Thursday, July 24, 2014

The SubVersion Complex, Chapter Fourteen (Revised)

This is the first significantly rewritten chapter of the chapters that needed a rewrite, but I think it has vastly improved from its original version. A big thank you goes to my cousin and father-in-law for pointing me in the right direction when it came to government security systems, and for giving me the idea to really show off Anna's expertise in breaking into computers. This was a lot of fun to (re)write!
Here is the new Chapter 14 of The SubVersion Complex. This book is intended for a more mature audience, so be advised.



With a gasp and a start Anna surged awake from a powerful nightmare and came bolt upright. Her eyes burned, her back ached, and her brain throbbed. She blinked groggily in what felt like the most intense light she had ever seen. As the murk in her head began to disperse she noticed that it was morning, birds were chirping and sunlight was streaming through the windows.

Her thoughts began to race as she carefully put both feet on the floor. Daniel, the gun, the blackmail attempt; had it all actually happened or had her half-drunk neurons invented a memorable fiction? She then found herself looking at the living room windows, and after glancing down, she confirmed that she had indeed slept on the sofa all night in her work clothes. The whole episode from last night heaved back into her memory and she put her head in her hands. As she did so she found that her right elbow and wrist hurt like mad, the same arm Daniel had wrenched behind her back.

It had been real, and she was still trapped.

If she had been less tired she might have begun to cry again but she found her eyes were bone dry. Nothing would have come out of them even if she had wanted to. She willed herself to stand and stumbled to the bathroom. She flicked on the lamps above the mirror and was shocked to see just how badly she looked. Her makeup and mascara had smeared everywhere, her hair had all been pushed to one side, and there was a crease across her cheek from the sofa pillow. She sighed in numb resignation and looked at her watch.

It read twenty 'till nine. Anna froze, looked at it again. Then she swore, grabbed her commex from her purse, and raced upstairs while furiously tapping out a message to Terry saying that she would be very late for work. In a flash she had showered, changed, perfumed and was about to race out the door when she spotted two items on the coffee table in the living room.

One was the code slicer. The other was a scrap of crumpled paper. She picked up the paper and again saw the numbers that Daniel had scrawled there in pen. He was clever, putting the number on paper and not somewhere digital. A piece of paper could make it through Central Admin's security without a problem, provided it was stuffed into a good hiding place. Seeing the numbers again caused some of the panic to return though, and it was only with a good deal of effort that she kept her breathing normal and her hands from shaking. She pushed the paper into the front of her blouse, then picked up the code slicer and pondered it.

Would Central Admin's security personnel find it and ask about it? She honestly couldn't be sure. However, she remembered her tablet commex in its bag in her car and figured if she dropped it in there then it would simply be viewed as some sort of peripheral device. Computers pretty much defined her job description, anyways. Also, ever since Terry's little directive to the security personnel on Anna's first day, they had been reluctant to perform the full frisking procedure. She figured she had the Secretary to thank for that little tidbit. She bit her lip, decided she would have to give it a try, and raced out the door.

She rode in an enervated daze on autodrive all the way to the Central Admin complex, mulling over what Daniel had tasked her to do. She was not sure exactly how she was going to do what he wanted; she wasn't even sure that what he was looking for was real, let alone able to be discovered. She cursed and stared blankly out the window as the car slipped quietly into D.C. and found its own way into the underground parking garage. At least her hunch was correct: as she entered the main building she was only given a perfunctory scan and waved on her way. The guard didn't even give her tablet bag a second glance.

Even as she rode the elevator to her floor she had not decided what to do with the numbers. Daniel had suggested using the lonely IT department head as an opening but she was not quite as sanguine as he that it would be that simple. She briefly considered turning the numbers in to the Secretary, throwing herself on his understanding and hoping for the best, but the specter of being firebombed by Verité's hackers reared its head and she put it out of mind. Central Admin was paranoid, probably too paranoid for mercy or understanding.

It was two numbers, simple enough. Daniel only said he wanted to know the status of the two females and that was it. Nothing more. She suddenly had a thought: once the threat of blackmail had been lifted, she could tell Adam then and explain what happened. The only problem with that, though, was that Anna had gotten the suspicion from Daniel's attitude last night that he had a mole in Central Admin. How else could he have known about her conversations with Dr. Jarrod, about her code slicer, and all the other various tidbits he knew about her?

Deep in the midst of these musings she was startled when she collided headlong into someone and almost toppled over. She shook off her distraction and saw the rumpled shape of Dr. Jarrod, his glasses askew on his nose and his coat twisted. She was also surprised to find herself in the hallway near Terry Garnham's office.

