the two figures, side by side, leaning against a rusted chassis of a car, not believing what he was seeing.
One of them was Roman. The years have not been to kind to his one-time teacher. Where there used to be a whole head of hair was left just the white strands of old age. His belly protruded out of his shirt in the most grotesque fashion possible and his skin wrinkled and sagged. If you did not know that he was the leader of an international terrorist organisation, you would think he was a simple old man from out east.
However, the sharpness of his gaze and his smile, still having a whole set of white teeth, was reminiscent of the genius Alexander learned from and a testament to his enduring intelligence.
The person next to his ex-ringleader however, was someone he did not expect. Tobias was still in the same Melbourne Police Department uniform since he met him just this morning in the office.
However, instead of the soft and comforting demeanour he has been used to all these years, his gaze bore into Alexander like a six-calibre bullet.
One hand held onto Alex’s prized smartphone whilst the other grasped a small pistol pointed straight at Alex.
“Tobias?” Alex asked sluggishly, not sure if it really was who it was. “What are you doing here? What’s going on?”
Roman cut in with a sharp bark and said, “Tobias, the boy you brought up is seriously thick in the head.”
Tobias answered with a flat voice, “Alex, I just want you to know that I did not want it to come to this. I brought you up with the vision that we would be side by side, fighting the criminal elements of the city. Sadly, that dream is over.”
Alex tried to figure it out. Stealing old parts. Visiting the prostitution den. Tobias and Roman together. What does this all mean?
“What is all this?”
“This, my old friend, is the future of the organisation!” Roman roared, sending echoes reverberating throughout the empty space.
“Spare parts, boss? You can do better than that.”, he said before cursing himself for reverting back to old habits and calling Roman ‘boss’
Alex couldn’t be sure, but he swore that he saw that familiar grin stretch just that bit further at being called ‘boss’ again by his former protégé.
“Spare parts was just the distraction, boy”, Roman said, leaning close to Alex’s face. “So was the visit to the brothel. Didn’t you think I knew you were following me when I saw the camera move?”
Alex’s heart dropped into his stomach. He cursed himself for not being careful enough and, even worse, possibly putting the girl at risk.
“Oh, don’t worry about the girl, Alex”, Roman sneered, enjoying the look of discomfort on Alex’s face. “The cops got her before we could do anything. Nah, we have much larger fish to fry.”
Roman turned around and lifted the cover off the unusual device on the back of the rusted vehicle. Sitting on it was something Alex always thought was a dream. Until now.
“The bypass”, Alex whispered, with a dry throat.
This was Alex’s worst nightmare come to life. There was no deadlier weapon to a techno-terrorist than using a central operating system bypass, or just simply ‘bypass’. The machine had a shape like a long grey flag pole that was about four feet tall. However, what it lacked in size it made up for in ability.
This was how Roman had hacked into the Algerian Air aeroplane and crashed it into the Burj Khalifa. With the bypass, it is hacking made simple. It’s like a bulldozer that crashes through any kind of firewall within minutes and giving the user complete access to all its functions. Roman used to have one but lost his years ago during a botched job in the Congo
Alex could see his eyes light up like a child receiving a new Christmas toy.
“Yes, all those years my boy. Finally, it has come to pass”, Roman exclaimed, eyes gleaming with excitement. “In actual truth, we have been smuggling the components for the bypass through the children. These exclusive parts are illegal here in good ol’ Aussie but not in South East Asia. They build them by the boatloads and use it for their own highly volatile electronic relay systems. We just needed to pay a few bribes and find a way to transport them here. Also, to find a way to distract you and the cops from pushing your noses into our business. That’s where Toby comes in.”
At the sound of his name, Tobias looked distinctly uncomfortable.
“How long?” Alex asked simply, too tired to argue with his one-time mentor.
“Since two years ago”, Tobias said, pain plastered across his pale face. “Please Alex, you have to understand why I did this. I have no recognition. No praise for the work I have do-”
“Save it for someone who cares”, Alex cut in, fresh anger giving him strength. “Our job has never been about recognition. It has always been about protecting the ordinary people of this city. There is no glory and never will be. Only service to justice.”
Please work, Alex thought, staring at his phone.
At that moment, Alex’s phone vibrated in Tobias’ hand.
“Emergency override accepted. Voice recognition activated”
“Blow the fuses and disable all armaments”, Alex replied hurriedly.
Tobias threw the phone on the ground and smashed it with the heel of his boot. But the damage was done. In an instant, the cacophony of crackling and sizzling followed by simultaneous yelps of pain indicated that all the heavy firepower the thugs carried were now fried, melting into a puddle of liquid metal thanks to microchips soldered into the firing mechanism that Alex’s phone hacked without a hiccup.
