Friday, July 22, 2016

Bent, not Broken, Part 5

They were back in Chi's living room with fresh sodas, and it was time for Kim to continue her story.

“It was fairly easy tracking Phelps down,” Kim said. “The file gave the location of the facility he'd been working in at the time, and from there the legwork was easy. He'd moved around a bit, but we live in an age of facebook and forwarding addresses.

“I found him less than a week after I started looking and by three and a half months ago I was already planning my attack on the facility where he worked.”

“Didn't want to pay him a home visit?” Chi asked.

“Look, I've stolen a hoverjet, run up a black flag, and declared war on the world. I wanted to have our meeting where I could do the most damage and that is not someone's bedroom,” Kim said.

“When did you steal a hoverjet?” Chi asked.

“Not too long ago, we haven't gotten there yet.”

“And the black flag is metaphorical, right?”

“Pretty much.”

“So, where were we?” Chi asked.

∗ ∗ ∗ ∗
~~Three And A Half Months Ago~~
∗ ∗ ∗ ∗

Kim held a cobbled together device with an ever growing number of sensors that she'd finally given the name “The Receiver”. It was showing her massive amounts of activity in every conceivable form.

The first thing she picked up was something she'd never really intended the Receiver to detect, but some fiddling revealed it to be regular sonic pulses. A key feature in any active sonar system, but not something one expected to encounter at that range on land. Instead of the ultrasonics used by some motion detectors, Kim first picked up infrasonic pulses.

Unexpected meant that would-be infiltrators wouldn't be checking for or countering it. Kim had no way of gauging how well it worked, but she knew that certain bats were able to do impressive things with the same means.

She did eventually pick up ultrasonics, but the next thing she picked up was infrared. She'd intended the receiver to pick up infrared transmissions, but what she was getting was a flood of incoherent infrared. Spotlights. Invisible to the human eye but doubtless keyed to the same wavelength as cameras monitoring the area. Trying to approach at night would be practically the same as coming in bright daylight as far as anyone monitoring the feeds from the security cameras was concerned.

The mircowave bursts didn't come as much of a surprise. If someone was going to use low frequency echolocation, why not also install compact surveillance radar?

When she finally got a look at the building it was a fortress. Every door screamed to stay out, the windows didn't look all that impressive in themselves but given the look of the frames Kim was convinced that she'd need explosives to get through them. Plus they were tinted so Kim had no idea what might be hiding behind them.

Visible cameras covered every conceivable angle, even more could be hidden behind the windows or in architectural features meant to look innocuous that Kim could tell were hiding something.

Guards patrolled inside and outside of the fence on a mix of regular and intermittent patrols that seemed to make any attempt at learning where the guards would and would not be impossible.

The fence itself gave Kim pause. At first glance it seemed unassuming, as far as barbed wire fences went. Six and a half feet of chain-link, a barb wire triangle at the top: three strands angled out to prevent intrusion, three strands angled in to prevent escape. Additional glances made it look far more menacing. Kim suspected that the reason it was topped with barbed wire rather than razor wire was to cause would-be intruders to underestimate it.

After what felt like hours of squinting through cheap foldable binoculars she'd stolen from a nearby mall, Kim tentatively concluded that the fence had at least three hidden security systems. First, each pole seemed to have modified pressure sensors that would detect any weight, like say that of a human being, on the fence. Second, certain levels of the chain-link had wires, which would doubtless sound an alarm if cut, running along them. They were, naturally, spaced too close together for a human being to fit between. Third, wires of another sort made Kim suspect the fence could be electrified at the touch of a button. A fence was grounded by default, but if the chain-link base was LLDPE-coated rather than galvanized . . .

While the facility was secluded in a wooded area, the forest was cut back ten feet from the fence. Instead of cover there was perfectly manicured lawn on all sides of the fence, once one got inside the fence there was far too much open air to even hope of sneaking in.

As for the actual communications that Kim had designed the Receiver to intercept, Kim hadn't cracked the encoding yet, but she was picking up so many transmissions that she knew all of the guards must be checking in at regular, and short, intervals to make sure a neutralized guard wouldn't go undetected for long.

This was not going to be as easy to get into as the records facility. This didn't even feel like a Global Justice base. GJ was never this good.

∗ ∗ ∗ ∗
∗ ∗ ∗ ∗

“Remind me again why you couldn't just do an in-home visit,” Chi said.

Kim took a deep breath.

“Look, you have to at least try to understand my state of mind. It was bad enough when I became untouchable for 'stealing' a PDVI that never existed, then I went to trial where no one from my past showed up on my behalf. No one. Not a single person I'd helped, not a single person I'd been friends with, not a single person I'd saved, and no family. Not even cousin Larry.

“It felt like everything I'd done had been for nothing. Like I'd traded my life away for a few free rides. Like there had been no value in doing good.

“Then five years in prison without so much as a postcard from anyone. Finally I get out and there's no one. No one at all. No friends. No family. Nothing.

