Chapter 13 – Klaatu Barada Nikto (Part III)

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The metallic voice of the robotic automatic message repeated what the earlier voicemail said about the subject of potential academic probation and she cut it off midsentence.

“What is it?” Frog asked.

“Academic services again,” Elaine said. “I didn’t know those automatic systems were so persistent. I might need to hack into it just to make it shut up.”

Frog stared at her wordlessly for a moment as if deep in a pitched battle of thought. She tapped her finger against her pouty lips and finally shook her head—the flipped a cascade of green hair over her shoulder and she placed both hands on the table.

“I guess it’s too late in the evening to try to deal with your academic situation right now,” she said. “You know, waiting on these things only makes them worse. We should really set a moment tomorrow to go get that checked out.”

“I already sent an e-mail to Fedora and CCed it to the Dean of Engineering,” Elaine retorted without looking up from the keyboard. She paused in her frenetic typing for a moment to chomp on a piece of pocky. “Anyway, I’m busy. These things generally sort themselves out without my intervention. I am this school’s best-case student. There is no way I can be on academic probation.”

“You don’t think it’s related to your case or the spy?” Hadaly’s blue-ghost leaned over Elaine’s shoulder and peered at the screen she was working on. Her action happened to be a social affectation that Elaine had taught her; she couldn’t “see” in the classical sense with the eyes of the hologram, but instead picked up the geometry of the room through the sensors built into the holographic emitters in the room and the Enoch’s own sensor technology. Further, she knew what was on the computer screen, not because she could “see” it; but because she had access to the video-out from the computer.

Elaine paused and took in Hadaly’s reflection in the screen for a moment while processing her question. The thought hadn’t really crossed her mind.

“The timing does seem extremely suspicious,” Frog said. She kicked off a nearby table and rolled her chair over. “The same day we discover a spy, the dean skips his appointment with you, and you’re making breaks in the case?”

“I have to admit it’s extremely coincidental, but a hypothesis is premature without evidence to support it,” Elaine said.

Excited voices bubbled in from outside in the hall and the door handle rattled; Hadaly’s azure-hologram vanished as light flooded into the dimly lit room.

The door to the small lab suddenly swung open. Beyond, Zane stood with one hand on the handle and the other held the DarkNET tablet aloft—a look of elated triumph on his face. Immediately at his elbow, Brad and Casey waited, both looking quite satisfied with themselves.

“We decided to work together,” Zane said, gesturing to Brad. “It turns out that his team has a similar box and that they have different undamaged QR codes. Combined with the codes found at the site, we’ve been able to decipher the next message.”

He paused dramatically.

“Out with it, you dork,” Frog said.

“I’ll let Brad do the honors,” he said.

Brad took the DarkNET ARG tablet from Zane and tapped a few keys. “The QR codes load images from the web when you load them into a phone—the URIs all belong to major corporations in the DarkNET Metropolis universe. They each load an image, which turns out happens to be part of a puzzle. At first we couldn’t figure out how the QR code image from the box mapped to the QR code in the field.

“This is what happened when I put what my team had together.”

He showed the image to her, numerous chunks of the image were missing while others appeared out-of-focus or incomplete in some eye-wrenching fashion.

“Now,” Zane said. “Now that Brad’s team and ours have sworn a cease-fire for the moment due to our recent exchange, I figured we might as well share what we know. That’s when Benji noticed a pattern in the images that both our teams had collected.”

“So, we overlaid them,” Brad said and hit a button.

The DarkNET tablet displayed both incomplete, blurry-images side by side and then zoomed both of them into the center of the screen so that they covered one another. The well focused areas fit nicely into the blurry points and formed together into a single black and white image. On screen, a broad expanse of grass showed what looked like the Washington Monument in a greyish sky, a flying saucer in a grass field, a tall, silver humanoid robot with a dark slit in its helmet and a smaller, silvery humanoid also wearing a helmet.

“That’s Gort and Klaatu,” Elaine said and furrowed her brow. “It’s a poster for the 1951 release of The Day the Earth Stood Still. How does that help you?”

“I told you she’d get it,” Zane said.

Snickers went through the group and Elaine closed her laptop. She could tell that Zane meant to continue the ARG for its conclusion and she could let Hadaly crunch the numbers on the student grades and get back to her later. As she stood, Frog handed her another Mountain Dew and Zane continued.

“I am going to guess that’s our next stop?” Elaine said.

“It’s showing at the downstairs movie theater in the MU in less than an hour,” he said. “We suspect that the final clues for the day will be revealed there. And…since you’ve been instrumental in getting us this far, it’s only fair that you accompany us to the theater.”

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