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September 25, 2023

The Secret Map

By Aiden Dufort

As Noah Stevenson clicked a Zoom link to his first interview for a part-time job on his Dell Inspiron 16, he grimaced. The snore of his roommate Kevin, who was sleeping in the next bedroom, seeped through a white wall. However, it was at least better than when the Electro Hop, which Kevin liked to blast, would reverberate across his bedroom. Noah suddenly looked back at the wall where a poster of his favorite VR game had hung. For this interview, he had just removed the poster. His PC’s camera only showed his face and this wall along a table.

An auburn-haired woman in a black Italian suit cropped up on the screen. Noah squinted at the name displayed below her face. Rebecca Brown. She seemed to be in her office. Along the window over her shoulder, Noah saw a sugar-cube-like yacht sailing in San Francisco Bay.

“Hello, Noah. Nice to meet you. I’m Rebecca, and I’ll be conducting your interview today,” said Rebecca in a charming tone. “Are you in your apartment in Palo Alto?”

“Nice to meet you! Yes, I am, Ms. Brown,” said Noah, eyeing his own video on the screen and fixing his collar.

“Call me Rebecca, please,” Rebecca smiled. “Noah, thank you for sending us your resume. I see you’re an undergrad in computer science at Stanford University. I have one question before explaining the job. What’s your dream?”

“My dream?” Noah fidgeted, averting his eyes from Rebecca on the screen. He teetered for a moment on the verge of saying “VR video game creator,” but said instead, “I would like to work for a VR technology company and hopefully start up my own company in the future.”

“Wow, you’re so ambitious! I liked what you wrote in the application form. I hope this data collection job will contribute to your future endeavor,” Rebecca smiled. “The salary is high. Most applicants in the past applied just for money and had no ambitious dreams.”

Suddenly, a bell rang in Noah’s room. Noah took a glance at the window next to the headboard of his single bed. A black limousine pulled up outside the gate to his apartment. Noah back-kicked the wall under the table. His roommate Kevin suddenly stopped snoring and fell to the floor from his bed.

“I’m sorry, Rebecca. Somebody is visiting my apartment, but it’s not a problem. My roommate will deal with this,” said Noah hurriedly.

“Don’t worry, the visitor is actually my colleague. I don’t think we need to conduct three rounds of job interviews for you,” snapped Rebecca. “I’ll wrap up today’s interview now. You’re hired and starting from today. My colleague, Andrew, who’s arriving at your apartment just now, will explain what you’ll be doing on a daily basis. We’ll meet on Zoom regularly to touch base. Go, meet him!”

Rebecca ended the online meeting, and her face disappeared. Noah’s Dell Inspiron 16 showed the current time, 10:04 am, in the middle of the screen. As Noah snatched up a key from a cabinet and went out of his room, he bumped into Kevin wearing pajamas, scratching his shaggy brown hair.

“The doorbell rang. Did you order something from Amazon?” Kevin muttered and began yawning.

“It’s my employer!” Noah waved Kevin away and ran to the entrance.

“Be careful of scams!” Kevin, limping into a bathroom, barked at Noah’s back. “I’ve never heard of well-paying part-time job. It’s crazy that they’re paying $65 per hour for just a simple drive.”

Noah ignored him, trotting to the entrance of his apartment. As he opened the door, a bulky, brown-haired man in his mid-30s waved to him. His hand was clutching the door of a black limousine. Noah’s eyes were transfixed to a dark, meteorite-like ball on the limousine’s ceiling. As he approached the limousine, the meteorite tilted to capture his face precisely and blue light blinked in the center of its surface. It was a 360-degree 8K camera.

“Noah, we are collecting traffic information. This limo is equipped with a camera controled by an AI system. This camera automatically reacts to people’s faces.” Andrew opened the door and motioned Noah to ride on it. There were three monitors next to the steering wheel. The lowest monitor showed Noah’s zoomed-in face, which had anxiously looked up at the 360-degree 8K camera five seconds before. As Noah sat on the passenger’s seat, Andrew started the engine and the limo hurtled to the street.

