Thriller, YA, Fiction

Cover of Wolf O'Rourc's CyberSplosion showing singing pink-haired Cowabunga Dude in gold costume with Leia, her laptop, and Chibi, her pink robot doggy

Can pink tech save the world?

(Interactive with multi-media extensions) 

In a divided world bristling with conflict, a pink-loving, teenage hacker girl must stop a murderous conspiracy inciting war between the US, China, and Russia

Can Cowabunga outrun the Chinese police and stop all out war?

1. Boy, Friend

Why do boys always drive you nuts? I know, I know. Seems like a nothing question for someone who received a presidential commendation for basically saving the world—twice.

But budding girlfriends need to know. Especially once they go steady. Sounds old-fashioned. Something comfy about stability and trust, though.

Take Gigasploit. Don't get me started. Yes, we call each other by our hacker names. Old paranoias die hard. Although, like all our hacker friends, he does shorten my handle from “Cowabunga Dude” to “CD.” Probably should change it. After all, the media blasted to the world that a girl hid behind the avatar of a six-foot-four surfer. But old habits also die hard.

I could think of mega million better things to do than strap myself to flimsy nylon bands with the thickness of Mommy’s dress belts. Five foot one and a half inches (while suspended horizontally) may not seem much of a stretch to you, but would you bet your life on these insubstantial bungee cords carrying the weight? 

And that hideous harness. Seriously? What dolt designed this horrifying contraption? In which parallel universe does a plump purple vest go with hot-pink ponytails?

A deep abyss extended beneath me. I couldn't see the bottom. Only darkness. Shrinks say to face your fears. I am. Facing my fears. No one ever talked about opening your eyes.

Why did I agree to this nonsense? Why does any sane girl agree to a date at Kings Dominion Amusement Park? And then let her so-called boyfriend pay extra to drag her to her doom atop the gravity and death-defying Xtreme SkyFlyer? A combo of bungee jumping, hang gliding, and sky diving, all at the same time.

To impress him. To share his interests. To come off as funny and adventurous. I am. But do I have to prove that from fifteen stories high? Nothing that tall exists anywhere close to my home in the Fan District of Richmond. In the Old Dominion Virginia, in case the name of the nearby park didn't give it away.

Downtown has skyscrapers that size. Trust me, nothing good comes from them. Two years ago, drones flew high to spy on unsuspecting presidential candidate Heidi Carlton. To then drop on her and explode. Which led to a press conference. Where I spotted Derek. Now staffer to POTUS, the President of the United States. Who then suckered me into stopping a war with China. Where Gigasploit had to save my life. Told you. Nothing good comes from that height.

Other than his arm hugging me tight.

Speaking of the devil. “This One's for the Girls” erupted from the pouch of my pink hoodie. A beautiful song about dreams and heartbreak. And Derek’s mega-secret ringtone.

Worst timing evah!

Had to let it ring. Much too dangerous to try to shut up the phone. Or answer the call. Especially one to the Secret Service app.

Not while unfamiliarly hanging from hazardous heights.

See, northern Virginia is kinda flat. No tall bridges to jump from. So some lunatics built a giant arch from the thin scaffold trusses that hold loudspeakers at rock concerts. Gigasploit definitely weighed more than a subwoofer. And I was with him. Because the Xtreme SkyFlyer let couples jump to their destiny together. They even allowed threesomes, although I don't get that.

“This One's for the Girls” played again. Persistent pest. Obvi important government business. Didn't change that I cut down on syllables in frequently used, looooong words like “obviously.” Or that I couldn't answer the phone from this precarious position.

Since my boyfriend and I dangled from a tower of equally high and untrustworthy construction as the arch. Skinny steel cables tied us to its top too far away to see with closed eyes. The towline held us in midair until released. At which point we'd freefall weightlessly. Physics also dictated that we'd fly forward until we reached the same distance on the other side. Like a human pendulum. Then repeat the torture on this giant swing for eternity. Or four round trips. Whichever came first. A curse on Isaac Newton and his laws of gravity and motion.

And I was supposed to do the releasing.

Because I'd never done it before.

To get the experience.

“Tower one.” The loudspeaker announced my imminent demise. “Three, two, one, fly.”

Birds fly. Hackers don't fly. They dance. At least the pink-hat ones.

Nothing happened. Only one rider could reach the ripcord to launch us. But she'd turned into hot, solid ice. The cold wind, even for a late March day, didn't help.

“Tower one. Three, two, one, fly!” the loudspeaker insisted.

Still, my hand refused his command. Smart.

