The cold metal of the gun pressed into the roof of Moretti’s mouth as the index finger on his right hand squeezed down over the trigger. A bead of sweat ran down his brow, trickled down his neck and the barrel of the gun pushed too far into his mouth. He gagged, pulling the gun from his mouth. From down the corridor he could hear voices and footsteps heading to his office. It was hardly the time to procrastinate over such an important and vital decision. The life of Moretti had to end tonight, but as he thought over his life, he realised with mounting horror the one thing that prevented him pulling the trigger.
“I’m one stubborn son of a whore,” he muttered, looking at the door across from his desk. The footsteps had stopped at his door and he heard voices on the other side. Raising the gun, he aimed it at the door and sat back in his chair. Having stood on the edge of death, he suddenly felt immortal. The angels who knocked upon his door, he thought, would find a demon upon his throne. Then the door opened and two men in black suits and ties burst through, standing in front of his desk, staring down the end of a gun.
“Moretti,” the youngest, most serious looking suited man said. “You know why we are here?”
Moretti coughed up a laugh, his mouth twitching into a smile. “You think you can just come into my office and arrest me without a fight? Do you know who I am?”
The younger man looked to his colleague who was almost as old as Moretti with a look upon his face that spoke of a man who had been demoted from higher ranks within Securi-Corp. A look that screamed out he couldn’t care less. He turned back to Moretti, his face expressionless. “You are James Moretti the third, head of the Freespace Corporation.”
Moretti grunted. His finger hovered over the trigger as he pointed the gun between the two men. “I am Freespace! You know what the spider said to the fly, don’t you? Step into my parlour, and you are currently standing right in the web.”
The older man shrugged. “I don’t really care who you are. We’re told to bring you in, that’s what we’re going to do. You’re not going to pull that trigger.”
Moretti narrowed his eyes. “What makes you think that?”
“Thirty years service in Securi-Corp; I’ve been threatened with guns before and I know when people are bluffing.”
Moretti licked his lips. Leaning back in his chair, he pulled the trigger and the gun shook in his hand. The single bullet that had been meant for him flew into the chest of the younger man. Blood sprayed out and spattered the wall behind and the man slumped to the floor. Now there was no going back, Moretti thought. Looking at the older man, he tried to read him, wondering if he would go for the gun in the holster that was no doubt tucked under his armpit. “What are you waiting for? It’s your move.”
The older man looked to his fallen colleague through clenched teeth. His hand reached into his jacket and fumbled within, his eyes fixed on Moretti. When his hand came out, he clenched a cigarette that he shoved into his mouth. “Do you mind if I smoke?” He didn’t wait for a reply, and pulled out a lighter. A second later, smoke filled the air as the man inhaled.
Moretti put the gun down. He knew the older one would be sensible, but he knew it was far from over. The gun blast would have echoed down the corridor and alerted the other cops who were on hold should negotiations fail. They had just failed. One word from this cop would bring them and there would be no questions. Just a bullet fired right into his head.
“You going to just stand there?”
The cop smoked, quietly watching Moretti. Finally, he said, “The name is Fletch and are you going to just sit there?”
So it was his move, Moretti realised. Their eyes locked. Twenty years ago he had sat in this same office running the news division of the largest information network in human history. He had helped governments into power, then pulled them down when he had decided it was time for a change. It was he who controlled how people thought, what they were told. Now it was all collapsing around him, from events that had started small then spiralled out of control.
Looking down at his gun, he wondered two things:
Was there a bullet left?
Which of them would it kill?
It was the night of November 30th 2250AD, twenty years before Moretti’s death that he had made a decision that would bring his downfall, yet at the time he had seen it as the greatest opportunity in his life. That evening was much like any other. The wind and rain was beating against the windows, but Moretti was warm and safe within the confines of the Freespace headquarters. He had been working late, his consciousness floating through the super network of Freespace. Lines of information led him down a highway of thoughts and dreams and he steered his bodiless form through hundreds of levels. Moving down through restricted paths, he delighted at the rush as he caught glimpses of hidden doorways he could rush into and retrieve whatever he wanted.
The three dimensional simulation spun around him and he found himself within the virtual media rooms. Vast amounts of news began to filter into his consciousness. The information washed over him at a speed he was too tired to take in. There had been the usual military action off world and rise of crime back on Earth worldwide. He added his own thoughts to the editing team.
Focus on the crime levels, get people fearing leaving their own houses. They can get all they need right here in Freespace. Don’t bother so much with the off world news: it’s getting old and people don’t care which army takes claim of a lifeless rock.
