~~~
Day’?s Verse:
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.
Colossians 2:8
~~~

Leaving that evening, Frank sighed with contentment. He and Larry had succeeded in wiping their fingerprints from anything to do with that section of security code. And, stepping outside in his biking gear, Frank saw that it was a beautiful evening, cool and crisp but not too cold. The setting sun turned the whole campus golden, making it look like some high-tech fairyland—which it almost was. Walking over to the covered bike rack, Frank pondered whether he should follow up with Emily. Would a good friend do that?

For a moment he paused in fishing out his bike lock’s key from the waterproof Bike Tourer Ortlieb panniers attached to his bike rack. Was he Emily’s friend? Certainly he wanted to be; he had never wanted to manipulate anyone. In fact, this whole thing really rankled against Frank’s conscience on one level. But with 2006 as the hottest year in recorded history, and 2007 as the worst drought year in the Southwest on record; with the fire season 78 days longer in the western part of the country; with glaciers worldwide shrinking by over 890 cubic miles of ice, and the United States contributing proportionally vastly more greenhouse gasses than reasonable and refusing to sign the Kyoto Protocol—and with a lunatic like George W. Bush holding the reins for another long year—well, Frank felt like he had to act. There wouldn’t be any forests left to despoil, any endangered species left to kill, or coral reefs left to overheat, if he (Frank) sat quietly, writing letters to politicians. He had to squash the small concerns in pursuit of the larger goal.

No, Frank thought resolutely. He never wanted to lie to Emily or hurt anybody, but the environment and future generations needed his intervention. The world—and EarthFirst!—needed his help, and he was ideally placed to be a lynchpin in their current plan. Checking his watch, he noticed that today was Monday, November 12. The World Business and Energy Conference started tomorrow; how he wished he could be in downtown Seattle with his confederates when it started! He sighed. Alas, somebody had to stay and act normal. Certainly with Emily concerned about this code, he couldn’t afford to arouse any suspicions at the moment.

Unlocking his gleaming Roubaix and walking out to the parking lot, Frank smiled. He was doing the right thing, and he knew it. He flicked on his rear and front blinking lights, checked the pannier attachments, and did his standard pedal-step-mount start. Gliding out into Titan Software’s long driveway, Frank glanced to the side and saw Emily coming up on her Terry bicycle. He knew she had a fairly long commute herself, so he slowed up for a moment.

“Hey there,” he called as she drew abreast of him. She wore bike shorts and a waterproof long-sleeved jacket with a bulging Timbuk2 bag hanging off her right shoulder.

“Hey,” she said, pedaling along smoothly. “Heading out?”

“Yep,” he agreed. “Long ride home?”

“A ways,” she admitted modestly—he could tell she was secretly proud of her bicycling accomplishment, and he inwardly grinned—“but it’s all on the Sammamish Trail and the Burke Gilman Trail.”

They pulled up to the stoplight at the end of the driveway and waited for the light to register their presence. Frank noticed that, despite her not-so-professional bicycling demeanor, she stopped at the light smoothly, checking traffic with an experienced eye.

“That sure would be nice,” Frank commented. “I’m going to Snohomish, but it’s almost all regular roads. I do pick up the Sammamish Trail for a bit here, though.”

“That sucks, about the roads,” Emily commiserated. “But at least we can ride together for a while.” She seemed happy about it, and Frank found himself pleased to have the company as well. Sure, she would slow him down, but he could make up for it later. The light turned green then, and they were off, signaling right turns out onto the road, riding single file just on the left of the white line.

“At least this road is paved well,” Emily called up to him. A paving crew had come through not two months before, putting down a velvet-smooth layer of asphalt that made Frank itch for a fast ride. He hollered back an agreement, knowing that as the rear bicyclist, Emily probably couldn’t hear him very well. They rode east to the Sammamish River Trail, picking it up near the broad-lawned Marymoor Park. Emily, Frank noticed, was a very law-abiding bicyclist, signaling each turn diligently, pausing at all stop signs, waiting at all stoplights.

When they reached the trail, Frank called, “I’m going to go now,” and, not waiting for her assent, pushed on. He felt the rush of wind against his face, heard the whirr of his tired and the smooth flow of his clean chain and gears, and grinned inwardly. Those poor saps who drove missed out on all this! Then, with a burst of anger, he slammed on the brakes and dodged left around a mother with a stroller and her small child on a tricycle. They needed to watch out for bicyclists like himself, who were really trying to get somewhere.

