Sync or swim

Sync or swim

Part 25 of our serial

June 29, 2012
June 22, 2012
June 15, 2012
June 08, 2012
June 01, 2012
May 25, 2012
May 25, 2012
May 18, 2012
May 11, 2012
May 04, 2012


Sync or swim_L
Illustration: Lau Ka-kuen/SCMP
The next morning, Ethan and Maya stood at their classroom door watching Gilbert and Charlotte Chan, huddled around a tablet computer and giggling at the real-life misfortunes of some poor soul that had been captured on video.

"Ethan, we don't know if their dad is involved," Maya cautioned. "He may have been discussing something completely different with the property agent."

Although Ethan was tempted to believe that simply a genetic link to the obnoxious twins was enough to condemn their father, he had to agree. "I just wish there was something definite I could tell Grandad. He's really down at the moment."

"I've been thinking about that. You know we're supposed to be going out tonight ..."

Ethan's face lit up as he cut her short. "We certainly are." He reached into his pocket. "And don't ever say I'm not romantic," he continued, producing two cinema tickets. "We're going to see Hack 'n' Slash 2, the sequel to your favourite film."

Maya grimaced. "You'd better see if they do refunds. I've got a date with an investment analyst."

The fact that the analyst was Maya's father did lessen Ethan's disappointment a little. And being stood up did mean he could now focus on the problems shamefacebook was facing. Caught up in the first flush of romance with Maya and in his concerns about Grandad, Ethan had really taken his eye off that ball.

But now, as he neared Sam and Jenny's house, the catastrophic effect a server overload could have on the site's reputation finally began to dawn on him. He broke into a sprint.

Sam nodded to Ethan as he burst into their study.

"Nice of you to put in an appearance," Jenny quipped. "You're just in time to ..."

She paused as her laptop emitted an insistent alarm and its screen flashed red.

Ethan looked at her, panic-stricken. "Oh, no! Does that mean the site's gone down?"

Jenny stared back at him for a moment before smiling. "Nope. That means we've just hit our one-millionth user. We sorted the capacity problems yesterday."

"Really?" Ethan gasped, incredulous.

Sam nodded. "And," he said, clicking on a media site, "we're making headlines."

The top story on the home page told how the hackers who had recently attacked shamefacebook had now created a legitimate profile on the site. Ethan had conceived shamefacebook as a platform for issuing private - or in this case, very public - apologies, and the hackers had come back - this time through the front door - to say sorry for what they'd done.

Ethan turned to Sam and Jenny. "This is ... good publicity, isn't it?"

"Oh, yes," Sam said, with a broad grin. "I think we're going to need to upgrade our capacity on a regular basis from now on."

When Ethan got home, he found Grandad morosely signing cheques for the household bills.

His mother, meanwhile, was looking at the website Ethan had created for the non-existent internet side of Grandad's modest paper offerings business.

"It's incredible, Sui-man," Mum told him. "You could learn a thing or two from gung gung about how to run a business."

As Ethan nodded, his face reddened. He hated lying to her, but knowing she would never allow him to be distracted from his studies, they had told her this enterprise - and not shamefacebook - was supporting the family while she continued her recovery.

Later, when they were alone, Ethan told Grandad how the shamefacebook profits should soon be booming. His grandfather forced an unconvincing smile. "That's good, Sui-man."

"And Mum won't try and go back to work if she thinks your website is making enough money."

Grandad nodded sadly. "That might be all there is left of my business soon - a fake website."

Ethan knew it was pointless reminding his clearly depressed grandfather that no developer could force him out of his shop if they didn't already own 80 per cent of the properties in the building. And none of the remaining owners were going to sell ... were they?

The next day was Saturday and, after a hectic week, Ethan was woken only by the beep of his mobile phone.

"Have 2 C U," read Maya's text. Ethan smiled - she must be missing him as much as he missed her.

However at the cha chaan teng, after a quick hug, Maya got straight down to business.

"On my dad's database," she told him, her face flushed with excitement, "I found a list of the directors of the development company trying to buy your grandad's building."

"And?" Ethan asked.

"You were right! The chairman is Mr Chan. It must be the twins' dad."

Ethan gasped.

"Then my dad did some digging around," she continued, pulling a sheaf of printouts from her bag, "and Chan's been raising money all over the place. It seems he's staked everything on this deal."

Ethan gazed at her in awe. He couldn't believe he was going out with not only the most beautiful, but the smartest girl in Hong ...

A sharp shove in the shoulder jogged him out of his reverie.

"I'd close your mouth if I was you," the paragon of femininity advised, "before your brain rolls out. So, what are we going to do now?"

"We've got to tell Grandad - he'll be so grateful for all your help."

When they arrived at the shop, they found Ethan's grandfather unenthusiastically sorting stacks of inscribed sheets.

"Gung gung!" Ethan began, hardly able to contain himself. "We've found out who the developer is."

Grandad looked slowly from his grandson to the Western girl standing nervously beside him. "We?" he asked quietly.

"Grandad, this is Maya ..."

Her nod and smile, however, failed to elicit any kind of response from the elderly man.

Oblivious, Ethan ploughed on. "... And Maya, with the help of her dad has ..."

"You're sharing our family's business with ... her?" Grandad demanded.

Although Maya could not understand much Cantonese, his meaning was clear.

This was not going as Ethan had foreseen. "Gung gung, if you just listen to what she has to say ..."

"Does she know about your website, too?"

"Yes. She's my girlfriend and I trust her."

At this, Grandad exploded. "This gweilo is your girlfriend?"

With a rising sense of panic, Ethan turned to Maya - but, crestfallen, she was already heading towards the door.

Furious, Ethan rounded on his grandfather. "Gung gung, how could you!" he raged, before racing out of the shop after her.

To be continued next week


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