Exclusivor, Distinctive and mASSHtrOLE make an assault on the Sky Towers skyscraper in Kiev. The expectation: round up Sindictive’s team of hackers, grill them for information on Sindictive. Reality? More than one surprise awaits at the top.
M: “Hey man, I gotta stop for a minute.”
X: “Alright, smoke ‘em if you got ‘em. I’ll call Fishburne and check in.”
Exclusivor, mASSHtrOLE and I were taking a break from climbing to the top of an unfinished skyscraper. We’d learned from Mayor Rodiyenko that Fishburne had fled, but his core team of hackers was still up there. And we were going to get them.
We all wore wireless bluetooth earbuds and conferenced with FBI Special Agent Sam Fishburne. Fishburne said:
F: “When you get to the top, we need you to physically rewire their network. This time their command-and-control is right here in this building.”
X: “Gotcha. What’s the latest on Sindictive’s attack? Is it bad?”
F: “The US has been knocked down to the stone age. Right now we’re relegated to copper-wire phone calls and physically being onsite in front of a terminal. But every NATO-based CERT is working with Cyber Command trying to mitigate.”
X: “You want us to come back down and help?”
F: “No. Keep going.”
M: “Man, my knee hurts already.”
D: “Hey, Fishburne. How are my parents doing at your house?”
F: “Good. Loretta and my daughters are enjoying them. So, focus on getting up to that penthouse.”
M: “My knee hurts already. I don’t think I can continue.”
X: “Ah, you’ll be fine, mASSHtrOLE. Fishburne, keep us posted.”
We dropped the conference call to save batteries.
X: “Alright, let’s go.”
M: “Wait a minute, man. You’re not my boss.”
X: “I don’t have time to argue. On your feet.”
We started climbing again. If it were a finished skyscraper and mASSHtrOLE wasn’t limping, it would take maybe twenty minutes to climb to the top. As it was, the stairwells were completed only on staggered ends of the building. So, we climbed, walked through an unfinished floor to the other end of the building, and climbed again. We stopped for a break every-other floor so mASSHtrOLE could rest his knee.
On the break on the twenty-third floor, mASSHtrOLE said, (M:) “Look, I get why you need me, but I’m just not going to be able to continue.”
X: “Yes you are.”
M: “I don’t like being told what to do.”
X: “Do it for your country.”
M: “I’m Canadian, man.”
X: “No you aren’t.”
M: “I know what you can do, Exclusivor.”
D: “mASSHtrOLE -”
M: “I want her to give the story about her BASE-jump hack.”
X: “I’ve already told you –”
M: “On the record! You tell the story, and I record it on my phone.”
X: “Todd -”
M: “I’d be a god on the Dark World Forums if I got the saga from the ‘legend’ herself, man.”
X: “Okay, I promise I will sit and tell you all about it when we are done here.”
M: “No, I want it right now. I’m going to record a video on my phone.”
X: “We need to keep climbing.”
M: “Okay… you tell me the story during breaks. Deal?”
X: “It’s too dark for your phone to record anything. The acoustics –”
X: “Fine. Deal.”
So, on the twenty-fifth floor, mASSHtrOLE recorded while Exclusivor explained how she ascertained Sindictive had executed her brother. Exclusivor swore she was gonna make it World War Four.
After weeks of hacking and digging, she found little more than murmured mysteries, whispered histories, and had barely any victories.
On the twenty-seventh and twenty-ninth floors…
Exclusivor discussed her discovery that Sindictive was detected in Texas. And she learned major telecom commanded the top three floors of a downtown Dallas tech palace.
According to her analysis, all information in and out of North Texas flowed through the top three floors of the Bank of America building, the second tallest skyscraper in the South.
(X:) “I’d discovered the one central position in which the NSA could listen in.”
This was Exclusivor’s first big mission win, an omniscient position in which to intercept transmission.
All she had to do was tap into the bug the NSA had surely already wired in it’s place.
On the thirty-first and thirty-third Exclusivor said scouting was common sense, so she ate in their restaurants to do reconnaissance. She watched virtual building tours on youtube, partied at the private nightclub near the top and attended meetings with businesses leasing space.
She got the vibe of the place.
She devised and revised and strategized in case.
But there was an obstacle.
X: “How could I get back down without a trace?”
She knew she could get in past security. She had a plan for concealing an exfiltration device. She could handle the adrenaline but had no idea how to escape down seventy two floors unnoticed again.
X: “But then…”
On the thirty-fifth floor, Exclusivor said, (X:) “One night, I was drunk in the City Club -” … (D:) “The city club is a private nightclub” … “staring out the window down at Dallas below. The downtown is small, there is a lot of open space around it. A lot.
