The data that flowed across Ai’s terminal was everything that she’d asked for, but it told her nothing that she needed to know.
“How can something be so chock full of information and so utterly useless at the same time?”
Ai wanted to hit something but with all of the data she was reading being represented in a virtual form there’s was nothing convenient for her to throw.
“It is evidence of pretty serious criminal doings though, isn’t it?” Zai asked.
“Yeah, Palmdale was up to some pretty horrific stuff. Human augmentation experiments via terrigenic compounds which have so far proven to be ghastly failures, one and all. Unfortunately that’s not the horrific stuff that we need information on,” Ai said, running another fruitless query to find links to any more hidden projects.
“There’s more Tython auxiliary companies that we can check into,” Zai said. She was devoting half her attention to some anomalies in the accounts she’d set up, but that still left her with plenty of processing power to pay attention to the conversation at hand.
“I know, but Palmdale looked so promising,” Ai said. “Although maybe my judgement was off because of how easy they were to acquire?”
“Do you think that was a trap? I mean they had a history of taking contracts with bad penalty clauses.” Zai said.
“It’s impossible to be perfectly sure. Someone could always be more clever than us,” Ai said. “Given that their downfall required you to push a false early termination out on contracts they were assigned though, it seems like that was a legitimate win for us.”
“It would be nice if we could be sure though,” Zai said.
“Maybe not. If we were sure, we wouldn’t keep an eye out for people intending to leverage the company against us,” Ai said. “I just wish the secrets Palmdale held had been worth exposing ourselves like that. ”
“Well, you were right about them having something to hide, it just wasn’t something related to the NMEs.”
“The sad part is that I can’t afford to parlay being right about Palmdale into anything useful for Officer Greensmith.”
“I take it we cut things a little close there having you investigate the company that you took over?” Zai asked.
“Just a bit,” Ai said. “I got greedy there thinking that we were close to something real.”
“For what it’s worth, I’m not seeing any kind of traffic mentioning that you were involved in the investigation. The few newsfeeds that even mentioned it focused on SurfKing and his crew. Even Curt Kelton’s name hasn’t come up.”
“That’s part of Palmdale’s privacy insurance for managers at his level. I looked it up earlier – it seems that we guarantee our employees that their names will be auto-censored from any news feeds they don’t actively approve,” Ai said.
“How much do we charge them for that?” Zai asked.
“Palmdale lists it as an overhead expense. We can do what we want with the policy though since their contracts are individually up for negotiation at our discretion.”
“Did you want to take an active hand in Palmdale?” Zai asked.
“I’m not particularly inclined to,” Ai said. “I was thinking we’d just review their contracts and remove anything objectionable.”
“Also close down the secret projects?” Zai asked.
“That’s going to be trickier,” Ai said. “Some of those projects have work being done by other labs, and then there’s a ‘human subject procurers’ to think about.”
“Did you have a game plan in mind for all that?” Zai asked.
“It’s still a work-in-progress,” Ai said. “Obviously we want to stop the human experimentation, but we need to recall the subjects to a safe place first so that the researchers don’t burn them to ash to hide what they’ve done.”
“If the work is being done in independent locations, how will we collect all the people?” Zai asked.
“We’ll need to hit the places we can get a location for all at the same time,” Ai said. “Probably need another crew like Sidewalker’s to handle that one.”
“Did we want to hold off on giving the GCPD the location of SurfKing’s crew so we could use them for this?”
“Nah. They deserve to rot in jail,” Ai said. “Plus they don’t have the skillset we need for this. They’re good at breaking targets, less good at stealing, or protecting them. Extracting the ones we can find a location for isn’t the real problem though.”
“Can we call the others in? Make the labs we don’t have a location for ship their subjects to us?” Zai asked.
“Hopefully,” Ai said. “But people who are into that kind of experimentation can be a little twitchy from what I’ve read. We’ll need a convincing story to explain why we want the subjects moved.”
“What if we just fire them?” Zai asked.
“Then they’ll fire the test subjects, as in with literal fire,” Ai said.
“We could say that one of their competitor labs is ahead of schedule and producing fantastic results. We need the subjects transferred to the competitor and we’ll pay a bonus for their efforts,” Zai said.
“That could work. The only danger is if we run into a real egotist who refuses to be upstaged,” Ai said. “Outlaw researchers aren’t the most stable sort of people.”
“Hmm, what about telling them that we have a fresh set of tests that we want them to start on, with a new round of subjects?” Zai said.
“That could work. We could even have the procurers collect another set of people and use that as the bait to bring the GCPD in on them,” Ai said. “Just not Officer Greensmith this time.”
“Would it look suspicious that the collectors and the scientists got taken out independently?” Zai asked.
“It might, especially to people looking for the right things,” Ai said. “But we don’t need to take out the researchers, just rescue their test subjects.”
“They’re guilty of fairly heinous crimes aren’t they?” Zai asked.
“Probably even worse than what we’ve seen for this project,” Ai said. “Research like they’re doing can be a dangerous occupation though. We don’t need to shut them down immediately if we move them onto a less horrific set of experiments. Once those are running we can track them down and arrange for suitable atonements on their part later.”