“I am so sorry, Doctor!” she stammered. “I didn't see you coming.”

“Perfectly all right, Miss McLean, perfectly all right!” he replied, beaming despite the collision. He straightened his coat and glasses and beckoned to her. “I was about to ask Officer Garnham myself if you were coming in today, but here you are! Come, you really must follow me to my lab. You were summoned to the Secretary's office last night so I worked mostly by myself, and I had a bit of a breakthrough!”

“That's good,” Anna replied absently. She remembered why she had wandered to this part of the building in the first place, to give Terry the best possible excuse she could think of for being late. She began to edge past the doctor but he blocked her with his stocky frame and smiled.

“You are not ecstatic at this news?” he asked with a chuckle. “You, Annalise McLean, the one who has salivated for this chance for years, and you are not even interested in hearing more about it?”

Anna tried to smile back. “I'm so sorry, Doctor, I had a bad night and I'm late and I need to report in with Officer Garnham before I really do anything today. Please let me go by?”

Dr. Jarrod reluctantly stood to the side and waved her on. “By all means, go, yes, but hurry to my lab as soon as you can allow. I used the algorithm you suggested earlier this week and I am already getting results. You should be excited!”

“I am, and I'll be there soon, just give me a bit.”

The short man shrugged. “Very well. You know where to find me.” He turned and disappeared around the corner.

Anna steeled herself and approached Terry's office. It hadn't even been a full work week yet and she was late. She saw Terry sitting at her desk and with a rap on the glass door, let herself in.

Terry immediately stood as Anna entered. “I got your message. There is no need for an explanation. The Secretary himself told me you had a bit of heavy news last night and might need the next day or so to sort it out.”

Anna blinked in surprise, then felt her stomach convulse at the irony of the situation. Heavy news indeed. Just not the kind that Adam or Terry think. She smiled weakly at Terry and turned to leave, but she heard her orientation officer ask with some concern, “Are you all right, Anna?”

“Yes,” Anna replied in her most convincing tone, turning back. “Why wouldn't I be?”

Terry bit the inside of her cheek and Anna could tell she was holding something back. Then the blonde woman shrugged and sat back down. “You just looked like you hadn't gotten any sleep, that's all.”

“Oh.” Anna could think of nothing more to say so she exited Terry's office and rushed down the hall to the office that had been set aside for her. It was more of an afterthought, since she would be spending so much time in the lab with Dr. Jarrod, but it was a serviceable office space. After checking to see which security cameras watched her office, she sat down at the desk, woke the computer up, then sat with hands folded thinking.

Suddenly a plan began to formulate in her head and she pulled her tablet out of its case and turned it on. Coding and hacking were what she was specialized in, and despite the fact that she was being blackmailed into doing this the thrill of making it work took over and she found herself feverishly typing on the tablet.

If the IT department head was indeed lonely, then a bit of social engineering would work perfectly on him. He had secure access to all the servers in the building she could ever want to hack into. He would just need the proper motivation to open an infected file sent by her. Which meant she needed an excuse to visit him in person, a chance to charm him a bit and maybe over-promise and under-deliver on a fake personal connection. She almost smiled as she finished typing and slid the tablet onto her desk. This was almost certain to work, as long as he rose to the bait. She left her office and strolled down a couple halls on her same floor, trying to appear as nonchalant as possible until she reached a room marked Information Technology. She knocked twice and heard a voice from inside shouting to her to enter. She pushed the door open.

Inside were rows and rows of monitors and humming machines, fiber optic bundles disappearing into the ceiling, cooling fans running. In front of the main desk sat two men, one turned away from the door working on something, and the other with his feet up on the desk with a paper container of Chinese food in his hand and chopsticks clutched awakwardly in his other. He was a balding, plump thirty-odd man with a bad comb-over and a greasy clean-shaven face, and had the chopsticks up to his mouth in mid-slurp as she entered the room. Grease from the noodles had dropped onto his shirt front and stained it. No wonder he's lonely, Anna thought unkindly.

At the sight of her the man immediately pulled his feet down from the desk and, instead of letting the noodles go the rest of the way into his mouth like a decent person, instead let them drop back into the container with a disgusting plop. He rubbed his hands together and smiled at her. “Uh, hi!”

Anna marshaled a smile and hoped it stuck. “Uh hi yourself,” she replied, doing her best to beam at him. She felt like her effort was unnecessary in the end, though, since he seemed to be ogling her regardless. This whole exercise would be both easier and possibly more annoying than she had anticipated. “I, uh, I just had a question for you. I'm the new recruit, I work in the lab?”