And it hit me.
I would just jump.”
mASSHtrOLE’s excitement grew. On the thirty-ninth floor, Exclusivor lit a cigarette and described learning about B.A.S.E jumping, and about taking sky-diving classes near Fort Worth. She watched Youtube videos about B.A.S.E. jumping, about how to calculate the size of the specialized pilot chute; how to pack it; how to judge the wind, and then… she climbed a radio tower near Amarillo.
X: “It was torture going up, climbing that little skeleton of a ladder.
It was windy.
The tower swayed.
It took all of my nerve. I puked once. The heights were one thing, but the tower swayed so much that I got motion-sick, too.
I got the pilot chute in my hand. And I held on there, trying to summon the nerve to let go.
Fall from the wrong side and the chute would tangle with the tower and the dance would be done. So I climbed around to the downwind side.
I got the rhythm of the swaying.
Back and forth, back and forth. Feel it.
The pilot chute pulls out my main chute. I had to push off at the right time, then, while I fell, I had to pause a beat to clear the tower, then throw the pilot chute out away from me. ”
M: “Holy fuck, man! This shit is gold!”
X: “Okay, let’s keep climbing.”
M: “Wait, how was the landing?”
X: “It ended up being no problem. Piece of cake.”
On the forty-first, Exclusivor went to a corner and peed. While she was away, mASSHtrOLE said (M:), “This is incredible. I have fucking Exclusivor on video, dude. I’m gonna get laid so much from this.”
D: “What about Preature?”
M: “She’s into it.”
Before we climbed again, Exclusivor described the notorious and extreme Dallas Spring wind, but how she was in a hurry, so, in late March, 2016, she partied at the City Club five nights in a row and slowly stashed more and more gear in the ceiling panels of the lady’s room. Then…
Resting on the forty-third floor, Exclusivor said, (X:) “So, I met a Ken Doll, he got me into the City Club. About 1am, I abandoned him, climbed into the ceiling in the lady’s room and waited.
It was 3am when I dropped back out.
I changed into my jump suit.
I climbed the final three floors, at one point having to go up over a railing on the outside. That sucked even more than the Amarillo radio tower.
The comm room was just as I hoped. The NSA wasn’t even trying to be discreet. Since it was so physically difficult to get in there, they had literally no on-site security. I planted my drop box on a NAC-less port and stashed it behind a nest of wires. Then…”
Then, she had to get back down. She planned to jump.
On the forty-fifth floor, we took our last break. The penthouse was next. I was nervous.
I told them I had to pee and went behind a pallet of cinder-blocks. Exclusivor came over smoking a cigarette. I said, (D:) “Whoa, I’m taking a leak here.” She walked right up and said, (X:) “I don’t understand you.”
D: “Whaddya mean?”
X: “If I was a guy, I’d be pissing off the side of the building. You’re passing up a golden opportunity.”
D: “No way I’m getting that close to the edge. I don’t even know how you climbed that radio tower. Damn.”
She was close enough I could see her roll her eyes, even in the dark. She said, X: “Hey, have you spoken to Sam about the DoE job?”
D: “Uh, not quite.”
X: “Do it. I want you working there as soon as all this wraps up.”
I … wanted to protest - but… I just nodded. I could hear my own voice waver when I said, (D:) “One more floor to go.”
Exclusivor nodded and flicked her cigarette over the side of the building. We walked back over to mASSHtrOLE. He said:
M: “Okay, one last video about the jump. This is fucking awesome shit, man. I’m gonna get some respect now. I bet they make me a forum moderator.”
X: “No, we’ve wasted enough time, I’ll finish the story after we’re back down at the bottom. We’re rested. We’re ready. It’s time. Let’s go.”
During the climb we found about half the levels were secured by a fence welded in place, blocking the stairwell. Each had a gate secured with a hefty padlock. The first couple of gates, we alternated picking the lock, but it was slow. On the thirteenth floor, we found a rusty bolt cutter and carried it with us from there.
The bolt cutters snapped the final padlock in a heartbeat. Exclusivor and I started up the stairwell to the penthouse. She turned and said, (X:) “Come on, Todd.”
M: “I’m not moving until I have the final chapter of the story, man.”
I was kind of rooting for mASSHtrOLE here. I knew Exclusivor would never give him the rest of the story. No way she wanted a video like that making the rounds.
X: “Later, Todd, the West is in chaos right now. This has taken us long enough.”
M: “You’re the one delaying it.”