“I didn't just want to get to the bottom of who framed me and why, I wanted to make people hurt.”

Chi just nodded.

“Anyway,” Kim said, “The facility that was fronting for Global Justice was supposedly a toy company.”

“Playtronics?” Chi asked.

“You overestimate their taste,” Kim said.

∗ ∗ ∗ ∗
~~Three And A Half Months Ago~~
∗ ∗ ∗ ∗

Kim thought about all of the security from deep enough in the woods that she'd be utterly indistinguishable from a deer no matter how closely someone on the facility grounds happened to be looking.

Finally she said, “Toy company my ass,” and walked back toward the absolute edge of where she could safely go.

∗ ∗ ∗

Making a catapult from a sapling was easy. Making a catapult that no one would recognize as such after it had gone off? Harder. Making such an undetectable catapult so that it would go off on a delay? Nothing is impossible.

If Kim wanted to get in she had to know what happened when the alarms went off. Thus unrecognizable catapult on a delay.

∗ ∗ ∗

Kim watched from atop a distant tree as multiple teams from inside the facility searched the area where her catapult had set off the motion sensors. The guards were good. They worked in teams of three, checked in regularly, searched as if their lives depended on finding what they were looking for, and took a very long time to call things off as a false alarm.

The use of teams from inside the facility meant that the alarm didn't open any holes anywhere else in the security coverage. When they'd all finally gone back inside, Kim went to set off an alarm in a new area.

∗ ∗ ∗ ∗
∗ ∗ ∗ ∗

“The second time they did an even more detailed search.” Kim said. “It convinced me that I should fall back. I did manage to key into their frequency and encryption though, so the third time I was listening to their radios rather than watching them. That let me do my observation from public land out of any line of sight.

“Their energy didn't subside until the fifth search, and even then they kept on going through the motions with all due thoroughness.

“It wasn't until the ninth alarm of the third day that they stopped treating the situation as an attack and called in off-site technicians to see if they could figure out what was going wrong with their security system.”

“That's a while,” Chi said. “If I thought my security might be messed up I'd check out the equipment right away.”

“Oh, they did,” Kim said. “That just made them even more wary when they couldn't find anything wrong with it. They called in the outsiders because because the in-house technicians still couldn't find anything wrong after three days of apparent false alarms.”

“The outsiders were still Global Justice, though, right?” Chi asked.

“Of course,” Kim said, “but 'security system technician' isn't exactly the highest clearance job.”

“Some things never change,” Chi said. “A company has a billion dollar secret and they'll guard it with rent-a-cops they underpay and actively distrust. A government has a secret base, and the soldiers on the outside tasked with keeping it secret don't even know why it's secret or what's done there.”

“Pretty much,” Kim said.

“You bribe the technicians?” Chi asked.

“You think so little of me?” Kim asked in mock annoyance.

“You're a parole violator, a shoplifter, and a trespasser,” Chi said.

“Also a pickpocket,” Kim said, “which is what I wanted the-off site technicians for.”

“How do you pick the pocket of someone in a base you can't reach?” Chi asked.

“By waiting until they're outside of the base,” Kim said. “They made a pit stop on the way home.”

“Bueno Nacho?”

“Smarty Mart.”

∗ ∗ ∗ ∗
~~Three and a Half Months Ago~~
∗ ∗ ∗ ∗

It took hours for the technicians to check all of the sensors that had 'misfired'. Since none of them were malfunctioning that doubtless set off another flurry of briefly stepping up security for fear that the base was being tested by an unknown enemy in preparation for an attack.

Even though Kim was the unknown enemy, she didn't really care about that at this point. She was more concerned with the way the technicians would leave.

Even as she had listened to the guards' chatter about the technicians she had been scouting mundane signs she'd left at intersections on the road leading away from the facility. Chalk here, a fallen stick there, whatever would tell her which way the van had come and thus suggest which way the van would leave.

When she started to lose the guards' chatter she figured she'd scouted to her limits, and retrieved something she had just for the occasion from where she'd stowed it in the woods off the road beyond the facility's security perimeter.

When the technicians packed up in their van and left, she followed them on her scooter-

∗ ∗ ∗ ∗
∗ ∗ ∗ ∗

“Wait,” Chi said, “since when do you have a moped?”

“I don't have a moped,” Kim said. “Any vehicle beyond a short range jet-pack is hard to hide, easy to track, and just plain heavy. It's just that it's a lot easier to follow a motor vehicle when you're moving using a vehicle with a motor. Tailing a van while on foot doesn't work very well.”

“So when did you get the moped?” Chi asked.

“I made it out of parts I found in a nearby junkyard on the second day of setting off the alarms,” Kim said.

“Just your basic average girl,” Chi said flatly.

“So I happen to like mechanical engineering,” Kim responded.

“McGyver and the A-Team combined couldn't do what you do,” Chi said.

