Q had called the SWAT Team to Sindictive’s apartment. Using Spoofcard, he altered his number to appear like it was coming from Nob Hill, and whispered frantically into his headset, saying that a man held a woman, he was pointing a gun at her head and he was shouting. Then, oh, no, he’s coming toward me! Then Q hung up.
It wasn’t funny, and Q wasn’t laughing. But, in the end, he was doing what internet pranksters had been doing for years. He was SWATTING. This was no joke. Avanta had been kidnapped and #TheCollective was trying to get her back. SWATTING was their best plan.
Lita, Stoney, Fishburne and Distinctive thought so. The Voice, not so much. The Voice didn’t like the idea at all and said so the minute she crackled back to life on Sean’s iPhone, reappearing after having gone AWOL for five days. The Voice criticized everything they were trying to do and said they needed to follow up on Exclusivor and Sergei and forget about Avanta. Then, Distinctive wrapped his phone in a shirt and stuffed it at the bottom of his backpack. Lita, Stoney and Sam all thanked him. It was one of the few things they agreed on.
They’d worry about the Voice after they freed Avanta.
Distinctive listened to Q’s play-by-play updates about the SWATTING. Q’s voice came over the Signal app on a burner phone Distinctive held in his hand. Distinctive, Lita, and Sam Fishburne huddled around the phone like people used to huddle around an old-time radio. Stoney was packing up the gear they had brought.
Q had made the SWAT call twenty-seven minutes ago. Ten minutes ago, Q had announced the team had arrived. In the seventeen minutes in between, Stoney had walked Q through hacking into the SWAT POV body cameras. Q was now watching the camera feed and said, “It’s really hard to tell what is going on. I’m not getting audio, just video… They keep turning around and backtracking.” The feed was bouncy and difficult to tell who was who and which of the twelve SWAT members was in charge and who was doing what. Unlike movie SWAT teams, no one ran, they waited at every door and cleared every hallway. It was slow. Now, the team had settled on the entrance to a tony apartment with huge mahogany doors. They were gorgeous. They were the doors that led to the apartment where Q’s second emergency call had claimed the crazy man had retreated. It was, based on some OSINT research, an address belonging to Steven Matthews. AKA Sindictive. And, it’s where they hoped Avanta was taken. Everything seemed to be working out perfectly.
Two SWAT officers holding shields stood in front of the door. Two men holding battering rams stood just behind them, ready to splinter the breathtaking door and invade the apartment.
Over the phone’s speaker, Q told them, “They seem to be waiting for something.”
Lita said, “Maybe they have to get a warrant from a judge?”
Fishburne said, “No. They have probable cause based on our phone call. They are prepping. Listening, taking heat signatures, using the building’s wifi for passive radar. Before they enter that apartment, they will know where everyone in that room is standing and what they have in their hand.”
Q said, “Hey, Distinctive, I don’t know what worries me more, your atomic lathe, or these SWAT tactics.”
Then Stoney whispered, “Alright, we’re packed. Let’s get this show on the road.”
While listening to Q’s play-by-play, Stoney had packed up their room. He had wiped it down. Disposed of computer parts. Then the group went across the hall to Sam’s room, grabbed his duffle and the carry-on Avanta had deposited that morning when she and Sean had arrived. As they entered the elevator and descended, wary of more security guards and carrying the phone connected to Q, they listened.
“Come on! Do something!” thought Distinctive. Privately, he didn’t know if he was more concerned about what he would have to tell his boss Geri if Avanta came up missing, or if he was really worried about Avanta. He was confident he could come up with a good enough lie for CYA. But, he did think about her a lot. What did that mean? Was he falling for her, or was his conscience doing it again?
Sean’s conscience, overactive on the best days, was in overdrive and red-lining. In the hotel room, on the back of an envelope, he had scribbled a list, just to organize his thoughts. It was a list of all of his current anxieties and he had almost completely covered the envelope.
They left the hotel and walked across the parking lot. Distinctive, Stoney and Lita got into Sean’s rental, which he had driven up early that morning, and dialed Sam on a burner. He said, “There, we have each other’s number. We’ll let you know when Q says they got her. Get to Nob Hill and wait to pick her up. We’ll let you know when.”
Fishburne said, “Got it.” Sam Fishburne insisted on being the one to pick up Avanta. Distinctive figured he felt guilty, too. They hoped SWAT would get her out, and get her to an ambulance, and then Sam could squirrel her away before they debriefed her. It was a long shot. But, it was a shot. Sam would get into position asap. The rest of them were going to go buy some laptops.
Two hours after leaving the hotel, they were no longer in a hurry. Q told them that the SWAT team remained in position, and each had taken a knee. Lita asked, “Are they negotiating?” Q said he had no idea. But, it didn’t look they were doing anything. He had only the POV from the camera, no audio. They couldn’t find any chatter on police band and despite Lita calling several television stations to ask about the commotion, no media had arrived to find out.
And, Sam Fishburne had yet to reply to any of their calls. Nothing since they left the hotel. Distinctive knew the phone he gave him was working, but Sam was not answering. Distinctive assumed he was still mad about Distinctive and Avanta. Well, whatever. Be mad.
In the back seat, Stoney was still setting up the first of three laptops they had purchased at a Walmart an hour ago. Stoney had a Kali Live USB drive, but it still took forever to install. Kali insisted on pulling down updates and all they had was a cell phone data connection. It was slow.
Hurry up and wait, thought Sean. It reminded him of his nine weeks in the Army. But that was basic training; there wasn’t any waiting there. It was _all_ ‘hurry up.’ Hurry up and sleep, hurry up and hurry. They even hurried him right out of the Army, in no time at all.
