‘What happened?’ asked Terri when Milo picked them up a few blocks away from the office.
‘The director knew how Cathy was killed.’ Milo said.
‘Could he have gotten it from another source?’
Milo shook his head. ‘He would have told me.’
‘Shit.’ she said and pondered about the consequences. ‘We have to dump our phones. If yours is compromised then he knows mine.’
‘Ahmin’s probably too, just for being close.’ Milo said and turned from the highway into a tunnel.
‘I know someone who builds his own phones.’ Ahmin said. ‘He could get us some which are unregistered.’
‘Good, thanks.’ Milo said and halted at aservice entrance. ‘Give me your phones. We can dump them here in the storm drain and they won’t know which exit we’ve taken out of this tunnel.’
They gave their phones and Milo threw them down the grate in the middle of the road, then drove to the address Ahmin gve him.
‘Here.’ Ahmin said as they drove through a narrow street in one of the old neighbourhoods of the city. ‘The red door.’
Milo parked at the closest free spot. Ahmin knocked at the door and after a while a voice from the other side called out to him.
‘Ahmin. Who are they?’
‘Friends. We need secure comms.’
They heard several bolts before the door opened and a bearded old man appeared. ‘Come on in.’
They entered the dimly lit hallway and the old man closed the door, securing the bolts. He led them into the first room and gestured to the chairs.
‘You in trouble?’ he asked Ahmin.
‘Yeah, probably from all sides.’
The old man whistled. ‘I’m not going to ask.’ he said and opened a couple of drawers.
‘You build all of this stuff, mister..?’ Terri asked, looking at the array of tranceivers, portable radio equipment and things she recognised as part of mobile networks.
‘Just call me Coot.’ the old man said with a giggle. ‘I’m keeping up the appearnce of one anyway for safety.’
She grinned. ‘I like that.’
He pulled out three phones looking twenty years old. ‘Need more?’
Ahmin looked at Milo who shook his head. ‘No.’
‘These work by mimicking mobile network equipment. No traceable mobile numbers. Complete access to any mobile provider. Just don’t use them too much because that might leave patterns in the logs.’
Milo took one. ‘How long on battery?’
‘About several weeks with normal use. About two days on full data streaming.’
‘Perfect. How much do you want?’
‘You wouldn’t happen to have one of the new mobile interceptors?’
Milo smiled. ‘One of the latest models rigged to deceive even the latest scanners for false towers? Why would you think I know something about that?’
Coot leaned closer. ‘That suit just screams government agency.’
Milo put the phone in his pocket. ‘What address?’
Coot grinned and handed him a note. ‘Through this courier will do. More confidencial stuff disappears there, intentionally and not.’
‘Thanks.’ Ahmin said as they left.
‘Be safe. And say hi to your mother when you see her.’
Milo and Terri nodded as they left for the car.
‘Your mother?’ asked Terri on the way.
‘They had a thing together for a while when she was young. Then adult life happened.’
‘So, what now?’ asked Terri when they got on the road again. ‘I had a look at Cathy’s laptop, found some interesting stuff on this distributed key and the systems it gives access to.’
‘I suggest we head back to Joan’s and take it from there.’ Milo said. ‘I want to stop using her car before it’s linked to us.’
At this time of the day the music was mellow. Another bunch of IT geeks occupied the booths.
‘Thanks for the car.’ Milo said as he handed the keys to Joan.
‘No problem. Did you make any progress?’
‘If by that you mean find more adversaries, yes.’
She poured them a refreshing drink. ‘Deep shit, eh?’
‘You can say that.’ Terri said and emptied her glass. ‘We’re looking at an organisation that hired specialists to work on individual parts of a program to retrieve the full decryption key that keeps several defense and security service departments safe.’
She pulled out Cathy’s laptop and placed it on Joan’s desk. ‘I managed to get access to notes Cathy took while working on her part. Looks like she suspected something already. There’s more but I would need better systems to possibly crack it.’
‘I can’t trust the department so we need an outside party.’ Milo said, leaning back in his chair, sipping his drink.
Joan tapped her desk with her finger, then leaned forward. ‘I might know someone.’
“This is so cliché.” Terri thought as she entered the coffeeshop.
This one had less trendies and more default folks getting their coffee, tea, and snacks, but she still hated these.
She got herself a normal tea and sat down at a table in the middle.
Not long after she sat down a girl her age sat down at her table.
‘Hi. did you wait long?’ she asked, fixing her flashy clothes.
‘No?’ Terri said, feeling this meeting could get tiresome quickly, looking at the perky girl with rodent features. ‘You’re the pigeon?’
She looked straight at Terri. ‘So, you want their help?’
‘If you can decipher and analyse data very quick, yes.’
‘And why would they help you, seeing you are linked to an agency involved with snooping and abusing the grid?’
She nodded. ‘They know you work with someone which they do not like.’
‘Maybe. But this involves national security threatened by criminals.’
‘They are criminals themselves.’ the girl said, nibbling on a cake. ‘So unless you have a good reason for them to assist, you’re on your own.’
‘Mind if I discuss this?’
She nodded and Terri called Milo.
‘Do you have something to convince them to help?’
‘Money? hardware?’ he suggested.
The girl shook her head.
‘Anything else?’ Terri asked.
Milo sighed. ‘Tell them Karl will fly them to Pegaso.’
