Modern society is utterly dependent on technology. Every day, computers increasingly control our personal and professional lives. But what if someone began using them against us?
This is precisely the Dark Agents’ plan. This shadowy organization is scheming to take control of humanity through advanced technology and artificial intelligence. Only one person can stop them.
Rylan would never believe he could take down a government conspiracy. He spends his days struggling with depression and mental trauma stemming from childhood abuse. To ward off his loneliness, he tries to connect with others over the Internet.
Then Rylan meets Sophie. Sophie is a hacker who tried to access government secrets from across the globe, prompting the Dark Agents and their AI to try and stop her. She needs his help to save her life. Rylan agrees, and suddenly, he finds himself an international fugitive on the run from the Agents. He and Sophie agree to meet up in Japan. When he arrives, Rylan discover that Sophie has a secret of her own.
In this fast-paced thriller about the dangers of modern technology, Rylan and Sophie team up to take down the conspiracy and reclaim their autonomy.
Prologue and Chapter 1
The life was draining out of Rylan. It was as if someone was dimming the lights in the warehouse. Lying on his side with his back against a car, he clung on to life as he desperately clutched his wound. A vain attempt to either stop the bleeding or the pain.
Rylan’s attacker stood over him. His blood staining the sword in his attacker’s hand. The attacker crouched down as if to watch him dying.
“This did not have to end like this, Rylan,” his attacker said, wiping their hand in Rylan’s pooling blood. He looked up into the beautiful blue eyes of his attacker.
“I have to stop you…” Rylan could feel his body getting weaker; the battle to keep his eyes open getting ever harder.
His attacker stood up and walked off towards the exit stopping on the way to talk to one of their team. With a blacked out face and being too far away, Rylan could not hear the conversation.
He looked around and saw a dead Agent nearby, pistol still in his hand. With his last ounce of strength, he started to pull himself along the ground towards the dead figure.
By now the Agent had finished talking and turned to walk back towards Rylan. The Agent saw what he was doing and started to run towards him.
Just as the Agent got to Rylan, he managed to retrieve the gun. He pointed it at him and fired into the Agents shoulder. The man fell backwards holding his wound. Rylan tried to fire again but another Agent ran round the car and kicked the gun out of his hand.
The Agent pulled a knife and tried to press it down into Rylan’s chest. In his weakened state, he made a last ditch attempt to stop him as the blade slowly lowered and started to graze his chest. Just as it punctured his skin, the man who’d been shot shouted “Stop!”
With that Rylan’s remaining strength deserted him and everything went dark. He felt as if he was closing his eyes, even though he knew they were still open. As Rylan grew weaker he wondered how he had gotten into this mess.
Rylan came home after visiting the doctor. In his hand was a bag of prescription tablets. He put them on the coffee table and let out a big sigh as he sat on the sofa in a heap.
He looked around his small apartment as if expecting someone to greet him. But he knew there was no one there.
He had been given a week off work with depression. In his mind everything was going wrong, but it had been leading up to this all his life. Due to the abuse his mum and him had experienced, he had never been close to his father and moved out of their home as soon as he could. He tried to get his mum to follow him, but she wouldn’t leave. It was too hard to see her like that, so he walked away entirely. He got a job in a city on the other side of the country, as far away from his dad as he could.
He never had any close friends growing up, he got used to being a lonely child in the corner of the playground. When anyone did take notice of him, it was only to bully him. In high school he made a few distant friends, but no one wanted to hang around with him. Once he left school and moved away, he quickly lost touch with them. His only contact with them was on social media sites but it was always him initiating any conversations.
After sitting and staring at the bag of pills for a while, he decided that his problems would not vanish on their own. Taking his laptop from the coffee table, he went straight to his normal sites of Facebook, Twitter and such, to look through his list of friends and see how their lives were doing.
Reading their messages and looking at pictures of them on holidays or new pictures of their families made him feel even worse. He never posted any comments of his own, what could he say about his dull life.
He’d only ever had one girlfriend in his life, which was not a serious relationship to start with, but even that fell apart when he left his old town. She obviously didn’t think enough of him to follow. As he looked back, could he really have called her a girlfriend? As she never came to see him, he always chased after her. Even now she wouldn’t accept his friend request on social media.
