"New Dawn is a criminal organization designed to intimidate its own members into destroying their own lives and handing over their savings. But don't take our word for it. We have a celebrity guest."
A few of Riley's coworkers muttered, watching as the very recognizable Jimmy Siska flashed on the screen, his voice synthesized over.
"Hello, I'm Jimmy Siska. You probably remember me from a bunch of good movies I made before I was brainwashed by New Dawn and forced to toe the company line. When friends of mine questioned the Church's cruel practices, they disappeared. When I questioned that, I was taken against my will and locked away."
Riley tried reading Jimmy's lips, seeing if he was, in fact, saying these things or if this was a clever audio clip attached to a video of him speaking. However, the brunette could see no discrepancies between the two, and came to the conclusion that this was genuine footage. A quick glance at the others lead her to see most were skeptical of its authenticity, but some believed it as well.
"Know that the police are already investigating my claims. And what is the church all about? What's behind door #5? I'll let my friends in DedSec demonstrate."
Her brows rose sharply at the video that followed, watching as the 'stone tablets' the church had boasted about broke apart much easier than any normal rock should. They barely even made a sound as they hit the ground, no doubt made of some softer material than rock. Before she could think any more on it, the screen flashed back to the familiar skull-masked figure in a hoodie.
"DedSec has given you the truth. Do what you will."
Their signature sign-off was followed by a glitching version of their logo: a skeleton in a hoodie. The youtube video ended abruptly, and the few coworkers that were huddled around Riley's phone stood straighter and stepped away to give her space.
"Man, that's crazy stuff. But I always had a hunch that church was phony. Kind of like Scientology." One of them said, sipping away at her coffee. The others mumbled agreement or nodded. One or two wandered back to their desks, their break over. Riley watched the faces of those around her, wondering what they really thought about the hacker group that had been the main topic of discussion as of late.
"You really believe this crap?" Dan, her cubicle neighbor, gesture towards her phone with a scoff. "Tch, DedSec is just a bunch of nosey assholes with good computer skills. They're digging up dirt where they want their political agenda to go, and slap the company with a bad rep in the process."
"But they've done this before with other big names," Another red-headed woman argued, leaning against the wall to chat. "and all the previous ones have turned out to be true."
Dan narrowed his eyes. "Sounds like you support what these guys are doing. You really want some rogue hacker group snooping through your personal information to use for their own sick revenge quest?"
The woman squirmed in place a bit, eyes scanning the floor. No one wanted to be accused of supporting them. It could be a career-ruining decision. "Not really…"
"Exactly." He said. Dan nodded, satisfied that he'd won that small debate soundly, before turning and heading back to his cubicle. Riley watched him go, noticing the others were also beginning to disperse.
Her wristwatch indicated she only had a few more minutes left on her break, and so Riley sighed, standing reluctantly and heading off towards her own small sanctioned cubicle in the corner of the room.
The sound of tapping keys and quiet telephone calls surrounded her as she passed other cubicles. A few of the other workers were lounging around on their phones, or sitting on yoga balls as part of the company's initiative to 'get fit.' She honestly just thought it made people look ridiculous and increased the chance of people falling flat on their asses.
Riley enjoyed having her cubicle in the corner, away from the majority of the people in the office. She'd always felt uncomfortable not having the wall at her back with large amounts of people in the room, and work was no exception. She reached her cubicle and sat in her rolling chair, spinning to face her computer screen. The list of accounts she had to call back on was still active on the screen. It was a longer list than she'd prefer, but it had to be done.
Riley let just a small sigh escape her lips, before she put on her headset and began tapping away at her keyboard. However, while replying to emails, her mind kept working over the newest video the hacker group had posted.
DedSec was a household name in San Fransisco. Everyone and their mother had heard of them, seen them on the news, or felt the effects of their actions. From what Riley could discern, they had always sort of been around, leaving graffiti and hacking local businesses to fix small injustices in the beginning, but it wasn't until a few months ago that they began really gaining traction and followers around the city. The exponential growth was startling, and Riley had a hunch there was either new leadership within the group taking it into a new direction, or something fundamental had changed within the philosophy of its mission.
