Sync or swim

John Brennan

Part 6 of our dramatic serial

John Brennan |

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At 4am, all but one of the detached houses on the Kowloon Tong street lay in darkness.

In the study of her parents' home, Jenny Peterson watched impatiently as Ethan continued to jab at the laptop's scroll key, his eyes fixed to the screen. "It's all ... gone," he muttered in disbelief.

"So?" Jenny shrugged. "What is it supposed to do, anyway? You've got a database and some sort of matching algorithm but ..."

As she reached for the keyboard, Ethan held her off with one hand.

"How could you mess around with something you didn't even understand?" he demanded.

"Is it, like, a dating site?" she continued, ignoring the question.

"What does it matter? It's never going to be anything now."

"Yeah? Well, if I could just ..."

But Ethan wasn't letting her near the computer again. "No way, you've done enough damage already."

"Hey, what's all the racket about?" said Sam, standing in the doorway, rubbing his eyes. "You're going to wake Mum and Dad."

Ethan turned to his friend. "Your little sister's deleted all my code."

"Had you backed it up?" Sam asked, suddenly awake.

As Ethan shook his head, he heard a click behind him - Jenny had got to the keyboard. She stepped back satisfied.

"You, out, now," Sam ordered her. "We'll talk about this ..."

"Hold on," said Ethan, staring at the screen. "We can't throw her out." He turned to Jenny. "Because ... it works."

"Really?" said Sam, rushing over.

Ethan looked at Jenny unable to get his head around what she'd done. "You debugged the code?"

"Nope. I rewrote it from scratch."

"What?" Ethan looked at his watch. "In three hours?"

"Doh, yeah. So, for the third time - what's it for?"

Giddy with relief and gratitude, Ethan told her. "Social networks are all about the good news, all about hopes, all about your so-called friends, right? So, what about the bad news? What about regret? What about your so-called enemies?"

"You want to create troll-central?" Jenny asked before turning to Sam. "Got a dark side, hasn't he?"

Ethan tried to explain. "It's so people can say sorry."

"I wouldn't bother," Sam told him. "She may understand coding but she doesn't understand the concept of apologies."

Ethan shrugged. "Well, we need her on board."

Jenny looked at him askance. "And why would I work on this?"

"Because it's a great idea," Sam said, incredulous.

"Sam's going to get a share of the profits and so would ..." Ethan began. But Sam cut him short. "There's no way I'm taking money from you. And neither is Jenny."

When Ethan tried to dismiss this with a wave of his hand, Sam continued. "I mean it."

Jenny turned to Ethan. "What he means is, we're rich, you're poor."

When Ethan and Sam stared at her, Jenny rolled her eyes. "You know, you need the money and we don't. Whereas I just think your site is worth chump change compared to what I'm working on."

Ethan looked crestfallen. "So you're not in?"

Jenny shrugged: "I suppose there's a remote chance it might get interesting."

Ethan had been given a week to prove his project's potential and today, in Grandad's shop, was showtime.

So when Grandad clicked on the laptop mousepad and the clean, simple opening screen of the shamefacebook site appeared, Ethan sighed quietly with relief.

With a mischievous smile, Grandad continued clicking one key after another.

"As a video game, it's rubbish. But as ..." Grandad trailed off.

"... the front end of my social network," Ethan repeated wearily.

Grandad looked at him blankly.

"I thought I'd ... I'm not sure you're going to get this, gung gung."

"Do you know how long I've been in business?" Grandad demanded. "If this thing has any chance of making money, I think I'd get it. Now what do you need to finish it?" He clicked again on the mousepad. "Because I'm hoping this isn't it."

"Time," Ethan replied.

Grandad nodded. "Ok, I've got enough money to keep us going for a few months. What else?"

"And I'm going to need help."

That evening, Grandad remained at the door after Sam and Jenny had traipsed past him into the flat.

"Why did you invite those two around when we've got a meeting?" he asked Ethan.

"I said I needed help."

"I know," said Grandad, looking out towards the lift. "So where is it?"

Ethan gestured towards the living room. "In there."

"What? Sam?"

"He's got ideas. And I need someone I can trust."

Grandad went to the living room door to look in at Jenny. "And what does she know about computers?"

Jenny broke off from her inspection of the flat. "Have you seen the apps I'm developing?" She replied in English.

Grandad turned to Ethan, amazed. "She understands Cantonese?"

"My mum's Chinese," Jenny replied.

"Really?" Grandad said, before reaching out to prod her gently in the stomach. "But it looks like you're not doing your sit-ups right."

Jenny stared at him for a moment, then turned to Ethan. "Did he miss his medication today?"

Sam gasped. "Jenny!"

"It's ok," said Ethan, only too aware of his Grandad's selective confusion. "She's developing her apps, not her abs, gung gung."

"Ohhhh," said Grandad, with a sly wink to his grandson. "Sui-man, I know computers are for young people, but isn't she a bit ..."

"Too young? Yes, well, she's also a genius. Now, shall we sit down?" Ethan gestured to the table hoping to nip any more discord in the bud.

"I was going to say ... isn't she a bit of a big mouth," replied Grandad.

With Mum asleep in her hospital bed and Grandad delayed by a problem at his shop, Ethan had initially spent visiting time working on his laptop. But eventually, his mind began to drift. Now Mum's condition was improving, and he had a team - albeit a fractious one - to help develop the site, things were beginning to look up.

Ok, Maya already, probably, liked him, but how impressed would she be when she saw his site up and running? Yes, he knew he'd promised Grandad he wouldn't let anyone else in on the secret. But once he and Maya were going out, it wouldn't be such a big deal telling her, would it?

Lost in his reverie, Ethan hadn't noticed his unconscious mum's increasing restlessness, nor the falling readings on the monitors. That is, not until they triggered the emergency alarms.

Now he was shocked to see Mum gasping for breath as her body convulsed violently. Rising to his feet, Ethan was swept aside by the phalanx of medical staff who had descended on the room. Panic surged within him as he strained to see past the wall of white coats.

"What's going on?" he demanded as he was led in confusion from the room. "What's going on?"

To be continued next week

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