I'd gotten the laptop from Quatre, and he was a devious little thing. He would have access to the secured routers in his corporate suites. He would know what avenues to use to send a message to this computer. I didn't have the tools set up to do a trace on the signal, but I thought it fairly safe to assume that the alert was from him. Zero agreed with me.
Still, that was no reason to be careless. I tiptoed quietly into the Preventers system without setting off any warnings. I had set up the security on the network, but I was too much the product of all I had been to have not left myself a back way in. I downloaded the project update, cleaned up after myself, and got out of there before I got carried away. Once safely isolated again, I scanned the files, deemed them safe, and opened them.
With all the other things going on, I'd nearly forgotten about the black market dealings that had drawn us together into a 'task force' to begin with, but with the violence escalating, someone had gotten the smart idea to recover the RX-32s Trowa had found in Morocco. During the course of that investigation, they'd poked around quite a bit, and apprehended someone that Quatre had quite predictably cracked with little difficulty. Before the man clammed up, he let out some fancy rhetoric involving fire and destruction and chaos, implying enough to clue us on in an imminent bomb threat against the capital city.
That wasn't good at all. We were dealing with people that had a history of violence in their respective countries. They knew how to concoct homemade, untraceable explosives, and they knew how to deploy them effectively. Molotovs had already been used by rioters in two different states over the last few days. The project notes also indicated the construction of the Ribi variant as part of the rioters' arsenal, but luckily they hadn't been used. Taking the next step to premeditated arson wasn't that hard to imagine.
The team hadn't nailed down time or place yet, but we had a general idea. Before the week was out, most likely. The radicals said they wanted to deconstruct the current government and return power to the national level, so they would probably target government facilities. It'd be here, in the capital, the center of the centralization. Possibly the Senate building, possibly department buildings essential to the government infrastructure. Though some nations were angry at their representatives for not managing to push the decentralization legislation through the senate, their party line didn't seem to support them targeting individuals. It had become the cumbersome nature of the global government itself that prevented the senators from seeing the path to a better tomorrow. Of course, that wouldn't stop them from considering the coincidental deaths of any government employees to be acceptable. We may have been 'victims' of the world nation's indoctrination program, but we were also representatives of the beast that was attempting to devour all individuality in the world, or something to that effect.
I was feeling far less sympathy for the nationalist cause than I once did. Clearly the agitators had been agitating for quite a while before they had decided to take united action.
Obviously, we needed to stop this before it happened. We needed to find the people responsible, or we needed to figure out where exactly the violence was going to take place. Countries from around the world had joined the cause, and the cast of characters in this drama would probably be international, but they would probably be purchasing at least some of their ingredients locally. While most bomb-making materials could be transported safely prior to mixture, it was somewhat suspect to be dragging a large bag of fertilizer onto an airplane. Vendors would be questioned to identify recent suspicious purchases. Suppliers would be asked about their inventory. International routes would also be investigated, looking for signs of known terrorists from bomb-happy nations. Once found, those people would be interrogated thoroughly, though I doubted they would give anything up. They would probably be detained, but there were plenty of people that could take their places.
And what was I going to do? Irritated though I may have been, I was going to do my damn job. I familiarized myself with the dossiers of all the suspects included in the project notes, and when that wasn't enough, I tapped into the Preventers database again for more. With all of that information in mind, I broke past the security on the local transit authority's files and started analyzing their logs. Other people would probably be looking through the same data, but I wasn't about to sit around waiting for someone else to figure it all out. While I was there, I sniffed out a few of the worst holes in their network and added them to my list of things to mend one day. When this was over, maybe Duo would get his wish and I'd be taken out of Tech Support, if only to be re-writing proper, scalable systems for the whole stupid world. Which would actually be even more of a desk job and even more distasteful to him. Oh well.
Assuming I still had a job when this was all over. But then, when had that stopped me? This had been my job, long before the government ever decided to give me a paycheck for it.
Flipping through the files made me twitchy. It reminded me that I had left a neural interface device in my desk at work. It would be useless to anyone but me, and in fact it would probably be unrecognizable as such to almost anybody but me, and surely no one had any idea that such a thing would be lurking in my desk, but it went against the grain to leave something that could be used against me where the enemy could get their hands on it. I made another note to myself to remove it from HQ at the earliest possible convenience.
