Read Bubble: A Thriller Online

Authors: Anders de La Motte

Tags: #Thriller, #Suspense, #Mystery

Bubble: A Thriller

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For Anette

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

MY WARMEST THANKS
to all the Ants out there, without whose advice and achievements the Game could never have become a reality.

In a personalized world, we will increasingly be typed and fed only news that is pleasant, familiar, and confirms our beliefs and because these filters are invisible, we won’t know what is being hidden from us. Our past interests will determine what we are exposed to in the future, leaving less room for the unexpected encounters that spark creativity, innovation, and the democratic exchange of ideas.

—Eli Pariser

Knowledge is power. Information is power. The secreting or hoarding of knowledge or information may be an act of tyranny camouflaged as humility.

—Robin Morgan

It is not so important who starts the game, but who finishes it.

—John Wooden

He who owns the past controls the future.

Bubble [
1
bLb
l]

A small quantity of air or gas within a liquid body

A small, hollow, floating bead or globe

Anything that is more spacious than real; a false show

A cheat or fraud; a delusive scheme; an empty project; a dishonest speculation

A person deceived by an empty project; a gull

A small spherical cavity in a solid material

To cheat, to delude (verb)

A (usually temporary) state of existence, in which what you see, touch, hear, feel, and smell are under close control either by those around you or a system

When an electronic device or person is remotely under surveillance (bubbled)

A fantasy/dream that is so far-fetched it couldn’t ever be true

www.brainyquote.com

www.urbandictionary.com

www.wiktionary.com

Outbox:
1 pending message.

From:
[email protected]

To:
[email protected]

Subject:
the Game

Fuck it, Mange, how did things end up like this?

It was all so easy back at the start. So innocent.

A mobile phone someone left behind on the train.

A phone that knew who I was, called me by my name.

Do you want to play a Game, Henrik Pettersson?
YES or NO?

···

To start with everything went like clockwork. The tasks they gave me were pretty simple. Nick an umbrella, loosen the wheel nuts on a flash car, stop the clock on top of the NK department store.

The film clips looked good, the fans liked what they saw, and I started climbing the high-score list. Soaking up their praise and approval, aiming for the top, and trying to depose Kent Hasselqvist aka Player number 58 from his throne.

At almost any price . . .

That grass in Birkagatan whose door I spray painted, followed by his face. The attack on the royal procession.
The stone I dropped on those police cars from the Traneberg Bridge . . .

I didn’t even blink, Mange, I didn’t hesitate for a single fucking second . . .

I just did all I could to get to the top, to get the audience to love me. To get a bit of recognition.

···

But then I blew it. I broke rule number one:

Never talk about the Game to anyone.

First they chucked me out, then they gave me a warning. Set fire to my flat and tried to do the same to your computer shop. Not to mention Erman the nut, the hermit who got too involved and was now trying to live a low-tech life out in the sticks.

Didn’t do him much good, did it . . . ?

You are always playing the Game,
whether you like it or not.

···

So I fought back, big time. Blew their server farm sky-high. Emptied their bank account and took off. Lived the easy life on Asian beaches like everyone dreams of doing, really tried to enjoy my early retirement.

It was kind of okay . . .

You have to be careful about what you wish for . . .

I managed to lie low for fourteen months, until they caught up with me down in Dubai. They framed me for the murder of Anna Argos, and I ended up getting locked up and tortured. But I managed to wriggle out of their trap. And I decided to find out who wanted Anna dead. And me too, for that matter . . .

The answer seemed to lead back to her company,
Argoseye.com, and their undeniably shady business practices. Bribed bloggers, thousands of fake Internet identities, all making comments and giving scores that suited the company’s clients. All the different technological tools they used to suppress things and keep them hidden. Making certain things on the net seem invisible.

Like the Game, for instance . . .

But we beat them as well, even if it was at a cost. The trojan you designed that I planted in their computer system did exactly what it was supposed to.

It dragged the trolls out into daylight, and they burst. And shafted Philip Argos, the creepy bastard, and gave the rest of his little gang what they deserved.

Everything would have been fine.

If it hadn’t been for him.

Tage Sammer, or Uncle Tage as Becca calls him.

He claims he’s an old colleague of Dad’s from the military.