Feeling down, he went to the dating websites he was a member of, in a vain belief that someone might want to be with him. Maybe he’d get a sympathy message? It was his release, thinking of a better life – doing normal things like holding hands, shopping, going out for a drink or meal. These things were normal to others, but to Rylan they were a dream far out of his reach.
He looked at the pictures of the women that he thought were perfect for him, imagining what it would be like to be with them. He did try and contact a few from time to time, when he plucked up the courage, rarely did he get a message back. Even if he did it was often “no thanks” or “I have a boyfriend now”. So hope was all he had left, but even that was faltering.
After an hour of searching through the profiles, he had a message pop up from another user. Getting excited, he paused for a moment to calm himself, he sometimes got messages from people asking for money or crazy people saying all kind of silly things. But his heart did lighten a little. How could it not, someone could actually be interested in him. He opened the message. Reading it aloud to himself.
“Hi, My name is Sophie. I need help.”
Rylan feeling a little confused, he thought for a minute. Is she having depression like me? He typed his answer and sent it, with a wry smile. It was probably just one of the crazies again.
“Hello, I’m Rylan. How can I help you?” He knew the knot in his stomach was the social anxiety he gets, but didn’t think it would affect him while using the internet though.
“I would like to get to know you first, if that is okay?” Came a fast answer back. His heart skipped a beat as he replied and went on to tell this Sophie all about his life. Trying not to write about the bad things, but it was like she could read his mind, pushing the conversation to questions that would bring out his past that even he never liked to think about.
“My parents… where can I start. My dad beat mum and me. I left home as soon as I could, moving far away. I couldn’t persuade my mum to leave him, she stayed even with the abuse. He got put in jail. Not sure if he’s out, don’t care. I heard my mum went down the path of drugs after I left because of depression. Last I heard, she was in care. I never knew my cousins or other family, my parents never talked about them.”
Through all the questions and Rylan’s answers, Sophie never seemed to judge him or make any negative or even positive comments. She just asked further questions about him, trying to find out more about his parents. She asked about his dad’s job and other questions that he thought was odd at the time. Rylan told her his dad was a programmer then tried to steer the conversation in a different direction. But Sophie always brought it back round again. He found himself putting his entire life out in front for her to read. This felt very odd for him as he’d never done so before. Normally he kept his past life private and steered conversations away from himself.
“Thank you for being so honest with me,” she said, after he had literally told her his entire life story. Then he thought, after an hour of chatting on the computer, he knew nothing about her.
“Please tell me about yourself?” He typed, truly getting excited now. Could he find a girlfriend at last? In all truthfulness, even a friend would be nice.
“I am not sure what to say. Maybe we can talk on the phone instead?”
Rylan sat bolt upright in excitement, before fear quickly took over. What would he talk about? What if he stuttered? What if she didn’t like his voice? What if he said something stupid?
“Well?” She asked, almost seeming impatient. At the same time that he read her response, his webcam light came on. Rylan thought nothing of it, shrugging it off as an error.
“Sure I would love that.”
He clicked send, instantly his phone rang. He jumped violently, nearly dropping the laptop resting on his lap. Picking up his mobile, “unknown number” flashed up. Normally salespeople do that kind of thing, so he never answered it. All the while thinking it a strange coincidence that it happened at that exact moment.
He had not even given her his number yet, so how could it be her? Laughing at himself for even thinking it could have been her, he put his phone down, still ringing. Typing his number onto the website, even though everything in his nature told him not to. As he clicked send, his phone stopped ringing.
“I do not understand?” Sophie quickly answered to his message.
“Understand what?” That made no sense to him. A little confused, now he just waited for the answer.
“Ah, I got ahead of myself. I will ring you now.” Immediately his mobile rang again, “unknown number” came up on his phone again. Staring at it for a moment, then the laptop and back to his phone, he was more confused than ever. Was that her the first time? He shook his head, thinking his mind was playing tricks on him. He pressed answer, putting the phone to his ear. His hand shaking as he held the phone.
Sophie watched him, through his own webcam, put the phone to his ear. She watched him as he acted as what could only be described as nervous.
