EvasionThe rest of my time was spent wandering around here, wherever that was. They were somewhat unclear when I asked what this place had been, but my guess was a school. Lots of rooms, hallways, central cafeteria. Even run down the place didn’t have the look I would have envisioned for a prison, or office, or the like. There were areas they would not let me go, and they would not let me leave ‘for your own safety.” So outside of walks, chatting people up that might or might not know English, and telling my side of this sorted and tangled story was what passed for routine since I’d been brought here.
The man they’d sent in with me today was a new face, blue eyed, blonde, built like something out of a comic book. Add in the black uniform he wore, patches or no the thing looked military, and he could have been an extra a movie retelling a modernized version of the Third Reich. He had my supper with him, which was strange considering they usually let me eat when and where everyone else did. “Your story seems hard to believe.” He had an easy manner about him as he looked at me. Were this the nonexistent modern-day Nazi movie I thought he looked right for this man likely would have already resorted to beatings, or racial slurs. Twenty first century and I still had to grow up with people calling me a mutt, or half-breed, or worse. Not my fault that they couldn’t deal with dad marrying a black woman. Instead, even if he didn’t believe me, his overall expression and body posture seemed more concerned than assertive. Could be off on that assessment.
“That’s what I’ve been screaming ever since I got here.” It was something of a joke I used to try breaking the tension. “Yet no matter how impossible the past week has been reality refuses to cooperate so here I am.”
“Indeed.” Couldn’t place the accent. Definitely not German, might not know the language but I knew the accent. Russian? Nah. “We are sorry both for keeping you here and keeping you in the dark about things, but it is critical for us to know what brought you to our front door.”
Maybe he’s traveled, picked up a mishmash of accents. “Then why space it out a little at a time instead of getting it all at once? You have ‘Six’s records, and you could’ve lifted my prints and made something that would fool its biometrics if you don’t believe the log files I’d kept of the events.” That could explain it. Could also be that he’s faking for my benefit.
“Well,” My ‘host’ pushed the disposable plate of food my way. McDonald’s. Ick. “Let’s just say we need to make sure you’re mentally sound, and waiting gives you time to process everything.” Sound reasoning given I’m in an unfamiliar situation after experiencing a great number of strange and stressful events. “We haven’t touched your computer mostly because we want your trust and cooperation. There is, however, the matter of your computer refusing to work for us.”
I gave a snort and a laugh, “You already have my password so what’s the problem?” My host seemed to consider his words before speaking, that or he was trying to figure out why I wasn’t relying on sarcasm and barbs. My profile, so I was told, had that as one of my likelier reactions to stress and authority figures. “The one time we tried it let us into your desktop fine. However when we tried to use it to take a pass at one of our local systems it locked up on us, shut the program down, then wouldn’t let us back in. Most peculiar.” “Damndest thing really.” Strange, it never gave me any hassles about needing a secondary login for my net warrior tools. “I’d deny any knowledge of what you might have tripped, but I don’t know how believable I’d be. Give ‘Six back and I’ll see if there was some sort of time bomb, or if I’ve got the magic touch.” “Tomorrow.” He straightened, “Tonight I want you to tell me how you managed to get out of the country.”
Her name was Tanya and though she claimed to not be part of any formal agency she looked and moved like she was military. If her warning that people had been sent to either ‘secure or neutralize’ me was part of an attempt to get me to come along willingly rather than force her to use a black bag and zip-ties it was working quite effectively. Perhaps, no, it’s the height of foolishness to go with her, but somehow I get the impression that if I don’t come willingly then she’s going to be far less friendly. Heaven and Creation help me, I think I’ve finally lost my mind, but I’m going.
We stop after a few hours on the road and in spite of the soreness and cramps all through my thighs and lower back I’m quite grateful for the stop. I don’t see why people like motorcycles, but to each their own.. Still, I’d rather be in something with a little more protection from the wind and perhaps a bit of storage space. ‘Too risky to use your car’, that’s what she would tell me whenever I asked during that trip. Whatever.