“It’ll be fun.” Clueless Gig caressed my back. “Trust me.”

Yeah, trust—a four-letter word.

 “Want me to do it?” He felt me up, or fumbled for the ripcord.

Maybe, if I could open my eyes, I could answer the question. Face your fears. Face your fears. Face your fears.

The tickle of his fingers on their quest across my backside became unbearable. I snorted out a laugh. My eyelids popped open.

OMG. Everybody below us looked like ants. Actually, microbes. No solid ground under my feet. Just a tiny plastic strip on nylon threads supported them. Help! Nothing for me to cling to.

Then catastrophe.

“From Zero to Hero” played from my pouch. Also Derek (Once you get to know him, you'll understand). On the regular, unsafe phone app.

“Who keeps calling you?” Boyfriends are sooooo impatient.

Had to deal with the noisy distraction. From a stable position.

My hand grasped the only solid thing within reach. The handle of the ripcord. “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh.”

The pull of the center cable literally vanished into thin air. Gig and I went into freefall. Minus my stomach.

Below, the concrete and grass whizzed by. A gray cross grew larger and larger, the platform of the scissor lift that brought us into the starting position. Everything else disappeared from view. No way could rubber ropes stop us out of terminal velocity. Mega no way. How do I assume crash position? Shoulda paid attention to the flight attendants’ demonstrations on my last vacay flight. Stupid girl.

Another scream died in my throat. Only one possible action left. Close my eyes.

Next to me, Gigasploit had the time of his life (and my death) playing cowboy. “Yee-haaaaw! Told ya it’s F-U-N. Friends who do stuff together. You and me. Anywhere and anytime.”

Somebody had way too much F-U-N with SpongeBob and phonetic spelling. Not me.

A jerk on the harness marked the end of the first leg. A little give of the bungee cords took us to the farthest stretch of our journey. Motionless in the sky for a brief moment, I dared to spy a glimpse of what laid behind us. A row of green trees fronted by a white fence. Some showed off pretty blooms. We plunged through a cloud of heavenly fragrance on the reverse swing. Better than a smelly plane ride. Gig asked me to jump out of one for his birthday. Seriously? Maybe next year. Or next century.

Bungee gliding’s not that bad, once you get the hang of it. I'm alive. I think. One down, six and a half to go.

Mega less scary swinging sideways back to the starting point. I could almost reach the ground. Then a gentle breeze slapped my windward ponytail in my eye. Ouch. Like on sailing trips with father. Didn't like them either. At first.

A gentle twist of the cables turned us back again.

Gig pulled me closer. “You love it, don't cha. Gimme a yee-haw.”

With my inner heat cooling in the frigid air of opening day, his body and the sun kept me warm. “Yee-haaaaw.” I cracked a smile. What don't you do for your boyfriend?

Newton’s stupid laws caught up with us. We lost speed and height. Kinda a shame. Just when I got used to flying.

“And now together.” He nudged my thick harness with enthusiasm. Boys.

“YEE-HAAAAW.” How could I resist his cute smile?

A slow glide almost took us to the trees hiding the fence.

I tried to touch the cross as we passed.

Pleasant, really, if I ignored the lingering taste of blood.

From a raised platform, an attendant stuck out a tube holding a white loop.

Gig went for it, and the attached rope slowed us to a stop. “Again?”

I shouldn't. I should. No. “I can't. Derek hasn't called in months. Gotta be important.”

Two hands swiveled me into a stand on the rising lift. My legs could barely handle solid ground.

“Everybody’s wobbly the first time.” Gig’s arm supported me against his warm chest. Boyfriends do serve a purpose.

After we peeled out of the harnesses, I could finally reach my phone.

Gigasploit steered us to a concrete planter. Great idea to sit until the Jell-O in my legs solidified. The spectacle of colorful flowers also came with its own scented cloud.

My moronic hero picked up on the first ring. “Is your encryption indicator on?”

“I missed you too.”

“Er, how you doing, Cowabunga?”

“What do you think? You only call me right before the end of the world.”

“You love those calls. Admit it.”

Can't say I disloved all the attention after saving the planet from nuclear Armageddon. And to have a direct line to POTUS through the app from the Secret Service that allowed secure, encrypted calls. “Lock icon is on.”

“What are you doing in Doswell?”

The spooks included location tracking, natch (as in “naturally”). Not to my taste, exactly. Just what BFFOTPs, best friends forever of the President, had to put up with. “Having F-U-N at the amusement park.” I winked at Gig.