Personally, she agreed with the message they were trying to send. All too often, Riley had seen corporate injustice screw over the little guy, the common man, simply for financial gain or boosting someone else's reputation. It was sickening to her, really. Was everyone in the top 1% a pompous asshole only looking out for himself? Probably not, but the sheer amount of offenders was astounding to say the least, and didn't make her hold out hope.
New Dawn was their latest target. The church had sprung up quickly and gained a massive, high-profile following, which had immediately sent warning bells in Riley's head. Her real job as an investigative journalist made her want to look into the whispered rumors that not all was well within the church itself, but her assignment drove her elsewhere. At least, so she'd thought. It seemed everything was interconnected, as DedSec had proved, so her assignment might not be so simple after all.
Not a lot was known about the group, only that they seemed to be on the white hat spectrum of hackers, which was a good thing. At least they weren't out for a personal agenda like some had a tendency to do, rather they made it their mission to give the power back to the people. Riley admired that. You didn't see too many selfless people like that anymore. She'd also heard the word 'misfit' thrown around about them, but one could never know for sure.
"Hey!" Dan popped his head around the corner of her cubicle, startling Riley enough to have her flinching in her seat. She placed a hand on her chest to stop the rapid beating of her heart, letting out a long breath.
"Shit!" She hissed quietly to herself, glad that there wasn't a customer on the line with her at the time. That would have gotten her into serious trouble. Her eyes sought his sharply. "Dammit, Dan. I've told you to stop that."
The unapologetic pretty-boy grinned easily, waving her concern aside. "Ah, you make it too easy, that's all."
Riley let out an exasperated sigh, turning back towards her screen to make it clear she wasn't in the mood to talk. "What is it you need?"
"I wanted to ask if you were free this Friday?"
"I saw we both had the day off on the schedule, and I was thinking: You. Me. That Italian restaurant that opened up last week?" He interrupted hopefully. Her fingers, which had been tapping away to reply to an email paused, and Riley tried hard not to let her eye roll show too obviously. She looked back at him with as much restraint as she could manage.
"Look, Dan. I get that you're interested, but I'm not currently looking for a relationship, ok? It's nothing personal, but I'm really not in the mindset to have a significant other. I've got other things that take priority."
Just like the last time he'd asked, Dan gave a totally understanding nod, unperturbed by the uneasiness in her eyes. "No problem, you take all the time you need. Just know I'll be here whenever you are looking for companionship."
Dan might have thought that sounded reassuring or something, but it honestly just gave Riley mental images of him lurking around every corner, waiting to pounce the moment she showed any sign of saying yes. It gave her a shiver down her spine.
He shot her finger guns with a click, then rolled back towards his own cubicle. As soon as he disappeared, she looked up to the ceiling and shook her head slowly. A sudden, inexplicable headache began to form, and her fingers rubbed slow circles in the skin above her eyes.
Actually, she'd lied to him. Riley was open to finding companionship with someone. As long as it wasn't Dan. Something about him just rubbed her the wrong way, especially with how arrogant he was about asking her out. As if he expected her to eventually cater to his wishes and go on that date. As if she had no other choice. Not only that, but the guy was persistent in a way that made it difficult to be mad at him. He took no for an answer gracefully each time, and never accused. But Riley was tired of turning him down, tired of being asked when it was obvious they would never get together. It was irritating as all hell.
God, just thinking about her cubicle neighbor was raising her blood pressure.
"Just 2 more hours…" The brunette muttered to herself with a slow blink. "2. More. Hours."
The drive to her apartment wasn't any different than usual. A few other drivers cut her off in the fast lane, and she'd had to honk angrily at them. Which of course went ignored. Riley cursed at them liberally until they were out of her sight. After that, she nearly missed her exit because no one would let her merge into the lane.
By the time she even made it to her actual doorstep, Riley's stress levels had doubled from the commute alone. It was with great relief that the keys successfully opened the lock on her door, letting her inside.
"Pants, where are you buddy?" She called out, kicking off her shoes somewhere off to the side. They thumped against the wall one by one. Her bag was placed haphazardly on the kitchen counter, and Riley heard the tell-tale, tiny thumping of her cat's paws running along the wood floor to greet her.