“They're not girls.”

“Ok, moving on,” Chi said. “You tailed them to Smarty Mart and then what?”

“Well, for one thing, once I got inside it wasn't exactly hard to figure out who the technicians were.”

“They leave their uniforms on?”

“No, but they might as well have.”

∗ ∗ ∗ ∗
~~Three and a Half Months Ago~~
∗ ∗ ∗ ∗

“. . . because they've got everything tuned so finely it'd pick up an errant field mouse and report it as if it were the invasion of Normandy,” one of the technicians said.

“There needs to be a lower tolerance for the ambient environment,” another of the technicians said in agreement. “It's a miracle the damned things aren't going off constantly because of air currents and Brownian motion.”

“I don't disagree,” a third said, “but you can understand their paranoia. If even one of the stories is true then--”

“They deserve to get invaded,” a fourth said. “But the stories can't be true, can they? We'd never condone that.”

The first said, “Why else would they have everything set up to go off at a--”

“Don't speculate,” the fifth said. “Let's just get the equipment we need and get away from that place.”

“They should have asked us why the alarms weren't going off the rest of the time,” the second grumbled. “That they've been going off recently is their own fault.”

“I told you to stop,” the fifth said. “being within twenty miles of that place makes my skin crawl. We wouldn't have stopped this close to that . . .” the fifth technician seemed to have difficulty finding a word that conveyed sufficient disgust. Eventually the sentence was restarted: “We wouldn't have stopped this close to that place, except that it's on the way back.”

Kim listened to it all as she looked over all five technicians while pretending to be deciding which can of Vienna sausages to buy. She could always break into their van, but it would be easier if one of them-

Bingo. Technician three had a GJ Mobile Database shaped bulge in the right coat pocket.

Kim snatched it without breaking stride as she moved from Vienna sausages to racing drones. Smarty Mart did seem to have everything.

∗ ∗ ∗ ∗
∗ ∗ ∗ ∗

“Why would you need one of those if you'd already cracked their coms?” Chi asked.

“You don't break into GJ facilities much, do you?”

“I break into GJ facilities all the time,” Chi said, “but they're never guarded on the level of the one you're talking about. I've never needed to care about their coms. What the hell was going on in that 'toy company' anyway?”

“Playtypus Toys--”

“Tell me you're joking,” Chi said.

“Unfortunately, no,” Kim said. “Anyway, the reason that my good friend Jacob Phelps ended up there was that in the time since my incarceration GJ had centralized their . . . less than shining operations. Playtypus,” Chi snorted; Kim ignored it, “oversaw operational planning for the entire North American life-ruining wing of of the Global Justice Alliance.”

“Because when I think 'Justice' I think having an entire division dedicated to ruining people's lives,” Chi said.

“The technicians seemed to feel the same way, and once I was tapped into a local GJ network--”

“You were already tapped into their coms,” Chi said.

“I was intercepting the guards' communications,” Kim said. “The guards' coms were made to send signals fast and loud so that they couldn't be jammed, muffled, or interdicted. They had all the subtlety of a scream and all the direction of candlelight.

“They're easy to intercept, which means that they never say anything interesting over that system,” Kim said. “Just stuff like, 'Patrol five checking in three twenty-six PM-'“

“They used twelve hour time?” Chi asked.

“They shifted their method of time telling using a pattern that I never worked out and varied their code words to the degree it was impossible to work out what you'd have to say to fool the person listening. One check-in might be, 'Alfred from Alberta bringing Avocados' while another was 'Kaspersky mates in five.'“

“Given that Americans tend to associate the name 'Kaspersky' with internet security and would default to 'Kasparov' for K-named Russian chess player,” Chi said, “I can see how that would be difficult to figure out.”

“Some of their check-ins involved rigidly sticking to esoteric rules --which most people wouldn't know existed without Google, days to waste, and really strong coffee--” Kim said, “while others were built around blatant falsehoods, for example: 'When the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor'.”

“Well that's a movie quote,” Chi said.

And suddenly something made sense to Kim. “I think I finally figured out the pattern behind their Fibonacci check-ins.”

“They had a special code for when they checked in at a Fibonacci number passed the hour?” Chi asked.

“Yup,” Kim said.

“Are you sure we're talking about GJ?” Chi asked.

“That's how it felt to me too,” Kim said.

“These are the people who poured millions of dollars into the Ron Factor and the Rufus Factor without ever figuring out how to create an agent on either of their levels,” Chi said.

“I know.”

“These are the ones who devoted resources to protecting 'secrets' that weren't secret from people who didn't want to learn them.”

“And yet, somehow, Playtypus,” Kim said.

“Ok,” Chi said, “I give in. The universe makes no sense. Tell me your epic tale of revenge starting with why you needed the tech's mobile database.”

