Chapter 19 – Special Agent N00bcake (Part III)

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“I’m more interested in if people use it for less-than-legitimate purposes.”

Their trek took them into a workshop made of iron girders, wood floors, with a furnace and a circular dais. He carefully stayed back as Shodan charged in recklessly and flattened all opposition that rose to attack her. She seemed to carom off the walls and architecture as she slid like a ballerina through the mobs and drew them along with her.

“Of course they do,” Shodan typed.

She chased a large man around the room who shouted at her as she froze him in place, then pummeled him with glowing purple missiles and fireballs. He went down in freezing-flaming agony without putting up much of a fight.

“There are a number of black markets associated with bitcoins. Not that I mean all criminal markets, but markets that are more-or-less the Mos Eisley of the Internet. It’s not quite well known enough to have made it onto eBay, but there’s a few sites out there where people will trade bitcoins for goods and services. Oh, and yes, people have used it for a little bit of laundering in the past. It’s not quite stable enough for any real evil masterminds or the Mob to care about. So you don’t need to worry about someone threatening to break your legs or anything curious like that.”

Warren noticed that his XP bar—the indicator of how well he was doing in the game—happened to be filling at a fairly rapid pace from following in Shodan’s wake of destruction.

She paused again for another quick drink and when she finished, she sprang up and shouted: “Onto the pirate ship! Yo ho a pirate’s life for me!” After that shout she chugged what looked like a tankard of ale and then sped out through the doors.

That’s when the oddest message appeared: Shodan is totally smashed on Sulfuron Slammer!

“Are you drunk?”

“You betsh I am. It’s a lot funnier this way. Want shome?…hic!”

“You can get drunk in the game? It won’t…get you killed?”

“No…hic!” Shodan moved closer to him and gestured. “Would you like shome? It’sh funny, too bad they fixed when people typed ‘sitting.’ Funnier back then. Open a trade window.”

Curious, but not quite ready for whatever being drunk in a video game might do to him, Agent Warren decided the better part of valor would be to decline. “I think I should stay sober,” he typed.

“Shuit yourshelf! Letsh go clobber some piratesh… Shall we?”

The discussion made Warren think less about Mercer and her terrorist-cellphone-batch and about how she’d probably just handed him the next link in their investigation. Perhaps the bitcoin angle and the professors had a real implication. He’d asked for financial activity on all of them after the encounter earlier with Professor Whitaker’s wife and it seemed they’d all been withdrawing money and sending it to a place that exchanged them for dollars.

“I am enjoying the lecture on bitcoins. If I wanted to discover how someone had been using bitcoins, say in trade with someone else; how would I go about doing that?”

“Hire a hacker…hic!” Shodan said.

She charged up the side of the ship, obliterating shouting pirates as she went. It took all Agent Warren could do to keep up as she spiraled across the deck, dragging angered swabbies and deckhands with her into her twirling dance of death. Cries of defeat and dismay followed as he ran through ever-increasing piles of pixelated corpses to keep pace.

As they plowed across the bow of the ship, Shodan’s virtual inebriation seemed to be wearing off. The game put up a message saying as much at least.

“You would need to get the wallet address the person sent or received the bitcoins from and find those transactions in the bitcoin block-chain. All of that is public, and really easy to trace, but the problem is that getting the address the coins were sent to and from. To do that you’d need access to the wallet file of the person doing the transactions. That’ll tell you the address they’re using. Figuring out who has the other address is a separate chore.”

The captain of the boat emerged angrily from his cabin and met Shodan on the quarter deck. He shouted a battle cry as explosions rocked the boat and he made a beeline for Warren—but the towering mage intercepted with what Warren guessed must have been a lot more firepower than necessary. Fireballs erupted from the ground and battered the poor, small green skinned captain from his feet, then purple missiles flew, ice splashed from the ground and locked him in place—when the maelstrom of video game effects finally faded the goblin wobbled and fell down at Warren’s feet.

“The loot’s all yours,” Shodan typed. “I don’t need it.”

As Warren looted the corpse for all its interesting equipment, Agent Toller slipped around behind him and admired the different pieces as they looked on his character using the preview screen. While they poured over the equipment, Shodan stood idly and patiently.

“I’ve been reading along,” Toller said. “I’m not sure you’re investigating Mercer as much as she’s training you how to catch whatever’s going on with those professors you’re so curious about.”

“So, does that mean you’re in?” he asked.

A smile slithered along her lips and warped itself into a lopsided grin. “If you’ll let me play a few rounds of this game,” she said. “I’m definitely in. My book is getting boring anyway.”

Warren turned back to the computer. “Thanks,” he typed. “You’ve been extremely helpful and gave me a lot to think about.”

“Sure thing, n00b cake,” Shodan said. Her character bowed deeply on screen before vanishing by phasing out of sight. Moments later, Warren saw her portrait also disappear and a message told him that she’d left the group.

“Computer’s all yours,” Warren told Toller. “I need to get on the horn to the hive worker bees and have them start digging up possible Bitcoin-related transactions and these professors. I’m not sure what they’re up to—or that it’s even related to Mercer, but if it’s related to Harwood and its not legit… Well, I guess I’ll know when it’s time for Rockefeller to chew me out.”

Toller chuckled at her partner as she settled into the seat and went to make create herself a character in the game.

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