Code of Silence

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Chapter 14

Since the tense meeting with Dragovich in Moscow, Zoryn Radoslav had been preoccupied with the task of bringing the Varkasoft business into his Ekranotech empire. It was a new day and a new start, he told himself as he entered the Ekranotech offices the following morning. There was much to do, and Radoslav had already been ruthless, making heavy cuts, particularly in the Varkasoft UK office, rearranging key personnel to take up new roles he’d created and generally making sure things were running as he wanted them to. He’d taken the tough decision to get rid of his one-time right-hand man, his fixer, and now there was nothing holding him back from making the decisions he wanted to. He was still rankled by Tony’s aggressive stance on the unexplained payment issues that had been discovered but, for now, Tony had also been removed from the equation.

With a clear way ahead, and a driving ambition to grow and dominate within his industry, Radoslav felt more in control, but one thing still angered him more than anything; the deal he’d done with Tony Varkanopolis was supposed to be for the whole of his business, including the V-Works developments that had so excited Radoslav when they first discussed the opportunity. Sure, the reliable profitability of Varkasoft was an important part of the deal, and would help secure Ekranotech’s future as they embarked upon becoming a major player in the intelligent-automotive-engineering space. But the exciting thing for Radoslav was the voice technology project Tony had created and the progress they were making under the V-Works name; it was impressive stuff, and something he also could see as an opportunity for making huge amounts of money.

Throughout his business life, Radoslav had taken risks, seized opportunities and developed a knack for making money. A lot of money. He had plenty to set him up for life, and at a relatively young age. He’d even sunk millions of dollars into speculating on, and investing in, other new ventures, companies and emerging technologies, but further success had so far eluded him. Money wasn’t necessarily the driving factor for him now, although it still stung when a deal didn’t go the way he wanted, or when he lost out to someone who moved quicker, had deeper pockets or took bigger risks.

During his early meetings with Tony Varkanopolis it had become clear to Radoslav that he had stumbled across something special, the nature of which he thought Tony was perhaps not fully aware of. He’d been introduced to Ross and the V-Works activity by Tony during their early meetings, and it had certainly added a little spice to discussions. Radoslav was particularly intrigued by the AI developments and voice synthesis technology they had been working on.

What he saw in V-Works was the embryo of something he’d been following in the artificial intelligence world, and he could see the opportunity. He was well versed in how Silicon Valley was leading the world with new AI technology developments. He’d studied various companies with an eye to making a move into the market, but they were either already established and growing at rates he was yet to achieve, or smaller companies starting out that were snapped up swiftly by bigger players who saw their potential. It was difficult for him to spectate on this next generation of technology. He desperately wanted a piece of the action, and was determined to get involved.

He’d read about the race by some of the big US social media and tech giants to get hold of cutting-edge voice synthesis software from an internationally acclaimed university that had developed some new technology in this area. The amounts of investment that were being tabled were incredible, unbelievable in scale, and Radoslav could see a way to get in on the game using the V-Works voice technology. He had figured he could play down his interest and concentrate on the main deal with Varkasoft, and then, after the dust had settled, he would be ready to sit at the table with some of the biggest tech names on the planet.

Tony and his small team at V-Works had studied the current state of voice synthesised technology and learnt rapidly. It was often difficult for developers to continuously see the next moves to make in a highly complex development programme, and much easier for someone who understood it at a broader level to take a fresh perspective and make the huge leaps forward. And that’s exactly what Ross had managed to do with the V-Works voice synthesis software. It was as good as anything else on the technology scene at that time, but quicker, more flexible and able to recreate a human voice from less than ten seconds of input from any source: a phone call, a live or historic recording, or any reasonably clear acoustic input that was available.

Radoslav’s heart had raced, a rare occurrence, when he understood just how good this version was. V-Works was unknown, an experimental division of a comparably unremarkable UK software company that he had now acquired. He knew how much interest there was, particularly in the USA, for this sort of technology. He’d read about the offers and counter offers that CITS had continued to decline, adopting a moral stance, concerned about how this breakthrough technology could fall into the wrong hands and become a danger to the unsuspecting public. He was also aware of the attempted hack on CITS by Russia. He couldn’t be sure if it was the Russian mafia, or some government sponsored attack, but it had heightened his interest and desire to include V-Works in the deal.

It was during the final stages of the many meetings that the Ekranotech and Varkasoft board and advisers had that Radoslav first learned he’d been duped. Leaving the detailed negotiations to his acquisition team he’d stressed, without revealing too much about the finer points, that the Varkasoft deal not only had to meet the financial requirements laid down by both sides, but that V-Works must be a part of it. Tony had agreed to this, including giving up the V-Works name and rights to any current development work, leaving Radoslav with what he wanted, or so the Russian had thought.

Retrospectively, it had become obvious that, after his meeting with Radoslav, Tony had instructed Ross to separate and remove the AI voice synthesis technology he’d been developing from V-Works and install it on a separate server under the new Vvox name, while adding several other random projects with potential into the V-Works inventory. He had then been happy to assign V-Works, and all the potential it had, to Ekranotech as part of the deal for them to do with as they wished. The advisers on both sides worked out the final details, including the amendment that V-Works was now part of it, and closed negotiations.

