30 May 2014

By the Numbers - Chapter 9

Day Two

(Language warning in effect.  Reader discretion advised.)

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Saturday, April 18, 2071
0915 hours

    Rain pelted down hard on the streets of Seattle.  Treehugger threaded the Humvee Civic through the downtown traffic.  The SUV's wipers worked hard to keep the windshield clear for the occupants.  Treehugger herself relied on the Humvee's sensors to keep the SUV out of collisions.  The sudden relief from the downpour as the Humvee entered the Westin's underground parking was striking.  Treehugger killed the wipers, then let the Humvee coast to a stop at the entrance.

    Before Charles could get out, Tarkov said, "Wait."  He paused to let Charles shift in his oversized seat.  "I need ideas.  I don't want a repeat of yesterday's bickering.  I can get that at home."

    Numbers looked over at Charles, who just shrugged.  "Okay," the hacker said, "I think I have something.  Everyone yesterday kept touching on it but missed the point.  What's happening has to be costing someone money.  The people affected aren't in a position to pass along valuable data."
    Tarkov nodded.  "Yes.  Nothing new there."

    "Except everyone at the meeting works in security.  Your goal is protecting corporate assets, not balancing books or doing cost-benefit analysis.  So, you, all of you, not just you personally, Mr. Tarkov, you keep dismissing ideas because they don't make business sense."  Numbers took a breath.  "What if money isn't the motive?  What if whoever is behind everything isn't looking to expand a business empire?  What if it's political?  Or personal?  That doesn't factor into a profit-loss statement."

    "That is just going to open up the list of suspects again," Tarkov said.  "Still, maybe one of the other reps can use the idea."  The security manager nodded to Charles.  "Let's go."


0950 hours

    Numbers tuned out the meeting.  The suggestion she had made to Tarkov resulted in personality clashes between the reps from Knight Errant, PacRim, and, of all people, DocWagon.  The hacker avoided looking over at the Saeder-Krupp rep and her retinue.  She felt her commlink buzz with a new message.  Numbers checked the email.  The message consisted of an AR address and a passcode.  Numbers glanced around the room.  No one returned the look.  She closed and jumped into the meeting room's node.

    The address in her email was easy for her to trace.  It led her to the camera she was in yesterday and already had two icons waiting inside.  "There's my girl," Slamm-O said.

    "The forest can now move against the hill," Skater said.

    Numbers ran a quick analyze on the camera's node.  Seeing nothing different from the previous day, she said, "Problem?"

    "You could say that," Slamm-O said.  "There's a security breach."

    Skater's icon looked out the vidwindow.  "Great.  Fucking great.  How?"

    "Who?" Numbers asked.

    "One of my own team," Slamm-O said.  "They got her kid."

    "What are we supposed to do?" Skater asked.  She turned back to face the other hackers in the node.  "'What is she supposed to do?' I suppose is the better question."

    Numbers glanced down at the meeting.  "Disrupt the proceedings.  Maybe start shooting, kill some of the reps before anyone can react.  Get rid of the people who know what's happening, create a gap that can be exploited."

    Skater slowly turned on her icon's skates to face Numbers.  "I hope you're not a plant."

    Slamm-O stood behind Numbers.  "I can vouch for her."

    "So we just remove your teammate from the room.  Problem solved."

    "And get her kid dead."  Slamm-O sighed.  "She came to me to try to prevent that."

    Skater shrugged.  "Thanks for the heads up.  I'll let my people inside know to keep an eye on her."

    "Can't your team get her child out of trouble?" Numbers asked.

    "I don't know if they're in on the kidnapping," Slamm-O explained.  "She only came to me, not the others."

    Skater turned back to the vidwindow.  "Not your normal team, huh?  The paranoia is killing us."

    "Numbers, you've got your regular crew.  Do you trust them enough to not be on someone else's payroll?"

    Numbers thought for a moment.  "We're professionals.  We get paid for security, we provide security.  Yes, I trust them enough."


1035 hours

    Numbers and Charles met the rest of the team at the Humvee Civic in the parking lot during the break.  Charles used his height to keep watch over the roofs of the surrounding vehicles while the others hunkered down behind the Humvee's bulk.  "If we don't find the child, the meeting gets disrupted or worse," Numbers finished.  "Considering we were contracted to protect Mr. Johnson, this falls under the spirit of the job."