“I’m Andrew. It’s your first day, and I’ll show you how you’re expected to work. From tomorrow, you’ll work alone,” said Andrew loudly. “Your job is quite simple. You just need to drive this limousine to collect street views — our clients want traffic information. They’re going to develop wireless charging road panels for electronic vehicles.”

“Wireless charging road panels?” asked Noah, his eyes alight with curiosity.

“Yes. They want to place some wireless electronic charge panels on the roads in the Silicon Valley — mainly Palo Alto and San Jose. To place these panels effectively, they want to get the data about junctions where cars need to stop the most in the Bay Area. But I can’t disclose much about our clients’ information,” Andrew said.

“I have a question, Andrew,” said Noah, taking a glance at a traffic light turning red through the windscreen. Their limousine, proceeding down Embarcadero Road, came to a halt at the junction near the Palo Alto Art Center. “If they only want to get traffic data, why don’t they hire a data collecting company that uses an artificial satellite? It’ll be more precise and effective.”

“They also want to know what kind of cars are running in this district. That’s what artificial satellites can’t necessarily seize,” answered Andrew curtly, hitting the accelerator.

Noah looked at the monitors in the limousine. The upper monitor showed Google Maps. The second monitor displayed a live 360-degree video that the camera on the ceiling was capturing. A crowd of elementary school children milled over the Palo Alto Art Center entrance, some of them gaping and pointing to the limousine’s camera. A facial recognition system quickly detected each face, encircling them with green squares on the screen. It zoomed in on a blond female school teacher, displaying her name found on the Internet. Noah slightly shivered, hunched his shoulder, and mulled over the exact motive of this project. Did they really want to gather traffic data for wireless EV charging? Why did they need to collect information on pedestrians’ identities, too? His eyes quickly skated over the room mirror that showed the vacant seats behind him. There were two lines of leather sofas along the windows, binding an oblong table with two computers and a spare 360-degree camera. For the first time, Noah noticed a security camera hanging from the ceiling behind his back, glinting like a jailer’s red eyes.

“Do you remember the driving route that Rebecca sent you via email?” asked Andrew, gunning the limousine.

“Yes,” Noah answered.

“You’re going to drive this limousine for 4 hours in each of your shifts. You can take a 10 - minute rest each hour. I’ll bring and pick up this limousine every time you have a shift, OK? And, I want to warn you that,” said Andrew, sneaking a glance at Noah as though Andrew were reading his mind, “you are NOT allowed to touch the computer in the back seat. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” Noah answered quietly.


On the fourth day of work, Noah was only brooding over the rent and credit card loan he needed to pay that month. This part-time job during his summer vacation paid better than an internship for programmers at GAFA. He expected to make at least $4,000 by the end of this month.

His daily driving course started from Palo Alto Station. He drove to the east along Alma Street, turning the corner of Trader Joe’s and hurtling down Embarcadero Road to the Bayshore Freeway. While the limousine was running along the street near Google Plex, Noah saw one of the monitors scan the number of electronic cars through the 360-degree camera. He heard the computers in the backseat buzzing like excited bees. It seemed that these computers analyzed statistical traffic data and detected ideal areas to place wireless electronic charge plates in the streets. What Andrew said may be true. Noah glanced at the clock beside the monitors. It was time for a 10-minute rest. He drove down De France avenue, passing NASA’s Ames Research Center N-254, and parked the limousine in front of a coffee shop along the bay. The sun was still high, illuminating yachts and ferries which were circulating in the bay to get to the shore one by one.

As Noah went out of the coffee shop with a cup of cappuccino, a group of pelicans was perched on the limousine’s ceiling, squawking and pecking at the rotating 360-degree camera on the ceiling. Noah barked and raised his fists at the pelicans. Noticing him, they timidly flew away with their feathers scattered in the air. Noah drew himself up to his full, reaching his hands out to the limousine’s ceiling to shake their feathers off the camera. All of a sudden, a hoarse voice reverberated.

