Terri tried to look casual walking back home but she wanted to get behind her terminals as soon as possible.
In the meantime she racked her brain on where she’d seen his name before. Most likely one of the dark channels if he took on side jobs.
She walked to the back of the building, down the parking ramp and went up the secondary stairwell which nobody used. She checked the hallway and door as usual, went inside and sat down at her desk to open the channel client. She logged in, then started a search through the history for discussions on network operating systems. When nothing showed up she closed the channel, opened the next one and repeated until she found the right results.
His handle was p0t, he knew a lot about network equipment and the software running on it. She unhid her status and checked for the last time he had logged in. It was three days ago. She went back to her history log and read backwards through the discussion starting from the time he logged off. It seemed he had closer contact to someone called HardWired. She looked up the current logins and found him online.
“@HardWired, I have a question about my video proc and a special project I’m writing and since you likely know more, can we have a quick talk in private?” she sent to him.
A few seconds later he joined the pivate channel. “Sure, what do you need?”
“Actually, I want to ask about p0t since it seems you know him better. Have you seen him in the last couple of days?”
“Are his initials FK?”
“Why do you ask?”
“Because I saw the report on FK, network OS programmer’s murder. I need to know if it might have to do with a job he had done recently.”
It took a few moments for the answer. “sorry, i have no idea”
“Do you know where to find p0t? If it’s not him maybe he can help further.”
“i dont know” appeared, then “have to go now” and he logged out.
“He knows.” she thought, then did a search on her logs and on the grid for him.
She found a group photo that included his handle and the name of an electronics store he visited sometimes in a discussion. She copied the photo on her mobile while she looked up the store’s address, grabbed one of her books, then went out to have a look there.
She left the subway station and headed for the store. She could see this was a better part of the city, less traffic noise, less smelly, much less graffiti. The store was located on the ground floor on a corner, the windows decorated with parts and kits to build anything related to electricity.
She went inside and headed for the counter, finding an older man behind it.
‘Excuse me, I’m looking for someone.’
He looked up at her from sorting a box of parts.
She held up the photo. ‘I borrowed this book from him but lost his address and number. I know he’s been here more often so I was hoping you could tell me where he lives.’
He looked at the photo, then at her. ‘Don’t know.’
‘Are you sure? Don’t you have frequent customers registered with a number or address? I believe he has been here not too long ago.’
‘I don’t hand out information. Certainly not to your kind.’ he said and continued sorting.
She wanted to grab him by his throat when Milo grabbed her wrist and held his ID in front of the man’s nose. ‘How about to this kind?’
The man looked up at a smiling Milo.
‘So, how about doing some thinking and see if you have his number or address?’ Milo said looking at the labels on a box behind the man. ‘Or should I check to make sure you register all customers who buy grade 5 equipment from you, just like it’s prescribed by law?’
The man swallowed. ‘Bri! Come here for a second.’
A young guy came from the back. ‘Yes?’
The man gestured at the photo. ‘Didn’t you deliver a couple of videocards to him on your way home last week?’
The young guy looked at the photo on the counter and tapped with a finger on one of the men. ‘Yeah, I think he was experimenting on combining processing power of these things.’
‘Can you give me the address?’ Milo asked.
‘Hang on.’ the guy said and wrote it down.
‘Thanks.’ Milo said as he looked at the paper and handed it to Terri.
‘And how did you get here?’ Terri asked while they walked out.
‘For what reason?’
‘Your interest in Kruickdam’s code. You checked all the pages with code.’
‘How did you know?’
‘I had placed a hair of mine underneath the pages. It wasn’t in the same spot when I got back.’
‘Thanks. So, who is he and why is he related?’
‘His nick is HardWired and he knows a lot about writing drivers for hardware. He seems to have a lot of contact with Frederik and when I asked him about it he denied and logged off.’ She looked up at the front of a bland beige apartment building. ‘Here.’
Milo held open the glass door for her while taking the wallpinger out of his pocket. Terri looked at the mailboxes.
’12w24.’ she said as she found his number.
They took the elevator up, Terri wanted to knock on the door but Milo held her back, holding up the pinger.
‘Just in case.’ he said, held it to the door and watched the image on the little screen after the scan. ‘He’s alone.’
‘You think there might have been more?’
‘He might have been spooked by your call, or if he is indeed involved there may be others after him and already in there.’
He pocketed the pinger and knocked.
‘Who’s there?’ came the voice from inside.
‘Milo Pietuk, detective at IT security. I’d like to ask you a few questions.’
‘Just a minute.’
Milo saw Terri prick up her ears and listen intently. ‘I just heard a ping. And now a click and buzz.’
‘Who is with you? I want to see some ID!’
‘He also used a pinger.’ she said with a smirk.
‘This is Terri. She helps me with an investigation where you might have more information about.’ Milo said and held up his ID card.
