Chapter 18 – No Bothans Were Harmed During This Operation (Part I)

«      »

Zane enthroned himself in his ergonomic computer chair in the living room as he, Elaine, Frog, Roger, and Hadaly all held an audience by the flickering light of the numerous monitors. Each one currently displayed scenes from different video games as they cycled through downloading all the various media feeds that Zane consumed during a day—podcasts, vidcasts, TV shows, and such.

The shifting shadows loomed a large audience over the suspenseful allure of their almost-clandestine meeting.

“I have gathered you all here because there’s been a break in the case,” Elaine said.

After having Hadaly address the new data that Elaine gathered from her advisor’s computer regarding not only her grades, but those of most of the students under her purview, she immediately had Frog call this extremely-late-night meeting. Although most of them had a hectic day with classes or video games, the group looked somewhat energized—still Roger’s eyes drooped a bit from what Elaine surmised was probably him being unaccustomed to sharing a dimly lit room surrounded with shifting computer screens at 11pm at night. He would adapt.

With his usual pomp and style, Zane decided to shatter the mystique of the occasion by sucking on a plastic bubble-pipe as if he were smoking it. He grinned and gestured broadly with it.

“Thanks, sis, with your help Benjamin managed to solve the problem in less than an hour. Making us the second DarkNet team to solve the bonus round.” He eyed Frog momentarily as he spoke—she ignored his expression and continued to lounge on the couch raptly attendant to one of the media feeds displaying some mediaeval video game with steam-powered armor. “So, I got your message earlier and I am now wondering what’s brought us all here tonight. There’s so many things going on.”

“At least the trust-fund brat has a purpose,” Frog said—referring to Benjamin Miller again and his often crummy attitude about having to work with others. She held her nose and waved her hand as to mock his propensity to wear too much cologne.

“He’s behaved himself well this time,” Elaine said, “and he’s managed to make himself useful as the other computer scientist on Zane’s team. However, I’m here to discuss something important, if you’ll give me a moment to finish setting up my presentation.”

Zane didn’t wait for Elaine to continue with said presentation.

“I know!” he said, leaning forward in his seat. “You’re here to tell me about that van that was parked out front. It’s not there anymore, you know. I suspect that’s part of whatever sinister plan it was part of. Instead, there’s a Ford truck in front of the neighbors house. I think something is up, the truck is brown—their truck is blue.”

“It’s in the neighbor’s driveway,” Frog said. “And, I think it’s actually your neighbor’s truck. It’s just covered in lots of dirt.”

Zane went back to sucking on his plastic pipe. “A likely story.”

“I’m not here about the Eurovan,” Elaine said. She unlocked and opened the Enoch so that the internally-lit Enochian keys were visible, unhooked it from her goggles, and set it on the table between them. That exposed a single holographic emitter (a micronized type similar to those used to project Hadaly’s ion-blue form into the room.) “Frog and I came across some interesting information as part of a case that I’m working on for the Dean of Engineering. Those of you not already involved in it are being sworn in right now—that means Roger—and I expect confidentiality in this regard.”

“Okay,” Roger said. He’d been sitting quietly on the edge of the couch, hunched over so that he could see around one of the many giant flat panel monitors scattered haphazardly around the room. “I understand now why you were so reluctant to speak to me about this whole affair. It’s related to a college at the…college?”

Zane noticed Roger’s precarious position and while Elaine began her presentation, he got up and moved the monitor so that Roger didn’t have to bend his neck at a near sixty-degree angle in order to see everyone in the room. He mouthed his thanks as Zane went back to his seat and everyone waited for the story to unfold.

“Earlier Frog and I went for a visit to my advisor, Dr. Fedora, in order to see if I couldn’t determine why I have suddenly been placed on academic probation. As it turns out, I’ve been the victim of a grade-fixing scam and the perpetrators contacted me via the internal University e-mail system in order to threaten me with further aggressive action if I should continue my investigation.”

She paused a moment to wait for the demo application she executed to finish loading.

“As a clue, this is a very provocative one,” Elaine said when the screen lit up, and pressed a button to trigger the holographic emitter. “It means that I’m on the right track. I just need to determine which track that is. Unfortunate for the perpetrators, the very act they’ve committed gives me extra information on how the grade-fixing works.”

A constellation of azure points sprang up out of the smartphone on the table, ejected as if from a fountain they sprayed up into the air where the they froze in place within a rotating 3D space. Small spheres of light popped up around concentrations of blue dots and lines flowed together to collect them; the floating chart didn’t seem to have a central formation, but a lattice network of clusters of dots interconnected often to their furthest—not closest—clusters. Elaine hit another key and one cluster nearest to her shimmered and formed mostly amber dots. Sixteen dots in total turned orange, only two dots remained blue and only two connectors attached that sphere to other clusters.

“Many Bothans died to bring us this information,” Zane said solemnly. After every eye in the room darted to him and Frog shook her head with a grin, he relented. “Go on, sis. I’ll be quiet.”

Elaine reached into the hologram and began to point out clusters. “Each of the clusters that you see represents a series of anomalous student grades in a particular college—this data reflects over three-hundred-and-fifty Universities across the United States,” Elaine said. “I had Hadaly expand the parameters after my talk with Dr. Fedora.

“This supercluster here—” She motioned to a group of light-spheres that contained everything but the one with the amber dots and its two connected spheres. “—represents the colleges most affected by the anomaly. And this—” She gestured to the one with the amber dots. “Happens to be Arizona State University, and the connecting to it is Eastern Michigan University and the University of Madison.”

Roger raised his hand.

“Roger,” Elaine said.

“Does that mean that EMU and UofM there are both involved?”

«      »

About this entry