“Man, are you driving this limousine? I saw the same limousine before,” An old man, wearing a red cap stenciled with “California,” gripped the leash of his greyhound tightly and spoke to him. His greyhound was howling at the limousine as though it was a dangerous enemy. The old man continued. “Be careful, don’t trust your employers. I knew other limousine drivers who took a rest at this coffee shop because I walk my dog every afternoon here. All of them have died recently.”

“What?” Noah grimaced. “I don’t understand what you are saying.”

“Before you, the previous driver was a young blond girl, almost the same age as you. She’s no longer living today,” said the old man, rubbing his gray bearded chin.

Noah scanned his face. The old man did not seem to be drunken. Noah asked in an undertone. “How do you know they died?”

“My son works with the local police,” said the old man, pulling the leash again. His greyhound started to bark at the 360-degree camera on the limousine’s ceiling. “The girl who drove this car was found dead in her student apartment due to cocaine overdose. Nobody believed she used the drug voluntarily. It must be another case of the serial killer known as Joker. Don’t you know of Joker, who mainly assassinated high-tech CEOs? He’s still running amok in the Bay Area…”

The old man stopped talking and froze. His greyhound was barking noisily, making other pedestrians on the slope look back at them. The old man inched to the 360-degree camera blinking blue at him. “Oh, no! They took my face’s picture!” shouted the old man, suddenly turning back and stumping away with his greyhound.

“What? Tell me more! I don’t know of this serial killer,” shrieked Noah at his back.

“Search it by yourself! Keep yourself protected all the time!” the old man shouted as he limped away to the other side of the street along the bay.

As Noah rode back on the limousine, he heard the computers on the table in the backseat clunk. He stared at the surveillance camera hanging on the ceiling. Noah straightened up on the table and covered the surveillance camera with a plastic bag. As he jumped to the floor, he pressed the enter key on one of the computers. The screen showed a password entrance form on Windows 11. Noah heaved a short sigh. He could do nothing. As he turned off the screen, he suddenly saw a piece of paper stuffed between the armrests of the leather chairs. He picked it up. It was a name card: Carolyn Smith, Stanford University, Computer Science Department, Address…


Tributes to Carolyn

Share a memory or thought about Carolyn......

Emily Perez > Carolyn Smith

May 7 at 3:40 am

I miss you, my beautiful friend.

Noah’s Dell laptop screen showed a picture of two girls, taken at a music festival at Golden Gate Park. The blond girl, wearing a navy tank-top and tagged as Carolyn Smith by Facebook, rubbed her cheek to Emily Perez’s ear covered with brown hair. Emily tilted her hunched-up shoulder against Carolyn’s breast. Both were grabbing green Sprite cans and smiling at the camera. And both did not know the ominous fate that would deprive the life of one of them.

Searching the name “Carolyn Smith” on Facebook, Noah felt his heart racing. What the old man said was true. According to her Facebook profile, Carolyn Smith was a part-time employee at the same data surveying company. On her Twitter account, Carolyn tweeted, “Driving a limousine at Silicon Valley for data gathering! What a nice job for a driving lover!” on May 4th, just two days before her death. She must have dropped her name card during her work in the backseat. A sudden thought engulfed his mind. Carolyn had also sneaked into the backseat and booted up the prohibited computer…

But what if there was no connection between her death and this job? One thing that nagged Noah’s mind was the old man’s word — he said that other part-time drivers had been killed, too. However, Noah had no means to verify his claim since Noah did not know the other drivers before him. Noah’s mind raced about the serial killer named Joker that the old man mentioned. Although Noah could not find any articles about serial killings, he noticed the media had reported numerous deaths of CEOs of high-tech companies in the past two months. Most of them died because of “drug overdose.” Some speculative online websites circulated the rumor that these rich people had attended filthy orgy parties where prostitutes had injected drugs into their bodies. On Twitter, a famous IT journalist wrote an article that some had witnessed a man who wore a black ski mask stenciled with the luminous letter “Joker” on the cheeks outside a CEO’s mansion in San Jose on the night of his death. At the end of the article, the journalist insinuated a case of serial assassination by Russian spies, who were trying to steal confidential information and technology of high-tech companies.