Once he’d discovered this, Radoslav was furious. He’d concluded the deal on the basis that he thought he would have control over all aspects, and now a key part – the voice synthesis technology – was missing. There was no way to prove this, as the agreement had been a causal discussion with Tony, during which Radoslav had played down any interest in specific V-Works’ projects. He hadn’t wanted to alert Tony to the fact that he had something of immense value right in front of him. Radoslav kept his anger and frustration to himself, vowing he’d address this and that someone would eventually pay the price.

Radoslav had considered all his options to address the voice synthesis issue, and knew that none of them would be easy to effect. It would be difficult to prove anything; this was partly his own fault for playing everything down. He should have requested a full inventory to be drawn up, but his advisers didn’t think like him and instead accepted the proposed amendment to the deal that V-Works was included. Taking Tony to court would be problematic without any clear supporting evidence. The AI development work that Tony and Ross had shown Radoslav was still exactly that, unfinished and therefore not yet launched. Consequently, it was untraceable.

Radoslav was struggling to see a way forward. His mood didn’t improve when he thought again about the hints and allegations Tony had made about Ekranotech’s past dealings and the unexplained payments. He was well aware of the payments; he had requested them and sanctioned them all, and for good reasons. What did it have to do with Tony, anyway? It was in the past and he wouldn’t be doing anything like that in the future now that he had significant investment on board. Ironically, it would have been good to have his trusty fixer to hand to help address the missing elements of the deal, but the departure of Dragovich was a decision that had already been made; he would have to find an alternative solution. Radoslav realised that cleaning up his act to reassure investors wasn’t going to be as easy as he thought.

Using the voice recognition entry system he entered his large glass-walled office in the centre of the open-plan top floor. He removed his overcoat and placed it on the back of his chair. He’d chosen this set-up over a traditional corner office, partly because the views outside were dull and unexciting, but primarily so that he could look out at his business; his staff surrounded him, and they were keenly aware of his presence. He closed the glass door and sat at his desk, removed his phone from his jacket pocket, paused and then placed it on the desk in front of him.

He unlocked and slid open a drawer on the right of the dark wood cabinet supporting the huge glass desktop, reached in and picked up another mobile phone. Dialling a number, he then waited, leaning back in his black leather chair, and after a few short moments he began to talk. The conversation hadn’t lasted more than two or three minutes before it was over. He folded the case over the screen, replaced the phone in the drawer, and locked it again. A short call, but sufficient time to issue the clear instructions to the person on the other end.

He faced the desk once again, glancing out onto the office and the steady activity going on. He reached to his left, this time lifting the cordless desk phone from its base. Another request made, and shortly after, two suited men approached through the elevator doors at the end of the rectangular office. Both men had a distinct and imposing physical presence, big in stature and smartly dressed. Similar looking, with short crew cut hair, one sporting a thick beard, which was the only way to tell them apart at first sight.

He watched them approach his office and beckoned them to enter. As they did, Radoslav tapped his phone screen, spoke briefly into his mobile and instantaneously the four glass walls of his soundproofed office partially frosted over becoming opaque. This was to be a private meeting. The staff in the surrounding open office area pretended not to notice, but knew something was happening. Conversations paused, heads peered over partitions, whispering commenced.

The meeting had lasted less than twenty minutes. Radoslav was an efficient operator. He’d briefed two of his personal protection officers. Both were former special services operatives, professionally trained, highly intelligent and extremely dangerous. Each had a specific task to perform following the meeting.

The first was required to establish the facts behind Tony’s dealings related to the V-Works project since the sale of his business to Ekranotech. Who was running it while Tony was incarcerated in Russia? Were there any leads to follow regarding the AI projects that had interested Radoslav so much? Could any disgruntled ex-employees of Varkasoft be identified and what information might they have? The instruction was clear: Radoslav wanted what he felt was his, and he needed a way to retrieve it by fair means or other. This was a long shot, but it was worth a try, he thought.

The second task was a little more complicated, and one which Radoslav had never imagined would be needed. Within his organisation he had many talented individuals, each excelling at their particular role. He desperately wanted that missing V-Works voice synthesis technology, but there was only one candidate for the job that he had in mind. He needed a fixer, someone he knew and could work with, an individual that had a one hundred per cent success rate. The bearded protection officer had been briefed to track down Anatoly Dragovich. He may still be licking his wounds, but with a big enough financial incentive Radoslav hoped that Dragovich would take a mercenary approach, suspend any grudges and get the job done for a final lucrative payday.

After embarking on their allocated tasks it hadn’t taken long for the first officer to follow up with Radoslav, and brief him on the research he’d carried out. Radoslav now had a comprehensive file on the Varkanopolis family and their activities, Tony’s relationship with Ross and Vvox, as it was now known, and his son Theo’s recent involvement in the project. There was also information relating to other business interests that Tony had been involved in, but which had now dissolved. There were details of his family, friends, historic addresses, credit scores and where the children were studying. A second home in the Greek islands, banking and finance advisers. Unfortunately, for the moment, the information offered no obvious way to resolve Radoslav’s problem, but it was a start.

In stark contrast, there was no news whatsoever from the second protection officer. Nobody had heard from him since he left the office after the initial briefing. This troubled Radoslav deeply.

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