Dust Chapter 11 Part 1

Chapter 11: Legwork and Recon, abridged

I objected, naturally, but they’d been expecting that.

Kitty and PR wanted to see what Atom was capable of if they taught it to hack.

For reasons I’ve been over already I made it plain that was not going to happen.

Kitty and PR reasoned that because Noodles had already been told we were in Seattle, Atom sending off a distress call wouldn’t make any difference. They would monitor Atom and if it did send out anything they didn’t like the look of, the connection to the matrix would be severed and we’d clear out. They also promised that if Atom did get off a warning, they’d copy how he did it and start crying wolf all over the city, sending Roxorgh on a merry chase.

If they reckoned they could turn even a worst-case scenario to our advantage, I was interested.

Atom took to hacking like a flower-child to LSD. Kitty and PR cooked up a wireless card that logged all activity running through it, detailing every ISP address Atom visited and checking them against an extensive list of no-nos that would immediately alert Kitty and PR if it so much as glanced at them.

To my surprise Atom did not make a beeline to its masters and present us to them on a silver platter. What it did do was scan through terabytes of data looking for access codes to John Meadows Memorial hospital, where Noodles had told Kitty he was just before I pulled the plug back in Melbourne.

It searched for every name associated with the hospital that it could find then combed four different social networking sites looking for matches that lived in the area. From there it began looking for pets, children, favourite movies or games, references to childhood stuffed toys, anything that might conceivably be their passwords, then looked for significant numbers from their lives that might be relevant. As Moe-Moe explained it was basically what any hacker would do to work out someone’s password only Atom was doing it a lot faster and for hundreds of people at a time.

Atom took it one step further and gave the prospective passwords a dry run on a couple of different public email sites. Checking for username and password combinations that worked. From the hundreds of individuals Atom originally found, he successfully logged into the public email accounts of around twenty of them. One trick I liked was that Atom set up a free account for himself on each of these sites and then deliberately failed to log into his own account to test the security measures. He noted which sites sent out a warning email after X number of failed attempts and knew not to exceed that number and give himself away.

From there Atom went into the contacts lists of those employees and found work email addresses of another fifty.

My avatar turned to look at Kitty’s. “How long would that have taken the three of you working together?” I asked.

Hard to say.” Kitty replied. “For tasks that would require this much crunch work we’d rope in others to share the workload.”

Rough estimate?”

That many people? Three months.”

PR’s avatar beamed. “Fucking amazing is what it is. Atom is the future of computing.”

That sounded about right considering how long it took Noodles to do similar work, and Noodles had construct A.I.’s to help him.

I pretended to look at a watch my avatar was not wearing. “And how long’s it been?”

Since I began searching for the details of the employees or when I started looking for names connected to the facility?” Atom answered, as brightly as a first year trying to impress the professor.

Option B.”

Two hours, Nineteen minutes and 45 seconds to this instant.”

My virtual fingers rubbed my virtual chin. “Let’s hear the rest of this proposal.”

Which is how we ended up in Austin, Texas.

Getting to Texas from Washington had taught us a lot about the state of the union, or in PR’s words, ‘The Divided States of America.’ PR gave us a location in a town just outside the Washington border and from there we travelled overland illegally by hoverjet. I was highly impressed by our pilot, who effectively did the work of three people at once, at breakneck speed. Not only was she screaming across open plains, running rivers and poorly-maintained highways at well over 200km per hour, but she was detecting radar emitters, monitoring radio traffic and launching countermeasures.

Pretty much did the entire job I did when I was an Electronic Warfare Operator in the army.

On top of that she was forever keeping one virtual eye on the radar screen and the constantly up-dating GPS route, which kept changing depending on the movements of state troopers, border guards and unmanned aerial drones.

Even considering she was in a direct-to-brain interface with the hoverjet’s systems and thus doing all of this at the speed of thought, it was still incredible work.

The disturbing part was that we needed her at all. She was, in effect, smuggling us across the country and past the authorities. We hadn’t even done anything illegal yet.

The hovercraft dropped us off at a warehouse on the outskirts of Dalhart, just inside the border.

Inside the warehouse was an old bomb of a car PR had ready so we could drive to Austin.

Texas was not at all what I’d been expecting. After the demilitarised zone stylings of the state borders on the west coast, I was expecting everyone to be walking around with six-guns on their hips, screaming ‘Yippie Kai-Yay as they jumped their gas-guzzlers over hay bales and looking sideways at everyone not wearing a ten-gallon hat.

Though everyone I spoke to insisted that such places did exist in Texas, Austin was completely different.
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