Turning back to the screen of his Facebook page, Noah noticed that Emily Perez, a friend of Carolyn Smith, was a friend of Noah’s roommate Kevin on Facebook.

“Hey Kevin,” Noah swiveled in a chair in the kitchen and looked at Kevin, who was boiling pasta, “do you know Emily Perez?”

“Emily? She’s my classmate in a course in Retro Game Design. Why?”

“I want to chat with her. Her friend seemed to work at the same company,” said Noah.

“You can go to tomorrow’s guest lecture by David Hearn. Emily said she was going to the lecture. This lecture is exceptionally open to all the students at Stanford if they register online beforehand,” said Kevin, turning off the heat.

“David Hearn? Are you serious?” Noah stood up and stubbed his toe at the chair’s leg. David Hearn was a graduate of Stanford and an entrepreneur who had started up a Virtual Reality product company. Noah once applied for a competitive internship at his company but was rejected. Yet, Noah admired David’s projects in selling numerous VR video games.

“Damn! I didn’t register for the guest lecture!” said Noah disappointedly.

“You can go instead of me,” said Kevin, pouring spaghetti into a strainer and steam clouding his brown-rimmed eyeglasses. “I can’t go since I need to repair my car tomorrow.”


“All of us are travelers to,” said David Hearn spiritedly on a mike on the podium, in front of fifty students in a semi-circular lecture hall at Stanford University, “the Virtual Reality future. Today, people’s digital identities outnumber their real identities issued by their countries. We’re selling VR avatars tailored for customers through our online video games and we’re going to create new communication tools. Now is the time to change the world!”

As David Hearn roared, the screen in the hall showed the last Power-Point slide filled with deep-faked human faces created by Artificial Intelligence. They were human-like VR avatars that his company’s customers could purchase to use in online meetings. When the video game players met online, they could change their appearance into any of the VR avatars to communicate with each other.

“Thank you!” As David smiled and turned off the screen, the lecture hall shuddered with a roar of applause.

As the storm of cheering receded, Noah scanned the middle of the front row of seats. Emily Perez scratched her brown, curly hair, turning off her MacBook Pro. Noticing that other students started to line up beside David Hearn on the podium to pose questions, Emily stood up, stuffing her MacBook Pro into her bag and striding to him. Noah jumped up and sidled up to her. He sneaked into the long line of students, right behind Emily.

“Hey, are you Emily?” said Noah in an undertone.

“Yeah?” Emily turned back.

“I’m Noah. My roommate Kevin told me you were a friend of Carolyn Smith, who passed away…” Noah looked at Emily’s eyes squarely.

“Oh, it was so heart-wrenching… Were you her friend, too?” said Emily in a sad voice.

“No. But I’m working at the same data collection company she used to work for,” said Noah.

“What? Are you serious?” Emily raised her eyebrows and almost shouted. “Quit the job, now!”


“I can’t tell you here. Let’s talk in the nearby cafeteria,” said Emily, walking out of the students’ line to the hall’s exit. Noah followed her to the cafeteria right outside the lecture hall. Both sat down in a chair at a table distant from other customers.

“Two days before her death, Carolyn told me she’d be killed.” Emily lowered her voice. “Carolyn never used any drugs, not even pot! She didn’t OD. Somebody injected coke into her and drowned her in a bathtub.”

“Why did she tell you that she’d be killed?” Noah grimaced, feeling his legs shivering.

“While Carolyn was working at the data collection company, she got to know their dangerous secret. Once she drove the limousine with a 360-degree camera, she found that one of her supervisors had forgotten to turn off a computer in the backseat. Carolyn opened a program installed on the computer; she found an AI system that analyzes information about a high-tech company’s employees’ driving routine, their cars, and faces, as well as the frequency of the police cars’ patrol. Carolyn told me that this data could be collected for the purposes of attacking somebody or attempting a terrorist attack on some high-tech companies,” sputtered Emily.