‘You saw me before, the nick’s UV.’ she said.
She could hear a suppressed curse but he opened the door.
Milo walked in first to look around, then Terri followed.
‘And here I thought great hackers always lived messy.’ he said looking at the clean and sparsly decorated room and the man who was dressed in matching shirt and trousers.
‘Are you talking about me?’ she asked feeling out of place here.
‘So, what do you want to ask?’ Ahmin asked, frequently looking at either of them.
‘Do you know a Frederik Kruickdam?’ Milo asked.
‘Also known as pot, with a zero.’ Terri said.
‘We’ve talked online, why?’
‘Could he have discussed about a recent job he was doing?’ Milo asked.
‘Our talk was often work related.’
‘Might he have mentioned who he worked for, beside his official job?’
‘No. If he did something illegal I have no idea.’
Terri whistled as she looked at a row of videocards on a table. These were connected to two computer towers and she could see from the status screens these were running at one hundred percent capacity. ‘Doing some serious numbercrunching here. Tesing new video drivers?’
Ahmin stepped a bit closer to her. ‘Yes, I develop drivers for hardware. They asked me if I could improve performance to run an array of large screens.’
‘Except it doesn’t seem there’s any video output. All this does is calculations.’
Ahmin looked at Milo, then at her. ‘That’s just part of the optimisation process.’
‘You know what else these GPU’s are good for, Milo?’ she asked.
‘Hmm, calculating large numbers. Very large numbers.’ he said.
‘Like those used for encryption.’ she said.
‘So, want to start talking about what you and Frederik discussed lately?’
‘I don’t know-‘ Ahmin started but Terri held up her finger to her muzzle.
‘Someone just pinged at the door.’
‘You expect someone?’ Milo asked.
Ahmin shook his head and Milo gestured at them to stand back, pulling out his gun.
‘They’re picking the lock.’ Terri whispered.
Milo stood aside behind a cabinet, aiming at the door. They heard a click, then the door was kicked open and two men started shooting.
Milo fired back at once aiming for their legs and got lucky. The two fell on their knees but aimed at him now and he had to squeeze against the wall to avoid the bullets. Then he heard two weird screams and the shooting stopped.
He glanced around the corner of the cabinet and saw Terri smirking with her tazer.
‘Thanks for the distraction.’ she said.
‘Thanks for being here with that. I hope you hadn’t planned on using that on me.’
‘Depends.’ she said. ‘But we might better go. I hear people with heavy boots getting into the elevator downstairs.’
Milo nodded and soon the three were going down the stairs, heading for Milo’s office.
On the subway Ahmin told them someone from CyTech contacted him to optimise the cracking software they use to test the encryption methods they sell. He said with a little pride he had managed to improve speed with eleven percent so far. And he improved parallisation so more hardware would increase the speed without increasing the loss in overhead.
‘And what about Frederik? What did you discuss with him?’
‘Nothing special. Just about ways to make code more efficient and smaller in size. He writes software for network equipment, those used by the grid and large corporations.’
‘What did you see on the pages in the file?’ asked Milo of Terri.
‘I saw variable names that I used in my last project.’
‘A search algorythm to find connections between a lot pieces of data.’ she said and her eyes grew big. ‘Pieces the size of network data packages!’
‘So, could your algorithm be fed to his cruncher?’ Milo asked, nodding at Ahmin.
‘We’re talking about the possibility of siphoning data from the grid, then feeding it to her search running on a hardware cluster I improved, to get what?’ asked Ahmin.
‘The answer to secrets, but what secrets?’ said Milo.
On the way to the office they brainstormed about possible targets.
‘Corporate secrets?’ suggested Ahmin.
‘Seems easier to bribe employees.’ said Terri.
‘Correct.’ said Milo. ‘The only ones who try to get into the network for that are kiddies. And they find nothing of interest. We hardly get a case like that.’
‘Banks, financial institutions?’
‘Too protected by AI. Anything out of the ordinary gets blocked at once. Last one who tried that just disappeared before he got caught.’ said Milo as they arrived at the office.
He unlocked the door with his badge, then typed in a password at the terminal inside the hall.
‘No biometrics?’ asked Terri.
‘No.’ he said letting them inside. ‘That got cracked after a while, and we don’t like to get separated from our bodyparts when someone seriously wants to get inside.’
‘Government, defense?’ Terri asked.
‘Same as the others. Too well defended and any communication between departments isn’t done by the standard protocols.’
‘Wasn’t that by breaking apart the data stream and routing it across separate networks?’ Ahmin asked.
‘Yeah, to prevent someone recording the whole stream at some point in between.’
‘Unless someone can tap every stream.’ Terri said.
‘Like someone who has access to the equipment that is used on the grid.’ Milo said.
‘Looks like we found one answer.’ Ahmin said.