The old man might have fooled my sister, but I know who he really is. The Game Master. The brains behind the whole thing.

···

He’s given me a task, Mange.

One last task that will make me famous.

I’m trying to figure out a plan to get out of it.

To free both me and Becca from his grasp.

···

If you get this email, it’ll mean I’ve failed.

That they forced me to carry out the task.

And that I’m very probably dead . . .

It’s quiet at the moment.

···

But I know they’re out there, watching every step I take.

Soon it’s all going to kick off.

The question is: am I prepared to play one last game?

What do you think?

YES or NO?

Your old friend,
HP

This message is set to send at a future date

Like a punch in the chest—that was pretty much what it felt like. In a weird way the blow seemed to slow everything down even more. All of a sudden he could appreciate the tiniest details around him. The gun aimed at his chest, the drawn-out, panic-stricken screams from the surrounding crowd. All around him, bodies crushed together in slow motion. Trying to get as far away from him as possible.

But in spite of the evidence, in spite of the gunpowder stinging his nostrils and the shot still reverberating in his eardrums, his brain refused to accept what was happening. As if it were fending off the impossible, the unthinkable, the incomprehensible . . .

This simply couldn’t be happening.

Not now!

She had shot him . . .

SHE

HAD

SHOT

HIM!!!

The pistol was still pointing straight at his chest. The look on
her face behind the barrel was ice-cold, completely emotionless. As if it belonged to someone else. A stranger.

He tried to raise his hand toward her, opened his mouth to say something. But the only sound that passed his lips was a sort of whimper. Suddenly and without any warning time speeded up and returned to normal. The pain spread like a wave from his rib cage, out through his body, making the tarmac beneath him lurch. His knees gave way and he took a couple of stumbling steps backward in an attempt to keep his balance.

His heel hit the edge of the curb.

A second of weightlessness as he fought the law of gravity.

Then a dreamlike sensation of falling freely.

And with that his part in the Game was over.

1

A WHOLE NEW GAME?

THE MOMENT HE
woke up HP knew something was wrong. It took him a few seconds to put his finger on what it was.

It was quiet.

Far
too
quiet . . .

The bedroom faced out onto Guldgränd and he had long since got used to the constant sound of traffic on the Söderleden expressway a few hundred meters away. He hardly ever thought about it anymore.

But instead of the usual low rumble of traffic interspersed with the occasional siren, the summer night outside was completely silent.

He glanced at the clock radio: 03:58.

Roadwork,
he thought. Söderleden, Söder Mälarstrand, and the Slussen junction closed off for yet another round of make-do-and-mend . . . But besides the fact that Bob the Builder would have to be working in stealth mode, it was also slowly dawning on him that there were other noises missing. No one rattling doors as they delivered the morning papers, no drunks shouting down on Hornsgatan. In fact hardly any
sound at all to indicate that there was actually a vibrant capital city out there. As if his bedroom had been enclosed in a huge bubble, shutting the rest of the world out. Forcing him to live in his own little universe where the usual rules no longer applied.

Which, in some ways, was actually true . . .

He noticed that his heart was starting to beat faster. A quiet rustling sound from somewhere inside the flat made him jump.

A burglar?

No, impossible. He’d locked the high-security door, all three locks, just like he always did. The door had cost a fortune, but it was worth every single damn penny. Steel frame, double cylinder hook-bolt locks, you name it—so, logically, no one could have broken into the flat. But the umbrella of paranoia wasn’t about to let itself be taken down so easily . . .

He crept out of bed, padded across the bedroom floor, and peered cautiously into the living room. It took a few seconds for his eyes to get used to the gloom, but the results were unambiguous. Nothing, no movement at all, either in the living room or the little kitchen beyond. Everything was fine, there was no sign of any danger. Just the unnatural, oppressive silence that still hadn’t broken . . .

He crept carefully over to the window and looked out. Not a soul out on the street, not that that was particularly surprising given the time. Maria Trappgränd was hardly a busy street at any time of day.

Closed off for roadwork, that had to be it. Half of Södermalm already looked like some fucking archaeological dig, so why not go for a complete overnight shutdown? All the little cops were probably just having a coffee break.

Plausible
—sure! But the uneasy feeling still wouldn’t let go.

Only the hall left.

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