Distinctive had waited as long as he could, but things were going badly, so he was heading home. To the airport, back to DC.
“Things were going badly” was putting it mildly. Not only was he being blackmailed, had broken a dozen laws, and Avanta had been kidnapped, but now Sam Fishburne had gone dark and Q had informed Distinctive the SWAT team had stood down. It appeared the SFPD had wizened to SWATting. It was a ruthless and ham-fisted tactic. And except that Avanta was in real danger and it was almost legit, Sean felt ashamed he’d gone along with it.
On speaker phone from his undisclosed location, Q said the SWAT team was breaking up. Weapons were holstered. They were hugging and shaking hands. Q said, “D, you gotta head back to DC now.”
Distinctive didn’t want to, but of course Lita and Stoney were on Q’s side. And, Distinctive knew they were right. He did need to go back. They had not able to find Avanta. If she wasn’t at that apartment, another plan would take days to hatch. Distinctive knew he needed to get back and tune his lathe. Real life as Sean couldn’t wait any longer. He hoped Avanta would understand.
Before heading to catch a flight at SJC back in San Jose, Distinctive swung by a head shop with a Bitcoin ATM, converted a single Bitcoin to 12,000 USD, gave 3000 of it as a fee to the shop owner for his discretion, and then dropped Lita and Stoney at a used car lot. He then drove to the airport. Lita would buy a car so they didn’t have to rent one and Distinctive would return his official rental, pray for an available standby back to DC and hopefully have time to run to his flat and grab a shower before he had to go into work.
Lita and Stoney would stay to figure out as much as they could about what happened with the police and Drive Bye and Sindictive and Avanta. Meanwhile, #TheCollective was working the Internet already, turning over every stone and following any lead they could. Bitslapt knew a guy who knew a guy who had installed a dozen homemade Stingray-like devices on many poles and water towers around the Bay area, and they were searching for any cell phone that might be linked to Sindictive in any way. Johnny Free was gathering the OSINT.
Their best lead was one of Sindictive’s known exes. Her name was Kelly. She had posted on Twitter that she had a date with a guy named Steven and later posted a picture together. It was clearly Sindictive, meaning his OpSec was horrible. A week later, Kelly complained on Twitter that men were creeps. It appeared he hadn’t called for a second date.
Johnny Free pieced things together using Maltego. When he thought he had enough, he sent it to Prairiephire, who fed it to hydra and started brute-forcing Kelly’s Apple ID. If they could access her cloud account, they might be lucky to find Steven Matthews’ phone number still in her contact list. If so, they ought to know his whereabouts by morning.
And, hopefully, Avanta’s whereabouts, too.
On the flight home, with the help from a couple tiny airplane bottles of scotch, Sean slept. Sean figured he’d need the rest by the time he got to work.
Hours later, he was right. His flight landed on time at 5:41am and he made it back to his flat, nuked a frozen burrito in the microwave, showered and did a load of laundry. He easily made it to work on time, only to have Geri accost him at security and harangue him about Avanta. Geri knew they’d both taken the previous day off and Avanta had let it slip that she and Sean were driving together to San Jose. Geri sternly reminded him about the company policy for fraternization, which was ironic given Geri’s amorous efforts in California. Sean didn’t bother reminding her that Avanta had never been his direct report. Besides, she had been promoted. Sean and Avanta were peers.
He didn’t say anything because he knew things were going to be worse on Monday when Avanta’s PTO was up and she was due back and didn’t show up at all.
After work, Sean took the train home, fell nearly instantly asleep without even eating, and dreamt.
In his dream, he was in a truck. He was back in the military but the truck was more like something a security guard working for Brinks would be using to transport cash.
In real life, Sean hadn’t even made it out of basic training, but his dream had put him in a war zone in a Brinks truck. His dreams did that to him a lot.
The truck stopped and everyone got out. Besides the driver, there were a half-dozen other soldiers. He got out just as the horizon… lit up. The horizon lit up like Cheech partying in Las Vegas on the longest, hottest day of the year. A wave of heat stormed toward Sean. It was hot. It was red. It was dark. Dark. Red. Hot.
The truck he had been riding it was not made of lead, but it was a dream, so the lead truck he had been riding in had melted. The truck saved him.
In his dream, the wash of the extremities of the massive explosion bathed around him as he sheltered behind the truck. Sean looked left. The truck’s driver, Sargent Phillips, melted in the bath of heat. Sean looked right. Leslie, a fellow PFC, jumped toward him a fraction of time too late. Her legs melted. She was alive, but she had no legs.
In his dream, Sean was not very bothered by any of this.
Then he woke up. And, everything about it bothered him. His dream was the nightmare he expected to happen just about any day now. He had read the reports. He’d dreamt about an atomic lathe wobbling out of control. Just like the stolen documents on wikileaks said it would happen.
Sean awoke fully dressed. His feet were on his pillow. His head down and the end. He had a crease across his face from the footboard.
Sean slowly pulled himself up, then went and sat down at his computer, opened IRC and typed a quick hello to the channel. Sean had been exhausted after work, so he’d walked in his flat, fell down on his bed, and fallen asleep.
#TheCollective had members in most of the time zones, or at least enough time zones that there should be a handful of hackers around to chat. But, only Bitslapt responded.
Bitslapt typed: Hey, you’re back.
Distinctive sighed. Crap. The last person he wanted to talk to. He was happy to be in his flat, sitting at his bank of monitors, so he typed back: Yeah.
Bitslapt said: You want an update?
Bitslapt said: You’re terse.
D: Sorry. It’s early, I’m jet-lagged.
