So don’t put up with anyone pressuring you in details of diet, worship services, or holy days. All those things are mere shadows cast before what was to come; the substance is Christ.
Drake sheepishly sat back down when both women looked up at him in puzzlement. Armed goons weren’t exactly charging through the doorway. That was just an Indian guy sticking his head in, motioning to Emily.
“This isn’t a good time, Daya,” she told him as she stood and walked over. They consulted for a couple minutes, during which time Marion filled out her notes and Drake gazed around the room.
“Drake,” Marion said in a low, Drake-targeted voice as Emily and the Indian fellow talked. He looked at her.
“Try to look a little less star-struck, if you can, OK?” She hadn’t even looked up, but Drake’s jaw dropped anyway. Mildly Marion glanced up. “And also try to keep your mouth closed if you can. Actually, if you could just not embarrass us at all, that would really be fantastic.”
“I’m not!” Drake protested, wondering how he could have been so transparent. Surely he had not actually let Emily know how strongly she impacted him? “Does Emily know?” His stage whisper carried clearly across the room, drawing a glance from Emily and her companion. Drake smiled weakly.
“I’ll be honest…”a pained look crossed Marion’s face. “The only way she could not know is if she was literally blind. Which, based on the evidence, I’m guessing she isn’t.”
Drake grimaced. Clearly he needed to work on his acting ability. “I’ll be better, I promise.”
“Just be normal.” By which Marion meant not Drake normal, but actually normal.
“I’ll try. Don’t worry.” He flashed a genuine smile. “Come on, it’s me! What’re you worried about?”
Continue reading. “I’m worried because it’s you,” Marion muttered, but before Drake could frame his indignant reply, Emily had returned and was saying something.
Composing himself, Drake pretended this was his high school gym teacher, one Martin Holman. The thought of Mr. Holman calling, with a distinctive drawn-out, rising inflection on the last word of each sentence, “Come on you wimps, you have to ruuuuun. Go faaaster!” to him, rather than this gorgeous, velvet-voiced vision, helped cool Drake down a bit. For a moment Drake lost himself in a memory of Mr. Holman’s class. Mr. Holman sure was good at getting people motivated—and kids loved him; they took him into their confidences more often than other teachers. Drake, though, had always felt a little nervous around Mr. Holman, as if Drake’s rather immature, embarrassing thoughts were an open book to the 6’1”, 200-pound teacher. It was something about his eyes, and his way of listening without saying anything. It creeped Drake out. –Which made Mr. Holman the perfect person to think of to help Drake keep from making even more of an utter fool out of himself in front of this angel.
Drake composed his face to attentiveness. Marion was asking “…who has write access to the source code?”
“Oh, man,” Emily sighed. “Tons of people. Too many to name easily. Different teams work on specific sections of the project, of course, but anybody in any team has access to the whole overall code. They need to at least be able to see it, of course, but most people also can write to it. I’ve always thought this was a too many cooks situation, but the management wanted it that way, so there we have it.”
“And a poisoner among the cooks,” Drake added, drawing a surprised glance from the pair of women.
“Exactly,” Emily agreed, nodding. “Everybody wants perfect security—an operating nobody can hack, period. The problem is, hackers are extremely clever, and we can’t think of every possible way they might try to attack our operating system. We simply cannot account for every possibility in the code, saying ‘protect against X attack,’ or something. Besides,” she added, “Sometimes the customer really isn’t interested in paying for the extra security. I mean, for the Home version of the OS, are those users really going to worry about having high-level secrets stolen from them? It’s not likely. They just want to feel protected from your average malicious virus, Trojan, or worm. We build some of that functionality in, but keeping the system updated is the user’s responsibility. We issue patches for known security holes or to protect against attacks, but we can’t force the user to implement the patch.”
“Sure,” Marion agreed, “But this isn’t a hacker’s attack or an inadvertent security breach of some sort. Our guys thought it looked intentional, specific. And only somebody within Titan Software could have planted this code.”
“I have to agree,” Emily admitted, “there’s no other reason for it to be there except to grant root privileges to users not normally allowed access to the system.”
Drake thought about that for a minute. “Who wrote this section of code?” he asked.
“That’s the point,” Marion answered impatiently. “If we knew that—”
“No,” Drake interrupted. “I meant this overall section.”
“I’m ultimately responsible for it,” Emily answered, looking frustrated. “But I’m sure I don’t remember this specific code… Certainly I didn’t write it. It’s very specific, and also very clever. Even fairly close scrutiny wouldn’t bring it to light unless you were looking for it.” She shot the N.U.N.S. duo a sharp glance. “Why were you looking for it?”
Drake and Marion exchanged glances. It probably couldn’t hurt to tell her, and she might provide some kind of insight they lacked. Drake answered: “First it was the stoplights in Seattle.”
“Oh, the wacky behavior that happened like a week ago?” Emily, a Seattle city resident, remembered the incidents. She had had trouble getting through intersections on her bike for fear the light would turn green the other way before she could cross. “I remember that. Freaky.”
