Read The Industry Online

Authors: Rose Foster

The Industry

BOOK: The Industry
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Dedication

For you, Ellie,
For every reason, least of all
being that the other 6.95 is here

They had been waiting almost a week when the match came through. A computer, one among many cluttered on a long desk, gave a tiny, muted beep.

The three men in the room didn't hear it the first time. They were gathered around one of the other computers, scrolling through a news bulletin, collecting snippets of information and scrawling them down in a file. One man was small and thin; one was young and tall; and the third was in charge. The small man and his boss were deep in discussion. They were so accustomed to the idea of waiting that the beep reached their ears and passed through their minds unnoticed. It was the youngest of the three who thought he might have heard something. At first he ignored it and returned to the bulletin. A second beep regained his attention, but he pushed it away, thinking he was hearing things. It was too soon, after all. When a third beep sounded, he knew he couldn't be imagining it.

He straightened up and turned slowly. Outside, snowflakes fluttered past the window. He stood very still, glaring across the room. At the next beep he went to the offending computer — the one at the end of the row — and bent low to frown at the monitor. A small link appeared in the form of a text box that offered only one word: ‘MATCH'. He stared at it for a very long time. Could it be true? Could they have found a match in only a week's time? It was borderline ridiculous. In fact, it felt impossible. What were the chances?

‘Latham,' the young man said. His boss glanced at him. ‘Latham, look at this.'

Latham left his chair and came to stand at the beeping computer. The small man, Ramien, followed suit. It took a moment for them both to fully understand what the word in the text box meant.

‘Show me,' said Latham hungrily. ‘Show me.'

Ramien pulled the mouse towards him and clicked on the link. It opened up a page and showed them a sequence of fourteen characters. They stared at it.

‘Where's the prototype?' Latham asked.

Ramien yanked a folder off the desk and began rifling through it. After a moment he pushed a sheet of paper into Latham's hands. Latham looked between it and the screen several times.

‘It's a true match,' he said.

The youngest man read the sequence over Latham's shoulder and found that it did indeed match the one on the monitor perfectly.

‘Who is it?' Latham asked. ‘Who did it?'

It took Ramien many tense moments of typing to
unearth the person who had, unknowingly, sent them the matching sequence. The other two stayed by his side, unable to tear themselves away. Finally, Ramien located the source of the match. A computer in a high school half the world away. The three men stared.

‘She's young,' Ramien said finally, looking through the candidate's computerised high-school records. ‘Too young, really.'

‘That's not a problem,' Latham said.

Ramien turned to look at him, surprised. For a moment, he thought he must have misheard. Any person who was able to match the prototype would save all their jobs. He or she would become the most hunted person in their business and would soon be worth millions, perhaps even billions, of dollars … and Latham wanted to pin all their hopes on some teenager?

‘It's not a problem?' Ramien asked uncertainly.

‘No,' Latham said. ‘In fact, it's better. The young are weak, Ramien, and far less resourceful. When we take her, she won't fight back.'

CHAPTER TWO
CRACK THE CODE

It was the first lunchtime of the school year when Kirra Hayward sat down at a computer in the air-conditioned Hewitt Hollandale Memorial Library. Her school, Freemont Grammar, had named the library in honour of the only famous person ever to fumble their way out of the suburb of Freemont: a local politician from half a century ago. It was rumoured that the man in question hadn't actually even attended Freemont Grammar but had instead received his education at Ingram High, the public school around the corner. This was something the Freemont school board chose to ignore. After adjusting her swivel chair, Kirra logged onto the computer with her student code and password, and rifled through the homework she'd been assigned in her morning classes.

At sixteen, Kirra was in Year Ten, but several years ago she had been given special permission by the principal of Freemont Grammar to study maths and science subjects two years above her grade. ‘Exceptional' was
the word the principal had used to describe Kirra when he'd discussed the advancement with her parents and, of course, they'd allowed the move to go right ahead. Kirra was the only student in the school permitted to make such a jump and she figured doing her homework on time was a way of ensuring they didn't remove her from the classes. She didn't think she could bear to go back to Year Ten maths. It would almost be like being shoved back to primary school.

With such a frightening thought in mind, she flipped through her notebook and settled on the first task she saw. ‘Come up with your own equation!' Mr Gummer had exclaimed that morning, far more excited by this prospect than his new Year Twelve maths class appeared to be. ‘Any sort of equation you choose! Extra marks for a puzzle, like the ones you find in the paper!'

Kirra gritted her teeth. The task had no academic purpose whatsoever and was exactly the sort of thing she'd had no time for in the past. Why Mr Gummer couldn't have done something worthwhile with his class on the first day, like revising the Euler method from last year or introducing them to trigonometric identities, was a mystery to Kirra.