“For all communications of any import GJ uses directed communications,” Kim said. “First an all direction ping is sent out from the initiating device to notify the device it will be communicating with. The receiving device sends a directed ping in response. Once the second ping is received each device knows where the other is and all communications take place in a theoretically direct line between them, though it's actually more of a cone due to the need for tolerance and the nature of wave propagation.”

“Thus meaning that that you have to be between the two devices to intercept the signals,” Chi said. “Better than I expect from GJ.”

“Their hardware's always been good,” Kim said. “Consider the hover-jets, for example. It's their people where they tended to fall down.”


“Anyway,” Kim said, “They maintain multiple different networks so that cracking any one doesn't automatically give away the keys to the kingdom. Top agents get the satellite communications because the odds that someone will be directly between an agent and a satellite to pick up the transmission are exceedingly low.

“Everyone else gets the underground infrastructure, given all the tubes, tunnels, and bases GJ has down there it wasn't exactly hard for them to lay out multiple non-connected but overlapping communications systems. Of course, the signal has to get underground somehow.”

“So you were looking for the above ground station,” Chi said.

“Specifically the area's primary above ground station that connected to particular network being used by the GJ security technicians in the area,” Kim said.

“And once you had the Mobile Database all you had to do was make two connections from a sufficient distance apart and you'd be able to triangulate.”

“Yup,” Kim said. “Then I slipped it back in her pocket, robbed the Smarty Mart--”

“You really are just a career criminal now, aren't you?” Chi asked.

At first Kim just grinned, then she said, “I couldn't keep on setting off the alarms by manually doing things on site, so having remote capabilities like FPV drones, programmable drones, fly-on-a-wall cams, and such really helped. Crank up the transmission strength on a fly cam to 11 and they think there's someone on the radio right outside their door even though they can't see anyone. Do it on a dozen at the same time and they think it's an organized attack.”

“I'm not even going to ask how Smarty Mart got Gemini's fly-on-a-wall technology,” Chi said.

“Best you don't,” Kim agreed.

“But the drones,” Chi said, “they'd show up on camera a lot better than a fly, so there's no way they'd mistake that as a system bug.”

“If I were tripping the sensors with the drones directly, yes,” Kim said. “but I was using them to do other things. Pulse ultra and infrasonics to mess with those sensors, shine IR at random to screw with that, randomly fire microwave bursts, generally just try to mess up everything. Smarty Mart had everything I needed for that and more.”

“Keep them on edge about an attack for so long that when one does come they don't even recognize it as a difference from the norm and have completely burnt out their alertness,” Chi said.

“That was part of it,” Kim said, “yes.”

“But for now you were looking for a ground-level station for one of GJ's non super secret spy stuff networks,” Chi said.

“Pretty much.”

∗ ∗ ∗ ∗
~~Three and a Half Months Ago~~
∗ ∗ ∗ ∗

KSAD really took to the last three letters of its call sign seriously: all sad music; all the time. It didn't have a very big fan base. Even something like Elton John's “Sad Songs” was too upbeat for them since it was about coping with sadness rather than uselessly wallowing in it.

A station that viewed, “When all hope is gone / why don't you tune in and turn 'em on?” as overly optimistic didn't exactly draw people in and make them want to visit.

The fact that it had rented out its antenna tower to cell phone companies made sense because depressing the ever-loving Hell out of people didn't seem to be a viable profit model.

Thus it provided a plausible explanation for having a transmitter with a range of more than forty miles and a lot of receivers that in no way belonged on said transmitter while gathering no interest from much of anyone.

If not for the fact that the programming was so over the top depressing, and utter dreck to boot, it would have made a great cover. As it was Kim felt like she could have saved some time just by looking for towers, when she'd learned the story behind this one she'd have known something was up for sure.

∗ ∗ ∗

On a scale from Frugal Lucre to Dr. Dementor she rated the security at one point three. There was some sense in not having it heavily guarded, since guards drew attention.

When they were looking for something to steal, people often looked for the best locks on the assumption that the best loot would have the best protection. The same was true of facilities. The better guarded a place was, the more it resembled clarion call to those with less than pure intentions.

Still, a one point three? Really?

The station was located atop the highest point around and Kim estimated its range as some 45 miles. Quick math in her head converted that to over six thousand three hundred square miles. The level of technology utilized in GJ devices and the energy savings gained by using directed transmissions meant that there was no reason to assume that this station didn't cover GJ communications from that entire area.

Given the GJ presence in the area, and the fact that the station was obviously considered an important one, even if not for super secret spy stuff, to be given such a privileged position, it really called for more than a one point three.

Kim wouldn't have been surprised if one of the secondary stations, used to fill the gaps between primary stations based on a modified Apollonian circle packing algorithm, had security like this, but a primary?

She slipped in completely undetected, bypassed the areas used to actually run the legitimate radio station front, and found herself in a massive routing station within minutes and without having to put any real effort into avoiding guards or security measures.

Based on the abysmal security, Kim revised her original plan, which had been more of an outline anyway, and decided to make this her temporary base of operations.