Exclusivor glared at him, then snapped. She walked over and said, (X:) “Get out your phone then. Let’s do this.”
mASSHtrOLE had bested Exclusivor. I was amazed. She finished the story.
X: “I stood at the railing on that 75th floor for probably ten minutes. I tried to find any way I could get out of that building without jumping, but I knew that I would be spotted a hundred ways to the sun and my drop-box would be found and I would lose any chance I had of finding Sindictive. I sucked it up, and I jumped. There you go.”
M: “Come on, man. What about the landing?”
X: “We are wasting time! Fine. I, uh, I threw my pilot chute too early. It snagged and got twisted. It partially opened but my descent was too fast. I was out of control and it was windy. I got disoriented, and I thought I was going to – die.”
X: “I remember falling. Tumbling head over heels and realizing he was going to get away with it. Sindictive wouldn’t pay for killing Sergei. I had failed.”
X: “But, a miracle: my chute suddenly deployed, just in time. And it was right then that I knew I was destined to get my revenge. And now Sindictive’s entire team is one floor above me. I’m going to pummel each one of them until they tell me where Sindictive is. Let’s fucking go!”
M: “What about Claire, man? What’d you do to Claire? The Dark World forums say you murdered –”
X: “Todd, there is no way you can share all these recordings with your buddies on Dark World if I throw you and your fucking phone off this building.”
M: “Okay, man. Let’s go already.”
I was nervous as we crept up the stairs onto the Penthouse level. We barricaded the exit, but no one was going to get out that way anyway.
The penthouse was incredible. Just beautiful, opulent. A helipad, rose garden, heated pool, driving range, putting green, an outdoor theater, a dance floor.
We stopped and conferenced with Fishburne again. Fishburne said, (F:) “I’m not expecting much security in the penthouse. Just hackers. Most of the Mayor’s bodyguard are down here at ground level.”
mASSHtrOLE had examined the helicopter. He said, M: “Their chopper is an EC-130-T2. Max seating is seven including the pilot. That means four trips, maybe five, if they want everybody.”
X: “No one leaves this rooftop. Not the hackers, not the Mayor.”
Exclusivor pointed at the helicopter and whispered (X:) “Get it disabled. When you are done, let me and Sam know. I’m going to secure the mayor so he can’t make any phone calls. D, after that, cut their power.”
She took a deep breath, exhaled and said, (X:) “Go.”
mASSHtrOLE and I crept to the helipad and I kept watch while mASSHtrOLE gracefully slid underneath the low helicopter and opened a panel and started surgically slicing wires and hoses. Two minutes later he slid out and smiled broadly. I whispered into my earbuds: (D:) “Helicopter is disabled.” mASSHtrOLE said, (M:) “This is so cool; I’ve always wanted to sabotage something!”
We went through the door Exclusivor had gone through, then followed a trunk of networking cable. The cables were zip-tied together, about as thick as my thigh, and prevented doors from closing. It was lucky for us, as it prevented them from arming security alarms.
Then, we found their Ops Floor in what appeared to be a nightclub. We walked right in. I saw the Mayor talking to a man in the middle of the floor. There was a disco ball and columns of speakers. Sindictive’s hacker army was hunched over computers like abused robots. I could see my own reflection in the mirrors lining the walls.
And in the mirror, I saw the look on my face when I saw her.
She was beautiful… No… Gorgeous. Endlessly smart. Just seeing her reminded me why I had fallen in love with her. But wait. Why is she here? My head spun, I felt disoriented. No, this is all wrong.
mASSHtrOLE whispered (M:) “You okay, man? Looks like you saw a ghost.”
Not a ghost, but someone who shouldn’t be there. I stood up. mASSHtrOLE grabbed my arm. (M:) “What are you doing?”
I walked right into the middle of the room. I said, “Avanta?”
She looked up, and her face fell.
I meant to speak, but I couldn’t. Avanta, here? Helping Sindictive again!? All I could say was, “Baltimore.”
Chaos engulfed us as I realized the man in the middle of the room was Sindictive! The Mayor had lied! Exclusivor flew into the room, yelling at the Mayor, who started yelling something in Ukrainian. Sindictive grabbed Avanta’s arm and they ran.
I couldn’t move.
Avanta had returned to Sindictive. I thought she was in love with me. I thought she was in a Baltimore hospital.
Next thing I knew, Exclusivor was streaking past me, yelling (X:) “Cut the power, D! Hurry!” I looked at mASSHtrOLE and said (D:), “Todd, cut the power, I gotta do this!”
