Chapter 12 – A Spy in Our Midst (Part II)

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Frog rolled her eyes and tapped a long fingernail on an empty soda can. “Might I hazard a guess?” she said. “It’s not like we don’t all recall the effects from the last time you used it. If you were going to kick yourself into la vida rapido we should have gotten you a few two-liters. At this rate we’re going to run out of cans in five minutes.”

“I needed it to rapidly check the cheating candidates on the dean’s list against newly gathered data,” Elaine said.

“Did you learn anything interesting?” asked Zane.

“The new data blew my hypothesis out of the water,” Elaine said. “We’re going to have to work up a new one. Frog has suggested an analysis of the student’s data directly. So we’re going to do that instead. As a result, we’re free for most of today. Although, I might have an appointment with the client in a few hours.”

“Nice to know,” Zane said. “If this next thing is as technical as the last, we might need to use your expertise again.”

The rest of the DarkNet team decided to get into the box without Zane and the volume of the chatter rose considerably after all the silver latches had been unhooked and the device opened.

Zane turned back to join with the rest of the team and their curiosity, he gestured for Frog and Elaine to follow. Frog shrugged, grabbed Elaine and pulled her out of her chair while simultaneously handing her a freshly opened can of Mountain Dew. As she ambled slowly over, Elaine slurped happily at the can.

The lid hinged open to reveal a keypad inlaid in a steel trapdoor, the keys had been stressed and scuffed to make them appear old and rugged as well as the trapdoor, although the pop-rivets holding it in place appeared shiny and new. The wood around the steel door had twelve stickers affixed to it with grids of square-dots producing random-looking static. All of the stickers had been scratched or rubbed at as if with age or wear—rendering six of them so torn and faded as to be indecipherable (beyond the fact that they were encoded anyway.)

The wood beneath each of the stickers had a hexadecimal code similar to the one before. Judging by the length of each code, the numbers each represented only one GPS coordinate; among the coordinates some also were obliterated; the damage left four totally destroyed, four partially intact, and four fully intact. The four fully intact and two of the partially intact coordinates matched up with the fully destroyed stickers.

AUSB2.0 B port gleamed prominently above the steel trapdoor as well. Susan had retrieved a lime-green A-to-B USB cable from within the box after they opened it—she handed it to Zane as he rolled up.

“I’ll bet it connects up to the tablet,” he said, twirling the cable. “Think we should plug it in? It probably delivers the instructions on what we’re supposed to do. I guess, it’s also for hints. Makes sense. Although, we’ve seen those hex digits before, haven’t we?”

“They’re all ASU coordinates,” Adam said, pointing to the first numbers in each of the coordinates. He then shrugged and raised an eyebrow. “I think we can use that to recreate two of the ones with scrapes through the first part. I wonder why they did that. Authenticity?”

“It’s probably part of the aesthetic,” Russell said. “This game has been a little bit cyberpunk all the way through, even the tablet has a brushed but beaten metal effect to it. I’m beginning to enjoy this The Matrix meets Mission Impossible effect. Who wants to take the lead on deciphering the next clues?”

Susan parked herself in front of a computer and lit up a Google Maps window in Firefox. “That is if you don’t mind this time, Frog,” she said. “We should probably keep as much of this in team as possible.”

Frog shrugged and smiled. “Sure, I can take a back seat this time.”

“Start reading me numbers,” Susan said with her fingers poised over the keyboard.

“I’ve got the board then!” Benjamin said and parked himself next to the whiteboard and drew a 4×4 grid—marking the center 4 squares through with squiggles—and numbered them 1 through 12 clockwise starting with the top-left box. He capped the black marker and popped the lid from a green one while waiting for the first numbers. Adam and David took turns reading the numbers, Zane ran them through a converter on his cryptophone, Benjamin scribbled them down on the board, and Susan threw them into Google Maps.

As this process went on, Zane beamed as he watched his team work like a well oiled machine. They guessed once or twice at the coordinates necessary to finish a damaged hexadecimal number, but when they finished they had a small constellation of locations that seemed to conform to benches, chairs, garbage cans, and other fixtures across campus. Since the key had been found beneath a bench, it seemed likely these coordinates might also lead to similar hiding places.

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