“I can get started on that. Do you still think Cleanwalk has any connections to the NME issue?” Zai asked.
“It feels like it must,” Ai said. “Tython had three security breeches that led back there. One lab escape is remarkable but three sets a pattern that’s hard to deny. They’ve either got part of the research they’re doing on NME’s in Clearwalk or they’re setting an elaborate enough trap to lead us there that we’ll find something out by springing it anyways.”
“I’ve got an idea that might help us there,” Zai said. “Palmdale’s still a servant company to Tython. I mean, yes, technically we own it, or to be accurate about a dozen of our proxy companies do, but Palmdale’s revenue is still 83% driven by Tython.”
“So, from a corporate perspective, we have to do whatever they say?” Ai asked.
“They can sink us if we don’t,” Zai said. “But on the flipside that level of control means that we’ve got a solid trust network in place with them.”
“Tython’s going to be wary of new management though,” Ai said. “This is one of the classic security breech situations.”
“Fortunately, we’re not just the new management,” Zai said. “We’re also one Curt Kelton, at least as far as the black market channels in place at Tython are concerned.”
“That won’t help us though; Kelton had to be reporting in person. No one would trust a purely virtual meeting for criminal activity like this.”
“From the records I’ve scanned that was true for the early stages of the project,” Zai said. “Once he started producing results though, however flawed and useless as they were, his contacts at Tython took everything to instant-delete comm channels.”
“So we have no logs of what they discussed,” Ai said. “Including the proper pass phrases which they use for authentication.”
“We don’t now, but we might be able to get them,” Zai said. “Kelton doesn’t know that his lockdown command failed. I’ve spun up copies of his archives and fed the command to them so that when he checks he’ll see he’s safe and secure.”
“Interesting. So if we can convince him that he’s still in business, he’ll reach out to his Tython contacts to reassure them not to pull the funding for his projects.”
“And we can listen in on the whole conversation,” Zai said.
“How many conversations will it take for you to be able to spoof their pass codes, if they have any?” Ai asked.
“It’d be faster if I could hear both ends of the conversation, but unless we get lucky, and Kelton’s an idiot, they won’t use names during the call. From just Kelton’s end, it’ll take at least thirteen calls before I can guess what the next passcode is.”
“How often has Kelton initiated a Instant-Delete call?” Ai asked.
“He averages 3.2 of them per week,” Zai said. “From the times though, I think he has a set check-in on Monday morning, and the others are either personal or to other destinations.”
“Thirteen weeks is a long time to wait,” Ai said. “If we know the times though that might give us an edge. How tight is the security on the Instant-Delete comms they’re using?”
“Pretty decent. It might take me longer than thirteen weeks to crack it if we want to be sure to stay under the radar,” Zai said.
“And how secure is their human resources database?” Ai asked.
“It has the equivalent of a medieval padlock on it. I feel like I should install some of the pending upgrades just so no one else can wander in while we’re doing whatever you have in mind.”
“I’m just thinking of what you could do with physical access to the comm servers,” Ai said, the imagined mayhem painting sunny gleam of joy on her face.
“Those servers have triple redundancies to guard against man-in-the-middle attacks,” Zai said. “So those will take me thirty seconds or so to work around. After that we’ll basically own the place. At least until the next full security sweep, which they perform daily.”
“That should give you access to both sides of the call right? Can you break their code in one call with that?” Ai asked.
“I don’t think so,” Ai said. “I can restrict the domain of possibilities a lot, and maybe get lucky with a guess from there, but I’d need at least three conversations to be sure.”
“That might be doable,” Ai said. “Or, wait, maybe we don’t need the codes.”
“The Tython side of the equation won’t talk to us without them though will they?” Zai asked.
“You said we’ll own the system. They have to start with the pass codes but from there they’re almost certainly too lazy to repeat the test,” Ai said. “All we need to do is let them speak and then cut into both sides of the call.”
“Oh, neat! We talk to Tython to find out what we need to know, and we talk to Kelton to keep him unaware of the change,” Zai said.
“And the first thing we talk to them about?” Ai asked, leading Zai onwards.
“We say the passcode system is potentially compromised and we need to setup a new master key for it!”
“And then we can talk to them both without needing to physically hack the comm server more than once.” Ai said.
“The question then is, can we get Tython to reveal what they’re doing in Clearwalk?” Zai asked.
“For that we’re going to need a little help I think,” Ai said. “If Tython is connected to the mangled corpse and the NMEs that we found last week, then they’re not going to want to have any trace of that popping up. So what if Kelton reports back that he’s found some strange code in one of the new subjects bio-monitors?”
“Code that is suspiciously close to the NME activation code?” Zai said.
“From a specimen who was picked up on the same block as our mangled corpse,” Ai said.
“What will Kelton ask though?” Zai asked.
“Nothing. He’ll just offer to turn out his weekly report with the full code download in it,” Ai said. “And along with that code will be a little tracker.”
“And as people open it up, we’ll get a nice clear picture of who in Tython is aware of the NME code and what they do to the people who find out about it.”