In Tim’s line of work, a few good successes brought trust and access that ensured continued success. Granted, he was handed inquiries from the committee, but usually he knew about them long before through private comments and off-the-record guidance. Lots of business was done that way, all the way up the chain to the Coalition and trans-national corporations that did business with the government. Tim wasn’t even awake when he was notified of a very strange attack on one of the military contract teams in the Middle East. He met Ned for their morning workout just a short time later and mentioned it.
For Ned, it rang a bell in his soul. He delayed the start of his own workout and grabbed his tablet. It came with a folding keyboard that worked with the built-in field sensor. If the tablet was ever seized by authorities, it would offer no options other than standard commercial tablets did. However, the tablet knew Ned’s DNA fingerprint and recognized the keyboard, offering a whole range of possibilities that matched a lot of much larger desktop computers, and some that simply weren’t matched anywhere. Ned typed in the outline of the story and pertinent details. The tablet conferred with the AI system in Ned’s basement computer office. Before Ned could get past his warm-up, the tablet let out a warning signal. He came over to check; AI reported that a member of the virtual family was involved.
The reference was via the Shepherd family role-playing games, based on satellite matching of the IP address. Ned really didn’t play that often any more, but ran an AI simulation that kept on eye on things. So he directed it to send a message to their family member, someone he had never met, even in virtual terms. Then he chuckled, because AI reported that it had anticipated his wishes and done so as soon as it picked up the traffic from the secure network link. Thus, Ned was able to confirm to Tim a lot more than he had first heard from his leaker.
This was the first time Ned had gotten that kind of response. He decided his workout was already ruined for the morning and spent more time querying the AI. His hacker friends had assured him it would never outright disobey, so he wasn’t worried about that. And he had already made a few attempts to get the AI to anticipate his queries on some things, but this was the first time it sent a message on his behalf. And it was appropriate. Even better, the AI had taken advantage of the timezone difference and had ensured the family member on the other end got the message quickly, so he wouldn’t have to wait for Ned or Tim to respond in real time.
Finally, it was now showing the first-hand report sent from a Franklin, who worked as a sniper on a crawler security team. Ned wasn’t too sure AI could understand the kind of moral view the virtual family had about reality, but it clearly understood what mattered to Ned and Tim. It was treating Franklin as a highly trusted VIP source, whereas it usually handled such things with algorithms that offered varying degrees of probability.
It had all taken only about fifteen minutes and Ned decided to let Tim know what his AI had found.
First was a better summary of the attack and how it differed from previous rebel tactics. The satellite history indicated that the attackers had been moving into place over several days, one piece at a time. The tree-covered wadi had seen quite a bit of traffic: first some people with a small tent, then a small truck with crates. Later the two new pick-ups came over two nights. Another truck came with a welder. Then another with a some truck parts. The welder stayed a few days, then left. A few more loads came as trucks stopped only briefly, then drove on out the other end of the wadi. For two days it was quiet there while random mopeds kept coming spaced a few hours apart in other locations around the area.
There were more small truck loads to each of the four marshaling areas. Once the attack started, it was the satellite alone that had noticed the mortar firing from the place where the mopeds rolled out behind Franklin’s sniper nest, but dropping the mortars on his previous nest. That data was delayed for some reason, and only showed up in a subsequent query.
Finally, AI confirmed that the disk image that had been delivered to the camp the day before the attack contained code that would bricked the crawlers entirely. It was this that seemed most threatening to everyone. While speculation was rife, AI suggested it was all an inside job. Pulling together all the pertinent fallout, it announced that the attempted bomb attack a few days prior — where Franklin shot the woman approaching the team’s utility truck — was part of this whole game. Thus, AI suggested that the parts driver had chosen the village as the exchange point to set up the senior technician. Further, the parts delivery driver had received a sudden boost in income without a change in salary. His supervisor was also spending more than he made on the contract.
Tim turned to look at Ned. “Why in the hell would someone on contract make common cause with the rebels? Where did the rebels get that kind of money, both the bribes and all those expensive arms, and then to have gotten their hands on the software upgrade and rewrite it? It’s making my head spin.”
Ned typed in another query. The answer came in stages, probably to show how AI arrived at it. The state forensic database had offered hints to the type of crime: Someone on the inside was skimming on the contract. To increase their take, they tried to make the contract more expensive by activating emergency clauses that would kick in with serious combat losses. If the rebels were suddenly more dangerous, the Coalition would have to increase the payout for better security, more equipment and personnel, which in turn would have to come from the petroleum companies. While it’s possible the Coalition would choose more uniformed troops for the job of increased security, politics made that unlikely.
What AI couldn’t do at this point was find the culprit. Too many corporate officers hid their banking offshore. Instead, it offered a list of those who were in a position to do this kind of stuff.