Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The SubVersion Complex, Chapter Fifteen

Pandora's box has opened. Prepare for the big reveal...
Here is the next chapter of The SubVersion Complex. Hope you all enjoy! If you missed Chapter Fourteen, click here.

This book is intended for a more mature audience, so be advised.



A dark, brooding bank of storm clouds chased Anna to work the next day, spattering her windshield with sporadic rainfall that would not decide whether or not to turn into a real storm. Rumbling thunder accompanied it at intervals, echoing through the car and her bones. A sense of foreboding hung suspended in the air like a dark haze, and if Anna's nerves and stomach had not already been affected negatively enough already, the presence of Terry in the parking garage as she pulled in alerted her that something was up.

She parked her car and climbed out slowly, her dress lashed by the wind and the leaves that were sucked in through the garage entrance. Terry leaned with arms folded against a pillar near the elevator, her face an expressionless mask and her demeanor taut. As Anna approached, the older woman pushed herself up, took Anna's upper arm, and guided her to the pillar. “I need to talk you,” she grunted.

Anna jumped, taken aback. “Why, what's wrong?”

Terry's suddenly furtive behavior was jarring. “You just received your first complaint this morning before you arrived.”

Anna stared at her. “Complaint? Who complained? And why?”

“Dr. Jarrod. He came raging into my office about half an hour ago claiming that you were trying to ruin his experiment.”

“How in the world would I have done that?” Anna replied, stunned.

“He told me that you opened up his reactive computer.”

Anna felt her breakfast churn hard, and she clenched her fists. Of course the door sensor on the box would have recorded her opening the lid and closing it again. One of the cardinal rules of computer systems: everything has an activity log. She had been wretchedly distracted yesterday, though, and had not remembered to do something about the log. As she looked Terry in the face she knew it would be futile to dissemble about it, so she straightened up defensively. “I did open the computer yesterday, what of it?”

“Why in the world would you do that?”

”Are you going to discipline me for it somehow?” Anna shot back.

Terry cocked her head at Anna. “I had no intention of doing anything of the kind.”

“No?” Now Anna was genuinely confused.

“No, I was more interested in why you would do something like that. What on earth compelled you to open up at random the multi-year project of a world famous scientist? You normally have a much healthier respect for high technology, especially the work of others.” She leaned closer to Anna. “What was in the box that induced you to open it against what should have been all of your better judgment?”

Anna shrank back. “Why do you need to know? And why tell me all of this down here?”

Terry frowned. “There are too many cameras and bugs upstairs and I wanted to give you my unadulterated advice. My job description is to take care of you here until you are fit to do that yourself, after you have learned the ropes and are comfortable with how we work. Opening Dr. Jarrod's computer is not the way to help me with that goal.”

Anna realized her mistake and winced. “It won't happen again, I can promise you that.”

Terry leaned in even closer. “Is there something I need to know, Anna?” she asked with true concern in her voice. “What was in the box?”

“It's classified,” Anna said flatly, knowing it was a cop-out. Terry bristled.

“You may not know or care how this all affects you, Anna, but I do and I know that you are sampling some very hot water that you may just want to stay out of. I am telling you this for your own good.”

It was Anna's turn to bristle, although she knew she had very little right to be angry. “I am doing what I need to do in order to complete the task I was set to do. That's why I am here, and that's why I did what I did.” She flattered herself that she was not really lying; Daniel was the one that set her on this task. It was a thought that briefly inflamed her ire against him again and made her realize just how possibly dangerous of a task he had set her on. She grew even more defensive. “The box contains what it was always meant to contain, which is the central core of the reactive computer. Nothing more, nothing less.”

Now I'm lying.

Terry's jaw moved back and forth angrily but she said nothing. Anna decided to press on. “I will explain the details to Dr. Jarrod and be done with it. He's an excitable man but not an unreasonable one.” With that, and without waiting for a reply, she turned on her heel and stalked towards the elevator. Once it had carried her up to her floor she hesitated, then decided to head for her office again instead of Lab A1A. Dr. Jarrod could wait.

Once there, she again pulled the paper from its hiding place in her shirt and unfolded it to reveal the numbers Daniel had written. She typed in the second of the two serial numbers into the “Search All” function and hit Enter. The familiar message popped up again: “Top Secret Security Clearance Required.” Anna pulled out her badge and slapped it against the scanner under the desk without even looking. A chime, and the computer once again recognized her and asked whether she wished to proceed. Then all of a sudden she froze, staring at the screen and consumed by indecision.

If she proceeded she could never go back, could never un-know what she might discover. Her first discovery turned out bad enough; she had no clue what the next might bring. Abruptly she realized she was no longer doing this research for Daniel's sake, or because of his threats or warnings. She was running these numbers for herself, because she needed to know for her own sake. But did she really need to know?

I do need to know. I need to know what is going on, I need to know what I will be governing should I become Party Secretary. I need to know who Central Admin is. But it was the memory of that childish face from last night that reminded her that she was already too far in to turn back.