I went back five days through the passenger manifests, but didn't find any names that I recognized from the Preventers case file. I moved on to re-examining the dossiers, hoping that an MO would pop out that would lend itself to the terrorists' intent. While I did that, Zero conducted his own post-processing exercises, and seventy-three minutes of eye-burning fun later, he notified me of a discrepancy in the transit authority logs. The number of people on one list matched the stated total number of passengers, but the ticket sales didn't add up. Someone was missing from the list.
I went back to the original data in the log, inspecting it in its raw form this time and found that indeed, someone had altered the files. Careful inspection and elimination of the possibilities led me to believe that the perpetrator must have had internal access to the transit authority's systems. I crept back into our project's files, updated them with the information that I uncovered, and made sure Quatre would get a flashy icon of his own.
Before I could log out to begin backtracking our mystery passenger's itinerary, I got another alert in the corner of my screen, but this time, it was Trix again. The part of me that believed that my situation called for radio silence frowned, but thinking that she might have more information for me, I opened the message.
It was pretty simple. "WTH?" I decided to refrain from excess chatter and just wait for her to continue. It took twenty-one seconds, but she did. "You know what I just spent all day doing?"
"What have you found out?" I prompted dutifully to let her know I was here, after another forty-seven seconds had passed without another note.
"Nothing. Because I just spent all day assigned to looking into the hackjob done on the BZC's access systems."
"I know you always hated that thing."
"It was good. The job, I mean."
She seemed to be implying things, but I wasn't about to confirm it. I wasn't stupid enough to leave calling cards around. "Did it have anything to do with the terrorists?"
"Inconclusive. Kind of random, kind of not."
'You just here to bitch?" I had other work to get back to.
"Just what are you up to, Green?"
"Plausible deniability, Wys. Gotta go." I broke the connection and shook my head. I'd gotten very useful information out of the job, so I wasn't about to lament the day's waste of resources devoted to tracking a false lead. Later that night, I'd jump through the necessary hoops to get myself into the 'games'. But for now, I got back to my investigation.
I accessed the updated files and reviewed them. After a thorough, but not very polite, investigation of the transit authority's office, they'd found someone who had access to the proper files during the timeframe given. A little more digging revealed his hometown to be a current hotbed of dissension. He didn't have any immediately discernable ties to the radical movement, nor did he have the know-how to alter the files himself, but after a little one-on-one time with Quatre, he gave up the name of a friend that did. The hunt for the friend was still on, but based on the man's hometown, and other collaborating data coming from going back to the source of the train whose logs had been altered, we had a pretty good idea of just who had snuck into the city. APBs were out on him now.
Time to employ some more of my unmonitored freedom and get creative with the global network. We lived in an increasingly digital age. The bad guys could use that to their advantage to perpetrate ever more advanced crimes, but the good guys could use it to chase the bad guys in ever more advanced ways. The technocrats would come out on top in the end. It was good to be one of them.
Sorensen, our radical guest, was probably staying in town somewhere. I left that to the official investigators to look into. His bank accounts would be monitored for local activity -- also information that the Preventers could gain access to. I decided to skip a few steps and take a bite out of his phone records. They would probably be tapped by official channels eventually, but no one would mind if I took a peek at them first. He wasn't going to be carrying out any acts of terrorism alone. He would need to get in contact with other people.
A dozen major probability calculations, four illegal trespasses, and one short nap later, our search web showed convergence upon one network address in the city. If I could validate that one data point, we could keep on chugging through the possibilities with a higher degree of accuracy. Checking in quickly with the project notes, I found that some solid progress had been made since the update from the previous day, but in a different direction from my own research.
I weighed the risks, found them negligible, and left the apartment. It was the middle of the day now, and I blinked in the sunlight, wishing for my sunglasses, but all I had on me was clothing that fortunately didn't look too much like a uniform without my jacket. I typically opted for the regulation t-shirt and slacks, both of which were plain. My jacket had been hanging off the back of my chair when IAB had come for me. Which, if Duo still cared, had probably pissed him off. I'd left the tracker in there so he could always find me, after all, but that presupposed that I would have the jacket with me all the time.