The man nodded enthusiastically. “It was Annalise McLean, yes? Your name? Somebody mentioned it to me earlier. Good to finally meet you! So what did you need to know?”

Anna felt on firm ground now. “Well, I don't know if you knew, but I used to work IT over at HomoGen and-”

“At HomoGen?” the man exclaimed. “That is exciting! I've tried applying for that position before, got turned down, not sure why. I'm one of the best, you know.”

“I didn't know,” Ann replied, trying to hide her amusement. Lonely was the wrong word. Desperate more firmly captured this man's demeanor. “But I'll keep it in mind.” She wasn't sure why she threw in that last bit. Flattery, maybe? She was fairly sure he would take it as flirting.

The man kept rising to her bait. “Oh good! Maybe even a good word would help. But, sorry for interrupting, what was your question?”

Anna forced another smile. “When I used to work for HomoGen, the biotech people would utilize the network to run certain calculations and procedures, and whenever they did it they had to check first so that their simulations didn't interfere with our virus checks. The whole network would slow down if they did.” She put on her sweetest, most innocent attitude and leaned on the door frame. “I'll be working with Dr. Jarrod today possibly running our own network simulations and I wouldn't want to interfere with your virus checks.”

The man grinned and waved a hand. “Oh, that's perfectly all right! The core network is running on all quantum and optical fiber so it shouldn't be affected at all. The server access might be a bit slower since it runs the traditional digital computers but that doesn't seem to be your concern. And we run a virus and worm check every fifteen minutes. We've got the fastest network around, at least that I know of, and it'll run whatever sim you want at pretty much whatever speed you want.”

Anna grinned wryly at him. It was like watching a male peacock spread its feathers and parade for the female. Very satisfying. She felt like she had made her opening, and was about to exploit it when he beat her to it. “My name is Jim Jarvis, head of the IT department,” he said a bit too eagerly, holding out a hand to her. She tentatively shook it, trying not to recoil at his cold and clammy palms. “Hey, you're a computer tech, I'm a computer tech. We should talk computers sometime over coffee sometime!”

Gotcha. “That might be nice, talking to someone who actually knows his way around a quantum computer,” she pretended to gush. “I'll think about it.”

“Or better yet, we could do Chinese!” Jim replied, holding up the damp paper container. “It's even good for breakfast. You might not think it would be, but it is.”

I might not think that, and I probably never will. Anna suppressed a grimace and wordlessly closed the office door, distrustful that her faux interest could sustain for much longer. She had everything she needed anyways, and strode purposefully back to her office and sat down at the desk. Picking her tablet up again, she typed in the rest of the code she was working on, compiled it with a tap of her finger, and transferred it to her desk computer.

“Now, Mr. Lonely Jim Jarvis,” she said to herself, “just for insinuating that I might like Chinese food for breakfast, here is a virused present for your computer to play with.” She pulled up his profile on the network and found his address, then typed out a vaguely encouraging message and attached her infected file. With a click the message shot off into cyberspace and she sat back and waited.

If her hunch was correct, he would open her file eagerly enough. It was an invite for him to view her deeper profile on the network, and it would populate his digital calendar with her personal contact information. It would also, unbeknownst to him, load a useful little script onto his computer in the background, something his machine would never notice since it would be using his system-level permissions. Once the script loaded, she was in. She sat back and waited.

It was not five minutes before she received an enthusiastic response to her message. She checked her computer and saw that he had indeed opened her file, since his info now populated her work calendar. She smiled with satisfaction and excitement. Eager fool. Now it's time to play. Her script had opened up a port on Jim's computer and all she had to do was plug into it from her own. She pulled the code slicer from her bag and inserted it into the universal data socket on her desktop machine. The device lit up with a flash of white status LEDs and began to warm up.

Now came the fun part. A window appeared on the screen, and a bar across the top read “Incognito Mode.” Whatever she did over the network now via her port connection with Jim's computer would remain invisible to everyone on the network. Only one of the reasons she loved the slicer. She quickly began to type and soon had loaded a key logger program onto Jim's computer, in order to detect his keystrokes. She still needed the password for the secure servers in order to get the files Daniel wanted, and only Jim knew the password. Even the slicer would take a while to break the password on such a heavily monitored system, and she didn't have the time or the patience to do that.

Several more minutes passed before the key logger began sending back information about Jim's typing habits. The first thing he typed turned out to be the address to a porn site, and Anna rolled her eyes with annoyance. Another five minutes elapsed, and still nothing. Anna checked her watch and frowned. The system scanned for viruses every fifteen minutes, and he certainly logged in at least every once in a while to check up on its progress?