She selected “Yes.” The computer chewed on the number for what seemed an eternity, then finally spat out a file onto the screen. Anna leaned in, her heart beginning to pound. The file looked similar to Sonya's: a collection of vital statistics running for pages and pages, except this file ran for many more pages than Sonya's. At the top of the data readout was a picture, and as Anna stared at it she surmised that her hunch had been correct. The image was of a woman, a very young beautiful woman with pale skin, long brown hair, and piercing brown eyes. The eyes were the picture of sadness and resignation, and the mouth, like Sonya's, was drawn in a taut line. The longer Anna looked, the more alike the woman and Sonya became in her mind. The eyes staring out at her were the same as the little girl's.

Anna gazed for a long time at the picture, and something deep in her soul began to bubble up. She wasn't sure what it meant but she did know she wanted to meet this woman. To maybe somehow bring her cheer, to tell her that her daughter was alive, and that Anna had spoken to her. From the picture it looked for all the world like the mother had had no say in where her daughter had ended up. Anna felt her face turn hot with outrage and she began to peruse the file with renewed interest. The middle section of the data ran in a monotonous string for pages and pages but Anna was not interested in that part. She skimmed towards the end and was eventually rewarded with something intriguing.

The “Notes” sections on all the other pages had remained blank for the most part, besides the occasional stray comment or odd observation. Near the end of the file, however, the notes sections transformed into a veritable diary of eventful happenings, and Anna examined them with growing interest and alarm. One note in particular caught her eye; it read, “Estimated date of unauthorized sexual activity between subject and D.M., will use to backdate pregnancy. Monitor for any continued contact.”

So Daniel Marcus was Sonya's father. No wonder he wanted to know where Sonya and the woman were so badly. Anna's heart melted unexpectedly for him and for his pain; she could forgive some of his cruel behavior to her for that. But a question persisted in her mind that she could not shake, something she needed an understandable answer to before she would be willing to absolve Daniel of all blame. What was the SubVersion Complex for, and why were both mother and daughter held there? If it was indeed a prison, then there had to be a reason they had been locked up.

She scrolled to the end of the file and saw a final grouping of data points, followed by a note that read, “Subject put back into cold storage until further notice.” Above that was a box labeled “Subject Location,” and it read “Drawer 1049.”

Cold storage? Drawer? Anna's skin crawled and she sat back in her chair, as if physical space between her and the eerie file on her omni-monitor could save her from its disturbing power. A dangerous idea began to form in her mind, and as she erased her search history she resolved to dig all the way down to the bottom of what was going on. Never mind that Daniel had not requested anything further than status and location information; she would follow her morbid curiosity down whatever path it took her.

She typed “SubVersion Complex” into the search bar and, when the expected message appeared reminding her that she was looking for top secret content, she swiped her badge again and cleared her way through the security barrier. A home page titled “The SubVersion Complex, Washington D.C.” appeared, and on the bottom it read “Central Admin, Level 3.”

She blinked and read it again. Central Admin, Level 3. The Complex sat three levels below the ground, practically right under her feet. Breathing harder, she selected past the home page and into the administrative directory. Only two names came up, and the top line read Administrator - Neville Sanders with his number beside it. Below him was a Captain Ander James, listed as head of subterranean security.

If her ID badge had let her in to see this, then surely she was allowed to go see the Complex for herself. That was how her reasoning worked anyways. She gathered her courage, closed out of her computer, and headed for Terry's office.

Terry sat brooding at her desk when Anna tapped on the door with a knuckle. The blonde woman looked up and her expression changed from dark to darker. Anna cringed when she remembered she had breezed past Terry earlier, but oddly enough Terry's anger did not seem directed at her.

Anna pushed the glass door open and inched into the sterile office. “Terry? I have a question.”

Terry seemed cautious when she heard the strange tone in Anna's voice. She folded her arms and pushed back in her chair, eying her charge with a severe look. “Yes?”

Anna licked her lips nervously but she took a deep breath, crushed her apprehension into submission, and continued. “You told me that my ID would unlock whatever was relevant to my work. Whatever was relevant. That was correct, yes?”

The question hung in the air like a thunderhead, and Terry looked like nothing other than someone waiting for the inevitable lightning to strike. She stiffened and sat very straight. “That was correct.” She stared hard at Anna. “Why?”

“Because I've found something that is relevant to my work, and that my ID badge unlocks, and I would like to be taken to see it.”

For the first time since meeting her Anna saw a spark of fear in Terry's eyes. The woman's face turned very white and she swallowed. “And what is this something, may I ask?” she inquired guardedly.

“I want to visit Level 3.”

Terry's face grew even more pale. She stared forward without blinking; her only movement was the quickening rise and fall of her chest while breathing. At length she leaned forward against her desk and put her fingers together under her chin. She rapidly typed something into her computer, then muttered loud enough for Anna to hear, “You are allowed in Level 3 . . . ” She glanced back up. “Anna, you were brought into all of this to be a fully-informed member of our group. If you feel that you must do this, and since you have been granted the clearance, then you must follow your own judgment. And if you do visit Level 3, I would suggest that you take a good hard look at everything you can.”