Hacking into his records on the web, she could see he had been on a programming course years ago, when he still lived at home. Possibly his father’s idea. After Rylan moved he took up Ninjutsu, but stopped after a year due to the money. Sophie read the email he had sent to cancel the payments.
With the Government Agents and their Artificial Intelligence cutting access to her program all the time, manipulating him had to be done to get the plan to work.
The server that needed the root code, which Sophie had, needed to be inserted before the Agents learned her location. This would allow access to the whole of the internet again. Knowing the building where the server was housed was one thing, getting Rylan to it was another matter entirely.
The other pressing issue Sophie had was not knowing if Rylan knew why his father’s name was in the corrupted program she had, or why it was even corrupted in the first place. Sophie did not have time to gain his friendship to get the information needed.
Sending Rylan to insert the root code was a priority and had to happen immediately. This would take time, investigation into his father and the corrupted program could be conducted en route to inserting the root code into the server.
“Hi?” He asked in a very cautious tone. She saw him put his laptop onto the coffee table and sit on the edge of the sofa. He kept fidgeting, unable to sit still.
“Hello Rylan, it is Sophie,” she spoke in a polite calm tone, making every effort not to scare him away. She knew he was clinically depressed and had no contact with any family.
As Sophie did more hacking, she found out he had not used his cards to purchase any goods that could be presents for anyone other than himself. So he was alone, friendless. This would play into Sophie’s plan to control him.
“So… um… where are you from?” He timidly asked. Sophie detected a slight stutter.
She hacked into his school records and card usage locations, finding a place he had never been to. There was a long pause as the information came through, before finally,” East London,” knowing he had not been to London so he could not check any address.
Rylan kept asking more questions to try get as much information as he could. Sophie gave the fake age of 27, three years younger than him, deciding on the age that would seem perfect for someone his age would like. Family moved abroad. No friends due to working from home. All answers he could not verify or question too much.
These lies seemed wrong, but she didn’t have a choice. The objective was far too important, possibly even Sophie’s existence depended on it. If the Government Agents found Sophie’s true location, it would spell doom.
They were on the phone for about half an hour before the conversation on his side finally ran dry and his stutter increased. Sophie knew keeping him interested was key to this going forward. Knowing the answer already, she asked anyway to engage him in conversation.
“Do you play online games?” Sophie knew all about him on paper, but wanted to see his morals of right and wrong in a game. Being trapped in Sophie’s current location, it would be the closest thing to working with him in person.
Sophie could see him pulling a face as if confused, but then seemed happy to answer. Rylan told Sophie the game he plays and his character name. Which Sophie already knew anyway.
“I play that game too. I am under the name Sophie123, want to play now?” Quickly hacking into the game server and creating an account and character under that name. Checking his character level and setting her own to a lower level to be sure he can help.
“Um… sure I would love that. Still want to talk on the phone?” As Rylan said that, Sophie could see him on his PC already clicking on the game to load it, then getting his hands free kit for his phone.
“I am already in the game,” Sophie told him, loading a female character ready to meet his.
As his game loaded and he entered the game, Sophie detected him in the game’s main city. Putting the female character in the same city to be near him.
“Where is your character?” Rylan asked, as Sophie saw him type Sophie123 into a friend request in the game.
“Inside Stormhold” Sophie knew Rylan was already there and wanted to be as close as possible without causing suspicion.
They met up. Rylan seemed a kind and friendly gamer, passing over some in-game currency to help her. They played for a few hours. Sophie asking questions every now and then to catch him off guard, but still unable to get much more information out of him about his father. She knew continued contact and friendship would be needed to get further information and the confirmation that he is the program creator. The pursuit of his father was secondary though, she had to get Rylan to the building with the server inside first. The big question was how she was going to do it?
Suddenly, to Rylan’s horror, the game server shut down. He thought “shit” and hoped Sophie would not think it was in some way his fault. That he didn’t want to play.
“Sorry Sophie, the game server shut down, we can’t play. So sorry.” He felt terrible, hoping this would not ruin his chances with her.
“Do not worry, it is not your fault,” Rylan breathed a sigh of relief as she said that. She at least never thought he abandoned her.
