Chapter 10 – Cakewalk Tango (Part III)

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Both having listened in, both Russell and Benjamin nodded vigorously.

“I love this thing,” Russell said, gesturing with his phone. “It’s nice being able to talk to everyone else on the team and the spy versus spy part really makes me feel like you said: Mission Impossible. Do you know, I had someone from another DarkNet team grilling me. He wanted to take a look at it, but I slid out of there like a bandit.”

His handsome, tanned face broke into a smug smile as he recollected the encounter and he puffed up his chest. Benjamin chuckled at him and leaned closer to Elaine, the constant cloud of too-strong cologne that he wore spilled from him into her nose and she took an instinctive step back. He smiled snidely.

“You probably already know that nobody asked me about my phone,” he said pulling it out of his pack and turning it in the light. The white and pink sequins adorning its surface glittered under the harsh light of the CFLs dotting the ceiling. “I wouldn’t get caught dead speaking on this thing in public. Thank you again. Obscurity may not be security, but anyone going through my bag wouldn’t for a moment think I was storing sensitive information on this.”

It made sense that Russell and Benjamin would be the first two here—they were Zane’s lieutenants and had taken up special responsibilities on the team. Ben Miller, for all his abrasive attitude, made his grade as lieutenant by having rich parents, connections to ASU campus staff, and the amoral wherewithal to get the job done. He’d been on Zane’s team in the previous year and manage to win them the game through some devious chicanery. As an undergraduate member of the senior class, he wouldn’t be part of next year’s DarkNet so Zane decided to tolerate his presence for the benefit of his talents and assets.

Elaine would have argued otherwise. With her on board, there would be no need for individuals such as Benjamin Miller.

“He’s in the building,” Susan said abruptly. She blinked a few times, clicked off her phone, and crammed it back into her pocket. She gestured to Zane with exasperation. “I mean, Adam and David are in the building. They should be on the elevator in a moment. Nothing forthcoming about why they’re late.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Zane said. “They’ll be here just in time for us to unlock the tablet. I’ll start.”

He grabbed the tablet from the table, clicked through the interface to select his username from the list and entered his passcode. After it connected to the Internet—presumably via wireless or 4G—and verified his information, it fell back to the idle screen and greened-out his cartoony portrait on the face. With that process done, he handed it to Susan, who started entering her information.

The tablet made its rounds through the group in the room and finally reached Benjamin Miller as Adam Roach and David Dalton bustled into the room. Adam shouldered in first, arm hanging limply under his backpack; he looked very hot in his business suit and his tie hung wilted against his chest, with smudges of sweat around the collar. David slipped in nonchalantly, not even a sheen of sweat along his brow, for all the world he looked like the heat outside didn’t touch him—an iced drink dripped beads of condensation as he set it on the table to unlimber his own backpack.

“David got caught up ordering a cappuccino,” Adam said dismissively, taking the tablet from Benjamin as he shrugged his backpack off onto the table. His Bluetooth headset illuminated the glossy pad of the tablet as he tapped his info in with a ghostly azure glow.

After Adam finished, David took the tablet from him with a nod and he began inputting his own information. “I’m telling you, with these temperatures nothing’s better than an iced mocha. You should have tried one yourself.”

“The caffeine,” Adam said. “It gives me stomach aches. I’ll pass.”

After David completed logging into the tablet the screen faded out the portraits of each of the DarkNet team and expanded the countdown timer to take up the entire screen. It ticked down the last few seconds and then swapped itself out for a gigantic button that looked like it had been fashioned from galvanized steel reading: “UNLOCK.”

“Everybody ready?” asked Zane.

Nods and murmurs went all around.

He grabbed an HDMI cable extending from a nearby workbench and plugged it into the tablet. The screen blanked and the giant, riveted button resolved in mammoth HD proportions on the projector screen. Zane pressed it.

The button recessed into the screen with an audible clunk, followed by the whrr of heavy machinery and the harsh tones of the Metal theme of the DarkNet Project theme song. As the button fell away into darkness, the black space surrounding it boiled away to reveal fields of circuit boards portraying further impossible circuitry traced with green leads. Fat, white words began to fly onto the screen from both sides and scrolled upwards to make room for a developing paragraph.

“Your mission, should you choose to accept it,” a voice boomed from the ceiling speakers sporting a cheesy Russian accent. “Will be to intercept enemy communication at three strategic points across your campus and decipher the information before the other teams. You may use any tools at your disposal. This is a free-for-all match.

“Each communication point will consist of three parts: the comm. data, a clue to the next comms location, and the key to deciphering one of the other comm signals.

“To respect the class schedules of students who may be playing this game throughout the day. The third and final comm intercept will occur after five your local time.

“The first comm location will be unique to your team. The second comm location will put you up against two other teams on your campus; you can work together or against one another. The final comm location will become available to all five teams on your campus. You will need the clues from the other two comms in order to find it and decipher it.

“Good luck, DarkNet team. The world is depending on you.

“DarkNet Metropolis Central Command Authority out.”

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