Five minutes later she was set up to catch, read, potentially modify, and send every transmission routed through the station. Again, no real effort. She wouldn't be able to change live transmission because the resulting lag would be noticeable, and she wasn't set up to do the voice or image synthesis necessary to change a phone call or a video chat anyway, but other than that she owned this portion of the GJ network.

How was it even possible that this belonged to the same organization as the one running Playtypus?

∗ ∗ ∗ ∗
∗ ∗ ∗ ∗

This, at least, made sense, and so Chi said, “See, that sounds like the GJ I know.”

“The one that I knew too,” Kim said. “Which is why I said that I'm not convinced GJ was behind everything.”

“You said that?” Chi closed his eyes, it helped to have less stimulus, and quickly thought back over the time since Kim had arrived. “Ok, yup, you said that. Slipped my mind, sorry.”

“No big,” Kim said. “My best guess is that some outside group is using GJ, and other organizations, for cover and they're only taking an active interest in the parts that they care about. Dirty tricks squad gets funding, training, and decent security; general operations not so much.”

“Sort of a 'She works on the guidance system' mentality,” Chi said.

“Pretty much,” Kim said. She sighed. “It's been so long since I've seen a Bond film.”

“I'm not a big fan of the ones that have come out since you . . .” Chi couldn't think of the right words and finally just made gestures.

Kim nodded.

“We could watch the cello one the next time you need a break from storytelling,” Chi suggested.

“I'd like that,” Kim said, “but for now: routing station.”

∗ ∗ ∗ ∗
~~Three and a Half Months Ago~~
∗ ∗ ∗ ∗

The alarms continuing to go off at Playtypus with no apparent cause had already resulted in uncomplimentary messages to be sent to the technicians who had certified the sensors as working properly. This was something Kim could use.

The routing station was scheduled for a regular check up in five days. Kim forged a note suggesting that if the Playtypus sitch, she didn't use that word of course, wasn't resolved by then the team be diverted to Playtypus, so the malfunctioning hardware would have a third set of eyes look at it, rather than be sent to check out hardware that was currently functioning perfectly fine.

Then Kim created and ran two simple programs. The first was to retrieve all of the recent messages to pass through the station that hadn't been overwritten by new ones. The second was to save all of the messages from that point forward. She'd grabbed some hard drives from Smarty Mart, but it turned out that the hub had more than enough space for her purposes. That surprised her a bit since the hub wasn't actually designed to store any data. It was just supposed to pass it along.

With the programs running Kim figured it was time for sleep. Her original outline-plan had her sleeping in the woods, as she had been doing, but the same astonishing lack of security at the hub that led to her making the station her home base instead of simply tapping the station suggested much more inviting sleeping arrangements.

She balled her hoodie up into a pillow and slept on the floor.

∗ ∗ ∗

Kim woke inside and relatively warm. Such a nice feeling. She set her drones to trip various alarms on a random basis and then she got to work on going over the recovered and intercepted transmissions.

It was mundane stuff, minutia, employee evaluations, requests for leave, requests for transfers, recommendations for promotion, demotion, investigation, censure, employee of the month recognition, requisition requests, what must have been several quintillion statements that units were underfunded and overworked, personnel changes being considered and how the resulting empty positions would be filled.

It was exactly what she wanted.

∗ ∗ ∗ ∗
∗ ∗ ∗ ∗

“And why, pray tell, did you want to read requests to use two days paid leave to visit little Timmy on his 13th birthday?” Chi asked.

“Because I was looking for something,” Kim said.

“Did you find it?”

“Took a bit, but yes.”


“Something else important happened first,” Kim said.

∗ ∗ ∗ ∗
~~Three Months and One Week Ago~~
∗ ∗ ∗ ∗

Kim hadn't been aware that GJ had a protocol for what to do if three separate teams of technicians found no problems with alarms that were going off over a protracted period, but she was fully ready to make use of it when she saw the results.

Playtypus's human security would be stepped up as if they had reliable intelligence indicating an imminent full scale incursion, but that didn't interest Kim very much at this point.

What did was that at the same time all external alarm systems at the facility were to be replaced, --even the ones Kim hadn't found a way to trigger-- and be replaced in a single day by a veritable army of technicians called from the entire local area.

Even more interesting was that the plan apparently ran out. If the replacement didn't solve the problem, if an attack never came, there wasn't really a plan on what to do. They could hardly keep on a level of heightened security indefinitely, if they could they would have made that their normal level, while at the same time it wasn't as if they could just disable their security and ignore all future alarms.

Kim made note of the various shipments of replacement sensors of various descriptions. Then she did a flurry of forgery as she suggested various possible interpretations of the events and ways to move forward.