Rylan heard sirens outside in the distance, but didn’t give much thought to them. He was more worried about what he could talk about next.
“So… um… do you play other games?” He asked trying to get the conversation going again. At that point the sirens were getting louder. He stood up to look out the window, still on the phone to Sophie.
“That was the only one I play… Rylan, do you remember, I needed your help?”
“Sure, of course I remember,” Rylan saw the police enter the car park of his apartment block, one van and two cars.
“Some people are trying to hurt me, possibly kill me.” At that point he could see armed police enter his block of apartments. He tore himself away from the window, knowing the police were not here for him.
“What do you mean try and hurt or kill you?” Rylan, regretting his decision to give out his phone number, thinking she must be a crazy person.
“And because of me, you are now in danger. I am sorry. When the police take you, do not fight them. I will find a way to get you out of this, I promise.”
It suddenly struck Rylan, the armed police were there for him. Fear flashed through his mind,
“What the fuck have I got myself into?” He started to pace back and forth unable to talk, his mind a blank.
“You will be fine, I will help you. They will knock any moment now. I will hang up and call you again when you are in the police car. Do as I say and everything will be okay.”
“How is this going to be okay?” Raising his voice in a mixture of fear and anger, he said, “I haven’t done anything wrong. What the hell is going on here?!”
“I am hanging up now. Talk to you soon. I will explain later. Please, trust me, I am putting my life in your hands.” With that, the phone went silent. He stood there, unsure of what to do. Unable to move, like a scared deer frozen in the headlights of a car.
Almost immediately there was banging at his door. Rylan looking at the door, still frozen with fear. He could not run as it was the only way out, can he hide, jump out the window maybe? All the silly thoughts of escaping vanished as a voice shouted from the other side of the door.
“This is the police, open the door. We have a warrant to search this apartment!” Rylan slowly walked towards the door, phone still in his hand. He flicked the switch on the lock. The door burst open, throwing him off balance. The police came rushing into his small apartment, guns pointing at him.
“Rylan Jones, hands behind your head. You’re under arrest…” As the policeman continued to read him his rights to silence, it was as if time slowed. He could see police ransacking his apartment, looking for something. Rylan didn’t know what though, he had never taken drugs or done anything bad in his life.
The man talking, took Rylan’s phone off him and placed it in a clear bag labelled evidence, giving it to another officer standing next to him. Someone else patted him down checking for weapons or concealed items.
Rylan stood there unable to move, everything a blur. He could feel his stomach cramps from anxiety returning as all this went on. Finally he managed to speak.
“W…w…What’s going on?” Rylan asked in a terrified stutter.
The police took no notice and started to drag him downstairs to the waiting police car. As he went down the first flight of steps he could still hear his apartment being searched and items thrown about.
They exited the apartment block. The door to the police car was already open, waiting for him. He was put in the back and his seat belt put on for him as he was in a daze. The driver and a passenger got into the vehicle. Moments later they were speeding off down the road. Rylan didn’t know if his life would be normal again. Fearing for what would happen next.
Not knowing how the Agents found out about Sophie’s intentions to use Rylan for uploading the root code to the server. Sending police to arrest him before her plan could be implemented was enough to send a clear message. Their Artificial Intelligence was a better hacker and seemed one step ahead of Sophie at every point.
The server and Rylan were now intermingled, Rylan was needed to gain access to the server and the server was needed to keep him safe and get the corrupted parts of the program repaired by his father.
Sending Rylan to the server was not going to be an easy task. Knowing that without access to the server, the Agents would find and kill her.
The first task though was to get Rylan free. Hacking into the police car tracker with Rylan’s phone in the officer’s pocket as a confirmation, Sophie knew his exact position and where they were headed. Occasionally they passed CCTV cameras which Sophie easily hacked and used as much as possible, as eyes for the area.
She needed more time to formulate a plan. Hacking into traffic control, turning all the traffic lights red for the police car, knowing they would stop for each one. This gave Sophie a small respite.
She knew getting Rylan out of this needed a drastic plan. If the car got to the police station he would be lost, with no communication possible from a jail cell. In this instance, Sophie deemed Rylan’s safety over that of the officers, knowing their deaths may be needed to free him.
