NaNoWriMo Preview #7
By the skin of their teeth
By Dennis L Hitzeman
Alexi stood there holding Vladimir, who had drifted into a stupor of exhaustion pressed against her leg. She didn’t even wait to contact Ryan. She sensed there was not much time, though she could not say why. She left a message in the usual place, and was startled when the chat connection came almost immediately.
“What have you found out? Ryan said.
She told him and was surprised to hear him laugh.
“That figures,” he said. “But I had to be sure. Thank you for your help, Alexi, and now I will help you. Leave where you are now as quickly as you can if you want to save yourself and Vladimir. Don’t worry about Alexander. Don’t worry about Vladimir’s people. Just get out and disappear.”
“I can’t just walk out…” she said.
“You can if you want to live,” he said. Then the line went dead.
She looked down at Vladimir and wondered if this was all worth it. She knew it was, but it would be just as easy for her to walk away as to take Vladimir with her. He’d been good to her, but his life of crime had to end.
She shook his shoulder. “Come on, now, Vladi, we need to take a trip.”
He muttered, “A trip? I have work to do.”
“Not until we get you cleaned up,” she said. “It won’t take long, I don’t think.”
She helped him to his feet and they made her way to the door where she left him leaning against the wall for a second. She made her way back into the scrum of catatonic hackers, found Anatoly and kicked him in the side.
He stirred and swore. “What? Oh, it’s you.”
She whispered, “If you want to live, come with me.”
He regarded her with bloodshot eyes, then struggled to his feet. “It’s come to that, then? What about the others?”
“What do you think,” she said, heading for the door.
“Leave them,” he said.
“Help me with Vladimir,” she said.
Lucas thought the helicopters were overkill, but the agent from the consulate and the officer from the Russian Special Intelligence Service assured him it was standard operating procedure.
They swooped through the mountain pass, coming upon the town and the scattering of dachas up the mountain side head on. They banked behind the target house, the choppers touching down just long enough to disgorge the twenty four response team members, Lucas, the consular agent, and the SIS officer.
The team moved with clockwork precision, surrounding the building and breaking in from several points at the same time. There was a lot of shouting, a couple of shots, and then the team began dragging out flex-cuffed and hooded suspects. Two came out in body bags.
About that time, the police bus rumbled up, and they brought the last man, whom Lucas recognized from the pictures as Alexander Varisky, notorious Russian crime facilitator, and more than a little confused as to what was going on.
He didn’t see three faces among the suspects, and that made him grimace. It appeared they had gotten away or had been tipped off. It didn’t matter, though. His government had gotten its take down.
He formed a private channel to the handler at the safehouse. “Go,” was all he said.
Alexi and Anatoly watched the take down of the dacha from the old pass above the town. Vladimir was long asleep by then.
“You knew they were coming,” Anatoly said.
She shrugged. “I knew something was coming.”
“Why save me?” he said.
“Your Vladimir’s best friend, Anatoly, even if you do think I’m going to get you all killed.”
He blushed. “I don’t believe that’s all there is, Alexi. You’re too cold hearted for that.”
“You and Vlad are a team, Anatoly, and were way before I knew you. That’s something I would like to preserve, for his sake if nothing else,” she said.
“I will not forget that,” Anatoly said, looking down as they loaded his onetime comrades into the police bus.
Natalia walked through the concourse of JFK feeling almost high she was so happy. She added a little extra sway because she liked the attention it brought her. She also liked that her presence in that airport meant that she had won at a very dangerous game. The feeling was exhilarating.
She made her way to the exit, thinking to take a cab to her hotel, but was surprised to see a man holding a sign with her name on it. Her real name. In an instant, her exhilaration turned to fear. She had been warned.
The man holding the sign came up to her and took her suitcase as if it was the most normal thing in the world. “Don’t make a scene, Miss Karova. You’re a professional, and now would be a really good time to act like it.”
“Of course,” she said, trying to control the quaver in her voice. “This just was not the reception I was expecting.”
“It’s a lot better than the one they had planned,” the man said.
She shot him a startled glance and he gestured her toward a waiting car.
Ryan sat back in his chair and extended the private channel. It was a few moments before his contact answered, and when he did, Ryan could feel the agitation the man exuded through the connection.
“What have you done with her,” his contact said.
