Chapter 25 – Knocking Open Doors (Part II)« Chapter 25 – Knocking Open Doors (Part I) Chapter 26 – Something Strange is Afoot (Part I) »
Morehouses’s office was occupied.
When Frog opened the door she thought it had been unlocked by the KNOCK spellcode earlier; but instead of it being empty, she discovered a male student hunched over a computer screen, headphones on, tabbing through charts. The tinny sound of his loud metal music could be heard spilling wicked bass through the room. So engrossed in whatever he was working on, he didn’t notice as Elaine and Frog walked into the room.
He nearly jumped out of his chair when Frog tapped him on the shoulder.
“I—Wha? Who?” he said as he peeled his headphones off; the sound of the metal music rose in crescendo from the bright orange headset. His shaggy hair had been sprayed carefully into place—smashed in the middle by the headphones—and his shirt had a vivid logo on it displaying a brutal image for some unknown band.
“We’re looking for Professor Morehouse,” Elaine said as she used her foot to close the door behind her.
“He’s out for the day,” the student said. “I’m Jesse Treadaway…his graduate assistant. Can I help you?”
A hard look entered Elaine’s eyes. “Yes,” she said. “What were you doing on Wednesday around nine at night? Someone was here, in this room, using your ASU account.”
“Huh,” Jesse said. He removed the headphones and hit a key on the computer to silence them. “I knew I recognized you,” he continued, “you’re that girl from IT who can fix almost anything. This isn’t about that virus I accidentally downloaded, is it? That got fixed.”
“No,” Elaine said. “Wednesday, nine PM?”
“I would have been at home,” Jesse said. “I try to get out of here before eight,” he cast them a sheepish look, “I might be in grad school for applied mathematics but I practice with my band at nine on Wednesday. Gotta have a social life, you know.”
“You’re hiding something,” Elaine said. “Did you really accidentally download that virus to the computer?”
“Uh, yes,” he said. Licking his lips, he looked to check and see if the door was closed, and lowered his voice. “I know that certain, heh, extracirruclar activities are frowned on in these office. I was just downloading some videos…you understand…” His face reddened somewhat.
“What kind of videos?” Elaine asked.
Frog placed a hand on her shoulder and smiled. “I don’t think we need to know what kind of videos, Jesse. However, if you’d like to help us out with some information on Professor Morehouse, I think that we can let you off the hook for your downloading habits.”
Jesse swallowed. Hard.
“Okay,” he said. He looked between Frog and Elaine with rapid glances as if deciding whether or not he could just run. “What do you want to know?”
“Good choice,” Frog said. “Dear, you ask the questions.”
It would be a long shot, but Elaine felt as if anyone would know what a professor might be working on, it would be their graduate assistant. “What project is Morehouse working on with Professors Linscott, Whitaker, and Shutters?” she asked.
“What, his poker buddies?” Jesse said. “I don’t think—”
“Any information you have will go a long way to making us look the other way,” Frog said.
“Alright,” he said and took a deep breath. “But you didn’t hear this from me, okay? So, lately Morehouse has been spending a lot of time down in a computer fabrication lab that is run by Whitaker’s engineering team. I think they’re working on a defense project or something. It requires a lot of expensive equipment, like proprietary GPU cards and water cooling.
“A few days ago, I walked in to see Professor Shutters writing a note for Morehouse. He was acting strange, and wouldn’t talk to me. Is that his laptop?”
Jesse’s attention had wandered over to Frog, Elaine brought it back to her with a snap of her fingers.
“You said Shutters was writing a note. Did he have that laptop with him?”
“Where did he go after writing the note?”
“He left, I think he was headed to the lab,” Jesse said and shrugged. “Like I said, he didn’t talk to me, he just asked, ‘Where’s Eric?’ and when I told him that Professor Morehouse had left for the evening he looked agitated and said if he did show up to contact him or Whitaker. He left the note and his laptop. That laptop.”
Frog shifted her stance. “If that’s the case, his laptop must have ended up back in his office after he came back for it.”
Elaine said, “That doesn’t explain why the note is still on it.”
“Oh,” Jesse said. “I forgot, Morehouse did show up after Linscott—I told him about the note—he took the laptop.”
Elaine nodded. “Where is this computer lab?” she asked.
“The fab lab is in the science and technology building, right across the way. Laboratory E3, I think. There’s a big yellow elephant on the door—it’s impossible to miss.”
“What are you thinking?” Frog said.
“I think that it wouldn’t take that many specialized GPU cores to make system capable of running a Rössler Engine—and now that I know what kind of equipment is being used, I’m certain it must be. It all makes a lot more sense now. Shutters studies chaos mathematics, the others do applied mathematics, engineering, and computer science. Put that together with everything else we’ve seen and it’s obvious what they’re building.”
“It’s not obvious to me,” Jesse said. “Who is Rossler?”
Elaine fixed him with a hard stare and he sunk back into his chair.
“One more thing. What do you know about Bitcoin?” Elaine said.
“What’s Bitcoin?” Jesse asked.
Elaine started to answer when the Enoch’s alarm went off.
A rapid series of pings screeched from the phone and she flipped it open. A video from Dean Harwood’s office resolved on the screen—transmitted from the spellcoded door that now acted as a very large, specialized video camera. She quickly flipped the phone closed and grabbed the door handle.
“The client is in trouble,” she said. “Hadaly, please contact Tango and invite him to visit us at the office earlier than he suggested. Do it now.”
Without another word, she vanished into the hall and broke into a run.
As Frog was on her way out the door, Jesse stood up suddenly from his chair.
“So, I’m off the hook, right?” Jesse asked Frog.
She let her eyes drift down to him and chuckled low under her breath. “Hon, we don’t care that you were downloading porn on the University’s computers. Just don’t let the virus thing happen again.”
“I won’t,” he said as the door closed behind her.« Chapter 25 – Knocking Open Doors (Part I) Chapter 26 – Something Strange is Afoot (Part I) »