Being a news editor was pretty simple, Moretti mused. The man at the top didn’t really care how he played the news game, so long as he followed one rule: make people depend upon the network. And they lapped up every bit of information they could. They said someone connected to Freespace every second. Moretti guessed it was a lot less than a second. Pulling back, he headed to the main highway, colours turning the grey of a rain cloud. When his mind flowed back through the port in the back of his head, he stretched out within his body and opened his eyes, the tiny metal circle at the back of his neck tingling as he disconnected from Freespace. It was comforting knowing he could delve back into a data stream whenever reality bored him.
As always, it took him a moment to get used to a solid reality. His body had continued breathing and pumping blood around and his skin cooled him by a film of sweat without him being present. So disgusting, he thought, this biological world. One day, he mused, he would give up on flesh and finally ascend to the upper levels of Freespace and let his body rot. They said the man at the top had done that, his body having died decades ago. Reality was dull and he wondered about a life free from the physical where he would never grow too tired to follow the endless flow of information.
Rising from his chair, Moretti noticed a white sheet of paper on his desk. It had not been there when he had connected to Freespace. Anger bubbling, he snatched the paper. Had he not made it clear that no one was to enter his office when he was in Freespace? The body was so vulnerable without a mind and he had been gone a few hours. Anything could have happened! Muttering curses, he looked over the paper and read words that had been scrawled across the surface. A note, he realised. Who used such old ways of communicating? If they wanted to leave him a message, put it into his Freespace mailbox. Still, he thought, it had got his attention.
Roof Car Park. Come alone and tell no one. I have information that could change the game.
He read the note a number of times. Going to the door of his office, he opened it and looked out. The office floor was empty, staff having left hours ago. A red blinking light on the nearest wall camera caught his eye and he allowed his mind to drift back into Freespace where he put in a request to security to download CCTV footage for the last couple of hours to his office.
Have it sent straight to my link, he commanded the security rooms.
He returned back to his body and looked around, wondering if someone had used the brief moment he had left to sneak up on his body once again. But he was alone. Looking at the note again, he decided to head to the roof and confront the messenger. Whatever this was about, he had to admit he found himself intrigued. The thought of a game change sent a shiver of excitement through him. Stuff had gotten so old and predictable. The off world wars continued on as rival corporations won new mining resources so they could take more power back at home. The pattern had been the same for so long.
Probably just some crank, he mused. A new junior office boy had thought he had stumbled upon some new story to publish onto Freespace, but he had a dozen of those sorts. Most of it was a bunch of the usual with a new spin. Still, there was always the chance of a real diamond and the prospect had him hurrying down the corridor towards the nearest elevator. Hammering the button impatiently, he questioned his sense in following such a vague message. But it had been such a lead that had landed the biggest scoop of the century and given him his promotion. Ten years ago he had met up with a woman claiming to have worked for a few of the high end corps, those involved closely with the government. She had told him about the dream suggestions.
“When a person sleeps, they still have their Freespace link open,” she had explained over lunch. She chewed thoughtfully on a stick of celery. “Of course, you can close the link after each use, but no one really bothers or cares.”
Moretti took a sip of coffee. “More fool them; I always make sure my link is closed before I go sleep.”
The woman smiled at him. “We’re talking about the average person, the sort that regularly links in to feed on the stuff your network puts out. They leave themselves wide open because no one tells them to close their link.”
“So? Freespace is perfectly safe.”
“Ha! How about you leave it open tonight? What this government sanctioned operation does is to beam images directly through the open links into the dreams of the subject. For example, the government want a new policy through, on say, stricter interstellar border control.”
The woman had started to sound like a crack pot, but he listened to her due to the fact that she was young, attractive and he had nothing better to do. “They just passed some new guidelines on space travel and off world immigration,” Moretti said, leaning across, smelling her perfume.
The woman nodded. “Well, suddenly, they give people a few nightmares around space travel. They have a few dark fears brought to the surface about desolate planets and monsters. The off worlds don’t want to have their homes overcrowded like here on Earth. So off worlds and home worlds vote on strict immigration the government have been pushing for.”
After that lunch, Moretti had gone to his office and sat thinking about it. Just what if it was true? As a seeker of truth, or rather the big story, he had spent a week leaving his link open as he went to bed. In that period he noted down the dreams he had, all of which were far more vivid than when he would close the port. As he looked over the dreams, he suddenly saw the pattern. There had been no government policies as the woman had suggested, but he had noticed a staggeringly large amount of symbols of products within them. A fast food chain here, a cosmetic product there, led him to the big game changer: the corporations were using the open ports to transmit commercials straight into dreams! It was the ultimate in subliminal suggestion.