Pants rounded the corner, looking bright and alert. The white-and-black cat stared up at her with blue eyes, meowing excitedly. Wishful thinking had her believing he was actually glad to see her, but she scoffed at the thought.
"You're only excited to eat my food, right?" She questioned, but Pants didn't respond, pacing around her legs and looking up at her hopefully. He meowed again. "Alright, alright, let's feed you so you stop hounding me."
It was a daily routine: Riley would come home and feed Pants, then change into pajamas before cooking her own meal. This usually consisted of restaurant leftovers or frozen boxed entrees. Her eating habits left something to be desired, but with the amount of stress she underwent because of her assignment, so far she'd avoided gaining any weight. Thank god.
The fridge contained the cans of his wet cat food. One was already half open from the night before, so Riley pulled it out and reached for his food bowl. Presumptuously, Pants leaped onto the kitchen counter to eat.
"No! You know the rules. Off the counter." She scolded, grabbing him around the middle and setting him back down on the floor. She straightened and continued preparing his bowl. The angry meows were easy to ignore after plenty of practice.
Riley mashed up the wet food to make it easier for him to eat, stirring it afterwards with a fork to break up the chunks. Tapping the fork to rid it of excess bits, she grabbed the bowl and placed it on the floor.
Pants perked up and shoved his face into the bowl the moment he could reach, immediately eating generous amounts.
"Honestly, you're more like a pig than a cat." Riley muttered with a low chuckle.
Leaving him to his food, she grabbed her bag again and retreated to her bedroom. As soon as she opened the door, the sight of the piles of rumpled clothing reminded her she hadn't finished laundry. Just another chore to complete that night. It could wait until later.
Her bag was hung up on the peg behind the door, and she started stripping off her work clothing into something more comfortable. She threw on her San Diego Comic Con shirt, which had faded beyond easy recognition, and a pair of workout shorts that had never actually been to a gym. Her socks were torn off and thrown into the hamper that stood overflowing in the corner. She'd do it later.
The bathroom was a much cleaner space. Riley prided herself on keeping clean, and it was only on days like these when she procrastinated laundry in particular that her bedroom became a mess. She grabbed the brush from her drawer and began the process of untangling the brown bush atop her head. Even after being tied up in a ponytail, it still somehow ended up a mess at the end of the day, no exceptions.
All the while, she stared at her reflection and grimaced at her face. Makeup had yet to be revolutionized to not turn greasy on your face, and she couldn't wait for the day when her skin wouldn't look slicked up with oil at the end of an eight hour shift. Putting the brush down, she poked at an emerging zit on her nose, glaring in the hope that it would shrivel up at her anger alone. It was doomed to fail, so she gave up and wandered back into the kitchen to find her own dinner.
Pants was still in the process of chowing down, and paid her no mind when she entered. Out of the blue, Riley wondered what would happen to the white cat if Riley were to die suddenly. Would he evolve to open the fridge himself? Would he even care? Could cats even cry? She wasn't sure. Or would he escape and find a new owner who could provide for him? She scoffed, figuring he felt no loyalty towards her whatsoever.
"Traitorous cat." She said, electing to ignore the fact that he was ignoring her. Hmph.
Within 4 and a half minutes according to the instructions on the back, Riley had a 'gourmet' microwaved dinner steaming and ready to eat. Well, it was gourmet if gourmet meant at least edible. Carrying her steaming plastic box to the bedroom, she plopped herself down in the chair at her desk.
The only one thing in the room Riley could never manage to keep entirely organized. She honestly hated the state of her desk; her laptop took front and center, but surrounding it were binders of paper and information she'd had to keep track of and document, sticky notes that the brunette honestly didn't know if she could understand anymore—they were rather vague and nondescript—and her camera teetered precariously on the edge of the desk.
She settled herself in for a long night of boring reading and note-taking, setting the audio recorder she'd brought with her to work on the desk. Riley pulled up the word document she'd been working on for months, and pressed the play button.
The microphone she'd managed to plant in her manager's office months ago was high quality, and thankfully eliminated most of the background noise associated with an office. However, she could still hear the door opening as she walked into work that morning. It slammed shut a moment later.