Continue reading.As he hit his stride, Frank checked his speedometer. A steady 22 miles an hour on this flat trail would bring him home hardly winded. He whizzed by another bicycle commuter, the flashing light and backpack a blur as he put on some speed to get around the slow dope. That jerk was way out in the middle of the trail! If people didn’t follow the rules and stick to the right where they belonged, Frank thought, somebody was bound to get hurt. Whizzing along, he didn’t see a 15 MPH sign as he passed commuters, dog-walkers, and joggers out enjoying the unusually beautiful, sunny evening. The Sammamish Slough sluggishly paralleled his path, its murky brown water reminding Frank of why the Army Corps of Engineers should never be allowed to put its interfering fingers in anything natural. The original river had probably been a home for water plants, fish and waterfowl; now, even hardy plants couldn’t survive in the lightless water.

Suddenly Frank slammed on the brakes, yelling loudly in anger as he came up behind a jogger running with a girl on rollerblades. The stupid girl was taking up three quarters of the trail all on her own, and she seemed to ignore his repeated shouts. He slowed, losing momentum, until finally the jogger glanced behind and said something to the girl. The girl dropped back and Frank stepped on it, shooting by them with a curse. The people out tonight, honestly! It would take him forever to get home at this rate.

In downtown Woodinville, Frank turned off onto 175th Street, maneuvering skillfully across the walkways of Wilmot Gateway Park to reach the road. Several pedestrians walking their dogs jerked their pets tightly, stepping off the sidewalk to avoid Frank’s speeding form. He dodged through the cars in the small parking lot and zipped onto the street just in front of a large cement truck, which honked at him. He gave the driver a one-fingered salute, anger at the driver’s attitude filling him momentarily. But in this beautiful evening, anger slipped quickly away from Frank as he breathed deeply. This was the trickiest part of his ride, as he competed with heavy traffic along the narrow, rough-edged Highway 9 on his way home. Traffic crept along slowly, and Frank edged by them along the narrow shoulder, trying to keep up his speed as best he could.

Suddenly a car jerked out of the line of traffic, turning right into a hidden driveway just in front of Frank. Aga
in Frank slammed on his brakes, simultaneously shouting at the top of his lungs and twisting his foot smoothly from its clipless pedal attachment. The car, unable to complete the turn quickly enough, stopped halfway into the driveway. Frank saw that, if he didn’t act immediately, he would hit the side of that idiot. He eased off the brakes, jinked his handlebars quickly to the left, then right again, leaning all the while sharply to the right. This turned his bicycle as swiftly as possible to the right, bringing him into a right turn parallel with the turning car. As he came to a stop, Frank was shaking with anger. How dare that car! He could easily have been killed or crippled, thanks to that inattentive, idiotic driver who hadn’t checked before turning.

For a second Frank thought about giving the white-faced driver—a teenager by the look of it, probably not even legal to drive yet—a piece of his mind, but he decided against it. “Be more careful next time!” he shouted instead, walked his bike around the front of the still stopped car, and stepped back into the road. The rest of the ride proved uneventful; Frank covered his remaining 8.5 miles easily in 25 minutes. Another day, another commute. He felt proud that he, at least, had contributed zero pounds of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere in that entire time.

Preparing her breakfast of English muffins and tea, Marion heard Tom rustle that morning’s edition of The Seattle Times restlessly. “Kids, settle down and eat your oatmeal,” he told the recalcitrant twins. Their youngest daughter stopped squirming and resumed spooning the yogurt-diluted goop into her mouth; her twin sat silent, sullen, refusing to touch his congealing bowl.

Rosie liked oatmeal and mornings; she woke before the crack of dawn most days—not, Marion had to admit, a difficult feat when the sun rose after 7:00—and began chattering almost from the moment her bright blue eyes popped open. Charlie, on the other hand, preferred staying up “late”—until after their 8:30 bedtime—looking at picture book by flashlight under his covers. Sometimes, coming in very late after a long day, Marion would find her young son still awake, wanting to talk about strange things. “Mommy,” he’d asked her as she slipped in to kiss him goodnight at 1:25 am one time, “Why do apples turn brown when you leave them out?”

Amanda, like all teenagers, abhorred waking any time before 11:00 am, and broadcasted her displeasure unmistakably to her parents. But at least she still got up, joining her family around the scarred oak table to sit like a drooping stork, picking at her cereal dispiritedly. Marion could only guess what her oldest son did, and she had no idea what time he woke up. She and Tom had recently discussed asking him to find his own apartment, since he seemed to show no inclination to overcome that inertia of his own accord.