While she put forward the idea that the focus on Playtypus could be the goal of an actual attacker planning to hit another site in the area, the consensus to come out of her invented speculation, a consensus several of the actual technicians agreed with when they got the chance, was that if the new external sensors didn't solve the problem and an actual attack did not imminently take place, the facility's entire security system would have to torn apart, analyzed, and reassembled from the ground up.

∗ ∗ ∗

The innocuous looking eighteen wheeler read, “Shop Smart; shop S-Mart,” which was the first sign something was off about it. A real Smarty Mart truck would read, “Smarty Mart: where smart shoppers shop smart”. As the truck came closer Kim realized that the sides of the trailer were variable pigment chameleon “paint”. It was almost indistinguishable from ordinary paint, and much cheaper than an actual cloaking device, but it never had quite the right sheen to it.

Doubtless the truck would have Playtypus insignia on it when it actually reached its intended destination.

The truck reached a curve in the road, and now was coming straight for her. There wasn't a lot of distance now. She readied herself and the old mattress. When the truck passed under the overpass Kim launched both into the open air. The mattress landed on the extreme rear of the truck, Kim's body landed on the mattress.

The landing was less loud than an uncushioned one would have been, less painful too, but that didn't mean she wasn't risking detection, or in a lot of pain. She narrowly avoided falling off the back of the truck and got to work on picking the lock.

∗ ∗ ∗ ∗
∗ ∗ ∗ ∗

“You mattress surfed onto a speeding truck--”

“Literally speeding,” Kim said; “not a lot of traffic cops in that particular area.”

“-then broke into it while in motion?” Chi asked.

“Yeah,” Kim said. “That's what I said isn't it?”

“It's just a new one on me,” Chi said. “What happened to the mattress?”

“Well I had to keep it with me for my getaway,” Kim said, “didn't I?”

“And we're back to the speeding truck,” Chi said. “Wouldn't that thing be like a sail?”

“I tied it to the door.”

“Before or after you picked the lock?”

“Before, of course.”

“Of course,” Chi echoed. Chi wasn't going to ask where the rope came from. Sometimes it was better just not to ask.

A moment later Kim said, “Oh, I forgot something.”

“Is it more alarm tripping?” Chi asked. “Because I think you're overdoing the Battle of the Hydaspes thing. I mean how long does it really take to wear down a facility's guards with false alarms?

“Surprisingly little time,” Kim said. “And no, I didn't leave out making false alarms. I'd never stopped that, that's why the GJ policy said that they had to replace the sensors.

“Mind you that policy was probably made with the usual number of external sensors a GJ facility has in mind.”


“No, what I left out was how I kept tripping the alarms until the human security was thoroughly ground down without being detected even as GJ kept upping security.”

“So you weren't breaking in to make the sensors not go off.”

“I think that would be noticed when their tests to see if they were installed properly failed to trigger a response.”

“Ok, good point,” Chi conceded.

“Anyway, what I left out was that while I was working on decoding the information I'd gotten from the records facility--”

“It feels like years ago that you talked about that,” Chi said.

“You're the one who suggested I tell my story,” Kim said.

That was true, and he still thought it might well be helpful to Kim for her to share with someone. He nodded.

“So in the middle of that I bumped into this cute kid running from men who were clearly government. Easy enough to help out, much harder to convince the kid that hacking a CIA records depository wasn't a recreational activity.”

“I think we both know people who would disagree,” Chi said.

“Yeah, but this kid wasn't on that level yet,” Kim said. “Maybe after a decade or two of rigorous practice.”

“I'm guessing that you got a favor out of helping,” Chi said.

“All of the alarm systems had built in tampering detection which meant that I knew it would be possible to write a program that erased itself and evidence of what it did if the device were looked at in too much detail, since that kind of testing would be flagged as tampering. Knowing and coding are two very different things.

“Programming an autopilot, or switching the hub from automatically relaying messages to letting me get first crack at them, recording them, and then relaying them, that's easy stuff. What I needed for the sensors, though. Well, knowing something can be done and coding it are very different matters.”

“So you contact the kid, get your program, and then what?” Chi asked.

“Install the program onto all the sensors in that shipment and repeat for every sensor shipment,” Kim said.

“And the ones they randomly select for in depth diagnostics check out fine because the program erases itself,” Chi said, “while the rest keep your program . . . that does what exactly?”

“Keep on tripping the sensors at random,” Kim said. “On a delay of course so that they didn't do it while they were being installed.”

Chi nodded.

“Also for sensors that could pick up certain signals they were set to go off if they received one signal and stop the random going off if they received another.”

“Accomplishing what?” Chi asked. “You'd already had them set to do a top to bottom component by component break down and evaluation of the security system, which would set off your program's kill switch and erase itself.”

“Chi,” Kim said, “It's one thing to recommend something, it's another to actually get it done. GJ wasn't going waste the time and manpower rechecking the one part of the system they were absolutely sure wasn't the problem. The sensors couldn't possibly be the problem because they'd just replaced them --after the problem started-- and they were obviously working fine because they were factory fresh parts that had just been tested when they were installed.”