“Which company?” asked Noah, goggling at her eyes.

“You can guess because you’re driving the limousine on the same route, right?” said Emily, her eyes darting to the entrance door of the lecture hall. Through the window in the door, they could see the crowd of students milling around the famous upstart entrepreneur in the VR industry.

“If so, why don’t you let him know of their heinous scheme?” muttered Noah.

“He won’t believe me,” said Emily indignantly. At that moment, David Hearn, smiling smugly, went out of the door. Surrounded by bulky bodyguards, he was striding to the exit.

“Oh no, I wanted to pose a question to him!” Emily jumped up. Emily and Noah followed David Hearn to the exit with a wave of students who were trying to take pictures of him. As Noah filed down the stairs outside the building’s exit filled with students, he gasped. Noah saw a familiar black BMW parked on the campus road. The driver opened the door to the backseat, and David Hearn jumped inside while he was waving to the students. Noah squinted at the number plate. He felt that he’d seen this BMW a number of times while he had been driving the limousine. He vaguely remembered it because the limousine’s monitor often beeped when the 360-degree camera detected the BMW.


As Emily said, the driving course that the data collection company had told Noah to take was around David Hearn’s VR company’s office. But why did they want to take the street view if they only wanted to follow David Hearn and other employees? Suddenly, the malicious face of the unknown serial killer popped up in Noah’s mind. Joker had killed some important figures in high-tech companies. Possibly, the data collecting company that Noah worked for gathered different data on high-tech CEOs and employees and sold them to various criminal organizations.

After his shift, Noah returned the limousine to Andrew and came back to his apartment. He immediately turned on his Dell Inspiron 16 and started an online meeting with Rebecca. Rebecca had sent a Zoom link because she wanted to have a meeting with him to check his daily work status and explain the next work.

“So, your work will go to the next stage,” said Rebecca, smiling mysteriously on the screen. “You have data analysis skills by using the programming language R — that’s why we hired you. Please visualize the statistical data about where specific cars with the following number plates were running. You’ll need to bring your own PC and use it in the backseat of the limousine. Wi-Fi is available inside.”

Noah’s PC beeped. Rebecca e-mailed him an Excel file of these cars’ number plates.

“Could I ask what this research is for?” said Noah. “I’m not sure if this research is legal…”

“It is! Don’t worry. This is a project for a client company’s security,” said Rebecca, cold anger instilled in each syllable. “We’re going to make a simulation of potential terrorism in the Silicon Valley. For instance, we’ll estimate which blockage of a street would hinder the police cars’ entrance…” Rebecca stopped. She did not seem to want to explain further.

“I have a question, Rebecca,” said Noah. “Carolyn Smith, the predecessor of my work, died last May. The autopsy indicated that the cause of death was cocaine overdose. But she wasn’t addicted to any drugs according to her friend. And I heard a rumor that the former employee before Carolyn also died.”

Rebecca heaved a long sigh. Her eyes shifted to somewhere above her PC’s camera. After ten seconds of silence, she said. “It’s Terence, who worked before Carolyn. He was a student at UC Berkley majoring in data science. He died in a car accident in Oakland. But he may have been killed by Joker. Some witnessed the driver who had attacked his car. The driver wore a three-hole black ski mask stenciled with ‘Joker.’ For security reasons, we decided to install a security camera inside the limousine.”

Noah felt cold dread course through his body.

“Don’t worry, Noah,” said Rebecca in a soothing tone. “We’re hearing good news from the police. I guess they’ll arrest Joker soon.”


At 9:11 am, Noah turned right from Bayshore Freeway onto Rengstorff Avenue. The monitors beside his steering wheel automatically zoomed in on the black BMW running ahead in the next lane. Noah squinted at the backseat of the BMW. Through the slightly shaded window, he saw David Hearn in a pin-striped suit pouring over his iPad’s screen. Noah drove past the BMW, which was turning right to the gate of his company’s headquarters. Noah chased the BMW to the end of his eyesight. Its taillight flashed and melted with the glinting, futuristic fountain encircled by the wraparound driveway. Noah heard computers in the backseat buzzing like boiled water.