He had tried to contact the woman again, but she had never given her name or Freespace address. There was no one to source to prove the government were using the system, but he could certainly prove the consumer angle. Within a few hours he had put the story out to a stunned public who suddenly demanded protection from these dream invaders. There were the few who tried to run civil cases against some of the corporations, claiming they had created delusions within their minds. Perhaps they had, but the corporations claimed there had been no laws against it and they could afford the top lawyers.
So the government had created a new law against transmitting through open Freespace ports. With a clause that would allow general government information to download into the open ports, of course. That was the first time Moretti felt used in his life. The woman was untraceable and all over the world new corporations sprung up, offering extra security for a price. The public lapped it up. Freespace claimed a percentage of the profits for the use of their systems. It was a win for many people, springing from a single story.
Now as he rode the elevator to the top floor, he wondered if he was being used again, given a little worm to bite. As the doors opened to the roof car park, he rubbed his hands together as he stepped into the gloomy lit garage area. All he could think of was that next big promotion. From a low level reporter to head of news division, he was getting closer to the top. One day, he thought, I will run the entire Freespace Corporation. Walking through the garage, he saw his car landed near the launch door and wrapped his arms around himself as the wind and rain blew in. A figure stood by his car, watching.
“I was wondering how long it would take you to come,” the woman said with a smile.
Moretti’s heart pounded. The woman hadn’t changed at all; she was dressed in the sort of dress you wore at expensive parties and her hair was long and blonde, the style of the celebrity. Yet this was a woman without a name. Her blue eyes ate into Moretti and her full lips pouted at him. “How did you know I would even come?”
The woman shrugged. “Because James Moretti can’t resist a big story, can he? And this one is an even bigger game change than the last. It will make you powerful and very dangerous.”
Moretti licked his lips. “Powerful; how?”
The woman approached him, the wind blowing her hair. “How about I tell you about a simple secret that Freespace has kept hidden since it was created?” Moretti remained quiet, his face as expressionless as he could make it. “When Freespace was first created all those years ago, the designers wanted a unique way of joining minds. They would often play with entering into other minds, experiencing the ultimate in thought sharing.”
Moretti could feel the hair on his neck tingle. “There are couples who do share in this way. That’s hardly a secret.”
The woman looked around her, making sure they were alone. “What if there was a way for a mind to invade another through the port without the other knowing?”
Moretti chuckled. “It can’t be done. Especially since the security increase since the dream hacks, people have been very careful.”
“Yes, people have been offered upgrades to secure their ports via corporations that Freespace gave licensing permission for. Securi- Corp were the leaders in these upgrades. But they were very clever. They had a little back door access left open in order to make future upgrades to the software behind the port. I have those codes right here.” She held her hand out to Moretti with a data stick. Moretti went to take it, but she snatched it back. “Do you know what this will make you?”
Moretti found himself shaking. “A God,” he whispered. “What is it you want?”
The woman nodded slowly. “It would make you almost as powerful as those who really control.”
The woman laughed. “Of course not; Securi-Corp has been growing in power fast over the years. When they took over policing three decades ago, they tripled the number of cops out there. Having this ability allows them to gather intelligence right from the world leaders’ minds and then use it against them in blackmail.”
The woman threw the data stick to Moretti and he caught it. “For power. Imagine what you can do when you know presidents darkest secrets from invading their minds and monitoring every waking thought. It can’t go on, Moretti. I have given you the chance to go against Securi-Corp, but you need to be careful. Once they suspect you, they will make a move against you. That’s why you need to be clever.”
Moretti looked down at the data stick, the realisation of power suddenly sinking in. When he looked up, the woman had gone. It could all be a hoax, he thought, but she had not wanted payment for the information. A worrying realisation dawned on him: it could be a set up. But they did not know who they were dealing with, if it was a set up. That had been the beginning of the end for James Moretti the Third.
Jump to the present.
Officer Fletch, took a seat opposite Moretti and continued to smoke his cigarette. Putting his booted feet upon his desk, he said, “You went too far. You couldn’t just stay where you were, could you? Now you have Securi-Corp knocking at your door and Freespace is going to be dragged down with you.” He clapped his hands. “Well done, you have managed to destroy the largest ever corporation in human history.”
Moretti sneered at the old man. “Do you really think I spent all those years just gathering the big stories? Sure, I managed to unravel a lot the public lapped up. That planet that was blown up through the excessive mining and greed of the multi corps was just a small diversion.”