B: Okay. Wondering if you’re still mad, though.
Distinctive was furious with Bitslapt, but he typed: I was never mad.
B: Not what Stoney said.
Distinctive let out a long exhale. He typed: So, what’s up with Avanta?
B: No news yet. Prairiephire thinks she’ll have an ESN or IMSI any time.
D: What’s the holdup?
B: Apparently this Kelly woman she’s trying to brute-force is a CISO-type at some startup. She has good passwords, and undoubtedly enabled multi-factor.
D: No way Prairiephire can brute-force that.
B: Yeah, I thought the same. She said she found a new way around the rate limiting last week, just like Pr0x13 a couple of years ago. But, this Kelly woman has good passwords. It’s unlikely to work.
D: What carrier?
B: She’s with AT&T.
D: AT&T has horrible training. It could be pretty easy to get a new SIM card out of them.
B: We’re calling that plan D. We’re trying some other stuff first. A couple hours ago I gave her until six eastern before we pivot.
Despite himself Distinctive was impressed. His team was functioning well without him. That hadn’t been the case in the past. Maybe Lita was right, maybe Bitslapt could be useful. Distinctive wrote: All right. Anything else?
B: We’re hammering away everywhere. We have enough Bitcoin to get some help from the guys in Darkworld and we have probably two million nodes in a slapped-together botnet cracking everything we can. I gotta say, seems like overkill for some chick you had a fling with.
D: I didn’t have a fling with her.
B: Stoney said something about a kiss.
Distinctive thought, OMG! Why is Stoney suddenly so talkative?!? Distinctive wrote: I gotta run.
But he didn’t get up. Distinctive just sat there. Bitslapt was such a jerk. For years, Distinctive managed to surround himself with people he got along with. He practically architected his life that way. Now he got on with nearly no one.
Distinctive thought about his dream and how his Sargent had melted in the heat. He wondered what Bitslapt would look like melting in heat like that. Bitslapt was pretty new to #TheCollective and of course they’d never met in person.
Maybe he looked like the sergeant, or maybe he was small like Stoney, or big like Fishburne, or… or maybe he looked like Benjamin. Benjamin was a jerk, too. Distinctive smiled and his mood improved slightly. Benjamin had been such a jerk to him and Avanta while in Longbeach, and it was karma that he had been reassigned to Longbeach until Avanta wrapped up her job in DC and moved to California. Benjamin wasn’t happy about it and that pleased Sean. Even better, when Avanta didn’t show up Monday, Benjamin was going to be stuck there a little longer.
Right then, the Voice said, “Rough morning, if you’re up this early. I know that feeling.”
Sean grunted a reply. The Voice had returned in full force two days before.
The Voice went in streaks. A couple of days on, a couple off. It was old already, but Sean worried about ghosting her again. He’d done it twice now, and nothing had happened. But, he had a bad feeling.
As though the Voice could read his mind, she said, “Make sure you have your phone with you today, and take your laptop, too. I might be calling on you to do something.”
Sean grabbed his phone and stood up and shouted, “No way, I can’t take the laptop in to work. They are very particular about what we are allowed to have.”
But the Voice just said, “Make it happen.” When Sean said, “Come on!” there was no response. “Hello? HELLO?” Nothing. He sat down heavily.
Sean actually had a couple of ways he thought he could smuggle in his laptop in to work. He liked hacking things, after all, and smuggling his laptop in was a form of hacking the system. But, he never really intended to do it.
He thought for a moment, then went to his bedroom and dug around under the bed. He found an old beater laptop, collecting dust for at least two years. While he prepped for work, he formatted it and dropped on the latest version of Kali. He pulled a private github repo that had all his bash, tmux and vim configuration files and by the time he left, he felt pretty good. He could take this laptop in, and be ready to do whatever the Voice wanted, but not risk security confiscating his good laptop.
He was also excited by the idea of being able to stay in touch with #TheCollective all day. He had a plan for being able to sneak away at lunch and check IRC for news on Stoney, Lita, Q and Avanta. With so much going on, being away for an entire workday would be excruciating.
While walking to his train, Sean saw her again. That woman from the train… what… two weeks ago? Had it been two weeks already? She had followed him that morning, and he had tried to hack her phone, but it didn’t work. He had noticed her military-style protective vest, very subtle. Was she wearing it again today?
When the train jolted to a halt at the next station, Sean moved to get off. He’d run from her before, and it had worked. Hopefully it would work again.
Sean knocked through the crowd trying to board the train. He hoped to get out without that woman being able to follow. He was nearly off, then two people shoved him just as he reached the doors. A voice came over the intercom announcing the doors closing. There was a beep. The doors started to close. Sean stepped off the train. Just as he did, and just before the doors fully closed, Sean felt a tug on his backpack.
He turned around to grab it, thinking it had slipped off his back. As he turned, the doors closed completely.
On the other side of the closed doors, standing on the departing train, was the woman. She had a tactical pocket knife in one hand, Sean’s backpack in the other, and a huge smile across her face.
Sean tapped his pockets, checking for his phone and wallet. Nope. He had put it all in the backpack! Of all mornings to bring this backpack! Even the keys to his flat where in there!
Then it hit him. He had been set up. That woman was the Voice. Despite Lita’s insistence the Voice was female, Sean had still imagined the Voice to be big and mean and male. Nope. The Voice was young, attractive, and in her hand she held almost everything Sean cherished.
Sean watched the train pull away. He was stuck between the need to make work on time and not further antagonize Geri, and the need to get home and save his good laptop and the rest of his gear. With the keys to his flat and the security card in his wallet, this woman, the Voice, she could just stroll right in.