“Yeah, that,” Drake affirmed. “We started looking into it because the DPW couldn’t find a hardware problem. But we found out they had just upgraded to the new Light Box 2007 operating system immediately before the lights started going haywire.”
“Suspicious,” Emily admitted.
“Very,” Marion put in. “We confiscated a computer from some kids who seemed to be controlling the lights, and when our computer whizzes noticed this anomalous code, we knew we needed to talk to you.”
Emily put her hands on the table, clearly holding them still by conscious effort. In the silence, Drake watched those slender, pale hands on the glass and wondered if they felt as soft and silky as they looked. When she took them away, he saw that she had left two sweaty handprint outlines behind on the cool tabletop.
When Emily sighed, it sounded exhausted, as if she had aged ten years in the last ten minutes. “Yes, I wrote that section of code in general, almost totally on my own. I don’t think many other people accessed it—and we have a strict document control program that lets us keep track of who accesses a document. I think we should be able to backtrack to find out who else worked on it.”
“That would certainly narrow things down,” Drake hurried to say, before Marion could throw something depressing and repressive into the conversation. “We have some other leads we need to pursue—” he ignored Marion’s sharp glance at the lie “—but if you can follow up with that and we can meet again to see what you’v
“That would be good,” came the young woman’s downtrodden reply. She didn’t sound enthusiastic about the prospect of trying to hunt down a fellow employee who planted malicious back doors in Titan Software’s latest product. Then again, Drake realized, she would probably spend her whole day at work wondering if this particular person she chatted with had slipped the code in.
“Don’t worry,” he told her. “Who knows? Maybe whoever wrote this code has a good reason for it.” Quickly he amended that, “Well—of course they have a good reason. I meant a reasonable reason. Er…”
“I know what you mean.” Emily smiled wanly. “Thanks, but it’s hard to imagine any innocuous reason for that section of code.”
Drake ruefully looked at her across the table. It seemed all too true, but he hated to leave with her so clearly miserable. He took his courage in his hand and, trying to ignore Marion’s very solid presence next to him, said, “Listen, Emily…”
“Well!” Marion exclaimed, clicking her briefcase shut definitively, “I think Drake and I have taken up enough of your time. I’m sure you’re very busy these days.” She stood, drawing Drake up with her, and proffered a small white card to their hostess. “Here’s my card. You can reach me at this number pretty much any time.”
The young security expert stood with them. “I’m only a little busy these days,” she replied with a look that said, “More than you can imagine,” then took the card and added, “Thank you.” She walked them back out to the glittering lobby and shook their hands. “It was very nice meeting you, Ms. O’Grady, Mr. Drake.”
“Call me Nix,” Drake put in quickly. No use sticking to formality here.
“Nix,” she amended with a firm nod. “Let’s plan on meeting again in a couple days. I’ll call you if I find anything.”
Drake almost said something about calling anyway, but bit his tongue. He would certainly get an earful from his expressive partner on the way back if he made any overt passes at their Titan Software contact. So he just took a moment to absorb the memory of her loveliness, then smiled politely and followed Marion out to the car.
As they left, Marion turned to him. “That could’ve been much worse. What did you think of?”
“To keep your mind off Ms. Pennyworth,” Marion clarified. Sometimes she wondered about Drake, honestly.
“Oh, that. My high school gym teacher, Mr. Holman. I’m sure he was a great guy, but man, it was like he could see my soul. Nobody misbehaves with him looking like he’s reading your mind, let me tell you.”
“Whatever works,” muttered the experienced mother of four. She’d heard stranger, although if she was Drake, she probably would have thought of that crazy mother of his. After listening to that reedy voice coming through Drake’s phone on the way back from Moses Lake, Marion was devoutly grateful that she had never met, nor ever would meet, Mrs. Drake.
Watching the two N.U.N.S. people leave, Emily heaved a sigh of relief. Oh, they had certainly opened up a whole can of worms with this strange code in her security section, but having that big fellow’s eyes on her all the time… She felt as if a weight had lifted when he finally left. He had seemed nice enough, but all that silent staring! Emily turned back into the depths of the building, mind working furiously. She already suspected that the delightfully helpful Frank, or one of his friends, had planted the code. The question was, why?
When she dodged into the break room for a cup of coffee, Emily found herself face to face with Frank himself. “Hey,” she said, sounding unconvincing even to herself.
“Hi there,” Frank replied, grinning genuinely. “You look wiped. You OK?”
“I don’t know,” Emily admitted candidly, stirring cream and sugar into her coffee without thinking. “I just had a very disturbing meeting, and I’m not sure what I’m going to do about it.”
“Do you want any advice? I’m a fount of wisdom, you know.” Frank sat at the break room table and started peeling a banana. His look invited her to join him, and to her surprise, Emily sat.
“A fount of wisdom, huh? Who says so?”
“Me,” he answered promptly, “and Haytham, and Daya, and Ana.”
“Did they follow your advice?”
“Well, I can’t say that they did,” Frank admitted with pretend ruefulness. “But that’s probably okay; nothing ended in disaster.”