“Perfect. So you're primed and ready for an F-U-N trip during your spring break.” Derek had to remind me of my upcoming obligation to MIT. Just when the Xtreme SkyFlyer successfully purged all images of computer programming textbooks from my mind.

“Depends. Are you driving?” If you had a so-called friend with the vroom of a 60s Ferrari GTO as ringtone, you'd ask too.

“Where you're going, cars don't move.” He always did that. Created an exciting mystery around the catastrophes he suckered me into. Knowing he had an excuse to stay mum when potential eavesdroppers surrounded me.

“You're sending a plane?”

“It would blow your cover. When are you home?”

Lovely. My big crush fixing a date in my pink paradise while my boyfriend sat within earshot. May the Force be with me.

2. Insecurity Council

Derek stole a glance at Cowabunga Dude’s curves while placing his notebook computer on her desk. How could she get any cuter with every meeting? This far, no further. One month until she turned legal. But he'd renewed his vows with his wife Melody not even two years ago. After she found lipstick on one of his shirts.

Cowabunga sat on her chair. No place for him other than the bed covered by a pink comforter. Better to stand on the matching carpet. Heavy pink curtains kept out glaring light and snoops. So she said.

He played the video recording. “The FBI cut together key scenes from what we got from UNTV yesterday. Shakila Adoum, president of a struggling country in the Sahel—”


“The semi-arid region south of the Saharan Desert.”

“To put it simple—kinda dry?”

“Yes, and droughts have gotten worse with global warming. She's asking the UN Security Council to pass a resolution for reparations.”

Cowabunga pointed at the screen. “I don't understand a word she's saying.”

“Adoum’s fluent in French and English. To make a point, she gave her speech in a minor African dialect.”

“Waste of time.” Her gaze drifted to the posters of girl-power singers in sparkling costumes and surfer dudes in boxer shorts.

He'd lost his audience. She risked her life for their cause, yet failed to grasp the interconnectedness of the world.

Fluffy ears and legs poked out from underneath the comforter. Her collection of Barbie and Ken dolls still decorated the big shelf—next to a row of computer science textbooks. A whiff of perfume rose from her chair. No longer a girl, not yet a woman.

“All just for show. The UK threatened a veto in the so-called informal consultations. Normally ends further discussions. China ceded one of their speaking slots to a black woman with cornrows so she could indict the old colonial powers in front of the world press.”

“What do they care?”

Mastery in computers and hacking, but no clue about history. He took a breath to keep this pet peeve from sending him off the rails. “Pay back. These countries colonized parts of China too. Somewhat ironic, for the world’s second-biggest polluter—”

In the video, President Adoum stopped and studied the faces of the fifteen United Nations ambassadors sitting at tables in a round.

“Here it comes. She—”

The woman speaker pointed her finger at the delegates from the industrialized countries. The soundtrack switched to English.

I accuse you… of murdering the poor of this earth for your limousines, your yachts, your castles.

Without a pause in her tirade, Derek had to talk over her speech. “…knows how to play to an Internet audience.”

…blouses, your trousers, your trainers.

I accuse you of murdering my precious nana for your fried chickens, your hamburgers, your steaks.

YOU have polluted this planet with heat and drought. Destroyed our crops and our herds. Turned our lives and livelihoods into dust storms. All in the name of greed…

He pointed out an ambassador with his hand raised. “The Europeans know how to play the game too. Better optics if someone from one of their former colonies confronts her.”

Madam President, surely you are aware that the cyclical variations in temperature in the Sahel by far exceed the theoretical contributions from global warming.

“Can you tell he normally speaks French? He's pandering to an international audience.”

Cowabunga Dude answered with nothing more than an incomplete shrug. She did pay attention to the raw footage from the camera. A packed audience sat in three nested circles of tables and chairs at the center of the Security Council chamber.

“The heart of the conflict. He has his scientific theories. She has hers.”

…temperature records in the Sahel fell this century. And surely a man of your superior intellect will expect more than peanuts from the northern polluters to purchase their way out of accountability.

A smile played across Cowabunga’s face. Not hard to identify with the woman in bold green, yellow, and black stripes of the traditional East African garb, when her overwhelming opposition consisted mostly of old men in drab business suits.

Particularly when one of them banged his fist on the table and berated the meeting’s chairman.

Mr. President, I move to censure the speaker for her insults to the distinguished members of this council. My country alone has contributed billions to projects of the International Fund for Agricultural Development and to build the Great Green Wall. That hardly counts as peanuts.”

Delegates talked among themselves, while the speaker remained silent.