As usual, Noah parked the limousine along the walkway of the bay for a 10-minute rest. However, he didn’t go out. Noah covered the surveillance video with a plastic bag, pulled out his Dell Inspiron 16, and connected not to the Wi-Fi in the limousine, but to the pocket Wi-Fi he bought. By using an anonymous free email address, Noah sent a virus-loaded video file to Rebecca’s email address with an email titled “The Truth of Carolyn Smith’s Death.” Who wouldn’t want to see the video file attached to this email with the title? Rebecca opened the dummy video file and let her PC be infected with the virus Noah had created. The virus sent all of Rebecca’s past emails to her colleague automatically to Noah’s other anonymous email address. Noah searched for the word “password.” In her email to her colleague Eric Walls on May 7th, 2022, she informed him of the password “DestroySiliconValley2022.” Eric simply replied to her, “Thanks, Andrew!” Why did Eric call her Andrew?

Noah felt his heart racing. With his shivering hands, he typed the password to log into one of the computers in the limousine’s backseat. With a beeping sound, the screen lit up. Noah emitted a cry of victorious joy. Immediately, he felt terror replace his delight. Right after opening a mysterious software pinned to the taskbar, a 3D traffic map of the Bay Area, depicted by a specific machine learning algorithm, popped up. He clicked “Plan A” from an upper bar. It showed a simulation map of traffic in case a part of the Bayshore Freeway was bombed and obstructed. David Hearn’s black BMW, which came to a halt, was glinting red, illuminated by a searchlight from the sky. Suddenly, the computer emitted an earsplitting whine of a helicopter’s blade. The gray helicopter glid down to the middle of the road. Joker wearing a black mask appeared from the sliding door, aimed his gun at David Hearn and kidnapped him into the helicopter.

Noah took a screenshot of this and sent it to his own PC via his flash drive. He opened his email box. He checked the email draft he had written last night, attached the screenshot, and sent it to Donald Hearn’s company’s customer service email address. Noah also sent a text message to his roommate Kevin with his current location: Come right now! I got criminal evidence!

As he turned off his PC, Noah breathed deeply. The silence inside the limousine was suddenly broken by his phone’s ringing. Noah answered.

“This is Rebecca,” said Rebecca in a melodic voice. “Noah, we have great news. Joker was arrested.”

“Really?” shouted Noah.

“We heard this directly from the police. They will disclose this in the evening. I just wanted to let you know that you’re safe. You don’t need to worry about that serial killer anymore. Justice will prevail — we’ll soon know the real cause of death of our former employees, Terence and Carolyn. Good luck, see you soon,” Carolyn hung up.

Noah felt his brain jammed. Was Joker arrested? So, Rebecca’s company wasn’t an accessory to Joker’s serial killings? He flung his head to the headrest, gazing at the gray ceiling.

All of a sudden, he heard the limousine’s door unlocked from the outside. The sliding door in the backseat opened.

A face covered with a black ski mask appeared, the red letter “Joker” glinting in his cheeks. He was standing beneath the surveillance camera welded to the ceiling; Joker was obviously calculating the position outside the camera’s reach. While Joker was aiming his gun at Noah, he pressed a button behind the surveillance camera to turn it off. The sound of clicking off the safety of his gun reverberated.

“Noah, we have great news. Joker was arrested.” Joker awkwardly raised the pitch of his voice, impersonating Rebecca’s voice. Through the hole of the ski mask, Noah could see his mouth curling maliciously.

“You thought Joker was arrested? Here am I.” Joker stepped forward.

“So, Rebecca lied to you — she was on your side,” groaned Noah.