“Feeling better?” I shook my head wearily. My mind was still numb and my cognitive processes seemed to have gone on strike. “Too bad ‘Skippy.” She tousled my hair when she brought up the name Kate always used. “You’re going to have to get us a pair of tickets to Europe.”
“Wait. What? Why there? Why not just keep a low profile here?” My mind wasn’t working and I wanted answers. To Tanya’s credit, on the assumption I was being kidnaped instead of rescued, she was polite and when situations allowed was more than willing to explain things to me.
I saw her doing something with her phone, one of those smart do-everything-at-once numbers with a thumb-board while we were stopped. We were at a rest area populated mostly by long-haul truckers, busses, and a scattering of cars here and there. No reason to think anyone was watching us and no need to be paranoid.
“Like it or not whenever you connect to the Internet that computer dials home.” She was... Casual in talking about Deep Six. I’d paid dearly for it, and if I was being pursued then I was up to my eyeballs in trouble. “You’ve done better than me and my friends expected at keeping a low profile considering your hobbies and habits, but we can’t protect you here anymore.” Then it was back to doing things with her phone.
On the way here I think I saw a sign saying we were in Utah, but I’d been dozing in and out of a kind of half-sleep that kept me clinging to Tanya, but tuned out all the little details like time of day or where we were. It’s not safe, and to take my mind off of visions of me turning into highway hamburger my mind instead turned to where we were headed. If we were being pressed as much as Tanya said we would need to get to the east coast then transfer over to something headed across the Atlantic.
All I’d managed to do before we left was call work to use the week of sick time I’d built up and leave a few messages explaining that I would be traveling, would keep in touch, and that everything was fine. My friends and especially my family demanded more out of me, but I’m a terrible liar and I didn’t want to tell them that I was probably a wanted man.
Yea the past few days have felt a bit over the top for me too. Unfortunately my future wasn’t looking any less convoluted, what with a trip to Europe to look forward to, and needing to both obtain funds for tickets, and identities to fake so we wouldn’t have pasty white guys in dark suits with little badges that said FBI or CIA waiting at our destination. I’ll need to contact Gibbon, possibly Miko and Sekmet as well to see if some kind of workaround, if not a proper fix on ‘Six’s tattletale habits. That was for later. Now though I had to take care of more physical concerns, food and a visit to the little boy’s room, before we tried getting a few more hours of riding in. Tonight, I told myself, I would make my run.
When we started off again my thoughts turned to my companion. Was she a savior or abductor? If she had my interests and welfare in mind why? I don’t know anything about her, and she’s denied working with any national government, terrorist cell, big business, or pretty much anyone that I could think of that would want the technology Deep Six represented. Fruitless speculation, and possibly destructive because I was already in her hands and unless she willingly let me go there was no real way to get away from her, but it was a big deal, so my mind chased it’s own tail until we stopped for the night.
It wasn’t the Ritz. In fact it wasn’t even Motel Six, but even if I felt the rooms cost more than they should there weren’t any problems checking in, and there was a net cafe a few blocks down. Tanya played escort while I went in to explain my problems, in carefully chosen language, and to get all the mundane online things out of the way that didn’t need the sort of muscle ‘Six could flex. That and, well, I wanted some fresh coffee in me. Thankfully nobody seemed to pay us any particular attention. So, all preliminaries that I could think of were done. I’d picked an airline and a flight I wanted on that would leave in a couple days.
It would be hard going, especially with in our post-9/11 world, but I was confident. At the very least Gibbon had, in a round about way, told me the file I’d pulled from my last run pointed to the police, contrary to my thoughts on the matter, taking the cases I’d brought to them very seriously, and that they were just as frustrated as me at lack of information to work with.
“Doesn’t it hurt to sit like that?” Tanya saw me in a full lotus position, the heel of each foot over the opposite leg’s knee, and practically curled around Deep Six’s keyboard.