The toaster popped and Marion smiled, thinking that it was how incredible her four children had turned out so completely different from one another. Same genes, radically different combinations.

“Any news?” she asked her husband, coming to the table with a jar of jam and her buttered English muffins. This was their habitual joke, years-long: he usually said “No news,” although he avidly read almost every word in the paper.

Today, however, he said, “The World Business and Energy Conference starts today.” Glancing up from liberally spreading jam over her English muffins, Marion noticed the screaming headline announcing that very fact.

“What time?”

“Doesn’t say,” he replied. “But it really doesn’t matter. Traffic’ll be way worse than usual whenever you go in.”

“I probably should have left at 5:00 this morning,” Marion agreed, musingly. There weren’t many ways to travel from their Juanita home, two miles from Lake Washington, to N.U.N.S. in downtown Seattle. “Maybe a bus would be my best bet.”

Tom glanced at her over the paper. “Take forever,” he noted shortly. Marion nodded thoughtfully, not bothered by his brevity. After eighteen years of marriage, she was used to her husband’s taciturn responses.

“Probably not a lot longer than driving, though,” she said, chewing the last bite of her muffin. “And I could work on the way. I have my laptop.”

“True,” he agreed, apparently absorbed in obituaries. Tom, a part-time firefighter, kept almost morbidly close tabs on recent deaths, an interest Marion had never understood. They all had their quirks.

Quickly finishing her muffin, Marion gathered her dishes and stood. “I guess I’d better get going if I’m going to catch the 234 to the Bellevue? Kirkland? Transit Center.”

She gave each of her children—excepting Amanda, who flinched away and scowled—a peck on the cheek, and with a farewell kiss to Tom, was out the door. A moment later she rushed back in—“Forgot my briefcase!”—and rushed back out again.

Drake walked thoughtfully up the street to the extremely questionable alleyway housing the entrance to the National Underground Security Agency. His normal commute had taken forever, thanks to these strange crowds of people. Eyes darting everywhere, Drake had seen a strange mix of men and women in very drab, conventional pinstriped business suits intermingling with young—and a few not-so-young—people dressed in ragged jeans, with a preponderance of T-shirts bearing logos for environmental groups, many of whom Drake had never heard (“Blue Waters, Green Earth,” one shirt proclaimed; another simply screamed, “EARTHFIRST!”). Every fourth person or so seemed have the same green shirt on, much like the green shirt he had seen on the people who had hung the gigantic poster from the Space Needle. How odd. Indeed, there just seemed to be many, many more people on the streets than usual. Many of this second group of people carried what looked like rolled up banners. Two men walked by encased in a ten foot long salmon costume, looking a little bit like a living Darwin fish. Everybody seemed headed in the direction of the Convention Center, forcing Drake to struggle against the flow of traffic.

Looking around more carefully, Drake also noticed there seemed a much larger police presence than usual. Normally this part of downtown Seattle, with its air of simple business conduct, didn’t see too much trouble, at least not during daylight. Drake automatically warded off a homeless person trying to sell him a $1 newspaper, adroitly avoiding stepping on the man’s extremely cute, remarkably clean-looking mutt, and moving on without even thinking about the encounter.

As he neared the alleyway, Drake glimpsed his partner just exiting a bus. He paused, waiting for her to catch up, and asked as she drew up next to him, “What’s with all the crowds?”

“WBEC,” she replied, looking into the retina scanner and unerringly entering her PIN.

“A radio station thing? With all these people?” Drake only listened to satellite radio, eschewing broadcast radio with its irritating ads.

“No, silly,” Marion said, “Don’t you read the paper?”

“Not usually,” her partner admitted, punching in the wrong PIN for the third time in a row. “Darn this thing,” Drake muttered. “Can’t ever get my number right. Won’t you just let me in? The retina thingy recognized me.”

In answer, his partner rolled her eyes as she held open the door. “You’ll have to get a new number now, though,” she said. “Three failures and you have to redo it.”

“I know,” Drake groaned, “That’s why I can’t ever remember it—I have to get a new one almost every day.” Marion’s laughter echoed down the stairs as they made their way down to their offices.

Gardner, looking extremely chipper and accompanied by Jake and Jim, unshaven and exhausted-looking, waited for them at the f
oot of the stairs.

“Good morning!” he called, almost before they had reached him. “Our boys finally got source code for all the versions of Light Box 2007, thanks to your visit with that security lady at Titan Software!”

“Her name’s Emily,” Drake said, but his boss never even heard.

“Jim’n’Jake here—” he made their names into one long slur—“Have confirmed that the suspicious code is in all of them.”

