It had been two weeks since the fight. David and Andrew had not spoken a word to each other. David was heads down coding, while Andrew tried to smooth things over with Mark Baxter. One time, they ran into each other quite by accident at an out-of-the-way coffee shop, Costello's Travel Café. For two long hours, they sat at opposite sides of the small café pretending they hadn't seen each other.
David had managed to get a simple prototype working. It didn't do much yet, but you could send basic messages back and forth and they would get encrypted and decrypted transparently behind the scenes. It wasn't much, but it was a start. The interest in Cryptobit had grown too. What started as five thousand people on the waiting list had grown to over twenty thousand. People couldn't stop talking about it. Even the New York Times mentioned it briefly in a story about the NSA and privacy in a digital age.
"Can I see what you're working on?" asked Andrew. David nearly choked on his Darjeeling.
David walked through a quick demo of Cryptobit. Essentially, it just looked like you wrote some words and it would show up on the other screen. But Andrew and David both knew how much was going on behind the scenes. Before the message left the first phone, it was encrypted along with dozens of other dummy encrypted messages, all gibberish. The messages were then distributed in a big network of globally distributed servers (eventually they would just be distributed on the phones using Cryptobit). Every hop on the network magnified the gibberish. Then the other device tried to decrypt everything it got. The gibberish messages wouldn't work and would be thrown out. However one message, the needle in the virtual haystack, showed up on the small screen Andrew was holding. Four simple words: "Let's stop fighting, shitface."
"Awww. Thanks, buddy." Andrew beamed a smile.
"I got this weird email a few days ago. I can't tell if it's a prank. He claims to be Doug Kensington."
"As in the Doug Kensington? President of System Doug Kensington? Totally a prank. Not from me, I promise."
"I knew it wasn't from you because it didn't have any typos."
"Fuck you. Can I read it?"
David pulled up the email. Andrew dragged the computer screen toward himself.
From: Doug Kensington <email@example.com>
To: David Alexander <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Dear Mr. Alexander,
First off, I'd like to congratulate you on your interesting new project. My staff keeps forwarding links to your homepage. You are quite popular around here.
In order for System to keep ahead of our competitors, we need to partner with thought leaders like yourself. If you are interested, I'd like to set up a meeting with you and our product managers.
Thank you for your time,
CEO of System, Inc.
"David, you should totally call that number. I mean it. Pretend like you are the pizza guy and need to be buzzed in. This is totally fake, there is no way the president of System has time to email you. People like that are way too busy for people like us. If someone really wanted to trick us, they should have made it look like it was coming from their product manager or some business development guy. Even corp dev."
"Nah. I'm too busy coding. You interrupted my flow. Give me back my computer." David reached over to yank the computer away from Andrew. But Andrew held fast.
"Give me your phone first and I'll give you your computer."
"What's wrong with your phone?"
"It's an iPhone 5s. The battery lasts exactly fifteen minutes and I left my charger at home. Come on, give me your phone and I'll give you back your precious laptop."
The two exchanged Apple devices and Andrew proceeded to make a phone call.
"You are not doing what I think you are doing. Give it back."
"Oh yes I am. It's already ringing. You're too late." He stuck out his tongue.
Andrew put the phone on speaker as it rang. The line kept ringing so many times that Andrew was about to hang up when finally someone picked up.
"Hello? Who is calling?"
Andrew looked at David with big eyes and a wide smile.
"Hello," said Andrew in a bad fake British accent. "This is David Alexander calling for Mr. Doug Kensington. I received an email from you just a few hours ago and I wanted to follow up."
Andrew was cracking himself up. Even David started to laugh, but tried to hide it.
"Ah yes, David, hi. This is Doug. I didn't realize you would call. I don't want to be rude, but I thought you were someone else and I am waiting for another call. But I am really impressed with your work on Cryptobit and would appreciate the opportunity to talk to you more soon."
Andrew looked over at David laughing into one hand.
Andrew continued, "Oh, I totally understand. But before you go, can I just ask you something really quickly? What's your birthday?"
"Yes, your birth date, sir. I was curious about your birth date."
Doug's tone started moving from confused to annoyed. "Is this some kind of joke?"
As Andrew forgot to keep up the British accent, David couldn't hold back his laughter anymore.
"David, I am sorry, but I really have to go."
"Sure, sure. We'll talk soon. Bye." Andrew hung up bent over in tears.
Seconds later, the phone started ringing again. "Unknown caller. Should I answer?" Andrew snorted.
"No, give it here." Andrew passed David the phone.
"This is David," said David.
"Hi David, this is Khelli Franklin, Doug Kensington's executive assistant. Mr. Kensington asked me to invite you to an executive dinner he is hosting at his farmhouse outside of Portland tomorrow at eight p.m. I know you are located nearby. Are you able to attend?"
"Uhm. Sure. I guess."
"Perfect. He'll see you then. I'll email you driving directions now."
"Great, thanks. Bye."
David sat down.
"Andrew, I don't think that was a joke," said David.
"What are you talking about, of course it was a joke."
"Doug's assistant just called to invite me to a dinner party at his house tomorrow."
"No shit?" said Andrew.
"Yeah," said David.
YOU ARE READING
The Term Sheet | Wattys 2016 WinnerMystery / Thriller
2016 WATTY AWARD WINNER - HQ LOVE THE TERM SHEET is a fast-paced technothriller about entrepreneurship, startups, encryption, and the delicate balance between national security and individual privacy. Its complex characters explore thought-provoking...