Deep Six: Heat

     Happy Birthday to me! No idea what the day will bring because this post is being written a week beforehand so I can get this story up on the archive all in one sitting.

Part 2
After several days of digging through public and not so public records I’ve learned that even though I was given the brush-off family and police have also started to look for my friends. Unfortunately because of my earlier attempts to find out what happened and if anything had been heard I’m now a ‘person of interest’. While I would probably be safe in cooperating I doubt I’d be able to keep looking on my own. They’re only doing their jobs, but I’m going to do what I have to do.
No, really. I understand why the authorities would have to not only look at me as part of their case but also see my doings through cyber-space as a threat. I’m generally restrained and apologetic in what I do if there’s even a hint of lasting harm involved, but they can’t know that. Were I in their shoes I’d see even the smallest part of my activities as highly dangerous and criminal. Apologetic or not I’m still going to do what I do, so I suppose all that was wasted breath.
On the up side their work makes my life not boring and even if it was a hazard I had to deal with I’m sure that over the years they had stopped enough kiddie porn traffickers and other scum that I should give them a little slack. On the down side I now had to find who had files on me, try erasing any records that might hit too close to home, so that meant I’d have to go through the virtual back allies and crawlspaces a little sooner than I would have otherwise liked all without making too many enemies of people I otherwise respect. Pity that wouldn’t get rid of any hard copies floating around, but with as wired and dependent on electronic book keeping and filing I’m pretty sure I’d be alright for the time being.

SHIP; Hey I know you’ve got a few things on your plate but if you could spare a minute I need help finding the punks that keep taking passes at my server. New address is

Ship, buddy, you have no idea just how busy I am right now. After, I promise, but right now I just can’t. On reflection I suppose I should have wondered how he knew I was on since I wasn’t logged into anything and, to put mildly, Ship definitely isn’t a power-user. Maybe that should have set alarm bells off, but at the time I had more immediate concerns.
I had a few feelers put out, both program based and trusted eyes and ears that would hopefully give me a few places I could start with. No two programs or people were to send to the same email address. However I had each of those accounts, all highly temporary and designed to cycle out to someone else in a few days or a week, forward everything to my email server. Risky if anyone were able to look at the big picture, but the services that offer these temporary boxes were all above board and perfectly legitimate. All anyone looking in would see was me having select addresses forwarded from services designed to shield a person’s inbox against spam, which shouldn’t raise any flags on it’s own.
Addresses were all over the map. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Judging by what ‘Six was telling me after it scanned all of them was that my safest bet would be to start either on the South American addresses, or the Australian address. Everything else either needed hoop jumping, which would mean passing another of Gibbon’s tests to get tools for, or copied passwords from either of these less secured systems. Considering these different departments talk to each other on a simi-regular basis I might, repeat might, have an easier time sifting through their shared electronic paper trail.
I chose to work the South American systems first, not because they were less secure than the ones at home, but because if someone were able to piece my patterns together I’d rather like to keep them scratching their heads over just where I was from, or at least where I would spring up next. For once getting in was a straightforward matter and, after downloading the connection log and case file all that was left was erasing my tracks before seeing if any fresh leads opened up.
Unfortunately the ref file was encrypted, and since Gibbon had a ‘one job at a time’ rule about cracking files open I’d have to wait till he was done with the files from my last run I either had to wait, or find someone else. Maybe he’d finish soon, so I decided to wait before trying to fish for more help. In the meantime there was that Australian system to take care of.
Getting in there had been somewhat problematic, not because of any unexpected opposition or anything ‘Six wasn’t prepared for, because someone had buzzed my phone. Normally during a run I would have left the thing off, but between needing to keep a line open in case work needed me and an expected call from the vet I was forced to leave the thing on. The name on the ID was unfamiliar, Van Nuyman’s Animal Services, but I figured Peanut had gotten transferred there or something. “Hello Hello,” I did my best to keep my voice chipper and upbeat. Anyone on the other end might believe any tension to be a product of that rather than stress.
“Richard Guy Fawkes?” I didn’t recognize the voice. It sounded female, roughly my age, and the tone was more a statement than a question. “Do not hang up or disconnect your computer.” Alarm bells were ringing in my head. Fight down panic. If whoever this was knew what I was up to then I was already busted, and a mad dash to wipe everything wasn’t going to save my hide.
“I am apologizing now for mistake you are making,” My ‘little foreign man’ accent was something I’d practiced after watching Andy Kauffman a few too many times. I know, he’s before my time, but the guy was brilliant in an offbeat sort of way, but I hoped a long shot here might pay off. “You are must be having called wrong number. Please to be trying again. Tenk you veddy much.” I promptly hung up, hoping they’d go sniff somewhere else, or at the very least think someone might have cloned or stolen my phone.
Instead of possibly having to dance around with funny accents after a second call, I instead had to deal with a single bullet fired through a window I had left open to give the room a little fresh air. Only after I uncurled and got off the floor to take a tentative looked around did the phone ring. I stared first at the bullet hole that, had it been a few inches to the right, would have gone through my monitor and probably me. Then I stared at the phone a long moment before answering. “Alright,” I sounded somewhat less scarred stiff than I felt. “You have my attention.”
“Just keep doing what you’ve been doing.” Female voice sounded smug to me. “I won’t turn you in, not yet anyway. Finish what you’re doing, then we’ll talk.” Creepy, especially since I essentially had a gun to my head. Still, they said they wanted to talk after I finished up. Fear makes people act loopy, me included, and that was the last thing I needed right now. This time a message popped up on my screen. “Look. Don’t go getting the shakes on me, especially not now. I’m not going to turn you in and I’m definitely not going to kill you. I just wanted your attention. Think of me as backup if it will help you feel any better.”
Easy for her to say, She shot at me ‘just to get my attention’. On the flip side had a strange message just popped up from persons unknown telling me I’ve been made, at least so my thinking went about how this person had to reason things through, I probably would have bolted. Can’t say that I like it, but there’s a kind of logic there. I had a job to finish. Back to Australia. Now. Copy everything, delete logs, pull out to have a look-see. The addresses listed matched both the South American server and my informants. One file was an encrypted ref file and the other was a good old fashioned plain text file. Now that was naughty of them to upload key-logging software to people they were supposed to be cooperating with, but hey it gave me passwords for the Romanian and British servers I wasn’t going to complain too loudly.
“Very good.” The mystery lady laughed in my ear. “Now can you tell me what possible reason they had for planting spyware in a supposed ally’s computer?” I would have answered, but I still felt something of an itch between my shoulder blades where I imagined her gun was pointed. Why would police do something this blatantly illegal, especially considering the scandal that would blow up as a result, the widening mistrust between agencies. Pause. Rewind. Oh Crud. Police, not even the most rule-breaking water-boarding sort would do that in this or most any other country. Police don’t perform illegal taps, especially on each-other. That meant...
No. Really. What did that mean?
Four systems taken care of and another set of files for Gibbon to take a stab at. I should have felt happy that I’d managed to cover my tracks, but then again I shouldn’t have an armed lady that looked like something out of a special forces black ops outfit poking through my fridge. I wanted to throw up.
It could, if looked at rationally be pure happenstance all this was going on and they knew nothing of me or my recent dealings. ‘It’s just the paranoia screaming everyone’s out to get you.” Going where I didn’t belong, no matter how enjoyable and rewarding amongst my chosen peers, was a risky and stressful activity. Being a little paranoid was probably natural. Even so, several of my friends had recently gone missing, and I could find few connections other than myself to all of them. So feeling a little jumpy and frightened for myself and others would be natural. Wouldn’t it?
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