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©02 The Media Desk
The envelope's contents lead me on a merry chase. The comments on the disc from Bishop42 were little help. He admitted in the letter on the disc that he hadn't been able to decipher the trail through the other sites to get the keys to the master site. I spent part of three days at work, and then all evening at home, hitting one Internet site after another on the list. Ending up on as many blind allies and dead links as not.
The list was the key to a code that was supposed to lead to another site. By correctly hitting the series of links and entering certain words, you would pass on to the next one. Then somehow through that site you could link to yet another site where some products were for sale.
The products offered were human slaves, according to the Bishop.
I could tell there was something here. The firewall sites were good, but from the directories there always seemed to be something else there. But there was no way through them except the way they wanted you to go.
Somebody was good. Somebody was very good.
Some stuff for work kept me busy for a couple of days, and by the time I got home I didn't feel like looking at another computer screen, let alone trying to outthink a mastermind with something to hide.
Friday I got to hit a couple more of the sites and managed to get one more piece of the puzzle. But then another envelope arrived from Bishop42, and I had to interrupt what I had come to think of as a chess game with the slave site Webmaster.
After a long strange weekend, I got back to work on my regular job, and the assignment with the human slave network. But got nowhere in two days.
Finally I ended up sending Bishop42 an email requesting any other information he may have on my current endeavor.
Late one night I got a reply from the Bishop. I read the cover letter first.
'Greetings: Enclosed find some sites dealing with sports and other subjects you may find of interest. Bishop42' the note read. Following it was a compressed file of what appeared to be his raw data mixed with a whole bunch of everything else. The folder was huge. It took me a long time to take out the filler and sort through what was left.
Another two days passed. The new information helped, but I still could not find the master site.
I was sitting in the space game watching a script file make a trading run when I got a page from the Bishop. In a minute I joined him in the chatroom.
Bishop42: Are you making any progress on locating the new customers?
theHunter: some, but it seems the store is open only at certain times
Bishop42: From what I understand that is the case. The hours are evidently posted elsewhere.
theHunter: then somebody smarter than i am will have to figure it out
Bishop42: I believe you can do it. Perhaps you are trying too hard.
I had to admit that was a possibility. I had the tendency to go at something tooth and nail until I got it. And sometimes that didn't work.
Bishop42: In the meantime, the Capasians are in sector 783. I believe they raided one of your outposts over the weekend.
theHunter: RAIDED?!? They TOOK my outpost and moved it into their space!
Bishop42: Enjoy. He logged off. And left me grinning while I planned to pay a visit to the rival corporation.
For the next hour I engaged in computer battle with the Capasians. One of their corp people came into the game right in the middle of my attack. He kept paging me and asking me why was I systematically destroying a good portion of their corporate assets. The message came across the bottom of my screen in the communications channel.
theHunter: does the word 'payback' mean anything to you
CapasJR: We didn't know that was your planet and port! I smiled, it was too easy of a shot. I didn't reply in the channel, but instead I captured one of their biggest freighters and towed it back to my space.
The other player protested, but three other people in the game told him that was the way things went. If you run with the big dogs, you get bit once in awhile.
I left the captured ship in a sector of mine that was nothing but a death-trap to anybody that ventured in. Then I went back to my normal routine of seeking out unexplored areas and adding to my fortune in the game that way, by earning it. Warfare, while exciting, didn't pay in the long run.
Slowly my attention wandered from the game.
I had been trying too hard. Trying to get into the Internet slave site my way, instead of their way. In the game I went to my home sector and logged off.
Then I started up my browser and looked down the list of related sites. I tried not to think too much about what I was doing, and just cruised through the site, then the next one.
Finally a menu option came up that hadn't been there before. A link to a page offering 'companionship'.
With trembling fingers I clicked on it, and started my real time screen recorder to make a permanent record of what I was doing.
The page was innocuous enough on the surface. Offering pen pals and chances to exchange photos with 'new and exciting' people all over the world.
Now some of the notes I had from Bishop42 made sense. I scrolled through the page and found a small, almost unnoticed button that claimed to be 'photograph copyright information', something so dull as to be passed over by almost everybody.
The page had copyright information a plenty. Then towards the bottom another small link button. It wasn't mentioned in my notes. I hit it anyway.
I could feel that I was getting close. Then a password screen came up. I entered the information I had gathered from the other sites. Then I was in.
"Our facility is open only during select hours. To request a time frame for your transaction please enter credit card information into our secure server. You will be assigned the next available time when your account is validated. For privacy reasons this transaction will be billed as PenPlayers International. After your card information, please enter your personal data. Thank you." I read out loud. Then added, "Bingo!"
I typed in the numbers from the Bishop's theHunter credit card. It took it without hesitation. Then I had to enter several screens of often repetitive and sometimes questionable information. Everything from what type of 'companion' I was looking for, up to my shoe size. The last item was my preferred E-mail address. I used my second work address that was basically untraceable.
After a break for a late supper, I checked that mailbox. My assigned time to view available companions that met my criteria was to be at five o'clock in the morning, and a completely different address to go to. I shook my head and set my alarm.
At the set time I logged into the site and started my recorder again. There was another bunch of questions. Are you now and have you ever been a cop? Is this transaction for your own personal benefit or for somebody else? Closest international airport? And so on. Finally I got through to the main page.