“No, Rebecca doesn’t exist. The woman you met on Zoom was the VR avatar I bought from David Hearn’s company,” said Joker, the wave of his spiteful smile rippling through the ski mask and the letter “Joker” dancing on it. “Her voice was also automatically generated by an AI system. And the company that hired you doesn’t exist, either.”

With his gun aimed at Noah’s forehead, Joker ripped the ski mask off his head with his left hand. Andrew’s face cropped up, his eyes alight with cold anger.

“I warned you that you shouldn’t touch the computer in this limousine. I thought hiring students with IT skills was crucial because I could hack their PCs after they’d start working in Silicon Valley. I also intended to hack and manipulate your PC. But now, I need to kill you because you know too much,” Andrew growled.

“I know your scheme,” shouted Noah defiantly. “You want to disrupt the online services of David Hearn’s company by conducting a terrorist attack in the Bay Area, then kidnap him for ransom.”

“No, I’m kidnapping him to steal his technology,” said Andrew coldly, shoving his gun’s cubic muzzle to his forehead. Noah rolled his eyes and noticed that it was not a gun. The tip of the muzzle was carved with the letter “Taser” and a thunder shape.

“You’re not gonna die here. You’ll pass out here and I’ll inject a drug into your body and drown you in a bathtub just like I did with Carolyn,” guffawed Andrew.

Andrew, who looked at the limousine’s windscreen, grimaced and retreated. With a thunderclap-like noise, a red Hyundai Elantra crashed headlong into the limousine, thrusting Noah’s body to Andrew. Andrew’s head hit the hem of the table in the backseat, and the taser hurled out of his hand, landing on the backrest of a white leather seat. Noah painfully stood up on the computer’s keyboard, shattering its screen with his foot and jumping to the taser. Noah whirled around, aiming the taser at Andrew. Andrew drew himself up toward the ceiling, laughing mirthfully.

“Are you serious, kid? Do you think you can stop…”

While Andrew was roaring, Noah pulled the trigger. A jet of blue sparks shot from the end of the taser, hitting Andrew’s shoulder. With a large thud, Andrew dropped to the floor. His legs convulsed for a couple of seconds and stopped moving. The broken computers creaked and emitted heat.

The sliding door of the limousine opened. Kevin tilted his head, peering into Noah’s face.

“Hey, Noah. I was actually following your limousine because you told me about Carolyn’s death last night. You’re responsible for paying for the repairs to my car,” Kevin’s voice was drowned out by the sirens of police cars approaching them.


“So, I’ll explain the next VR video game project, team. Please wear the Augmented Reality headset,” said David Hearn spiritedly.

The oblong meeting room in the headquarters of David Hearn’s company was full of sunlight. It was on the fifth floor. Noah squinted at inching cars in the net of roads through the glass window. As he put on the AR headset, he looked upward. Suddenly, a cubic, white plastic smoke detector on the ceiling disappeared. There was only a smooth, artificial ceiling like a white sand desert.

“Don’t look up at the ceiling. Look down at the table!” David Hearn clapped his hands. All the employees sitting around the conference table leveled their gaze at a mysterious 3D map that emerged on the table. The employees’ cars, their headquarters, and other building stuck out on the map. With a popping sound, suddenly, fire engulfed all the cars running on the Bayshore Freeway, and several vehicles milling around the headquarters crashed each other. A helicopter emerged from the corner of the meeting room, hovering past their headquarters on the map and descending vertically to the miniature David’s BMW on the map. Laughter erupted in the meeting room. A doll-like David Hearn cropped up out of the BMW, bound by ropes and loaded into the helicopter.

“Please take off your headset, ladies and gentlemen,” said David with a gleeful smile. “So, the theme of our next VR video game is about how to stop the next terrorist attack by Joker and save David Hearn.”

Applause and laughter filled the meeting room.

David Hearn strode from the front screen to Noah’s chair, patting his shoulder.

“And, team, please welcome our new developer with phenomenal skills as an intern. Please join me in welcoming Noah Stevenson!”

Article © Aiden Dufort. All rights reserved.
Published on 2023-01-16
Image(s) are public domain.
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