Chapter 10 – Cakewalk Tango (Part II)

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“I’m not the enemy here,” Zach said. She glanced up from her phone just in time to watch him cross his well-thewed arms across his unformed chest. As a member of the campus security himself, he cut a particularly formidable figure as he loomed over her. “And no, nobody’s raiding your lab. I just wanted to check up on Blaine’s little sister. He tells me you’ve been lost in your own little world again and a few days ago the dean calls me again. Don’t try to tell me something isn’t up.”

Elaine stared him down. “I am operating within established system parameters,” she said. “You can letBlaineknow that everything is fine. His assistance will not be required at this juncture—nor would yours. As you are currently blocking my egress, could you move out of the way? Otherwise I may be forced to walk around you.”

Her eyes darted side to side in a show of her intent. To the casual Halo: Combat Evolved video gamer, Zach did seem wider than an M12 FAV Warthog, but the Computing Commons atrium thoroughfare could accommodate three Zach’s shoulder-to-shoulder. She didn’t welcome these little verbal sparring matches but as they were inescapable, she figured that she could make the best out of them.

“Haha, very funny,” he said. “When it comes to your brother, it’s my ass in a sling if something were to happen to you. The last time the dean wanted you in his office it was for a very good reason. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll stay in his good graces. I’m just looking out for you here. You don’t need to be so hostile.”

“I’m not hostile,” she said. “I’m in a hurry.”

Like a mountain grinding against the tectonic fault that lifted it, Zach heaved a sigh and grated as he turned on his heel to allow her to pass. He uncrossed his arms and made a “by your leave” gesture with an open hand, motioning towards the path she’d originally taken.

Elaine strode past with purpose to her step and did not look back down at the Enoch’s display again until she was safely ensconced in the elevator and he was out of sight.

Zane and most of hisARGteam had taken up stations in her lab on the second floor of the Commons. They clustered around the single table on the near side of the room with any open area and had taken some of the chairs from the rest of the room.

Most of the room was dominated with soldier rows of hardcased PCs, their monitors, mice and keyboards sitting at the ready—thick networking cables ran like sinew and neurons through the room, dripping over tables, racing along the floor, and winding up PVC poles into the overhead ceiling. Even up there, a technician would find further computers, set in smaller form-factor cases with fans whirring day and night.

As Zane had helped her architect the room and all of its hidden features; he’d already activated a concealed projection screen and activated the projector. In the middle of the table sat a single, lone tablet PC. From the artwork and design, Elaine could tell that it was related to the DarkNet property—a sleek, black machine with a neon-green symbol carved from a circuit board in the form of a biohazard symbol that seemed to dissolve into bubbles near its edges. The yellow-gold lines of the circuitry tugged at her eyes as she looked at it, the first time she saw it she wondered if the artist knew that they had developed an impossible printed circuit that couldn’t possibly have acted as a proper electrical device even if the symbol had been cut out of an actual board.

Zane checked his watch when Elaine entered the room.

“The event starts in about three minutes,” he said, “and we can’t unlock the tablet until everyone on the team is present. We’re still missing Adam and David.” Susan Pilgrim, Benjamin Miller, and Russell Murphy all stood nearby in various poses of anxious anticipation. All of them shrugged when Zane looked at them in turn. “Go ahead and try calling them again.”

Susan nodded and held down a speed dial button on her cryptophone. As they waited while the phone on the other side rang, Elaine walked over to Zane.

“After this, I’d like to talk to you about using your team for an investigation I’m working on,” she said. “I have a lot of ground to cover soon and I think they and the crypto-handsets I developed would be ideal for what I need to do.”

Zane nodded absently. “Sure,” he said. “I don’t see why we can’t help you out.”

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