The next attempt targeted Ned.
It was just two days later that Tim had sent him down to the state’s corporation records office. For once, they were on a case trying absolve someone — a senator — of false accusations. The senator wasn’t a good gal at all, but she certainly wasn’t doing what she was charged of. Ned was collecting evidence to show the charges were false. At least this particular state office was more or less on track with current technology. Ned needed the actual official proof on paper, but he was most certainly going to allow AI to snoop and plunder whatever was within reach while he stood in proximity to equipment connected to the LAN.
But he didn’t have time to stop and check on his new phone what AI had accomplished. Needing to keep his hands free, he stuffed the sheaf of papers inside his jacket, where a pocket was made just for that purpose. The offices were across town and he was taking the subway to get back to Tim’s office.
On the way out, AI had notified him of two different people carrying substantial knives, but they showed no signs of interest in Ned. Thus, he was ambivalent about the notice from AI as he entered the car that another passenger at the same station had an icepick. With the surveillance cameras in the subway cars, AI had suggested an attack there was unlikely. Most attacks were on platforms where people clustered closely and cameras would miss much, or on the stairs where camera coverage was poor. Most hits were made near the tops of the stairways.
Like any other bored rider, Ned scanned the ads scattered along the space between the windows and the ceiling of the car. He glanced down to see a slender Asian man that AI had tagged as the pickman. Ned had seated himself near one door and facing it; the pickman was at the other end on the opposite side. Ned tried to stay relaxed. At the third stop, he rose and stepped off the train and paused. AI told him the man had risen and was hovering at the door. Just before the door closed, Ned ducked back inside and resumed his seat. The pickman did the same.
Ned rode past his intended destination because the next one had stairs that were wider and not so steep, coming up in a small park. There had been an overnight frost with some rain, so when he exited to the train, the platform was wet from foot traffic, but no ice because it was slightly warmer than the open ground above. The stairs were icy, but traction plates had been installed on the lip of each step. Ned had moved quickly to the stairs and started ascending; there was very little other pedestrian traffic near him. AI whispered in his ear about how the pickman had raced to catch him and was drawing close. His own ambient hearing confirmed that.
A few steps down from the top, Ned suddenly turned and sat down. While he could have fought off an attack from that position, he was pretty sure that wouldn’t be necessary. The pickman suddenly froze in mid stride, two steps down and right in front of him. The man’s left hand disappeared inside his coat pocket. Ned gave the man a steely gaze, showing no emotion at all, his posture signaling a readiness for combat. After a few heartbeats, the pickman stepped sideways, then averted his gaze and continued up the stairs to disappear around the concrete entrance wall.
After a few more seconds, Ned had to peel his pants off the icy step as he stood. Had he handled this any other way, the message going back to the sponsoring party would have been ambiguous. Now the people behind this would know Tim and Ned were aware of the persecution and were not going to be easy targets. Whoever it was, they would have to change tactics. Would it be worth it to them?
AI said he was in the clear, so he walked out into the cold breeze, his heart now slowing as the steam from his breath disappeared quickly. A couple more deep breaths and he headed toward the building where Tim was waiting for the papers he bore.
After relating the events to Tim, his boss smiled. “Good. Maybe they’ll let us get some work done for awhile. See if you and AI can discover where this fake whistleblower is who is attacking the senator. We can let someone else worry about who it is, but I want to see how these organizations and agencies interact. There’s big money behind this attempt to smear Madame Senator, and I want to see if I can shake this network loose.”
It seemed like a good time now to assess what AI had grabbed from the state’s computers, since it would have been pertinent. Ned had added two more servers to the stack and AI was getting faster at absorbing and processing the vast piles of data. But this time it needed a much larger display, so Ned transferred the image to Tim’s desktop. It was a large 3D model of how people and money connected a large network of what amounted to front offices, all with different pieces of the same single agenda. Adding a historical component made it almost incomprehensible to the two men.
Ned was laughing. “It’s worse than that Bermuda grass that grows in the south. It has runners going in all directions underground, and if you cut something off, it grows its own roots and you get even more of that nasty grass where you don’t want it.” He had AI collate the date with the secretive emails that had started this nasty mess of false accusations.
Granted, some network companies routinely deleted their records, and some never kept any in the first place. However, the logs AI did find scattered around the Internet were just enough. Whoever sent those messages didn’t control the network routing, and a few bounced in and out of government-controlled virtual space before arriving at the destination. It was the work of several hundred man hours for skilled technicians, but in less than just one hour, AI found the source inside the senator’s own home state office. A little clever source bouncing using wifi had no effect on the route the messages had taken after the first three hops.
It was yet another inside job. Someone was trying to unseat her and take over the network she had built. Instead of ruining the ongoing work she was doing by uncovering it, they were trying to move her out of the way with something totally bogus and unconnected to what she was actually doing.