“Oh, great,” Drake replied sarcastically. “So that means somebody could take over all the computers they wanted, not just the Elite version ones, huh?”

“Yep,” Gardner agreed, still outrageously cheerful. “But at least we have a pretty good idea of what it can do now. These boys—” he smacked them on the shoulders, and both shuddered with the impact—“spent all night messing about with it.”

“Not messing about,” Jim disagreed. “I need coffee.”

“Strong coffee,” Jake agreed. “I need strong coffee. And I don’t even like coffee.”

“Coming right up,” Gardner told them, hurrying back down the long hallway to tell his secretary to get something extremely powerful from the closest coffee shop. The four people left standing in the dimness at the bottom of the stairs just looked at one another for a while.

“Well, how bout if you show us what you found?” Marion asked, taking the dazed-looking Jim by the arm. “How does this thing actually work, anyway? What could you do with it? Would it let you control street lights?”

“Or the spillways on the Grand Coulee Dam?” Drake put in, following them down the hall, Jake in tow.

“Wait a sec, dude,” Jake said, stopping in his tracks. Drake paused, seeing a dawning panic in his coworker’s face. “What day—what time is it?”

Drake checked his gunmetal black Yes Zulu 4.0 watch. “It’s Tuesday, November 13, 9:23 am. Do you want to know what time it is in Tokyo? I still have that…” His voice faded as Jake’s howl interrupted him.

Then the young man was sprinting down the dim hall towards his work area, shouting something about an 8:00 midterm exam. Drake followed more slowly, grateful he had never worried about classes that much in college. Sure, he had graduated from Worcester Polytechnic Institute with a Civil Engineering degree, but Drake had never been one to stress out about academics. “All I know,” he sang to himself as he meandered down the hallway, “Is work is easy when I don’t worry about deadlines.”

He arrived in Jim’s area just in time to stand aside for the flurry of Jake and his accompanying paraphernalia. He caught some mutter about “explain… saving the world… evil professor…” as the rush of Jake’s passage whooshed by him. Then the college intern had disappeared up the stairs, and Drake turned to look at Jim, Marion, and Gardner, all gathered in Jim’s small office area.

The three computers they had confiscated were all spread higgledy-piggledy across Jim’s desk, the two laptops showing a plain sign-on screen. The computer from the Grand Coulee Dam was battered, but Drake felt a glow of pride when he saw that its monitor, too, showed a standard sign-on screen as well.

“So that still worked, huh?” he asked, indicating the scraped black case.

“Yep,” Jim agreed. “I guess Dell really knows how to build ’em, eh?” He grinned, but Drake returned a steely glare. Dell had built it tough enough to withstand going over a dam? He hardly thought that was why it still worked today. With a sniff, he inched further into the crowded room.

“Anyway,” Gardner said, “Let’s get back to the topic on hand, shall we?”

“I was just asking, before I got interrupted,” Marion said, shooting Drake a glance, “Were you able to use this back door to get onto all three of these computers and control them completely?”

“Absolutely,” Jim told them. “Let me show you. This is the computer we got from the stop light kids. See, right now, these are running normally, plugged into the Internet and everything. But I don’t access to it, right?” He typed in his username and a password. A box appeared on the screen: ERROR. USER NAME OR PASSWORD INCORRECT. CHECK TO BE SURE CAPS LOCK IS NOT ON AND TRY AGAIN.

“OK, so you don’t have access,” Gardner agreed, watching avidly, hands twined tightly in his lap. Marion had her yellow legal pad out and was scribbling more notes, glancing up frequently.

“Right. So I put in my username—J1M—and then for the password I press Control… Alt… Alt… and then I hit Control-Shift-X all at once, followed by Delete…” he typed for a second longer. The screen turned black, with the word /root in white at the top of the screen, and a blinking cursor beneath it. Then he typed again, and the cursor moved along, displaying:

id –G J1M

The screen quickly displayed another line beneath Jim’s typing:

uid=1355(J1M) guid=6985(J1M) groups=1(root), 8602(users)

“So?” Drake asked, impatient to go hunt for the muffins that Gardner’s secretary always brought in fresh from the local bakery.

“So,” Jim told him patiently, “I have not only logged on to this computer when I have no right to do so, but I also have super user access there.”

Marion and Gardner exchanged impressed glances. “Wow,” she said, eyebrows climbing into her neatly combed bob.

“Indeed,” agreed her boss, pursing his lips thoughtfully. “That was the Elite version?”