They sat for a while in companionable silence, which also surprised Emily. She wondered if she had misjudged Frank by suspecting him. He was really just a nice guy, friendly and normal. Emily couldn’t help but feel a little drawn to him, although she could hardly say why. His dark hair, blue eyes, and outfit of T-shirt and jeans were perfectly average, but he was physically in fantastic shape from his bicycle commuting. For a second Emily wondered if he worked out, but then realized he must—chest and arm muscles that defined do not develop by themselves.
Then, spontaneously, Emily decided to trust him. She simply could not imagine him planting this clever, malicious secret back door in her beautiful code. Frank was a programmer at heart, she felt, a man who could appreciate an elegant solution and hated kludges as much as the next person. This back door code was certainly elegant, but it felt almost overt at the same time, as if saying, “I’m so clever, so sneaky, I’m confident nobody will ever notice me. I don’t need any more protection than sneakiness.” Well, somebody had noticed, and sneakiness had not kept it hidden for long. And it did not seem like Frank’s style of code at all.
So Emily sighed, then drew a breath. “My meeting,” she began, then hesitated. Frank arrested his rise from the table and looked at her keenly. “Was with a couple people from N.U.N.S.”
“Nuns? What do they have to do with computer code?”
“No, N.U.N.S.,” Emily explained. “The National Underground Security Agency. This is the exact kind of thing they routinely uncover. They specialize in catching cyberterrorists and black hat hackers.” She turned the rapidly cooling untouched cup of coffee in her hands, gazing into its smooth brown depths as if for inspiration. “They found what looks like a back door in my security code.”
Looking up, Emily caught a fleetingly wary look flash through Frank’s eyes, a look instantly replaced by simple surprise and skepticism. “A back door? In your code?” The indignation helped her feel a little better, although that flash of—something worried Emily vaguely.
“They showed me the code. It’s very elegant, but it really only has one purpose that I could guess at—letting somebody unauthorized have total access on a machine. And it looked like you could do it via the Internet, without having to even be in person.”
“Cool,” Frank said, then smiled and explained. “Well, it’d have to be a slick piece of code to get by you in the first place, and it sounds almost useful. I mean, imagine if we could access the President’s calendar…” His face became dreamy at the possibility.
Unwilling to play along, Emily refused to daydream. “I didn’t write that code, Frank,” she insisted. “I have to figure out who did, and they’re going to have some serious explaining to do.”
“Oh, I believe you didn’t write it,” her companion quickly agreed. “Didn’t Haytham help you with that part at some point?” Their dark, bearded, stern-looking coworker rarely asked for help, but willingly gave it to others. It seemed a point of pride with him to know everything he could about everything—and he certainly had enough pride to go around.
“Hmmm,” mused Emily. “Yes, I think he mig
ht have at one point. I think he was reading a book on something relating to it… I’ll have to talk to him.” Then, still turning the cup in her hands, she added almost to herself, “But of course I’ll check Doc Control to see who accessed it. That’ll give me the whole list.”
Frank nodded, listening carefully. He watched as Emily straightened up, clearly having resolved her mind on what to do, and took a sip of her now-cool coffee. She grimaced at the flavor. “Not what you expected?” he asked, grinning.
“I hate cream, and I never use sugar,” Emily told him. “Black coffee, it’s the only way to go.”
“But… I watched you put cream and sugar in.” Now he was smiling with genuine amusement. “I’ve seen distracted, but that’s pretty bad.”
Emily had to laugh with him. “Yeah, that is bad,” she admitted. “Well, I guess I’d better get crackin’. This thing won’t deal with itself.” She stood, went to the sink, and emptied the tepid liquid into it with a gurgle. When she turned around, Frank had already left.
Frank knew he only had a few minutes before Emily went to check Doc Control. “Larry, I need some fast help,” he called to his next-door cube mate. The large black man materialized behind him before Frank had even settled into his chair.
“What’s up, bro?” Clearly he had heard worry in Frank’s voice.
“Now N.U.N.S. is onto that code we wrote,” Frank told his friend, careful not to speak to loudly or refer specifically to their incredibly elegant bit of coding. “Jake or somebody put them onto it. Now Emily’s going to check Doc C to see who accessed the code. We need to wipe my fingerprints from that document, and fast.”
Larry looked skeptical, but nodded. “Sure, but it’d be easier to substitute somebody else’s name in than delete all record of your having accessed Emily’s work.”
Now, for the first time, Frank looked at his friend, a devious smile forming across his expressive lips. “Handy that I mentioned that Haytham Al’Areba might have had something to do with it then, huh?”
Impressed, Larry agreed. “Wow, man. That’s thinking on your feet. Okay, let’s get to work. How long do we have?”
“Not long, unless one of us distracts Emily. You got any security-related questions?” Frank was gratified when is good, loyal, true friend answered immediately, “Oh yeah, got a few saved up. I think I’ll go visit in person, shall I?”
“That would be most helpful. Thank you.” Frank turned back to his computer, mind already racing. This would be tricky. Larry would not be able to distract her for long, but it should be long enough for a man who had started hacking computers years ago using his Commodore 64 with a dial-up modem.
Or: My NaNoWriMo profile.