Sean yawned and looked at one of his phones. He tried to remember if it was set to the correct time zone. He figured he had arrived at the hotel twelve hours ago, woke from his weird dream eight hours ago, witnessed Avanta’s kidnapping five hours ago and last thought about the kiss five minutes ago.
It was 2pm. He had a flight at 5pm and he was never going to make it. Even if he left right now, he wasn’t going to make it. He knew he should leave it up to Stoney and Lita and Sam. He didn’t have any more vacation days. His Potomac lathe hadn’t been re-calibrated in over a week. It would need a tuneup soon. There were sixteen lathes in North America, and right now they were being manned by only fourteen qualified engineers. They were probably going to have him pulling double duty for the rest of the summer.
And here he sat, thinking about a kiss.
Stoney tapped Distinctive on the shoulder and handed him a laptop. Stoney said, “yours is done. Probably you should get on IRC and give ’em a heads up.”
Stoney started un-boxing the next laptop. In the front passenger seat, Lita stirred. She had been dozing, unmoved by Distinctive blaming her and Sam for Avanta. Clearly, she felt no guilt, and Distinctive felt jealous of her.
He looked at the list on the back of the envelope. His anxieties. At the top: Atomal, which had been linked to the deaths of over a dozen people. After Atomal… Atomic Lathes. He needed to get back to Washington and take care of his. And he needed Avanta for the lathe in Longbeach. Payroll: he was overdue for paying his team, and he hated that. Avanta’s kidnapping was next. It didn’t even make the top three! Those were just the big ticket items, the Mount Rushmore of his anxiety. The rest of the list got tiny toward the bottom, including Sam’s apparent anger. He was almost out of room.
Distinctive pushed his seat back and opened the laptop Stoney had handed him, fired up Irssi and logged on to the #TheCollective. Distinctive typed and read for thirty minutes in order to bring everyone up-to-date. Q was worried about being traced while he hacked the SFPD SWAT team and that he could lead Sindictive to #TheCollective. So, he blocked everything and went dark. He wouldn’t even try to trace Fishburne’s phone. #TheCollective had been in the dark since Stoney had beaten Lita’s old laptop with an iron.
Distinctive brought #TheCollective up-to-date. Then, Johnny_Free wrote, “Am I wrong that every time Avanta is around, the Voice goes away and vice/versa?” Hmm, thought Distinctive. Was that true? Distinctive read it out-loud to Lita and Stoney. Lita thought for a moment and said, “No, you said the Voice had spoken to you at the hotel, when you were talking to Avanta.” Distinctive wrote back and Johnny_Free said, “Okay, just wondering.” Distinctive told them about Lita’s theory about Avanta being Exclusivor.
Distinctive read most of the messages out loud as Lita listened to Q on the phone and Stoney set up the second laptop, formatted the drive and setting up Kali. In IRC, one of the newer members, Bitslapt, wrote, “This is probably going to piss you off, but I hacked your Bitcoin wallet and paid everyone for you.”
Distinctive wrote back: “You what?!” To Lita he said, “Unbelievable. That d-bag Bitslapt hacked my bitcoin wallet.”
Lita didn’t look at him.
Bitslapt wrote, “Yeah, sue me. Someone needed to handle payroll and after all, you had plenty of Bitcoin lying around, unused.”
“I told you I don’t know where that came from. It could be a trap. I wanted to find it’s source, first. You aren’t supposed to hack _me_.”
“_You_ aren’t supposed to be so hackable. We need to get you into cold storage for this much Bitcoin. Even after payday, we’re talking like four million in USD at the current exchange. You can’t leave that in a hot wallet.”
Distinctive snapped his laptop shut and slapped the steering wheel. Lita turned away, seemingly afraid to look at Distinctive. She said, “The Coinbase app alerted me that I’d been paid about an hour ago. Stoney, too.” She looked at Distinctive, and Stoney said “Five Bitcoin, D. That’s like, fifty, maybe seventy-five grand.”
“Seventy-five grand?” asked Distinctive.
“Maybe. I mean, I haven’t checked the exchange rate in over an hour. Might be twice that. Or, half that. But D, I really needed it. I haven’t been the same since Mt. Gox.”
Distinctive knew Stoney had needed the money. He said, “Whatever. You know, I guess payday is one less thing I have to worry about.” He looked at his list, and crossed off “Payroll.” Then he said, “I really have no idea where that money came from and no time to find out.”
Lita said, “We know.” Over the burner, she asked Q for an update on the SWATTING. Q didn’t answer.
Distinctive opened the laptop and typed out a response to Bitslapt. He wrote, “Thanks, Bitslapt. I appreciate you handling payroll. I’m glad we’re square. Sorry about being late. I honestly don’t know where it came from, or I would have paid you before.”
Bitslapt wrote, “Well, that’s another thing. In your absence, I made the executive decision to pull out five more bitcoin. I kicked off an AWS Hadoop cluster. Prairiephire and I are crunching some blockchain data. We want to see if we can figure out who donated that money. We can trace it on the blockchain, right? The trail undoubtedly ends where someone traded some fiat money and bought in. Either that, or they are mining. Either way, we’ll find it. Bitcoin is anonymous, but not invisible. The blockchain always gives up it’s skeletons.”
Distinctive read the message to Lita. He shook his head and said, “Looks like Bitslapt elected himself mayor of the #TheCollective.”
Lita said, “Come on, D. We’re a team. You could use the help and if he’s willing….” She put her hand on Distinctive’s. Distinctive liked the way that felt. She said, “Let him help you.”
Distinctive… knew she was right, but in the last open space on the back of the envelope, he wrote down three new anxieties. One: Bitslapt. Two: Fishburne. Where was he and why didn’t he answer his phone? Three: The Voice. What was she going to say when Distinctive retrieved his phone from his backpack?