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Rise of the billionaire, p.27
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       Rise of the Billionaire, p.27

         Part #5 of Legacy Collection series by Ruth Cardello
Page 27


  Jake pulled a chair from a neighboring station and took a seat beside Jeremy. “Are we talking about the same hacker that Stephan used? What does he want?”

  Jeremy looked over his shoulder and met Dominic’s eyes. “He wants access to Corisi Enterprises’ server. ”

  Judy, Jake’s mother, asked, “Stephan wouldn’t have hired him again, would he? He seems like such a nice boy. ”

  Dominic’s face whitened with anger, but his voice was deadly calm when he spoke. “If he’s smart, he had nothing to do with this. ”

  Jeremy quickly interjected his gut feeling on the matter. “Dom, I’ve known Sliver a long time. Well, not personally, but via our online clashes. He doesn’t normally take it this far. At first I thought it was about our history, but this is his second swipe at you and he’s escalating with each attack. You may know him. Is there anyone else who would want to sabotage you?” Jake and Dominic shared a look across the room. Right. Stupid question. “I don’t know for sure, but this feels more like a vendetta than one of his stunts. ”

  Dominic moved closer until he stood right behind Jeremy’s chair. “There is only one way to deal with a cowardly enemy. Lure him out and crush him. ”

  Jake agreed. “Sliver’s strength is his anonymity. ”

  As Jeremy switched his goal from code breaking, inspiration hit. Jake’s mother read as he typed and exclaimed, “Oh, that’s good. ”

  Jake scanned the screen. “That’ll definitely stop him in his tracks. ”

  “What are you doing?” Alethea asked in a rush.

  Jeremy typed even as he answered. “I’m giving him access—but it’s limited. As soon as he tries to use it we’ll trace him back to his hole, then light up the Internet with his identity and location. I don’t care how many dummy IP addresses he uses, we’ll find him, and then so will everyone else. ”

  Jake turned to Dominic and explained, “It’ll be like handing someone a loaded gun with blanks that has a deadly backfire. It won’t hurt him unless he uses it. ”

  Alethea strode back and forth behind the huddled team. “But then how are we going to get the network codes?”

  Jeremy paused. Tough question. “I’ll make one contingent on the other—like a choreographed hand-off. ”

  Alethea shook her head. “You need a decoy. He’ll expect you to try to stop him. Put a weak code in the forefront. Let him break through that and think he’s smarter than you. Use his ego against him. Then threaten to link him to the Tenin disaster so he’ll want that crisis averted. You have to give him a reason to want to save our people. He’ll do it if he thinks it takes away your trump card. ”

  Jake put a hand on Jeremy’s shoulder in support. “That’s a sound strategy. ”

  “Of course it is,” Alethea said impatiently. “My people are in there. This has to work. ”

  “Don’t use the standard encryption methods,” Jake’s father advised. “They will be too easy for him. He’ll know what you’re doing. He needs the challenge of breaking a 256-bit cypher. It still won’t take him long, but if he’s as ego driven as you say he is, he’ll think he’s outsmarted you. Send him the authentication information for Dom’s server. Once he’s in, push the 256 encrypted module to him. Let him execute it. Inside of that, hide your call-home code in a far more vigorous protocol. We’ve been working on a new type of file encryption that is as strong as 1028-bit military grade encryption but doesn’t show any signs of actually being encoded. He won’t know you are executing a Trojan attack. In that file, your code will then call back to us over variable proxy servers, distributing the information over https and SSH tunnels while maintaining the encryption. Once it gets back here, we’ll be able to use our decrypter and establish full control over his system. It will take him decades to break it, if he ever does. ”

  “What will stop him from using another computer?” Dominic asked abruptly.

  Everything, Jeremy thought. “Sliver built a life online. We’re about to block him out of all of it. ”

  Romario stepped forward and asked, “And then expose him?”

  Now they’re getting the idea. “By the time we’re done with him, there won’t be a place he can hide online . . . possibly not on this planet, either. We’ll have his real name and access to everything connected to him. ”

  Judy shook her head sadly. “It’s a shame that someone as gifted as he seems to have ended up on such a dark road. ”

  Her husband, Jim, agreed and added, “That’s why science is best kept isolated from society. Too many temptations. ”

  “Wait a minute. Jake, are your parents the Waltons?” Romario’s level of surprise was almost amusing.

  Jake conceded dryly, “That is our surname. ”

  As the full magnitude of whom he was standing beside sunk in, Romario asked the computer icons, “What are you doing here?”

  Judy answered him. “We came to have a holiday with our son, but these boys are always into some trouble. ” She looked down at Jeremy and said, “Jeremy is one of the greatest minds of his generation. He just hasn’t found his niche yet. When he gets serious, he’s going to change the world. ”

  “We tried to tell Jake that pursuing money instead of research was a waste of his potential, too, but you know kids. ” Jim shook his head at the loss.