“Yes, but it works on all the different versions. We’ve tried them all.” Jim fiddled with one of the laptops for a moment. “And we’ve checked the source code for all the versions, and it’s there…” He paused, confused. “Did I tell you that already?”

Gardner smiled gently. “You’d better get some sleep, pal. You’ve had a very long night.” Jim nodded and began shutting down his standard work computer. “Don’t worry about that,” Gardner told him. “Just go home, and we’ll take care of it.”

“Thanks,” Jim said, looking suddenly very pale, with heavy black shadows beneath his eyes. “I’ll just be in tomorrow, OK?”

“See you then,” Gardner agreed. As Jim made his exit, Gardner stood and gathered Marion and Drake in his wake. When they reached his office, Drake’s heart sank: Only a few sad crumbs remained of the muffiny feast he had hoped for. Oh well. There were always free cookies at lunch time, anyway…

Seated in Gardner’s scarcely-lit office once again, Drake and Marion waited. Marion’s hands rested on her heavily annotated pad of yellow legal paper, the concrete evidence of her and Drake’s visits with Mr. Vilay at Washington State Department of Transportation manager, Leo Chief at the Grand Coulee Dam, and Emily Pennyworth at Titan Software.

“You two have certainly kept busy the last few days, haven’t you?” Gardner asked. “Doing a little more talking than usual, eh?” His jovial tone softened what sounded to Drake like a covert criticism of Drake’s often more proactive responses to dangerous situations.

“Yessir,” Drake said, stifling a small pang of hurt. He did his best, after all. “Even so, we still don’t have any strong leads on the person behind this whole thing.”

“You think one group is responsible?” Gardner tented his fingers, pressing the two index fingers together against his lips in thoughtful concentration.

“We don’t honestly know,” Marion told him frankly. “However, the way this code is written—Ms. Pennyworth told us that it was really masterful, and hardly noticeable unless you were looking for it—it can only have been planted by somebody inside Titan Software.”

“That narrows it down some,” Gardner nodded. “Do you have a plan for narrowing that field any more?”

Drake suddenly remembered something Emily had said, which, thanks to his mind-clearing memories of Mr. Holman, he recalled with clarity. Sitting up straighter, Drake said, “Emily—I mean, Ms. Pennyworth told us they had some version control program that logged every user who accessed a specific document. She hoped that by checking that database, she could see everyone who edited that section of code. It could really only be those people, sir.”

“And you don’t suspect Ms. Pennyworth herself?” Gardner’s dark eyes glinted, his keen gaze pinning Drake uncomfortably.

“I don’t think so, sir. She seemed genuinely surprised at seeing that section of code.” Even as he said it, the defense sounded weak in Drake’s ears. What if she had written that code, and was just a supremely good actress? His baby blue eyes widened in horror as the thoughts tracked clearly across his handsome face.

Marion took pity on him. “We don’t have any evidence it wasn’t her, sir, and we’ll certainly keep a watch on her. But I have a gut feeling she knew as much about this code as we did—nothing, that is, until we brought it to her attention. I’m confident she didn’t intend to leave this back door open.”

Nodding, still with his fingers pressed thoughtfully against narrow lips, Gardner leaned forward. “But can we trust whatever she gives us, with no way to verify it?”

Suddenly Drake had one of those epiphanies that mark the simplest, but often best, ideas. “I suggest a background check, sir. It wouldn’t take too long, and it should show if she has any suspicious inclinations.”

“Excellent idea,” Gardner approved. “I’ll buy that. If she’s just a normal girl who pays her taxes and doesn’t hang out with Green Peace or known Muslim terrorists, I’ll trust her.”

Marion’s smile of approval warmed Drake from head to toes. He felt confident that the saintly Emily had no skeletons in her closet. A girl like her probably had never even gotten drunk underage in college. He stood up, eager to get the process started. “When I’m done, Marion, you want to get in a little shooting practice? I’m getting rusty. It’s been days.”

“Sure,” Marion assented, also rising. She smoothed her slacks and sweater. “If you don’t mind, sir, I’m going to get these notes typed up.”

Or: My NaNoWriMo profile.

KF quality

3 thoughts on “Action Novel: Day 10

  1. I feel like the believability is wearing a bit thin. I can accept “Nix” sliding down the face of a dam and surviving, but you just can’t change the logs of a source code control system these days. Companies had these kind of problems fifteen years ago, and the software has adapted.

  2. OK, thanks for the tip. I guess a clever villain would probably just have stolen somebody else’s login information anyway, so he would just avoid that problem in the first place. I’m going to leave it as is for now (I need the words!) but I’ve highlighted it and will go back and fix it when I’m done.

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