At first I didn’t hear her. Some that I know say that they tune out everything when they’re working, and I while I didn’t think I was one of those I will admit that Tanya had to keep repeating herself just so I’d listen. “Oh no not really. Don’t want to be rude but could you keep quiet? Kick me if you need my attention, but unless it’s guys trying to break down the door let me be.” She nodded once and watched me from the other side of our room, and though I can’t be sure I think she was unpacking her rifle.
Mail check first. Sadly the only new things outside of news on the ref file were Gibbon’s usual challenge to me and a few notes apologizing for no useful information about the low-jack ‘Six had. I’d have to fix that soon if ‘they’, whoever or whatever was chasing me I suppose, were going to turn the heat up then I needed a way to keep them from seeing where I’ve been and, more importantly, where I’m at right now.
I’d need Gibbon’s help getting past airline security, then patching it up again after I was done. No need to leave holes for someone with an agenda and aspirations for martyrdom using any holes I leave behind. Dear Lord. This one was more of an exercise in annoyance and patience than something diabolical. I have a large library in my system, and even if I didn’t what he was asking me to pull from was in Project Gutenberg’s database. Bless them for preserving and converting public domain texts into plain text files just about any computer in the last twenty years on through anything likely ever to be built could read, because believe it or not I didn’t own Dracula. GLOBETROTTER. Good one Gibb. Let’s see. In addition to the old material he had a few things flagged as urgent as well as a few new exec files.
Alright. I’m armed. Now I need things to bounce off of before making the actual run. Back at my mail server I found Ship’s request. Now seemed like a good time to drop by. With luck I could use his machine, plus co-opt a little hardware from the group that tagged him last. I’d need to filch somebody’s retirement or college fund I’m sure, but usually if I looked hard enough I’d find someone stowing money where I could get it.
First stop was deepweb. Ordinarily ship’s security would have been enough, but the nasty thing about downloading random things in the wee hours of the morning was that they tended to have malware; porn’s especially bad about having bad things attached. According to ‘Six XXXDIALER_ was running on port 69. Ship you naughty naughty person, not to mention more than a bit stupid. Ah well, I’ll get rid of it after I’m done. For now the cruft has to stay where it is. Looking around gave me a defaced index file and a calling card.
Think of 4chan. Now give it a somewhat militant mind-set, a general bend to taking on causes of many different stripes and take away most of the porn. I don’t know where these guys came from, but they’ve been giving people headaches when they’re not off leaking private, and often sensitive, documents to the world. Note: If you don’t know what 4chan is, count yourself as lucky. Take my word on it, ignorance really is bliss here. Google at your own risk because I take no responsibility if you decide to swear off the internet because your computer blew up or saw something that makes your brain try to kill you.
While I liked some of what a few people claiming to be part of that leaderless group were up to; by and large I felt no real sense of remorse in attacking their hardware. Hey. They were dumb enough to leave a return address. Of course it’s a dare, but then again they’ve never had to butt heads with me.
Holy Tesla. They went in Overkill on security. I could crack it, but I wasn’t so sure I should pick up on this one right now. Sure with the different boxes Ship was giving me access to I could either go head to head right now, or use those resources to do the actual job I’d come in on. Gee, let me think. Yes, it was tempting and yes it would be a challenge, but no I have more immediate problems. Ship got his connection log, which he could give to his ISP so even if it would take longer than if I went ahead and did it, he’d be set, and I now have resources I need. Strange that he’d need me to find a way in his own box, but one of the many things that had been done was change around permissions and passwords leaving Ship out in the cold where running his server was concerned. Hopefully this would change that.
Now then. Skyline’s servers waited. Getting in is relatively easy. Just thankful that they keep everything in one box, makes my job easier. Kill the connection logs, upload the bogus reservations Gibbon left on his server for me, and the most important part was finding where copies had been sent. I’m going to repeat myself here. I don’t like making all of this seem so easy, and if it weren’t for Deep Six I’m pretty sure this run would take months instead of hours; if it could even be done on conventional hardware. Maybe when all this blows over I’ll go into security. They can’t keep this kind of gear in the closet forever, and I’ll have an edge in real world experience.