“I’m surprised you care so much given that both you and the government planned to make sure her next stop was a morgue,” Ryan said.
“Do you really understand who you are dealing with?” the contact said.
Ryan laughed. These guys were like the bad guys from the old movies. “If you’ll recall, I used to work for you, watched you and the government murder several of my colleagues, and prevented you from following through on your plan. So, yes, I understand exactly who I am dealing with.”
“What do you want?” the contact said.
“Only to make sure you understand that I know what you were trying to do and that I have, at least for the time being, ensured that you will not be able to succeed.”
Then he keyed a sequence of letters and numbers and sent them to the man’s connection by a side channel.
“What?..” the contact said, but Ryan cut the channel before he could finish.
Kevin was astonished by his change in fortunes. Just two weeks before, he had been a cut rate scam artist with a knack for stealing people’s identities for fun and profit. Now, he sat in the data center of Larry Chestnut, one of the most renown and talented archivists the world had ever known. And all because he managed not to get rezzed when someone took down his employer’s hacking network.
And so it was that he found himself in the prime position to watch as one of the greatest hacks ever unleashed by anyone anywhere at any time began against the United States Government’s core network and several of its biggest defense contractors began.
Kevin accepted Larry’s private channel.
“Are you watching this?” Larry said. He sounded giddy.
“I am. What the heck is going on?” Kevin said.
“I think, as they say, the crap has hit the fan.”
“How do we record all of this?” Kevin said.
“Well, let’s get as much as we can live,” Larry said, “then we can go back and gather as many traces as we can later.”
Kevin laughed out loud with the excitement of it.
Natalia found herself in a comfortable but austere room, completely cut off from the outside world except for an intercom at the door and a rapid serve that kept her from being too hungry or bored.
She hadn’t spoken to anyone since her escort first dropped her off there what she thought was three days before. She’d spent the time running through theories of what might have gone wrong and how she might be able to get out of whatever trouble she found herself in.
Unfortunately, she kept coming back to the same conclusion. She had no idea what was happening, and that meant she was the prisoner of an actor she didn’t even know was in the play. The lack of knowledge made the panic rise in her chest again, and not for the first time she wanted to pound the walls and scream for help.
The comm chirped and showed someone standing outside; the same man who had deposited here there days before.
“May I come in?” he said.
“I don’t see how I can stop you,” she said.
The man came in, bearing a laptop—she hadn’t seen its like in a long time—and deposited himself on one of the chairs like he owned the place. For that matter, he probably did.
“You’ve been out of the loop for a few days, so I’ll catch you up,” he said. “Someone launched a second attack against the Core and several defense contractors, specifically Bione. They caused some major mischief, but no one knows what the attack was supposed to accomplish. The Russians have your man Alexander in custody along with a bunch of hackers, and the media is reporting that he’s being charged with placing a trojan inside the Core during his first attack. Oh, and they’re looking for you as an accomplice.”
Natalia’s fear changed to terror, but she fought it down. It was only reasonable that rat Alexander had given her up once he realized how much trouble he was in. Of course, her trip to the States was supposed to solve all that. But there was a bigger problem.
“I’m working for Bione,” she said.
The man shrugged, “I know, but no one is going to believe that after what’s happened over the past couple of days. The scuttlebutt is that you and Alexander were working for a consortium of crime syndicates trying to steal classified network technology from the American government. That’s high treason in several countries these days by any standard.”
“But, but… the syndicate was Bione… Them and a few other contractors,” she said. “I’ve been working for them for years now.”
The man smiled. He was good looking for his age. “But you’re a privateer, right? What’s your loyalty to them now?”
She bowed her head. “They said they would set me up. I want out.”
The man regarded her thoughtfully for a long while. “There still us a way out, I think, Miss Karova, but you’ve still got a little further to travel before you can get there.”
Her head shot up despite herself. She knew she was being played, but the glimmer of hope was more than she could resist.
“Well, it seems that you are the most dangerous asset in play for all the parties involved,” the man said, “Especially since, shall we say, your loyalties are questionable. It turns out I understand where your loyalties lie, and I can help you, I think, as long as you are willing to help me in return.”
She knew the man was right. Besides, what was the point in maintaining the pretense of loyalty when she had already betrayed so many? This was her end game one way or another, she supposed.