Crypto – Cal Smyth

This week week delve into the world of Tech Noir with Crime Cymru’s Cal Smyth.


If we don’t know death, how can we know life?

Confucius

551 BC – 479 BC

***

2015

1

Jay Hawks stalks through the cryogenics facility, two sets of footsteps puncturing the eerie silence. She played the FBI card to bypass reception and has the manager of Acorn Life Extension trailing in her wake as he tries to keep pace. It’s not like the frozen humans are going anywhere, but Jay needs to know: Has the secret identity of Confucius been taken to a cryogenic grave?

   The place is lined with huge aluminum cylinders, each pod filled with a body encased in liquid nitrogen. With its bulletproof glass and Kevlar walls, the facility is well-protected from body snatchers. Jay feeling like she’s in a scene from some sci-fi movie. Did all these people really believe that sometime in the future there will be the technology to bring them back to life?

   At $800,000 a body, it’s a risk for the rich, thinks Jay. From behind her, the facility manager breathlessly says:

   ‘Last one on the left.’

   Jay doesn’t respond or let up in her stride, focused on her mission. Obviously, she didn’t tell the facility manager that she has no authority as an FBI agent because the case is in fact closed. She was almost ready to give up her role once corruption even infiltrated the FBI. But for Jay, it’s not just about bringing financial criminals to justice.

   For her, it’s personal.

   People she knows have been killed.

    Jay stops at the final cylinder, checks the name. She needs to see the face matches. When the facility manager reaches her, she says:

   ‘I need it opened.’

   ‘I can’t…’

Jay whips around to face the manager, stares at him as she says:

   ‘You can and you will.’

   ‘People have paid for privacy.’

   ‘They’re dead.’

   ‘Well, technically not. They’re cryogenically frozen.’

   ‘Just open the pod or whatever it is.’

   ‘It needs to be authorized. I mean do you have a warrant?’

   Jay pulls out her handgun, the Glock pointed downwards, but a clear threat. It’s a below-the-belt move she’s never made in her whole career, but she needs an answer.

   ‘Open it before I arrest you for obstructing justice.’

   The facility manager gulps, turns to the cylinder and types in a code. The aluminum shield lowers, revealing the head of a frozen human behind the glass. Jay steps close and examines the face. It matches the name.

   The shield lowers further, the man’s whole body coming into view. Naked and cryogenically frozen.

   There’s no hidden clue to be seen.

   Jay wonders what she expected. Maybe that it would be someone else. She looks back up at the paralyzed face and demands an answer:

   ‘Who is Confucius?’

2

Alan Keys is hunched over his computer, his wheelchair pushed right up to the desk as he types. A mixture of words and code running across the screen. To most people, it’s indecipherable, but it’s Alan’s language. One that he shares with other coders. His fingers pause as he waits for a response.

   But nothing new appears on screen.

   Sweat drips down the side of Alan’s head. Alan painfully aware of the man standing behind him, a gun with silencer attached in the man’s hand.

   Alan isn’t afraid for himself. With multiple sclerosis in its final stage, he doesn’t have long to live anyway. But he can’t let his wife be killed. Mary sitting in the corner of the room, trying to stay strong, but on the verge of tears.

   She’s supported him through everything and in return he’s putting her through this. A matter of life or death that she doesn’t deserve.

   Alan turns to look at his wife, wants to give her a smile that everything will be alright. But the man with the gun presses the barrel to the side of Alan’s face, forces him to turn back to the screen.

   There’s still no reply to Alan’s coded question. The screen as silent as the man with the gun. Alan says:

   ‘I’ll try to decode it myself.’

   The man says nothing. Alan has no idea who the man is working for, just knows he has to stop Confucius from freezing Crypto if he wants his wife to stay alive.

   So Alan concentrates, takes a breath and types. He enters code to break through and decipher previous responses from Confucius. But he knows the original coding is too good, that it can’t be broken.

   Is he just buying time?

   People try to buy everything, he thinks. And that’s what this is about. Ownership, profit, wealth.

   The opposite of what Confucius and the original coding was meant to achieve. For Alan, it was initially just the beauty of the newly created language. But then he came to share the philosophy, agreed that it could disrupt the whole economic system and create an equal platform for all.

   But of course, human greed has taken over.

   And there are people who don’t want the cryptocurrency to be stopped. Not now they know it can be used for personal profit. And this is surely the reason why the man with the gun is standing in Alan’s backroom office, threatening to kill Alan and his wife unless Confucius continues the work.