Investigative journalism definitely had it's perks. Riley enjoyed the thought of bringing unjust companies and businessmen to their knees, crucifying them in the public eye so the world could pass judgement on their crimes. It was satisfying knowing she could expose so much injustice with this job. Health benefits, a Christmas bonus, and depending on the assignment, it could be perfect for slight adrenaline junkies like her. But…
Riley closed her eyes and rubbed the bridge of her nose, hearing the tap of keyboard buttons over the mic. So far there hadn't been any conversation.
The actual investigation part was a slog. Hours of inactivity and sifting through blank noise or useless information to find that precious scandalous data. It was mind-numbing at best. Sleep-inducing at worst.
While waiting for something to be said, she pulled up her coding program then dug through the various sticky notes to find the security camera access codes she'd procured from one of the guards. She shivered, remembering the guy's roaming eyes on her. Getting this info had been neither easy nor fun.
She typed in the access codes and watched with satisfaction as the security feed to the manager's office pulled up. Riley piggybacked onto the company's actual security system to be able to fast forward and pause the feed when she wanted. Sitting back, she kicked up her feet and tried to focus on the work at hand. It was already dark outside, and she wanted to sleep, but the possible information buried was definitely worth it.
Hands pausing over the keys of his computer, Josh's eyes swept right when a small 'ping' reached his ears. A small notification window appeared in the corner of his screen. /System Intrusion—External Device—*Unknown User*. Brow furrowing, he navigated over to inspect the element. Fingers flying, he quickly deciphered the coding associated with the alert. ProviBlue.
"Weird." He murmured. Someone was intruding on ProviBlue systems. Someone they didn't recognize the hacker tag for. DedSec liked to keep tabs on other hack attempts into the businesses they were targeting, in order to keep current with other groups' activities. Seems that precaution was paying off.
Within seconds, Josh had tracked the hack through back channels, following the inserted code from this unknown intruder. He hadn't alerted the rest of the group, most of which were partying and watching movies on their large tv screens behind him, simply because there wasn't anything dangerous to yet report. So far, this just appeared to be a hack into ProviBlue for information. The security systems by the looks of the coding. Nothing more, and technically DedSec hadn't yet publicly gone after them yet, so it could be nothing.
He brought up the window of what the hacker was looking for: a video feed of some office. The woman it belonged to looked important enough to no doubt warrant the invasion of privacy, but Josh wondered just who was watching and why. If it was Prime_Eight, Sitara would want to know for sure. She hated them more than any other group out there, and avoiding a run-in with them was at the top of her to-do list.
The code didn't match what he knew of their style, though. Odd. Backing out of the video feed, he attempted working around the coding to track the source of the hack, gathering GPS data. As far as he could tell, it was coming from the center of San Fransisco, within a ten mile radius of ProviBlue itself.
There weren't any video or image feeds he could tap to try getting an image of the intruder. Whatever device the hacker was using, it either didn't possess a webcam, or the individual had already disabled it. "Smart." Josh said to himself. While he didn't know who this person was, he could certainly still recognize that they knew what they were doing.
Whoever they were, they had taken the necessary precautions to mask their identity. Definitely another experienced hacker. After several minutes of searching through the code and identifying information, all he could track was the general location and a hacker tag: Z3R0.
Not much to go on. He hadn't heard of Z3R0 before. They must not be active very often, or didn't expose themselves frequently enough to become well known. Either way, Josh was always curious and nervous about hackers he knew nothing about. They could be a potential threat in the making, but he had no way of knowing at this point.
Josh wrote some quick coding to track Z3R0's future activities through their system, hoping that if they popped up again, he could find them later. Perhaps he was being overly cautious about this—it could be anyone looking into ProviBlue's security cameras—but it was better to be prepared for anything than not to be prepared at all.
"Yo Josh, get your ass over here! You're missing the best part!" Marcus called, and Josh looked back over his shoulder at his friends. Returning his gaze to his computer, he backed out of the tracking feed for Z3R0 and stood from his chair. He could worry about it later.ns 22.214.171.124da2