My wallet had been confiscated, which was a bit of an annoyance. Winner Corp's executive suites were the land of plenty in most ways, but not all. Pulling some cash out of Duo's account was probably a little dirty, given the current state of our relationship, but these were extenuating circumstances. I didn't know where I stood with the authorities. Surely this imminent threat against the government was consuming their attention, but if they thought that I was collaborating with the radicals, then I was a part of their problem. It was safest to assume that my financials were being watched as closely as the ID'ed terrorist, and I didn't feel like doing anything any more fancy to acquire resources.
I stopped by a drugstore, picked up a pair of cheap shades for the dual purpose of blocking the sun and making me just that little bit less recognizable, then headed toward the café that was my target. We had found a small cluster of network traffic originating from the café's router. It was possibly connected to our guy through the proverbial six degrees of separation, but the odds seemed good for it.
The café wasn't at the height of its service for the day, but there were still enough people there that I didn't stick out. I decided I could use a coffee instead of my usual steamed milk, and used my time waiting to look around casually. I didn't spot anyone out of place, whether a radical or a member of the local authorities looking for a stray radical matching my description. There were a half dozen computers in the café. Two were being used. I'd be able to get the information I needed out of any of them, but it would be easiest if I could use the same computer from which the data had originated. I selected the one in the back corner as the one most likely used by anyone doing anything suspicious, bought some time on it, and settled in with my coffee.
These poor computers, set up with so many restrictions, to be abused by ignorant users. I planned on letting my station stretch its wings a bit with a good workout. I quickly bypassed the limitations and gained real access to my computer's resources. Without the normal tools at my disposal for this kind of analysis, I would have to work in the raw, but that was alright. It would make it more difficult for anyone else to trace my work, certainly.
Carefully keeping my typing to a sedate, non-attention-grabbing pace, I worked my way into the computer's logs. Most user history was erased at the end of the session for privacy's sake, but short of a full reformatting, pieces of that data always stuck around, which gave us in the TRSU something to do. Following the traffic patterns that had led me here, I dug out fragments of messages sent from the computer. It took a little time to sort it out. To my surprise and disgust, our man Sorensen typed messages like a teenaged girl.
Despite that, however, I found some data that could possibly be useful. I picked out the name of one of the ingredients that could be used in a homemade explosive. That could help if they got the dogs out to start sniffing for threats. I also picked up a time for a rendezvous that had happened last night, and what sounded like a reference to a place that I didn't understand. Committing the information to memory, I put everything back in order, tossed my empty coffee cup, and slipped out of the café. I followed an indirect route back to the apartment out of habit, but it was almost a little disappointing that the closest call I'd had that day was being assaulted by a girl trying to entice me into taking a leaflet for some show in the city. I saw a little more of a police presence patrolling the streets in their cars, but it was nothing that a simple glance in the other direction couldn't counter.
It was reassuring, but it was maddening, too. I'd managed to walk the streets in peace time and not have a problem with it, knowing that their freedom was what we had been fighting for, but as I had during the wars, I found myself left with a sour taste in my mouth now. I knew the government was controlling the media about the bomb threat against the city, but the world news still covered the global unrest, the riots, the protests, the anger. Did the people walking the streets today not pay attention to anything going on outside their little bubbles? Or did they just think it didn't have anything to do with them? I hardly expected everyone to be cowering in fear, but some sort of awareness would be nice. One of our terrorists could plant a bomb right underneath their noses, and would they even notice?
I returned to the suite unmolested, making me wish I'd tempted fate and ducked into a market quickly for some real food. As soon as I got in, I passed the information on again, sending just an e-mail this time, emphasizing that I was an anonymous informant so that the legitimacy of my illegal endeavours couldn't be questioned later, if the lawyers or IAB got bored enough to look into the details. I appended a note to our project files to assure the team of the message's authenticity. Afterwards, I returned to the other lines I'd cast, and the next day around noon, I received the fruit of my labors.
last modified : 5/5/2007 02:55:49 PST