   Because Confucius has threatened to stop Crypto working. Actually not a threat, but a deed, the code about to be wiped. While Confucius has vanished.

   Alan gulps, hoping his bladder won’t give way or his words slur. He takes a chance and says:

   ‘I can’t reveal who Confucius is, but I can make Crypto continue.’

The man with the gun shrugs as he replies:

   ‘Who gives a shit who Confucius is? It doesn’t matter if he’s alive or dead. Just make sure Crypto doesn’t stop.’

3

Cassandra Maxwell stands up from her position on the sofa and looks at the array of naked bodies, everyone seemingly dead to the world. The all-night orgy and pill-popping taking its toll. Cassandra was an active participant, but now she looks at the scene dispassionately.

   Most of the men sprawled around the place are older than Cassandra. And most of the women are younger than her, many of them escorts who are paid for their time. Cassandra had her own incentives. Yes, it was a fun night. But the important thing was that it all helped seal the deal.

   It’s not that she feels dirty, but she wants to freshen up and get the day started. For her, the party’s over and it’s time to go home. She’s already lost a few hours that she could have spent working. There’s no shortage of bathrooms where she can take a shower, but she’d prefer her own.

   Cassandra steps over a couple of entangled bodies on the thick-rugged floor, avoids knocking over the bowl of pills that are already half-spilled on the glass coffee table.

   Her clothes are neatly piled in a bedroom used for changing. She knows her way around the mansion, having been there a few times.

   If she’s honest, she hoped something would develop between her and Mitch – one of the so-called Tech Twins. She brokered the Crypto deal, putting the twins, various banks and financiers together.

   They had sex after meeting for the first time, before pleasure turned to business. The sex was great, so they continued to meet up. Mitch was all for sharing, especially with his brother. So the sex sessions soon evolved. And that was fine with Cassandra, but against her judgement, she found herself emotionally involved.

   The all-night orgy has helped Cassandra become detached from emotions. It’s clear that Mitch doesn’t secretly crave love. He’s a generous lover, but like all men with wealth and power, he can have as many women as he desires. And Cassandra’s ex-husband also being there definitely made her heart go cold. So she will leave on her own terms, pushing her frustration to the side.

   Business is business, thinks Cassandra as she finishes getting dressed. And everyone involved is about to become even wealthier than they already are. So her job is done.

   Cassandra shoulders her Prada handbag and heads out of the mansion without a second glance at the post-orgy scene. She takes out her iphone and a packet of Camel Lights, eye-scanning the phone to turn on and lighting a cigarette. She’s got an ecig too, but she’s in the mood for the real thing, Cassandra inhaling deeply. Her Porsche is parked nearby, but before she reaches it, Cassandra stops dead.

   Hundreds of notifications are lighting up her phone. Scrolling through them, Cassandra can see they’re all about the same thing: Crypto.

   There are personal messages with people directly asking Cassandra what is going on. There are comments circulating through social media with opinions about it. And it’s all over the news.

   Cassandra taps up an article and reads the headline in horror:

   ‘Confucius freezes Crypto accounts.’

***

That’s episode 1 of my serialized tech noir, Crypto. The three scenes are key to the whole series as they set up the future mystery that the main protagonists converge towards…

Jay Hawks is an FBI finance investigator who strives to uncover the mysterious creator of a new cryptocurrency. As a woman of Native American descent, she has to overcome internal prejudice as well as outside forces blocking her investigation.

Alan Keys is a terminally ill coder who is determined to keep the creator’s identity a secret until his death. And Cassandra Maxwell is a financial fixer who will do whatever it takes to protect the wealthy.

I came up with the concept for Crypto as I changed career and moved into tech. It was born out of research into cryptocurrencies & the mysteries behind their creation, but also seeing for myself how warped the world of digital finance can be.

To capture the digitalized world of Crypto, I decided to serialize it in 12 episodes – harking back to the detective magazine serials of the 1930s, but updated to online episodes with a female investigator in a modern tech world. You can read more episodes here.

As an author, of course, I love books. But there are whole new modes of storytelling out there. By moving into health tech, I gained the opportunity of shaping narrative, writing scripts & mentoring writers. I’ve also been working with travel app Questo to create interactive quests. And collaborating with a VR company on new narrative experiences. For all writers, whether aspiring or experienced, I can only recommend embracing digital storytelling.


Cal Smyth is a content lead, script writer & crime novelist. His Balkan Noir novels are available from Fahrenheit Press. And he lives in Barcelona, where he’s plotting new crime fiction…

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