Fletch’s face became stone. He put his cigarette out upon Moretti’s desk and sat up straight. “So you think you’ve really hit the big time do you?”
Moretti sat back in his seat and sighed. “I know you’ve been hacking the minds of all the major leaders of not only this world, but the off worlds, too. You managed to collect enough private information to blackmail just about every corrupt politician out there. And I have never met an honest one. You think you are the only ones to hold a gun to the governments? Keep in line, or you’ll throw all their secrets out to the public! But I have been to the same places as you.”
Fletch smiled. “So you have the same secrets gathered as we do. Big deal; what do you propose to do with it? As far as I see, you’re no better off than we are.”
Now Moretti chuckled to himself. Putting the gun down on the table, he leaned towards the cop. “You think I haven’t gathered everything I can from Securi-Corp? I know which of your leaders have had affairs, which planets they ship their money off to. I know every little intelligence operation ever thought about, every target you have. I know the access codes to all your bank accounts and I even know the favourite colour of your most senior officer.”
Fletch was silent for a moment. “You’re bluffing. Securi-Corp have different access codes to their Freespace links; there’s no way you could hack into our people. You might as well just do the easy thing and put that gun back into your mouth.”
Studying the cop, he could see a small bead of sweat run down his brow. So, Moretti thought, you’re suddenly worried. But Moretti could sense his impending doom approaching and knew it was only a matter of minutes before he would be dead. His eyes went to his gun again. Would killing himself make Securi-Corp’s job easier? At least, he reasoned, he could go out of the world with the last laugh. Turning his chair, he looked to the figure that had been hiding in the shadows the entire time and smiled. “Time to come out, I think.”
The blonde woman stepped into the light. “I believe you would call this check mate,” she said.
The cop jumped to his feet. “I know you! You designed the security link software. You’re Doctor Mara Young.”
Mara smiled. Moretti had become fond of her over the years. The little meetings always brightened his days and he often found himself looking forward to them. Mara perched herself on Moretti’s desk and took his gun from him. “Yes, and I gave Securi-Corp the access to the links. But I have to confess, I also gave the same codes to Moretti.”
The air was tense, and Moretti could feel the fear from Fletch. “How’s it feel to know even your secrets are not safe?” Moretti asked. He took the gun from Mara and held it in his hand, knowing what he would have to do and finding a new bout of courage that had been lacking before. One bullet left, he realised. “Now you can know what it’s like to live with a gun at your head. Not a nice experience, is it?”
The cop looked at the gun. “If you kill me, then it won’t be long before you’re just as dead.”
Moretti shrugged, putting the gun to his head. “Then I guess there’s only one exit left from this world. Should I go out on a song?” But he hesitated again. It would be easier to have the cops kill him, let the blood be on their hands. Fletch looked at him with a smug look, calling his bluff. He could see he had unnerved him. Then without a further thought, Moretti squeezed the trigger and the bullet tore into his head, ripping into his skull and finding his brain. At the same moment, he fell back through his link and ran for cover in Freespace before the pain could hit him. Free from his body, he connected into the CCTV network for his office and observed the two figures looking over the dead body of James Moretti the Third.
That ever present link between mind and body had snapped and he felt strangely free. The pain had been so brief that it was now a distant memory and he watched the two living people through his electronic eyes. Mara turned to Fletch.
“So, now it is just us two,” she said with a grin. “To business, I think. I believe your superiors are watching through your Freespace link?”
Fletch nodded. “What happens now?”
“Moretti knew all about Securi-Corp blackmail of the governments. He knew all of Securi-Corp’s little secrets. But he’s dead now, isn’t he?”
Fletch shrugged. “I’m guessing there’s a deal?”
She nodded. “Moretti is part of Freespace now. You can try to find him, but free from his body, he has total freedom to wonder where he will. He’s essentially immortal, knowing how to access every human with a link. And there’s not a thing you can do about it.”
Fletch paused for a moment, his expression blank as he listened to his instructions. “What do you want?”
“The resignation of Securi-Corps senior management and newly elected leaders from a civil background. No more corporate power; your control ends tonight.”
The moment was historical, and Moretti relished it. For years they had been working towards this day when the corporations would be forced out of power.
“Do we have a deal?” she asked.
The cop nodded slowly. “We have no choice. But answer us one thing first.”
“I can try.”
“Who do you work for?”
Mara laughed. “I work for humanity.” She pushed passed the cop and wondered down the corridor. The security camera spun round after her and she looked at it, pausing. As the other cops hurried down the corridor, she blew the camera a kiss.