She typed
puzzles
into a search engine, her fingers smacking against the keys as she felt her resentment towards Mr Gummer intensify. Only this morning he'd announced to the class that Kirra Hayward was the sole student to get perfect results in the previous year's final exams. Kirra had felt the contempt of her classmates — all of whom were two years older than herself — blasting at her from all sides. She had slipped a little lower in
her seat, all the while staring very hard at her desk, and regretted her decision to get every answer right on that stupid exam. She usually remembered to answer a couple incorrectly so she could avoid uncomfortable moments such as these.

And now she was stuck doing Mr Gummer's useless homework task. Unlike many others in her classes, Kirra wasn't normally a student of plagiarism — the idea of stealing someone else's work made her very uncomfortable — but she simply couldn't stomach the idea of putting effort into something that was such a mammoth waste of time. Old Mr Gummer was renowned for being technologically inept and notoriously easy to hoodwink; he'd never know if she copied someone else's puzzle.

A page of results loaded before her eyes, some leading straight to Sudoku puzzles, others advertising children's learning games. Finally, she came across one interesting link.
CRACK THE CODE!
it blared at her. Did a code count as a puzzle? She scrolled over the link and clicked.

The page loaded with surprising speed to reveal a simple site with numbers and letters filling the page in tight columns. They were in no particular order and made no sense at all and Kirra frowned. At the bottom of the page was a blank field to submit the answer; however, there were no instructions given and no key to follow. She made to exit the site — there were bound to be plenty more puzzles to copy; no need to fixate on this one — when a number four caught her eye. It was in one of the middle columns, close to the bottom, and for a reason Kirra couldn't entirely explain it stood out
as though it were in bold font. It wasn't, of course. It looked exactly like every other character in every other row. Still, there was something about it.

She scrolled to the bottom of the page and hesitated, unable to explain to herself why this particular number meant so much. Every answer in her maths class came from working it out in her head or on paper, from following tried and true methods. But this puzzle? The code seemed to be beyond understanding … and yet …

She typed the number four into the answer field and glanced back at the code. Nothing.

She rolled her eyes. This code wasn't a code at all. It was complete nonsense. She gave it one last indignant glance before going to exit the page … and froze.

A letter V in one of the last columns was ablaze on the screen. The four seemed somehow linked to it, as though it was the most obvious character to follow. It was almost as though the four naturally equalled the V, as though this was a standard mathematic conclusion to come to. It wasn't, of course. Why should it be? How could it be? It was just the letter V.

Kirra did nothing for a moment, her fingers hovering above the keyboard as though attached to invisible puppetry strings. The library seemed weirdly still and silent as she blinked at the computer, and then, almost of its own accord, her index finger struck the V key. She stared at the screen, transfixed. The number and the letter coupled together perfectly, as though meant to be. Suddenly, the letter R, in the top row, nagged at her, as though she'd worked out by a process of elimination that it was the correct character to go after the first two.
The four and V were equivalent to it, all three characters somehow synonymous. She gnawed her top lip, her fingers trembling slightly. She couldn't help herself: she hit the key.

To her immense surprise, more numbers and letters offered themselves up to her at a much faster rate than before, each tied to the last in what seemed to be an inexplicable mathematic bond. She tried to keep up; each figure fading just as soon as she'd typed it in; a new one blaring at her in its place. And then, before she truly realised what had occurred, a fourteen-character code fitted neatly into the answer field: 4VR93F7E4NS6D6.

Kirra raked her gaze over the neighbouring computers and the few other students in the hushed library, all of whom were immersed in their own private lunchtime ventures. Two small boys were giggling between the shelves over a printout of something and a group of Year Eleven students were hovering quietly around the photocopier, making colour copies of the best art projects from the year before. A girl who smelled faintly of chlorine and a boy with an impressive amount of facial hair for someone his age stood whispering together by one of the grimy windows that looked out onto the oval, where hundreds of students milled around in the sweltering February heat. The pair's eyes roamed over the library as they gossiped, switching targets and topics, but it was quite clear that Kirra, safely hidden behind the computer monitor, escaped their interest.

She turned back to stare at the submit button. This sequence was correct. There was no doubt in her mind. She would have bet her life on it.

She drummed her fingers against the desk for a moment, and then, without another thought, clicked the submit button. She knew it was right — of course it was — she just needed to see it for herself. She waited, anticipating the arrival of some sort of congratulatory notice, but nothing happened. The page failed to refresh itself. It stayed white and blank, her answer apparently lost to cyberspace, sucked away for good.

Scowling, Kirra exited the site. She rose from her chair, logged out of her student account and left the library, feeling dazed and annoyed. She went and stood outside the science lab, waiting impatiently for the bell to ring for chemistry. She felt quite sure the subject would take her mind off what had just happened, but as she spent the afternoon quietly immersed in the principles and applications of spectroscopic techniques, she found that she couldn't quite forget about the code and its confounding answer.

BOOK: The Industry
9.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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