Chapter 7 – Turnabout is Fair Ambush (Part II)

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Larry folded his arms and sighed loudly. “What is it?”

Hitting a stud on the side of the Enoch, Elaine triggered a small projector behind a slit in her goggles. An oscillating beam of light issued forth and reflected off the inside of her goggles—dates and text spilled across her vision and she waited a moment for the system to gauge her current focal field. Hadaly had finished her fact-finding mission only a minute before and came back with some extremely potent results. She’d highlight the relevant data and promoted it to the top of the information stream being send to the Enoch handset.

“October 22nd and 23rd this year and November 1st last year,” Elaine said, reading from the data points. “Do those dates ring any bells? Perhaps I could go on… I’ve got five more, dating back three years.”

Smartbomb: deployed.

“Why are those dates familiar?” Casey said, looking at Elaine with a deep suspicion.

Elaine continued to read, “Urban Environmental Planning 190, Engineering Technology Core 201, triple-E 201…and triple-E 211…”

Smartbomb: detonated.

Brad choked. “Stop! I don’t know what you’re getting at but it’s not going to work.”

“Those dates and classes they don’t mean anything to you?” Elaine said. “Should I go on?”

“Not if you value your brother’s future in the DarkNet game, you shouldn’t,” Brad said.

Elaine took a deep breath and used the thumb-scroll on the Enoch to bring up the rest of the list.

Then, in the next moment, Casey’s face went slack, her shoulders came up, and she looked to Brad. Larry’s expression followed a similar course, he looked defeated, eyes pleading with Brad not to continue baiting Elaine.

Brad swallowed. “I—” He expression froze for a moment as if confused. Casey growled and flung her arms up and her outburst shocked him out of his stun long enough for him to step away as she almost lunged for him.

“You didn’t, you puta!” she said. Coming down the stairs she brushed Larry aside when he tried to stop her. Her Chicana accent darkened as her face reddened and she clenched her fists into balls. “You told me that mierda would stop. You told us it would sto—”

“Shut up, Casey,” Brad said. “This isn’t the time or the place. Let’s just.”

Casey raised a single finger and pressed her lips together. “Ben! Al! Please take everyone else and get out of here. Larry, Brad, and I must have words together.” She snatched the recorder-pen from Brad and tossed it back up the stairs to Ben, who caught it. She cracked her knuckles as the rest of the DarkNet team filtered wordlessly out of the stairwell.

The sound of footfalls fell into the distance; nobody moved or spoke until well long after both doors closed the final time.

Casey and Brad seemed trapped together in a battle of wills, one staring at the other, waiting for someone to blink.

“What’s that all about?” Frog asked.

“Cheating,” Elaine said.

Frog raised an eyebrow at her friend, but relaxed herself. Expecting a long go at this, she removed her safari hat and rubbed her forehead. Small beads of sweat had formed on her brow from the intensity. With many fewer people in the room—and among those who were had their attention directed at one another—she could stand down and let Elaine do her work. Whatever strange work that meant doing.

“She doesn’t know anything,” Brad said.

Pfaw,” Casey spat. “If she figured it out so easily, then wouldn’t someone else figure it out? It could lead right back to us. Did you think of that? I can’t believe this!”

“You mean it didn’t stop?” Larry said.

“I’m not following,” Frog said.

Elaine gestured to Brad, Casey, and Larry. “Each of the dates and classed I named are midterms,” she said. “In every case they were classes which all three of them were in attendance. The grades in each of the classes showed a distinct statistical skew that the other classes they were in alone did not display.

“I had Hadaly collate all their classes together and compare the statistics from their Freshman year when they were accused of cheating. The analysis should have been pretty easy, but the effect is extremely subtle. When they’re together in a class, they always have a better grade-to-peer ratio than their classmates which causes them to have higher grades.”

She flipped the projection off; the data and all the statistical mapping that went into the visualization vanished from her view.

“They were cheating,” Elaine said.

He.” Casey stabbed a finger at Brad. “I didn’t cheat anything. He must have been cheating. I studied for those classes! I worked hard and I earned those grades. I just wanted to forget what we did Freshman year. Almost getting caught. That wasn’t enough for you? You just had to keep going. Didn’t you? Why did I agree to be part of this game with you! I don’t believe you!”

“I didn’t do this,” Brad said. He walked away from Casey woodenly and sat down on the second step, shoulders tight, jaw working. “It should have stopped when we all stopped.”

“My mom almost cut me off, Brad,” Larry said. His wrist must have miraculously healed itself because he was wringing his hands with a nervous urgency. “I know that they didn’t find anything on us. Heh, how could they, after all, but we promised each other that we’d stop. How could this happen?”

“How many times do I have to say I didn’t do this?” Brad said.

Casey raised a hand. “Fine,” she said. “Then tell me who did?”

“What if it’s working autonomously?” Elaine said.

“What?” Casey said.

“She means it’s running by itself,” Frog said.

“I know what autonomous means,” Casey said. “What makes you think one of us isn’t doing it?”

“Maybe we can work together, after all,” Elaine said. “I want to know how you did it—which is useful, because otherwise I can’t fix whatever’s happening. Obviously, you found some sort of a trick to help your grades. Let’s be clear: I do not care that you cheated. This has nothing to do with my brother’s team. I need the information for a case I’m on.”

“I promise you, I did not use the manuscript to cheat in those classes,” Brad said. “It must be something else.”

Casey sniffed at him and scuffed her shoe against the ground.

“Fine,” she said. “Just… Not here. This place is giving me the creeps. I know a place in the Law Library that’s always quiet and we won’t be disturbed. Plus, that’s where we got the books that taught us how to do this in the first place. You game?”

“I’m game,” Elaine said.

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