Then it began to appear, a row of ten letters and numbers that couldn't have been anything else but a secure password. He was logging into the server access portal. Anna's heart leaped and she copied the text, pulled up the server access portal window herself and pasted the password into the login bar. It had all been too easy. She tapped ENTER and the server portal opened

Anna's heart began to thud. She could pull anything she wanted to at this point. What was to stop her? Nobody would ever know. She shook her head and closed her eyes briefly. I am only going after the files for Daniel, and then I am done with all of this. She pulled the paper from her blouse. The numbers stared back at her, suddenly ominous. She was unsure of what they really meant, or what females they could refer to, but she was determined to find the relevant files and be done with it.

Which database though? From the portal home page she could see six separate options. One of them was the personnel records database, and she discounted that one right away. The next three were pretty standard government fare: Confidential, Secret, and Top-Secret. The files could be in Top-Secret . . .

She frowned and tapped her fingers on the desk. While she was thinking she pulled up her work calendar window adjacent to the Incognito window, to at least appear to any computer monitoring program on the network that she was doing something perfectly normal. After a wry glance at the calendar with its new picture of Jim Jarvis smiling at her, she returned to the portal window and continued to think.

There were only two databases left. One of them Anna could not decipher at all. It was labeled UCS/MIL, with a small flag next to it describing it as in the beta stage. She shook her head and moved on to the next one. The last one bore the simple title SVC/LEVEL3. She read it twice to be sure and suddenly knew this was the right one. The serial numbers Daniel had given her had both begun with “SVC.” She opened the database and began scrolling through the files.

From the looks of it, every single file on the list was encrypted. That's okay, Anna thought. The code slicer can take care of that later. All she needed to do was find the files and copy them; then the code slicer could work past the encryption at her leisure. She scrolled rapidly through the list and found both files without a problem, then copied them to the code slicer's internal memory. Then she backed out of both the server portal and Jim's computer, after blowing it a derisive kiss. She closed out the entire Incognito session and unplugged the code slicer, leaned back and breathed.

It was done.

With any luck, no one would ever know she had just broken half of the data confidentiality laws in the book. She realized her heart pounded hard in her chest and her hands shook. Usually hacking gave her a heady rush of adrenaline and excitement. But she had never hacked under duress before and the difference was substantial. She slipped the slicer and her tablet into their bag and, after taking one last look over her workstation to be sure she had left nothing amiss, she stuffed the paper back into her blouse and exited her office with what she hoped was an air of nonchalance.

She quickly made her way down to Lab A1A, and as she pushed the door open she saw Dr. Jarrod bent excitedly over his reactive computer, occasionally straightening up to pace about but always coming back to the same pose. When he heard Anna's footsteps he turned and smiled his big toothy smile at her.

“Ah, you are here at last!” he exclaimed. “At least you haven't missed all of the excitement.”

“That's good,” Anna replied, managing a small grin before sitting down at a workbench and looking to make sure she was out of sight of the security cameras. Most of the cameras centered on the reactive computer anyways. She pulled her tablet partway out of its case and powered it on, then plugged the code slicer into the side of it and began the brute force decryption routine. Hopefully sometime today the slicer would break the encryption and she would be able to read the files.

She let the tablet with the slicer attached drop back into its case where it would not be visible, then returned to Dr. Jarrod's side and bent over the computer with him. New code flashed by on the myriad displays and Dr. Jarrod happily tapped away on the keyboard, even whistling while he did so. When he was satisfied he stepped back and looked at Anna.

“I can't believe I hadn't seen it before, Anna. For the longest time I had thought one couldn't employ a Bates-Bigley equation set on a human brain wave but it turns out your suggestion to use it was the correct one. With a little bit of adaptation I managed to change the algorithm for this particular brain wave pattern. It compensates perfectly for the brain's protective mechanisms and pins the proverbial fly to the table, so to speak. I can't thank you enough.”

Anna smiled a real smile this time and felt glad that she was one of the few people that could understand even half of what he had just said. “So do we have a time frame of when we'll be able to see this transfer protocol in action?”

Dr. Jarrod shrugged. “It could be as early as this afternoon, or as late as next week, who knows? But I am confident that it will be sooner rather than later.” He handed Anna a tablet. “Help me write the rest of this code? The computer needs to run the full scan of the brain wave pattern before we can even begin to input data into the brain itself.”

“How long will that take?” Anna asked.

“Probably a couple hours.”

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