I followed Exclusivor, who was chasing Sindictive and the others toward the helicopter. The Mayor was in the pilot seat trying to start it. One of Sindictive’s hackers tripped and fell. I hurdled her. I saw Sindictive run right past the helicopter without a glance. Exclusivor was ten seconds behind then me five seconds later.
Sindictive pulled Avanta through a door on the far side of the roof.
As I sprinted past the disabled helicopter, I looked at Mayor Rodiyenko and yelled, “You’ve been pwned by mASSHtrOLE!” Right as I said it, the bright lights from the helipad cut and we were plunged into darkness.
Then, I got to the door. I opened it and crept in. It was dark and I was blind.
What was Avanta doing back with Sindictive? Fuck me. I should have never left her in Baltimore.
A voice beside me said, (X:) “D, this is fucking great. The Mayor lied. Sindictive is here.”
I said to the darkness, (D:) “And Avanta.”
X: “I saw that. No wonder this attack was so well planned. But we’ve got them cornered. The only way down is those stairs. Fuck yeah. We got ‘em!”
Just then, down a long hallway, another door opened. I saw the moon through the doorway, then the outlines of two figures exiting. Exclusivor and I jumped up and ran. Down the hallway, through the door, out onto a rooftop garden. I looked left, then right. On the fringe of the garden, on the top of the thick marble parapet, on the edge of the roof… stood Avanta and Sindictive, facing us.
On the edge. No, no, no, no! I saw Avanta glance over the edge of the building, just inches from where she stood.
Sindictive said (S:, as though talking to someone fifty feet away), “Stay where you are, or we’ll jump.”
Exclusivor started walking. She said (X:), “Go ahead, jump, Sindictive. I don’t care if you die.”
I grabbed Exclusivor’s arm and shouted, (D:) “No, no, no! Avanta is petrified of heights. Don’t.”
X: “Relax, they aren’t going to —”
It happened in an instant. I saw Avanta peek at the ground, almost two hundred meters below. I saw her shudder. I couldn’t tell if her legs gave out… or if she jumped… no, no way. Sindictive pushed her. His arm extended. I saw his arm extend. I saw it. Avanta fell. Sindictive grinned. This big, wide, smile. Avanta grasped at him, grasped at the building, at anything, at nothing.
And, I tried to run, I swear I tried to run. But my legs wouldn’t let my eyes see her die.
I felt Exclusivor’s hate. Sindictive had killed her brother. I hadn’t understood how it felt. I had never felt this kind of - I want to say I had never felt such a loss, but what I gained was hate.
Sindictive said, (S:) “See, I told you we’d jump.”
(D:) “You pushed her!”
S: “Eh - pushed, jumped?”
We stood in a standoff for a moment. Sindictive smiling widely.
We couldn’t let him jump to his death. I needed to strangle him myself.
Then, slowly, like someone flopping backward into a snowbank, Sindictive leaned back and … fell. I yelled, (D:) “Noooo!!”. Exclusivor and I broke into a sprint. But we were too late. Sindictive fell casually, carelessly, coolly. In a cloud of frustrating nonchalance, Sindictive disappeared over the edge.
I should have been relieved it was over. Sindictive was finally done. But I was pissed. I didn’t want to just see him die. I wanted to feel the air leaving as I squeezed the last breath from his lungs. I wanted to hear him gasp as I blocked any breath from again entering.
Exclusivor and I raced to the parapet, we looked over the side of the building, and we watched as two parachutes floated down in the dark sky. Down to a field below.
I couldn’t believe it. My heart pounded! I could dance. I grabbed Exclusivor and yelled, “She’s alive!” I watched as both canopies glided toward the ground.
I’d never seen Exclusivor look so angry. Scratch that. I’ve never seen anyone look so angry. Sindictive had won again.
The next thing I knew mASSHtrOLE joined us at the edge. He had his phone out and was recording Sindictive and Avanta landing in a field across the street.
M: “Holy shit, they BASE-jumped, too?! Epic! I can’t believe I got this on video! I’m gonna be a fucking Dark World celebrity!”
Exclusivor reached across me and smacked the phone out of mASSHtrOLE’s hand. Seconds passed like minutes and we watched, by the faintest of streetlights far below, and we saw the phone land and silently burst into pieces.
Exclusivor said, (X:) “Whelp. I guess you’re not going to make moderator now.”
Exclusivor stalked away. I put my arm around mASSHtrOLE and we both sank back onto the rooftop. He looked as stunned as I felt.
Exclusivor is written, produced and composed by Hans Anderson, with music in this episode from Sinima Beats.