Later, much later even if all goes well. For now I’m looking at an absolute nightmare. The records had been sent to a government server. Government. Homeland Security. Terrorist Detention Centers. Held Without Trial. I was terrified of what I was looking at, but the deed had already been started, and now I had to finish the job else I was hosed no matter what I did. One of Gibbon’s exploits might work for port 57, but something about the situation stank to me. I linked everything I could get my mitts on and hoped ‘Six could take care of the server’s encryption before they could get a bead on me.
It felt like hours waiting for a hole to open up. My heart thudded in my chest.
Panic started to seep in. Yes it would cost somebody their life savings but I made liberal use of the KILLTRACE panic button to try giving myself some breathing room. The server’s encryption was broken, but I now had five different ports to surf through and I was terrified that if I hit the wrong one I’d end up getting tagged. Oh well. I’ve come this far, too late to back out. Lock and load.
Accounting. No. Requisitions? Interesting, but not why I’m here. Case files? Fawkes, Richard G. Wait why do they have a file on me? Tick Tock. Time is running and the longer I’m connected the more likely they’re going to find me. Still, that was my name on their lists and I had to know why. Download. While that was downloading check the rest of the system. Monitoring. Bingo! Connection log DELETED. File still downloading.
Of course they would find out someone had been playing in their back yard. I’m sure that file/archive/ whatever was referenced, backed up, and would otherwise be missed with an outright deletion. Hell, even accessing it would have raised red flags. Of course I’d hopefully be gone from here before they figured out where I was connecting from. I couldn’t kill the connection while that file was downloading, so I decided to get cute.
By the time my file was downloaded I had told the system to upload several other files to different anonymous file servers before deleting the original files. These people and servers were chosen mostly at random, or because everyone and their mother used them to stow warez files for distribution. None of these people, so far as I’m concerned, would deserve any sort of government nosing about my actions might cause. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Stop pinging at me! I heard noise somewhere in the room. Tanya? I briefly uncurled and looked around. Tanya was yelling at me to shut up. Oh, right. Nobody trying to batter the door down. Curl, refocus on my primary task. Download complete.
Now I had to purge any records of me being there. Spring their trap by sticking my hand in Receiving. I got a warning on my screen about a trace ‘Six spotted. Delete everything from here, back out. Go back to Skyline’s servers and patch the holes I’d punched in their security. Normally I don’t bother, because going back to the scene of the crime is always a bad idea, but like I said. I didn’t like the idea of people using those holes for Really Bad Things.
I took a deep breath as my body uncurled and I closed ‘Six the rest of the way down. “We have our tickets. I think I got connection log scrubbed, and I found a file with my name on it in the government server I tapped. I’m going to bed now.” Tanya blinked at my abrupt behavior but said nothing else to me, at least not that I could hear. My job was done, we had a flight to catch in a couple days. I’m going to try getting some sleep and don’t want to be woke up unless there were cops at the door, or grenades being tossed in.
“Please don’t tell me you wanted to try that.” I looked hopefully to the man across the table. “I’m pretty sure I wasn’t found out, mostly because there didn’t seem to be any dark suits or handcuffs waiting for either of us. “I’m also pretty sure I’d closed the holes I’d opened in both servers, but even if I did I Do Not want people attempting that. Even if they could pull it off and their intentions weren’t agenda motivated what’s to say they won’t end up getting sloppy?”
The man shrugged, “You seem to believe our interests are connected with demands, governments, or cultural wars. Our struggle started, like yours, when friends went missing. When this ends we will in all likelihood crumble back into our individual components.”
I listened calmly as he talked, waiting for more. Maybe I’d finally figure out a thing or three here. Instead he got up and walked away. Maybe he would make my concerns known to whatever passed for the people in charge here. I was terrified they wanted to make a run against America’s government. Sure it was flawed, corrupt, and I hadn’t any real faith in politics anymore, but that doesn’t mean I wanted to see it all go up in smoke.