An animated figure smiled at me, I guess it was supposed to be a shark of some sort. It carried on the conversation about exactly what I had in mind. I replied that I was simply seeking a companion without a lot of strings attached.
"You mean legal obligations like a marriage license?" The shark asked me over my speakers in a badly programmed machine voice. I agreed and it said something I couldn't understand. Then a button appeared to 'preview choices'. I clicked on it.
A live camera feed from a room that could only be described as a cell came on my screen. Two nude girls were sitting in chairs with looks of helpless resignation on their faces. I guessed they were of Oriental lineage but it was impossible to tell more in the lighting.
"Do you like one of these?" The shark-voice asked. I didn't reply immediately. The two girls looked to one side and got up quickly while cringing like they expected to be struck. Two more girls took their places. The same look of fear and loathing on them.
Something in the face of the girl on the left struck me as very attractive. While she was very pretty indeed, she had a defiant air in her eyes, in spite of her fear and hate, she wasn't a slave to them.
'I like the one on the left.' I typed to the shark. They made her stand. I told them they had the right one. The other girl left. The shark asked me if I wanted to ask her anything. I ran through the basics. Name, Keia. Age, 18. English, some. Trade, housekeeper and cook.
The shark told me if she was my choice to type in my card number for verification of the agreement and I would receive more information in Email.
I logged off and immediately copied the entire recorded file to Bishop42.
Then I left the computer and went to my bathroom, and spent the next ten minutes being violently sick. They were selling young girls over the Internet like shoes.
I spent the next hour sitting in the dark ignoring the flashing 'You Have EMAIL!' on my computer. Then when I did check it, I was nearly ill again.
Keia, my new companion, would be arriving with passport in hand in two days. There was a complete file on her. Pictures, her marks in school, something that claimed to be a health record stating that she was perfectly healthy, and a personal note from her that claimed she liked stuffed animals.
I copied this to the Bishop as well. With a note asking what I should do with her once she was here.
Then I went to bed and slept uneasily for a couple of hours.
Friday, I went into work looking like I had spent the night in the drunk tank. I did a project on a monitoring system and nearly forgot about Keia. But before I got off work I got a message from the Bishop.
"It is imperative you accept delivery of the goods. The transaction must be complete to allow us the opportunity to plan the possible hostile takeover. Quality of the package will be verified at the reception desk. You should be hearing from our consumer expert Mr. Rob Jacobs Esq. then. This is most important to all of us. You have done well. B42."
I read the message twice and deleted it. It seemed I was going to have a houseguest. Then I began wondering about the use of what was evidently a real name in his note. I drove home thinking about what to do with a girl who was coming to America to be my slave.
I was still wondering when I was sitting at the international arrivals gate staring at a man who was staring back at me. Fighting dry mouth I walked to a snack bar and bought a drink.
"You do much hunting?" The man asked me.
"Only for lawyers." I grinned.
"I'm Jacobs." He stuck out his hand.
"I thought so."
We sat apart from the rest of those waiting and he told me that he would explain to the girl what was going on and get her statement. Usually they were in such fear that their families back home would be harmed by the slavers they refused to talk. He hoped Keia would be different. I told him about the look in her eyes.
"That's why I am so hopeful she will cooperate, I saw that look on the tape."
The plane came in on time and we met the poor frightened girl at the gate. It took Jacobs and a woman he described as his brain trust two days to get Keia to tell them how she came to be here and the operation overseas that brought her here.
Among other things that came out were small details like while her name was Keia, she was 22, had attended college, and ended up a slave because her family owed money to the local version of a loan shark connected to an international syndicate. It was all good information and carefully documented.
But then, they were gone. And I was left sitting in my apartment with Keia standing with her back to me staring out the window.
"I could send you back home." I offered for the fourth time.
"No. They kill family." She said with huge tears rolling down her cheeks.
"You can't stay here." I said gesturing to my apartment.
"You bought me to be housekeeper and cook."
"But that was for the investigation to stop the slave traders." I defended myself.
"You need housekeeper." She pointed to my laundry. "I not go back. I stay here be housekeeper for you."
That determined look in her eyes on the monitor last week was nothing to what I saw in person. I swallowed hard. "OK. But you are not my slave girl."
"Keia is nobodys slave. No matter what they said back there." She never referred to her home by anything other than, 'back there'.
Bishop42: Well, consider your guest a bonus for a fantastic job. We have managed to close that local office, and the payment arrangements with the card outfit have been terminated.
theHunter: I am surprised they allowed it to begin with.
Bishop42: Many things are done by night that would not be in the light of day.
theHunter: So how long does she have to stay?
Bishop42: I am working to get her people out of that local corporation. But it may be some time. I have no corporate operatives in those sectors.
theHunter: Can't you find her another job and a place?
Bishop42: Complete sentences, punctuation, and capital letters. What's come over you?
theHunter: I have a typing tutor standing over my shoulder.
>Bishop42 breaks into spasms of unrestrainable laughter at you.
Bishop42: Just for that. I am going to make you keep her.
"I am not slave. I am housekeeper." Keia said. I relayed it into the channel.
Bishop42: Very well. And since she knows more about our game than many who are playing, she will assist you as needed. Get her an account and teach her well. I shall be in touch. "Is this Bishop a priest? What you Americans did was not game. I do not understand."
I logged off and turned to look at her. The small, frightened girl from the cell on the other side of the world was still visible on her face.
"Let me tell you a story about a very strange hobby I have with the Bishop."
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