    "So we kill the woman before anything starts," Treehugger said.  "Problem solved."

    "And that gets the child killed."

    Oswald shook his head.  "Not an option."

    "We're not hitmen, TH," Charles added.  "There's a huge difference between killing someone in the heat of a fight and deliberately targeting someone.  I'm not about to make jump that gap."

    "Fuck that," the mage said.  "I'm not letting some child die.  I can start digging around while the meeting's going on.  The hotel's magical security can repel an attack long enough until the heavy hitters here can respond.  TH can keep an eye on things through her drone net while I'm gone."

    "Are we all agreed?" Numbers asked.  She stared at Treehugger.  "Find the child for this woman?"

    Treehugger met Numbers's eyes.  "Just remember that if we don't find the kid, we may have to kill her.  And by 'we', I mean you and Charles.  You two are going to be at ground zero."

    "If it comes down to that," Numbers said, "I'll be ready."

    "Then I'm in."  Treehugger leaned up against the Humvee.


1048 hours

    The meeting resumed.  Numbers tuned out the quarreling, the discussing, the bickering, the specualting.  She kept an eye on the meeting room's occupants, making sure none were about to suddenly start a flurry of violence.  During the barely polite discussions, she sent a quick email to Slamm-O asking to meet his teammate.  She received a recognition code to expect in the hotel bar at the next break.

    Lunch crawled around.  The representatives called a break.  Numbers slipped out of the room, leaving Charles behind to protect Tarkov.  She grabbed the first elevator to arrive and rode it to the hotel's main floor.  Once the doors opened, Numbers strode out and slipped through the crowd to the hotel's bar.  The host showed the hacker to a table along the wall, then left her with a menu.  Numbers studied the kitchen's offerings.

    The hacker's commlink chimed as it received the recognition code she had sent to her contact.  Numbers sent directions to her table back to the sender, never taking her attention off the menu.  She heard someone sit down across from her.  "So many choices," Numbers said, still not looking up.

    "Slamm-O said you could help me."

    Numbers signaled for the waiter then set down her menu.  When she finally looked across the table, she saw the Asian woman, Nabi, from the DocWagon contingent.  "That's the hope."

    "How much will it cost me?"

    "No charge."  Numbers passed the menu to Nabi.  "It's covered under my contract with Mr. Boeing."

    "I see."  Nabi opened the menu.

    "I do need a picture of your child, where you last saw him or her, names of friends."

    Nabi pulled up a slideshow.  "This is her.  Sun Jung."  A holographic video of a young teenaged girl wearing a jeans and a Nerps t-shirt appeared over Nabi's commlink.  The girl tried to turn away from the camera.  "She turns fifteen next month."  Nabi's mouth hardened into a tight line.  "I received an email with a video of my daughter and the instructions.  I have to disrupt the meeting tomorrow, preferably with a body count.  I do that, Sun Jung can go home."

    Numbers held up her hand as the waiter approached the table.  She placed her order, a club sandwich and a bottled water.  Nabi passed on food but accepted the offer of a glass of wine.  Once the waiter left, Numbers said, "I'd like to see the email.  I might be able to trace the origin."

    The Asian woman pulled up the message.  "Sun Jung keeps telling me I should learn how to these things work.  She's gotten into trouble at school for trying to break into her marks."

    "Can you give me permission to access your commlink?" Numbers asked.  "I've got some utilities I can run but it's far easier if I don't need to break through your firewall."

    "Sure."  Nabi fumbled with her commlink before being able to grant Numbers access.

    Numbers networked her 'link to Nabi's.  She analyzed the headers on the ransom message.  The email's routing showed the message passed through unsecure nodes in Toronto, Moscow, and Hong Kong before reaching the Asian woman.  Reversing the path proved a challenge for the hacker; the trace ended at an anonymizer in Las Vegas.  Undaunted, Numbers dove deeper into the email, into the attached video.  Several tags repeated through the video.  Numbers's Analyze program chewed over the data.  The hacker massaged the process, directing it away from pointless paths.  "Interesting.  The camera used had a GPS in it.  The kidnappers stripped a lot of the data away but didn't get it all."

    "You can find Sun Jung?"

    "I can trace where her abducters were.  That might help us.  Do you mind if I get a copy of the video?  It would help greatly."

    "Please.  Anything to get my daughter back."

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