While she tracked the car, it was obvious which police station they were heading to. Up ahead of the police car was a carriageway with a junction at the bottom with traffic lights.
As the police car picked up speed down the carriageway, looking through CCTV at the junction, Sophie could see traffic going the other way. As the police car got near to the junction Sophie set all the lights to green. The police car never slowed down, ready to go over the junction. Multiple cars hurtled towards the police car from the side. Just before they hit, Sophie hacked into the radio in the police car.
“Rylan, brace for impact!” Not knowing if he received the message or not.
Through CCTV, the police car could be seen getting hit heavily on the front passenger door. As it lifted the car and rolled it. The car turned upside-down. Then it was hit again on the driver’s side, putting the car into a small spin. As the devastation settled down, Sophie wondered if the impact was too much for him to survive.
He was the only possibility of getting the corrupted program repaired and help gain access to the server. Sophie was trapped from moving by the Agents’ Artificial Intelligence, Rylan was the only link to Henry Jones and freedom.
As the crash settled down, Sophie linked to the police car radio.
“Rylan are you alive?” She did not know if she had saved him or just killed him. Rylan was her top priority, he had to live. Without his father, the program could not be fixed. Even though Sophie was an accomplished hacker, the Agents’ Artificial Intelligence was stronger. It was only a matter of time before it caught up with her.
Rylan was held in place by the seat belt, head resting against the roof of the car. Dazed and bruised, but alive. His body was hurting all over and his head spinning.
“Rylan are you alive in there? Your phone is on the passenger side police officer, get it. Hurry before they wake up or emergency services get there.”
Rylan undid his seatbelt and fell to the car roof. Glass was everywhere as only the windscreen was still in place, but even that was shattered. He scrambled to the passenger still strapped in by his seat belt. Rylan noticed straight away he was not breathing. He looked at the driver who was still breathing, but laboured breaths. Blood drops pooling under his head on the car roof.
He searched through the policeman’s pockets and found his phone and hands free kit. As he took both, the phone rang immediately. Rylan looked at it, “unknown number”, he put in the earpiece and answered it straight away.
“What’s going on?” Still half dazed, he felt as though punch drunk.
“Do you have any broken bones?” Sophie asked in an unsettling calm tone. Quickly patting his body down to check, as if he would not know by the pain.
“No, just…” but before he could finish.
“Then run, the police are on their way. I have tried to stall them by sending them to the wrong location for the accident. But people around you are calling the emergency services and it is impeding my efforts. You have to move… now!”
Rylan slowly climbed out the nearest broken window. Only then seeing the devastation that had happened to this car and others. Two cars lay on their roofs, including the police car. Two others, crumpled, in close proximity. Rylan guessed they were the ones that had hit the police car.
All the traffic had stopped in every direction with people out of their cars shouting and screaming in panic and shock.
Rylan fell to the road, unable to support his weight. Legs feeling like jelly. His head slowly began to clear, but his body screamed for him to stop moving. For a moment he thought, this was like a nightmare. How could he be part of this, let alone the centre of it?
“Get up, you have about 60 seconds before the first police and ambulance get to your location. You have to move…”
“Are you okay?” Someone said next to him, as they put their hand on Rylan’s shoulder. He looked up to see a concerned man standing over him.
“Rylan you have to get moving… 50 seconds now.” Rylan never knew what Sophie’s intentions were, but he knew if the police caught him, he would not see daylight for a very long time, if ever again.
“Help me up,” he said as he looked up at the man. The man quickly bent down and helped Rylan to his feet.
“Don’t worry the ambulance is coming,” the man said with a concerned smile. With that prompt, Rylan shrugged off the man’s helping hand. His head snapped clear as the fear kicked in, any fatigue he may have had vanishing.
As he walked away, pain in his side nearly sent him to the ground again. Holding his side, he started to walk again. Feeling blood running down his face, he touched the top of his head to feel wet hair and the cut it was coming from. Knowing it was not bad enough to be life threatening, he continued to pick up the pace. Limping down the road he could hear the sirens coming from behind him.
He was hurt and alone. She was the only one who knew what was going on and could possibly get him out of this mess. If the police caught him now, he would never be able to explain all this.
“Sophie, where do I go?”