“Ok, ok,” Chi said.

“You're getting worked up,” Kim said.

Chi thought that over. Was he?

Yup. Definitely getting annoyed.

“Sorry, I guess I'm getting a little sick of hearing the preparations for an attack that never comes,” Chi said.

“Now you know how Porous felt at on the banks of the Hydaspes,” Kim said.

“That it would be really nice if someone just throttled Alexander?” Chi asked.

“The key wasn't in moving undetected--” Kim said.

“--it was in upping the noise to signal ratio so much that detecting it barely registered,” Chi said. “I know. I'm the one who brought up the battle. I just feel like you could maybe skip ahead to fire swamp.”

“You already used that reference,” Kim said.

“Tell me what it was you were looking for in the not super secret spy stuff network and then we're watching the cello movie,” Chi said.

∗ ∗ ∗ ∗
~~Three Months and Four Days Ago~~
∗ ∗ ∗ ∗

While outside technicians had rushed to replace the facility's external security systems in an insufficient amount of time with insufficient manpower, a virtual army had surrounded the facility drawing precious resources away from other Global Justice endeavors, and the facility's guards had wished for nothing more than the alarms to stop going off, the on-site security system technicians to Playtypus found themselves in the strange position desperately hoping their workplace would be attacked, and be attacked on a massive scale.

They'd been the ones trying to get to the bottom of the alarms from day one, they'd been the ones who constantly pronounced the security system not-broken, and they were the ones who stood to lose everything if an attack didn't materialize.

Even if they didn't know of the plans to transfer them to places uniformly unappealing, they had to suspect that such might be in the works. The facility's guards being increased at least indicated that the powers that be were open to the possibility that the on-site technicians hadn't missed anything and the alarms were supposed to be going off.

But everything else was an indication that there was a strong belief the on site techs had simply missed some problem and the entire episode was a complete waste of time and resources. Every time that other security technicians were called in it sent a clear message that the ones already there weren't trusted.

Approving the plan of having outside technicians go over the entire internal security system was, for many, the final straw.

It wasn't just that outsiders, not even cleared to be on the base, much less in it, under normal circumstances were coming to take apart and analyze their, security system for flaws that they would have had to consistently miss in their own diagnostics, it was also how soon they were scheduled to do so.

The alarms going off were annoying. Running the facility like it was under siege was expensive and counterproductive especially since there had been no verifiable sign of any enemy, but if there were any faith in the on-site security technicians and their analysis of the state of their own hardware, the plan would be to keep the security intact and functioning for longer than a potential enemy would wait to strike.

Yet the outsiders were going to be let inside the facility a mere two weeks after the problems had started.

The funding and the manpower were there, but the powers that be clearly weren't taking a potential threat seriously. If the outsiders found a flaw, the on-site technicians would be blamed -–even though they had never been authorized to take the security system completely apart for such a detailed check-- if they didn't then how much longer would the higher ups wait for an actual attack? Probably not long. They'd just declare the entire system flawed on some synergistic level and replace the entire thing with one that didn't go off when they didn't want it to.

Some pointed out that this might be the enemy's plan, forcing the system to be replaced with a less sensitive, and thus less secure, one. Some pointed out that triggering the system could be an attempt to get the security staff replaced so that an incursion could be made while neophytes were staffing the facility. Some actually tried to be helpful to the coming outsiders, they shared what tests they had been authorized to run, and which ones they hadn't. A lot just panicked.

There was a flood of attempts to get transferred into other units, even though it would mean lower pay than they were currently getting. People wanted to get out before the hammer dropped, they wanted to have things they could point to as reasons it wasn't their fault, they wanted anything that would grant them a reprieve should things go down badly for them.

Kim read all of this and more.

She also read about the plans to punish them for the embarrassing waste should an attack not materialize. Plans that did indeed involve being transferred away.

She doubted there were ever so many security technicians in flux before.

Apparently the Playtypus facility was a sought after posting, at least for those who loved money more than their conscience, and as a result the security techs there were more experienced than many of the ones on teams they were requesting to be transferred to.

There was a sizable contingent of GJ individuals in the area with hiring power who didn't care about the alarm situation at the facility and were quite willing to use the opportunity to get personnel with skill and experience they usually wouldn't have access to. Of course, that meant making an opening for them, which meant moving someone else out of a position, which meant a cascade of potential transfers.

That was before one considered the plans in the works to replace the entire on-site staff. Plans that would create a similar, larger, cascade.

From Kim's position at the center of all of discussion of all of the potential staffing changes, it was simple enough to locate a unit with the potential to become what she wanted, speed up some things, slow down others, change a denied to an approved, and get the thing she'd first come to the radio station for.

With the new information she was able to find exactly what she'd been looking for with better results than she'd ever anticipated.

With the necessary edits made she said, “Enjoy your vacation,” before moving from work to sleep.