Time for Derek to get to the conflict that prompted this get-together. Despite seeing the chilling footage for the umpteenth time, heat crept up the stiff collar of his pale purple dress shirt. “The FBI thinks the council president turned off Adoum’s microphone while he considered—”

“Why the Fibbies?”

“The United Nations headquarters sit in New York. They asked us to help investigate.”

“Investigate what?”

“You'll see.” Barely a minute in, Derek wouldn't let youthful energy disrupt his carefully crafted presentation. “There's a motion on the floor. Each ambassador’s consulting with their staff sitting behind them.”

“She's gonna lose. They're all guys.”

“Adoum has a surprise up her short sleeve. We think she hid sound amplification equipment in that massive ebony lectern from Gabon. A Chinese transport company brought it in just for her. Watch.”

Africa will not forget. I accuse you of sacrificing our people on your altars built from our gold, our silver, and our blood. Murderers! Repent and save—

The fist banger interrupted with his loud hand.

Mr. President, I demand her censure.

Rhythmic knuckle pounding spread along the wood tables in the inner circle. Derek added an explanation of the ritual for his audience less familiar with UN procedure, once again talking over Adoum’s retort. “It’s clear that the industrial powers will get the nine votes to ban her from the chamber.”

…world will remember what you do to stop the heat massacring us all.

Her tribal headdress held high and tugging up her flowing garb, she strutted to the quadruple-doors of the chamber. A guard in black suit and white shirt opened an exit for her. Shouting in a cacophony of languages filled the loudspeakers.

In the innermost circle, a man jumped out of his seat, buttoned his jacket, and rushed out of the room.

“The Chinese ambassador.” Derek pointed at the swinging door on the screen. “We still don't know why he ran after her.”

“Why not?” Finally, the drama held Cowabunga’s attention.

“He's in the hospi—”

An explosion mushroomed across the screen. Dirt filled the image.

Cowabunga covered her eyes and looked away.

Maybe too much of a surprise. Derek reached out to reassure her, but stopped halfway. How would she take the touch and temptation? How would he?

“You shoulda warned me.”

“I'm sorry.”

“How many…”

He paused the security camera footage showing four Chinese workers wheeling the lectern off the loading dock. “No one close survived. A few reporters in the back of the room are in critical condition. Ebony is so dense, it sinks in water. Pack a box full of plastic explosive, and you produce deadly shrapnel without metal.”

Teary eyes turned to him. “Why kill?”

“We're not sure.” How could he once again ask her to risk her life to investigate the big question? But the White House staff had gamed out the scenarios and decided to farm out the undercover task to superhackergirl. Derek had to recruit her, through his data analytics firm hired by President Carlton’s reelection campaign. To protect the operation and the government.

“What do I know about Africa?”

“We suspect the Chinese. They're buying their way into all these poor countries with New Silk Road projects. Or maybe this is a distraction. Use the chaos and a paralyzed Security Council to finally annex the disputed islands in the South China Sea.

“Where have I heard that before? Oh, riiight. Eleven months ago, in the White House Rose Garden. Looks like the same stupid nonsense as last time. Why should I get caught in the middle because some creeps want to frame the Chinese—again.”

She had a point after nearly ending up dead while investigating the power outages blamed on their hackers.

Culpability that truly lay at the feet of a US company and a Mexican cartel. This case had a different flavor, though.

Derek stiffened his back in preparation of a freakout. “Not quite. Three hours later, their missile batteries fired on our carrier strike group steaming through the Taiwan Strait as pre-announced to the Chinese. It looks like these two attacks were timed to happen together.”

Did her wide eyes suggest he'd announced the end of the world? In a sense, he did.

Damn the consequences. He moved close enough to soak up her flowery scent and laid his hand on her shoulder.

“I know nothing about fighting them.” Head cocked to the side, her gaze moved around the pale pink ceiling—or the surfers on the wall.

No reaction to his touch. Amazing how she could maintain composure while his heart raced like a Ferrari Testarossa. Concentrate. Better to let go. He had a job to do. “Heard of the Great Firewall of China?”

“All their tech to control the Internet?”

“They know all our local operatives. We need someone who can hack information from inside the country. Someone they don't know. Someone they'd never suspect.”

“Yeah, cause they'll believe a pink-haired girl just wants to go to China.” She brushed back one of her double ponytails.

Point taken, but he had to convince her. “We have a plan.”

“You know I'm no good at this spy stuff.”

“You have a talent none of our operatives have.”

“So I can hack anything.” Cowabunga threw in a dismissive wave of her hand while finally looking at him.

“And you can sing.”