The ‘Silicon Hills’ were doing a lot better economically and Texas itself was in better economic shape than many other parts of the country. The lack of burned-our husks on the side of the roads suggested the Texas rangers were keeping the peace better than the California highway patrol. And generally, wherever we went we were greeted with a friendly, if obnoxious “Howdy Stranger.” Casual perusal of a few local-news blogs revealed murmurs of a secessionist sentiment bubbling among the population. But that could be just because it’s Texas.
In many ways it reminded me of Australia, we both had the reputation of producing large, rugged outdoorsmen, ready for the rough and tumble but not too hot on table-manners and social mores.
I also recognised how many of them would immediately play up to the stereotype on the slightest inkling we might be from out of state. One service-station attendant even surreptitiously donned a ten-gallon hat from behind the counter when he saw the rental number plate on our car.
Naturally I played back by ending every sentence with the word “mate” and responding to the “Howdies” with an enthusiastic “G’day”
It was the first time in my life I missed my slouch hat from my dress uniform. If I’d had that in Texas, well let’s just say “that’d be grouse mate.”
Also being Australian, Kitty joined in. But when that created the illusion that we were husband and wife (somehow) she stopped immediately. It became another thing she resented me for.
Tachi’s Uesugi Kenshin avatar stood at the head of the table in Kitty’s ‘bat cave’.
The rest of us were parked at the side chairs in our default sitting positions. I leaned back in my chair, PR’s Uncle Sambo had his feet up on the table and puffed on a cigar as wide as a toilet roll. Kitty reclined across her chair and preened her nails, while Moe-Moe bounced and rolled in her seat.
Next to me sat Atom, who had upgraded his avatar again. It’d switched back to human but had given the mall brat an age upgrade, now he looked like a youth in a black motorcycle jacket, baggy Kevlar jeans and a pair of tech specs.
Tachi began the meeting.
“Our first objective is to confirm that Noodles’ braincase is in fact within the John Meadows Memorial Hospital.” Tachi began. “Once that has been achieved we can move on to other, more difficult tasks.”
PR puffed out a jet of smoke. “Oh so now you don’t believe us?”
“As Kitty was quick to point out to Dust, there is a real possibility that Noodles’ conduct was being monitored. Therefore we must also entertain the possibility that Noodles has deliberately misled you and that this is a trap, albeit one riding on the slim chance that we would even attempt this rescue.”
Moe-Moe bounced up. “Well we’re here aren’t we?”
“We’re only here because of what we’ve discovered about Atom’s capabilities. Unless RCF have been extensively briefed on Atom, beyond the bare necessities needed to recover it, it is doubtful they would have anticipated this.”
I jumped in here to move things along. “So if it turns out that we cannot confirm that Noodles is somewhere in the facility, we pull the plug. We pack our bags and head to Flint.”
Kitty nodded. “We have the work email address of fifty hospital employees. I asked Atom to find out which of the employees best fit the profile of ‘class clown’ to give us an avenue through which we can deliver our first virus payload. It will be in the form of an email loaded with funny cartoons and other joke pictures. So it’ll seem like the sort of thing this person would do anyway.”
Super Moe-Moe Ball giggled, shaking her floating ball. “That payload is a little gem of mine called ‘Running commentary.’ It’s basically the direct-to-brain equivalent of the old keylogger software. Every command our victim inputs into their computer is stored in a transcript. We’re going to record the first 24 hours of commands he or she enters into their machine and find their access commands through that.”
PR gave a sharkteeth smile. “Atom can read through all of our victim’s emails, to get us an idea of who is who in the building. Access to the corporate directory should also allow us to pinpoint who their head of security is. From there, it’s just a matter of finding out how to squeeze him.”
“Or hopefully it could be as easy as helping him misplace his tablet for an hour.” I added.
Kitty looked at me. “Won’t that raise suspicion?”
“You’d be surprised.” I shrugged. “Raising the alarm at the first sign your highly sensitive information has gone walkabout is a good idea. But for some reason bureaucrats get snippy when their security head makes everyone do the lockdown dance because he can’t find his tablet. Until he’s certain the thing has been stolen he’ll keep it quiet.”
Tachi raised his hand. “Again you are jumping ahead. We won’t need the security head’s access just to find if Noodles is in the facility. An administrator or even a receptionist’s access might be enough. If you can gain access to our victim’s computer, might you be able to forward our hilarious virus package to such a person.”
Kitty nodded. “Absolutely.”
“Then that, I might suggest, is what we concentrate on.”
Our unfortunate ‘class clown’, one Herschel Stampson (what parent gives their kid a name like that?) must have been freaking hilarious, because Roberta Teracluse, the work contact we found in his account, forwarded on the email herself. By the time ‘Running Commentary’ got back to us, it had managed to install itself on every machine in her department. Come tomorrow, we would have all their access as well.
Days later I looked across the table at Kitty and asked. “What did you send?”
Kitty grinned and bounced her eyebrows at me. “Funny cat pictures.”
Tachi put his hands together. “Looks like it’s only a matter of time before…”
“Found it!” Atom exclaimed. “In Lab B of the Vanderburg building. We have a patient that was relocated from Al Kalimat hospital in Aleppo, Syria on the third of this month.”
I looked at Tachi. “…before Atom rattles off the answer?”