∗ ∗ ∗ ∗
∗ ∗ ∗ ∗

“CC?” Chi said more than asked. “Really?”

“KC,” Kim corrected. “Kathy Callahan. She specializes in hardware --not much software experience-- so it was a good fit there, she's about my height, she'd been requesting the same two weeks leave --covering the period when the outside technicians would go in to overhaul the security system-- for over a year, and all I had to do to get her transferred into a new assignment where no one had ever met her was to give one person early retirement they'd also been requesting. When faced with how to fill the gap it was noted that someone had already worked out the 'optimal transfers' to do it with as a result of the Playtypus sitch.”

“For someone worried about her dark side . . .” Chi said. “Paid vacation and early retirement?”

“My original plan, before I knew I could start living in the hub,” Kim said, “was to find someone like Callahan who would be considered to replace a corrupt tech, and then get rid of the corrupt tech. Probably have to run some difficult interference plan to keep the Callahan from getting the message she'd been transferred until after I was away.”

“Still not heart of darkness stuff, Kim,” Chi said.

“I haven't told you what I did once I got inside yet,” Kim said.

Chi looked appropriately disturbed at the way she said it.

Chi's composure recovered quickly, and he said in a not at all disturbed way, “Please tell me that the whole 'Alarms, alarms every where / but not a one confirmed' thing wasn't just so you could scout out the interior.”

“Of course not,” Kim said. “I'm telling you: there was no way to get into that place without setting off the alarms. The only solution was to desensitize them to the alarms or get them to replace the security system with one that was less good.”

“Or just go to the jerk's house,” Chi said. “It's not like he's going to forget 'That time I screwed over Kim Possible.'“

“I didn't want to break into his house,” Kim said firmly.

“Of course not,” Chi said. “You're Kim Possible, you wanted to drop out of an air vent, adopt a power pose,” Kim smiled at that, “and, since you were in rage mode, you'd talk about being all out of bubble gum.”

“I have never gotten that reference,” Kim admitted.

They Live, 1988,” Chi said. “The movie should be required viewing. It's not very good from any kind of technical standpoint, but it should be required viewing.”

“And the bubble gum?” Kim asked.

“The main character walks in, sees the place filled with the enemy, and says, 'I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass, and I'm all out of bubblegum,' then, and this is a part that's not your style, boomstick,” Chi said.

“Because shotguns are so much fun,” Kim said flatly.

“The action genre's a fantasy, Kim,” Chi said. “Instead of unicorns and dragons it shows us a world where all problems can be solved by, depending on the acceptable violence level, shooting them, punching them in the face, or throwing 30% more bricks at them.

“That's a lot more fantastical than dragons and unicorns, but it's also kind of fun. No problems that are as complex and difficult as … what was it you called Bonnie back in the day?”

Kim wasn't sure, but she knew it would only take a second or two for Chi to retrieve the information.

“'High school evil',” Chi said. “That's the fantasy: nothing as difficult as high school evil, all problems are as simple as foiling Dementor.”

Kim nodded.

“Would be a nice world,” she said.

“So, cello movie?” Chi asked.

“Cello movie,” Kim said.

Oh good God, this post.  Took forever, not remotely satisfied with it, and I really hope it isn't as much of a slog to read as it was to write.

Playtronics - The toy company used as a front in Sneakers.

"Shop Smart, Shop S-Mart", and also "Boomstick" - Army of Darkness

Battle of the Hydaspes - Alexander the Great needs to get an army across a river but there's another army on the other side.  He keeps on faking troop movements until the opposing army just can't keep up that level alertness (his own troops can rest and remain alert because the movements are fake) and then sneaks across in the middle of a night.  (And does it in a place he never faked doing it.)

Ongoing The Princess Bride references.

"I've stolen a hoverjet, run up a black flag, and declared war on the world." - It is said that to become a pirate you steal a ship, make a black flag, and declare war on the world.  Exactly who says this is unclear and it's not, in fact true (for example: a lot of the big names didn't have to steal their boats to get started.)  The origin of the quote, though, is easier to determine.  Edward Low.  The beginning of his and his followers pirate career is described thus:

A General History of the Pyrates:

The next Day they took a small Vessel, and go in her, make a black Flag, and declared War against all the World.
The Pirates Own Book:
The next day they took a small vessel, went on board her, hoisted a black flag, and declared war with the whole world.

1 comment:

  1. Ah, I was thinking of H. L. Mencken: "Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit upon his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats."

    There's some excellent tradecraft here, and the basic concept of false-alarms thing is completely standard; I love the way you implemented it at greater length. One bit missing: a courtesy fence, which is the normal fence without alarms and stuff on it, about ten feet or so out from the Real Fence with a clear space between them. That way the animals and casual passers-by will stop there and not cause alarms and guard movements and so on; it's a kind of high-pass threshold. (Sometimes you let the guard dogs roam between the two fences.)