‘You’re shitting me!’ Terri said, surprising the girl.
‘Don’t ask, just tell them.’
Terri told the girl.
‘They have left.’ she said. ‘We’re finished then.’
Terri watched her finishing her cake and leave the shop. ‘Now what?’
‘Come back here for now.’ Milo said and Terri left the shop.
She hardly reached the corner of the street when someone pushed a note in her hand as he passed her. She read it a little farther down the street and called Milo.
‘They want to meet face to face.’
Terri, Milo and Ahmin followed the instructions on the note and found themselves at a car rental place.
‘Can I help you?’ asked the assistant behind the counter.
‘We’re here to pick up the car for Mrs. Saunders.’ Terri said.
‘Ah, yes. We just got a call you were coming.’ the assistant said and placed key and papers on the desk. ‘Everything’s been taken care off. I hope you have a pleasant trip.’
‘Thanks.’ said Terri, taking the keys and papers and walked with Milo to the parking lot where Ahmin waited.
There they found the minivan and a note with another address inside.
‘That’s just down the road.’ Milo said.
‘They paid for it so might as well use it to get to the next corner.’ Terri shrugged and drove off the lot.
At the end of the road they stopped at a garage and a young man knocked on the window.
‘Switch.’ he said. ‘You’re going that way.’
Milo looked at the alley he pointed at. ‘Well, this has been a fun ride.’
‘Right.’ Terri said and got out.
The young man drove off and Terri, Milo and Ahmin went into the alley. A bit farther down a door opened and they followed a woman down into a cellar. Several people were waiting in the dark.
‘Someone talked of dead people.’ a female voice said.
‘Dead people got awoken.’ Milo said.
‘What do you know?’
‘The runway could have been longer. It was barely enough.’
‘Bull.’ said a male voice.
‘The captain likes the tacky bobblehead dog in the cockpit.’ Milo said.
After a few seconds the lights came on. A middle aged woman stepped up to Milo.
‘You’re not kidding?’
Milo shook his head. ‘I say this now because telling what I know about you and the collective would only bring distrust.’
‘I think I believe you.’
‘Hang on,’ Terri said. ‘I’m a bit lost. Are you talking about the time the president’s plane landed at Pegaso when there were hostilities between the countries?’
‘Our government had plans on disrupting that country to get a better deal on their minaral deposits.’ the woman said. ‘Those highly classified plans were seen by someone who didn’t like bullies and greedy corporations using politics to get richer. He then managed to plant a device on board to take control of the plane and landed it at Pegaso airport, a day before the execution of the plan to cripple that country. They never found the one who called himself Karl.’
She smiled at Milo. ‘Either you’re good at faking, or you’re a ghost.’
‘A bit of both perhaps.’
Terri looked at Milo. ‘Hiding in plain sight.’
‘And here I thought you were just a two bit hacker finding adventure behind a government desk.’
‘It has been a relaxing, quiet time.’
‘Come. Tell us why you need our help so desperately.’ the woman said and invited them to follow to the next room.
‘We need to know anything related to the info found on this laptop.’ Milo said. ‘The ones who tried to kill us for it are good at hiding, so we need to know who we’re dealing with, and to crack the encrypted partition which probably holds more info. All we know is that they comissioned experts to grab the key to access any high level communication. And not for a good cause.’
The woman nodded. ‘We can feed the encrypted data to our cluster to chew on it. The rest is probably standard procedure.’
They took the disk out of the laptop, hooked it up to a device and it started to flash light out of a slit.
‘This is how we feed it information. We stream the data across a high frequency screen, which is read by a scanner and fed into the cluster. This way there’s never any physical contact and risk of exposure to hidden malware on a device.’
‘Clever.’ said Ahmin.
‘Just not as fast. But it’s good enough.’ she said. ‘The rest will be fed to our search engine so all we have left is waiting for the first clue. You can watch or get some rest down the hallway. We have entertainment and beds for those long hacking days and nights.’
‘Thanks.’ Milo said and shook her hand. ‘I’d like to get some sleep.’
‘You’re welcome.’ she said.
‘Thanks indeed.’ said Terri. ‘Ehm?’
‘Call me Theresa. That’s my nickname. We never use real names here, even if we know them.’
‘Call me UV. Or you already knew that?’
Theresa shook her head. ‘No, although better said, not yet.’
‘Just don’t go digging into my school years.’
Theresa laughed. ‘I guess we can skip those periods for everyone at that age.’
Terri followed Milo and they found a couple of quiet rooms with simple beds. Milo took off his jacket, tie, shoes and socks, then unbuttoned his shirt partly before lying down. Terri took off her light coat and laid down next to him.
‘So, how did it feel to control that plane?’
He closed his eyes and smiled a little at the memories. ‘Thrilling. Powerful and scary at the same time. To know I controlled the plane with the president and staff on it, to know I had the responsibility of the lives of the people in my hands. One mistake and I could have had the biggest regret in my life.’
‘Why do it?’
‘To save innocent lives threatened by the greed of certain people. It was a regular people versus corporation thing. After I managed to force a stop to their plans I knew I had to disappear. They would find me in time if I continued.’
‘So, what are you going to do after this? If there is an after.’
‘No idea. I’ll think about it when we get to that.’
Terri looked at the ceiling. ‘Yeah, maybe for the best.’ she said and tried to get some sleep.