  Despite the banter going on behind him, Jeremy completed the task the Waltons had outlined. “It’s done. I used all of your ideas. It looks like he’s going to take the bait. ”

  “Now what?” Dominic demanded.

  “Now we wait,” Jeremy answered. “If he believed what I said about Tenin he’ll open the network, because he won’t want us to have that leverage over him. ”

  Alethea tried to access her network via her phone a moment later and exclaimed, “I’m in. I just sent a message warning them to get out. I’ll give them an hour and then I’ll warn Alvo. You did it, Jeremy. ”

  Not this time. “No, it wasn’t me who figured this out. ”

  Jake patted his shoulder. “No one makes it very far alone, Jeremy. It’s the network you build offline that ensures success online. ”

  Jeremy met Dominic’s eyes and said, “Like a family. ”

  “Don’t push it,” Dominic said curtly, but the corners of his mouth twitched with a suppressed smile. In a flash, he was serious again. “How long will it take to expose this bastard?”

  Jeremy nodded toward the console. “It depends how fast he breaks through the Trojan code and how eager he is to take you down. ”

  Through gritted teeth, Dominic said, “I want his name as soon as you have it. ”

  Jake offered a calmer plan. “Dom, you won’t need to go after this guy. He has compiled quite a list of enemies himself. Once his identity is known, he won’t last long. ”

  Undeterred, Dominic asserted, “I still want to know who he is. ”

  In the uncomfortable silence that followed, Jeremy chanced a look at Romario. “I know what you must think of me. ”

  “Do you?” Romario asked blandly.

  “I really messed up. I got involved in something that was way out of my league. ”

  Instead of agreeing, Romario asked, “Why didn’t you tell Jeisa about any of this? And if you had all of these people as a resource, why didn’t you ask them for help?”

  With an awkward shrug, Jeremy admitted, “That was my mistake. I didn’t want to endanger anyone else. If this had gone public, it would have been a reputation-destroyer. I didn’t want to take anyone down with me. ” He held the older man’s eyes and said, “I didn’t tell Jeisa for the same reason I didn’t want you to know. I wanted you to respect me. I’ve made some big mistakes with my life lately, and with your daughter, but I do love her. ”

  Romario folded his arms across his chest. “I believe you, but I doubt it’ll be enough. ”

  It has to be. I didn’t come this far to give up now. “I know she’s upset with me, but hopefully she’ll listen to why I had to leave the party. We were okay a
t dinner. ”

  After an audible intake of breath, Jake asked, “So you don’t know about the kitchen scenario?”

  Jeremy shook his head in confusion. “The kitchen?” He vaguely remembered Richard asking him to go there. “Lil said something about Jeisa being in the kitchen, but why is that important?”

  “Lil told me that the women had filled the kitchen with candles to give you a place to propose. She was waiting for you in there. ” Jake’s words sliced through Jeremy’s confusion with painful precision.

  Jeremy sat down with a thud. “Oh, my God. And I didn’t show up. ” What have I done?

  From the back of the room, Alethea’s next words added to Jeremy’s nightmare. “And I did. ”

  A silence hung heavy in the room.

  Intent on clearing her name, Alethea continued to speak. “No wonder she wasn’t happy to see me. ” She looked at Dominic, whose displeasure was evident on his face. “I didn’t know how serious Jeremy and Jeisa were. I certainly didn’t know they were getting engaged. I said something stupid when she goaded me, but I wouldn’t have if I had known any of this. ” She looked at Jeremy. “You have to believe that. ”

  Still digesting the enormity of how he had hurt Jeisa, Jeremy asked, “What did you say?”

  Chin held high, Alethea didn’t shrink from her mistake. “I told her that I could have you if I wanted you. ”

  Now Jeisa’s sad question made sense to him. She had been asking him to make his choice. Jeremy’s face drained of color. “And then I left with you. ”

  Alethea nodded.

  Jeisa thinks I chose Alethea. Acid churned in his stomach as he remembered how she’d accepted his decision and turned to her father for comfort. He directed his next words to both the woman he’d once considered a friend and to the father of a woman he might have lost forever. “I would have never left her standing there if I had known that. ”

  Alethea shrunk a bit beneath his accusation and her own guilt. “I know. ”

  Not good enough. Jeremy rubbed his forehead angrily and demanded, “Why would you say that, Al? Why would you stand by and watch me hurt a woman you know I love?”

  Alethea’s shoulders came up a bit helplessly, as even she could not defend her actions. “I don’t know. ”

  Romario intervened and sought answers to his own questions. “So you didn’t know anything about what had gone on?”

  Jeremy shook his head sadly. “I had no idea. I thought the worst part of the day was that you didn’t like me. ”

  “That’s the least of your problems,” Romario answered.

  Jeremy stood. What if this is how it ends? What if this is the price I must pay for having believed there would be no consequences for my actions? Jeisa is a good person. Maybe she deserves better than me. “I see that now. She’s never going to forgive me. ”

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