Chapter 13 – Klaatu Barada Nikto (Part II)

«      »

“It’s a very competitive game,” Brad said. He gestured towards the laptop as he paced back and forth, waving his hands as he spoke. “I have a suspicion that the other teams have also received this message. Think about it. Why only offer the secrets to me? There’s nothing about exclusivity.”

Zane tapped his finger on the railing for a moment, thinking deeply.

“Okay,” he said, nodding to himself. “We keep this between ourselves for the moment. This activity is about to end for the day and chances are nobody is going to bite for $100 with such a short window of opportunity. That means that the spy will probably contact you again at the next activity.”

Brad heaved his shoulders deeply and clasped his hands. “Okay,” he said. “And you expect you can catch him then?”

“Ask them for proof they can deliver,” Elaine said. “Send the message before the sundown. If the spy is capable of getting secret information from us, they’ll use another e-mail address and send it to you before it becomes public knowledge. Knowing what was sent and bordering the time it could have been sent will give me a jump on identifying who sent it.”

“I can do that,” Brad said.

“Okay,” Zane said. “Again, not a word of this leaves this room. Brad, Larry, I know we’re rivals in this game, but thanks for bringing this to me. It’s very honorable.”

“Your sister really helped me out a bunch,” the other DarkNET team leader said with a slow, discerned tone. “And, I’ve developed a particular allergy to cheaters recently.”

“It always comes back to cheating this week,” Frog said.

* * *

Although she really wanted to watch the team collectively collapse and disassemble the next puzzle in the DarkNET campaign, Elaine needed to address Hadaly’s research on the cheating subjects vis-à-vis her case with the Dean of Engineering. So she withdrew from her own lab to get some privacy (that seemed to be happening a lot lately.) She and Frog didn’t retreat far. Just down the hall into a much smaller computer lab where she had enough room to set up one of her one-off laptops, connect it up with the Enoch, and dive into cyberspace to visualize the data while the AI worked feverishly away at applying a multitude of different data mining algorithms.

Frog laid herself across one of the nearby tables and kept Elaine supplied with a steady stream of full, chilled Mountain Dew cans. Over the past ten minutes she’d downed three more, however, it seemed she was starting to lose steam and waved off the next can when it was offered.

“The dean cancelled his meeting with you,” Frog said. “Don’t you think maybe that means we should be in the room with Zane and co. working instead on the DarkNET problem?”

“If you’d like to keep my brother company instead, I could let you go,” Elaine said.

Frog smirked and shook her head. “No. Now that Brad has knocked off, I don’t have much reason to be in there without you by my side. Plus, who would hand you cold soda if you ran out? I have a duty to attend.”

If I get a say, wouldn’t you rather I hacked into Hushmail to figure out who’s selling your secrets?” Hadaly said. She rezzed into the dim room casting a blue glow from her azure-limned ionizing hologram. The projected form of the AI stood so that her lower torso cut through one of the computers. It was off, otherwise the localized electromagnetic radiation produced by the projection would have fragged the processor.

“I need you to break the encryption on the database those student records are stored in,” Elaine said.

“What encryption?” Hadaly said. “Student academic records and transfers are stored in an old Oracle database. It has a firewall and a lot of access rules; but it’s not encrypted with anything that I can’t hash collide away in a millisecond. In fact, there it goes.”

The visualization of the data changed again. Elaine had set up a fractal algorithm to generate a relational heat-matrix with false color to indicate the scores of the different students taken on into the graduate programs at ASU—not just the College of Engineering—and correlated them against an axis that subjected them to weighting against their previous scholastic endurance. In this view, the cheaters appeared to be obvious; they showed distinct diversions from their normal grade output on the GRE. However, all of that could be explained easily if they’d simply had excellent tutoring for the test.

Compared to each other, there seemed to be nothing to connect the students academically. They came from different colleges and different states. Certainly they had similar ambitions and academic pursuits, but those didn’t differ from their competitors who they beat out. The relationship graph that connected them back to their schools also didn’t show any persons in common between them and each had applied to multiple graduate programs before being accepted by Arizona State University.

Elaine’s primary phone line rang and she picked it up.

«      »

About this entry