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netwars 2 - Down Time 4: Exposure

Contents

Previously on netwars 2 — Down Time

About the Book

About the Author

Title

Copyright

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Next Episode

Previously on netwars 2 — Down Time

The NCCU’s investigation into the MalCom threat against the financial industry takes another twist when they receive a call from the Head of Security at high-frequency trading firm, Desai Group, informing them of a large-scale attack on their essential servers. The company was disabled for over an hour at the start of trading, by a ransomware attack on their servers, encrypting all of their data, and crucially, gaining access to all of the secret algorithms which run their trades.

Rebecca and the team know immediately that the attack is connected to MalCom, but how does it tie to The Water Boys and their mysterious deaths? Their only lead is the character, Shylock, who founded The Water Boys, and is the one who has shut the group down now. Shylock has gone silent online, but was the lead instigator of the group’s attacking stance.

Meanwhile, Shylock has actually been right under their noses, posing as Agent Stacy, after killing the real FBI agent before he even boarded his London-bound plane. Mitchell figures out Stacy’s identity moments too late to catch him. They soon realise that Shylock has poisoned Rebecca with the same Aconite he has been using to kill The Water Boys.

As Rebecca is rushed to hospital, and a team is gathered to help the ailing financial company wade through their corrupted machines, Mitchell heads into the Dark Web to find out Shylock really is.

None of their efforts are in time to stop Shylock from striking again, this time at the home of one of The Water Boys, killing him as he tries to flee. Shylock is beginning to enjoy his murderous role, and for now, he knows more about the NCCU than they know about him.

About the Book

netwars 2 — Down Time 4: Exposure
Book 4 of 6

Nearly killed at the hands of Shylock, Rebecca lands in the hospital. Mitchell keeps a vigil at her bedside and heads deep into the Dark Web, searching for Shylock. It’s become personal now.

Meanwhile, another one of The Water Boys has been killed. The news hits the team at the NCCU, just as Agent Stacy’s replacement from the FBI turns up. An expert when it comes to malware and viruses, will Agent Egan prove to be just the asset the team needs to get ahead of the game?

Mitchell discovers Shylock’s identity, but will it really help them get any closer to finding him before he eliminates the rest of The Water Boys?

About the Author

M. Sean Coleman launched his career as one of the original writers on Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy Online. He has since written and produced original, award-winning shows for MSN, O2, Sony Pictures, Fox, the BBC, and Channel 4. He continues to write novels, graphic novels and tv scripts from his home in London.

NETWARS 2

Down Time

M. Sean Coleman

Episode Four — EXPOSURE

14

Mitchell pressed the panic button as soon as Rebecca’s monitors woke him up with their screamed warnings. The emergency medical team rushed in immediately and ushered him out into the hallway to wait while they treated her. Moments later they burst back out of the ward again with her bed rolling quickly ahead of them, and the whole entourage disappeared through a swinging set of doors, leaving Mitchell alone in the dimly lit ward. He looked around, feeling lost. A new nurse had come on duty and she stared at him with a slightly less sour expression than her predecessor.

“Why don’t you go down to the family room and get some coffee,” she said. “There’s nothing you can do up here. She’s in the best possible hands.”

Somehow, he still doubted that, but he figured she was right about the coffee, so he made his way down the hallway to a small family room, where he bought himself a white coffee from a vending machine. The drink came in one of those thin plastic cups and tasted of nothing in particular, but it was hot, wet, and bitter and it helped to wake him up.

He stretched himself out on one of the more comfortable chairs in the family room and waited, trying to clear his mind of everything that had happened since he’d first flown to New York. Mentally he laid it all out and pieced it back together from the beginning, with the new information he was privy to now, to make sure nothing got lost or overlooked. He was surprised by quite how much he had panicked when Rebecca’s monitor had started its constant beeping. She had seemed a little brighter when they were talking earlier, but seeing her crash like that reminded him of the seriousness of her condition. She had looked so small as they had wheeled her away. Mortal and human, and unlike any image he’d previously had of her. She had always seemed so vital and strong, but in those moments he had seen her vulnerability and it had made him feel strangely sad. He finished his coffee and paid for another, stacking the new cup inside his used one for extra insulation. He wondered what was happening to her now.

He pulled out his phone to check for messages, but he had no signal, so he tucked it away again and wandered back towards the ward. He would wait up there and talk to the surly nurse until she gave him some information. While he had watched Rebecca sleeping earlier, he had been running back over the day’s events. The fact that the Desai Group had already been attacked was disturbing him. Coupled with the deaths of three of The Water Boys and the attempt on Rebecca’s life, it all seemed to point to the fact that Shylock was escalating his plot and trying to eliminate any witnesses. But what did they know?