The overhanging lights shattered into a million glass shards, plunging the warehouse into darkness as Alex, still tied to the chair, lunged blindly in the general direction of Tobias and Roman. His wrists were chaffed and legs wobbling as he tried to swing his chair, using it as a weapon against the defenceless duo.
However, despite his betrayal, Tobias was still a cop with almost twenty years of experience battling the seedy underworld of Melbourne. Roman was no different, albeit on the other side of the law. The first punch came from out of the darkness, landing a solid blow on Alex’s cheek, sending him reeling before a meaty fist pounded his solar plexus, causing him to crumble to the floor out of breath.
He desperately swung his chair wildly, a sick crunch against what feels like a knee and the ensuing scream of pain giving Alex much satisfaction. That has before a leg kicked him flush in the face and another, somehow, landed smack in the middle of his groin, leading him to double over in pain. Alex could feel the blood flowing from his temple where the leg landed and tasted the copper tinge of his blood before he was picked up like a kitten and thrown against the back of the rusted vehicle, scratching his back in the progress.
There was a short pause before a deep voice spoke up.
“What do you hope to accomplish in all this, Alex?” Roman’s voice called out, very near his own face in fact. “You may have succeeded in crippling my guards of their firepower, and their right hands, but you are still here, stuck in the middle of the warehouse. Tobias and I are already too much of a match for you. What hope do you have against the rest?”
An explosion that rocked the very foundations of the warehouse saved Alex from giving an explanation.
“This is the MPD!” yelled out an authoritative voice, followed by the systematic footsteps of countless police officers flooding the area. Bright yellow beams cut through the darkness like a knife and landed squarely on Alexander, who had to squint his eyes.
“Give up and let the detective walk!”
Alexander Hastings sat in his office.
It’s been a week after the hectic events of the day that changed his life forever. He reclined on his soft leather chair, being careful not to pressure any of the numerous bruises located all over his body, and reminisced on what had happened since then.
The reason why the police could show up so fast was, ironically, due in part to Tobias. A year before, He insisted that Alex should install a failsafe inside the phone that, when it gets destroyed, the police will be dispatched to find out what happened to Alex. The minute the inside circuits are fried, it sends out an SOS to the police hotline and marks the place it was last seen.
Alex couldn’t believe Tobias forgot about the failsafe. Maybe he was just panicking. After all, this wouldn’t be the first time Alex saw a criminal fuck up due to letting their emotions get the better of them.
Two Bit had done his part and delivered up a deconstructed QR code to Alex, who had then forwarded his findings to the cops. The code on the back of the prostitute’s scalp was a list of part shipments used to build the bypass that had been secreted within the bodies of the prostitutes they were smuggling over. The list included names of prostitutes whose corpses had been waiting in the morgue for the past two years, used as living carrier bags to transport illegal parts from South East Asia to Australia.
Both Tobias’ and Romans names were all over the manifesto, making it easy to pin the crime on them. Alex did not know how they could be so careless. Perhaps they thought nobody would go after them. They thought wrong.
Now, they were sitting in the max prison cells of Toongalong Prison, waiting for their trial that would surely be sensationalised by the press.
The leader of a worldwide techno-terrorist ring and a highly-decorated cop of the MPD?
This will be on headlines for weeks to come.
Alex had his own life changes to ponder. The new police chief within the MPD was impressed by how Alex handled the case and had offered him a job within the department. But Alex flat out rejected him.
He was evasive now, not knowing who he could trust and who he should stay away from. Tobias had been more than just a friend. He had been a father that brought him in out of the streets, to do something meaningful with his life.
To find out that he had been in the same bed as his criminal mentor, well, that will take a lot of heavy drinking just to get that out of his head.
His phone rang, dispelling the memories in a flash.
Alex took it off the hook and pressed it against his ear
He listened, smiled and replied, “Give me three seconds and a good connection. I can hack into anything.”
'So, can you hack it, my friend?' 'Give me three seconds and a good connection. I can hack into anything' Cyber-sleuth Alexander Hastings is a hacker extraordinaire With the help of his phone, he can hack into anything and everything connected to the Australian Central System, also known as the AuCS, making the futuristic city of Melbourne his veritable playing ground. However, when his past resurfaces, Alex will need to be at the top of his game in order to uncover the shadowy plans of the techno-terrorist organisation Black Binary, their leader and ex-mentor Roman Caster Follow Alex as he races against the clock to uncover their plans and prevent them from coming to pass. Before it's too late.