The last part sounded oddly like a command. Surprised that the answer was so compliant to her request, Anna nodded and turned to go but Terry was not finished. “You can't simply waltz down to Level 3, the regular elevator commands won't take you. Even though you have clearance you will need an escort.” She tapped a button on her desk. “Give me Captain Ander James' office, please.”

A man's voice crackled back from the speaker in the desk. “Hi, Officer Garnham, this is Captain James. “

“Captain,” Terry said, “I have a woman here that needs an escort down to Level 3.”

There was a long pause and Anna heard only breathing on the other end. Then the voice returned. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, she is sure.”

“And who is this that I am taking down?” the voice continued reluctantly.

“Miss Annalise McLean, our newest member.”

“Ah,” Captain James replied noncommittally. “Will she be visiting my side or Neville's?”

Terry looked askance at Anna, and Anna again felt the rising bile of panic in her throat at a question she did not quite know the answer to. She willed herself to remain calm, though, and remembered that Neville Sanders had been listed as the administrator of the Complex, so he seemed to present the logical choice.

“Neville's side,” she croaked .

Terry frowned but didn't ask Anna any questions. “Miss McLean says that she wishes to see Neville's side of things.”

“I'll be up in two minutes. Meet me at Elevator 2. Captain James out.”

The two women exited Terry's office and rounded the bend to the elevator lobby. Right on time, the doors of Elevator 2 hushed open and a man stepped out. He stood only an inch or two taller than Anna, with hair cropped short and a brawny frame clad not in the uniform of the security personnel upstairs but in regular military fatigues. He attempted a smile and held out his hand. “Captain Ander James, at your service. And you are Miss McLean?”

Anna shook his hand. “Yes, I am. You can just call me Anna. You are my escort?”

“Indeed, at least for a very short while,” the man replied. “I will have to hand you off to someone else once we are downstairs.” His manner was one of restraint, of cordial charm that hid below a veneer of military professionalism. He nodded to Terry. “I can take her from here, Miss Garnham, thanks.”

Terry nodded back. “Please take care of her,” she said. “And Anna?”

Anna turned to her and waited, but Terry never continued. Instead she avoided Anna's gaze, stood silently for a long moment, then turned on her heel and walked away without another word. Both Anna and Captain James were left to stare after her with some awkwardness.

Captain James turned to Anna with raised eyebrows. “You never know sometimes with that woman,” he remarked in an attempt to break the tension. Anna smiled and shook her head.

“I know what you mean,” she said knowingly.

“And please just call me James. My friends all do. Or at least, most of my friends. We can leave the 'Captain' off for now.” He motioned to the elevator with his hand. “After you.” They both stepped into the elevator and the doors slid shut. James pulled a key out of his pocket, inserted it into a special lock on the elevator wall, then pressed buttons 1 and 2 simultaneously. With a jolt the elevator began to move.

James turned back to Anna. “So . . . what sort of errand would take you down to Level 3 for the first time? I can't imagine what sort of business anyone from your department would have down here.”

Anna swallowed hard. “It has something to do with a project I am working on,” she said cryptically. “Neville Sanders will be helping me.”

James stared straight ahead with a grim face. “And have you ever met Neville Sanders?”

“No, why?”

“You may want to be careful, is all.”

Anna felt her skin prickle. “What's wrong with him? Anything?”

James scratched the back of his head with one hand; his fingernails made raspy scraping sounds against his stubble. He licked his lips and tried to smile again, but failed. “It may not be my place to say so, but Neville is . . . “ he trailed off as he thought. Anna waited anxiously for the answer, but it was not to be. The elevator doors opened again and James shook himself. “Here we are.”

1 comment:

  1. The security procedures in this future are a bit strange. Clearance does not automatically grant access. Clearance simply means that she is cleared to be read on to any projects classified at that level. But projects are not only classified, they are also compartmentalized, which is not done based on a clearance level, but on "need-to-know" status. Standard operating procedure is to limit the "need-to-know" to the absolute minimum possible, to prevent leakage and to limit possible breaches. Those who are not read on can be classified up to divinely omniscient level, and still not be read on to the project. It might be believable if she was hacking her way around, but even so projects on that level would almost certainly be kept on an entirely discreet system, with absolutely no hard connection to any other system, so you would need physical as well as digital access to the system to see the information.

    A second issue is that every system that processes classified or even sensitive information would have digital "watchdogs." Lines of code would be monitoring her every move, and comparing them to a list of red-flag criteria. She would have to circumvent them.

    Getting past such security protocols, especially for a new employee, who knows she is under 24/7 surveillance, would take time, caution, skill and luck. Especially time. For instance, Sam should already know, from watching the surveillance feed, that she has come to the computer, taken a piece of paper out of her blouse, and done a computer search based on that paper, two days in a road. It is a simple matter to find out what she was searching, or if the log has been deleted that in itself is a red flag.

    Espionage takes time. Lots of time.