It made him sick that Shylock had been sitting there, right under his nose, and he hadn’t spotted it. He always thought he could read people better than that, but the guy they’d thought of as Stacy had shown no signs of being anything other than a clean-cut American boy, and it had never crossed his mind that the killer could have just walked in off the street and got full clearance to the NCCU. Once again, Mitchell found himself admiring Shylock’s social engineering skills. Under the guise of Strider, Mitchell had used some fairly bold disguises of his own in the past, but he had never carried out a prolonged attack like that — over twenty-four hours in character, that was going some. He wasn’t sure he could even do something like that. He had always relied on speed and deception when in disguise — diverting attention to certain features which people would remember and away from those he didn’t want seen. That Shylock had found the confidence to sustain the pretence for that long at such close quarters was incredible.

He felt a tinge of resentment that The Salesman appeared to have found a better aide in Shylock than he had perhaps been himself. As Strider, he had often taken on jobs for his old mentor, especially if they had fitted in with his self-defined moral code. He hadn’t been fully aware of the extent of The Salesman’s empire until it had been too late for Strider. He wondered whether, as Phoenix, he could be a match for Shylock. He had to believe he could be. In fact, he was even beginning to convince himself that Shylock would be the means by which he was finally able to crush The Salesman. But Phoenix would need to carve out some time for himself to get that right and, at the moment, he was more concerned with making sure Rebecca was okay, and that Shylock could be stopped.

He dropped his plastic cups into the dustbin outside the ward doors and sprayed his hands with the obligatory hand sanitizer before pushing the swing door open with his foot. The nurse looked up and saw it was him. Mitchell saw her lip curl, just a fraction, but she looked away again and busied herself with her paperwork. Mitchell walked up to the desk and stood there patiently. He didn’t say anything, just waited for her to look up again. Finally she did. He watched her trying to force her face into a neutral expression.

“Can I help?” she asked, as unhelpfully as anyone could muster.

“Rebecca MacDonald,” he said. “Is there any news? Is she okay?”

The nurse looked down again, pursing her lips and consulting the screen in front of her. She took her time. Obviously her colleague had told her he was one to watch and she wasn’t going to give him an inch. He didn’t care, he just wanted information; he wasn’t here to make friends.

“She’s in recovery,” the nurse said, eventually. “She went into respiratory arrest and they have put her on a ventilator. She is going to be down there for a few hours yet.”

“But she’s okay?” he asked. He heard his own voice crack just slightly and he saw the nurse’s face soften a little.

“Looks like it,” she said. He recognised the client-facing jollity creeping into her voice. “She’s in the recovery ward, and they wouldn’t let her be there if she was still in any danger.”

“How safe is it down there?” he asked. “From the public, I mean.”

“Well, you wouldn’t be allowed in, for starters,” she said. She smiled at him this time. “Look, I know you’re worried about her, but we don’t make a habit of letting people attack our patients in their beds. You can go down and sit outside the ward if it will make you feel better, but you won’t be allowed in. And neither will anybody else.”

He thanked her, gathered his things, and made his way down to the recovery ward. He reported to the duty nurse there, who pointed him towards a plastic chair in the hallway, reassured him that Rebecca was stable, and said that they would let him know if her condition changed. Then she closed the door firmly in his face. Fair enough. He used a pay phone in the corridor to let Franklin know what had happened, and then sat down. He had a few hours free to start tracking down Shylock and he wasn’t going to waste the opportunity. He fired up his laptop and linked it to a personal hotspot from one of his burner phones — he didn’t trust the hospital WiFi for what he was about to do. He was going dark.

*

Jack Willis had been called in to analyse the crime scene almost as soon as Niall McCartney’s body had been found. The taxi driver had been the first to report it, and Franklin’s agents had arrived at the house moments later to pick McCartney up as ordered, only to discover him lying in a pool of his own blood. They had been too late. By the time the police themselves had turned up ten minutes later, they learned that Jack Willis was already on his way across and the crime scene had been secured by Franklin’s agents. All they could do was to make sure that no one else could get close, and begin a round of door-to-door enquiries with the neighbours to see if anyone had heard anything.

The first thing that struck Willis was how close Franklin’s guys must have come to catching the killer red-handed. From his initial assessment he estimated that McCartney had been dead for less than an hour by the time he had arrived, and it had taken him nearly half an hour to get there after the call. They must have missed the incident by a matter of minutes, which he knew would drive Franklin mad. The taxi driver had seen another car turning out of the street, but couldn’t give them any further details apart from that it was a silver Mercedes, not unlike his own. No numbers from the registration and no evidence that it even had anything to do with the murder.

Willis retrieved a forensic kit from his own car and approached the scene. He stood in the driveway and turned slowly, taking in every detail. He made his way gradually round, inch by inch, until he had turned a full circle. The gravel had been disturbed by tyres, but there would be no way of knowing whether that was from the killer’s car, from the taxi, or from any number of other visitors. There would be nothing to gain from spending time on that, so Willis turned his attention to the house itself. It was a nice house in a pleasant suburban area, which meant there was unlikely to be any useful CCTV to gain from the surrounding neighbourhood, although he had already asked Franklin’s men to make the request.

Looking up at the big old house, it struck Willis that apart from the light in the foyer, the whole place lay in darkness. It would have already been dark for several hours by the time McCartney had been killed, so why would he not have had any lights on in the rest of the house?

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