Chapter 24 – Roger That (Part I)

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“I found out something interesting about Tango’s professors,” Hadaly said.

“Is it related to your cheating ring investigation?” Elaine asked. She’d been engrossed in data collating behind her goggles—the empty antechamber and the stairs had become her personal data laboratory.

On the ground floor, Frog fielded phone calls with other colleges pretending to be an investigator for some nebulous GRE commission—with enough social engineering (mostly sheer charisma) and phone number spoofing (provided by Elaine’s phone network), most people caved to her instantly and told her what she wanted to know. Those that didn’t incidentally opened their computer networks to Hadaly via VoIP phone switching systems.

The map of how the GRE scores had been manipulated and how that affected ASU students was slowly beginning to come into resolution; but the only pivotal shifts happened when data came in from Operation Honeypot.

When the AI girl didn’t reply immediately, Elaine paused her data visualization and lifted her goggles revealing a raised eyebrow. It took her a moment longer to get her spectacles back in place.

“No,” Hadaly said, a nitrogen-ion blue finger stabbed out from thin air and was quickly joined by a disembodied Cheshire grin (that quickly resolved into the full virtual girl.) “It’s related to you.”

“How so?”

“I’ve been looking into how your grades were tanked before the investigation took a turn for the strange,” she said. Her hologram-self made a motion as if unrolling something vertically and another screen appeared in midair. Filtering across the screen ran a trace from the ASU e-mail servers, through the network of Ethernet and computers, and terminating at offices in the northern ASU campus. “And my ‘looking into’ also then took a turn for the strange.”

“You did a reverse connection trace from the offices of each of the names given by Tango to the class grade database that day?” Elaine said. “I should expect that professors and their TAs would access that multiple times a day.”

“I thought about that,” Hadaly said. “Except, why would Linscott’s office then immediately show a series of connections to the mainframes that house the e-mail archives for ASU students right after accessing the grade database…outside of normal school hours. Next, another computer—belonging to a TA of Professor Morehouse—uses his login to make a series of modifications to the database, overwriting Linscott’s access…”

“So the academic probation due to failing grades is obviously falsified,” Elaine said. “Shouldn’t it have been so obvious that the dean would have simply reversed it when Doctor Fedora complained? Didn’t he deny her request?”

Frog wandered up the stairs, phone in hand. “I think that’s quite revealing.”

She sucked on her teeth and heaved a huge sigh. “So our good dean has been hiding the fact that he believes the staff are involved,” she said. “That might account for the ‘missing pieces’ that have been bothering you. I must say, it’s a compelling reason to explain why he’s been so cagey.”

“I’m getting more data from Roger,” Hadaly said—right before she vanished from sight (along with her visual aid). The outer door to the Physical Sciences building opened; her last words dropped suddenly in volume and seemed to come from midair. “I’m updating the dataset and pivot tables now.”

Elaine hooked her spectacles off and pulled her goggles back on again. The semantic parser had discovered something that stood above the statistical threshold: Professor Whitaker and Linscott had been the intake advisor for over half of the likely-cheating students identified by the dean—also, Dean Harwood signed off on over three quarters of the applications directly. The paper trail so far showed that the two names given by Tango had a direct connection to the students and that also tied to again to Harwood.

“That’s just uncanny,” Frog said, after Elaine gave a rundown of the current findings. “I think my previous point is obvious now.”

Elaine shook her head slowly. “We don’t have enough to prove a conspiracy of these people beyond a doubt for the dean.” She tapped her fingers in midair on an unseen keyboard. “If anything, it has indeed confirmed that Frog’s hypothesis is vindicated by the evidence, there’s a conspiracy of professors to cheat these students for an as yet unknown reason, and Dean Harwood knows those involved.

“I now know that his intent is to distance himself from the investigation because he wants to have an external source to authenticate the conspiracy—but to do that, I need to determine what their goal is and how they’re exploiting the system.”

Frog twirled a finger in her green ponytail. “We still don’t have motive,” she said. “However, aren’t we in the same building as many of the offices of the intake advisors of these students? Including the two professors that Tango mentioned? How much time do we have?”

Elaine hesitated in her frenetic motions across her data user interface and turned slightly towards Frog.

“We are in the proper building,” she tilted her head upwards slightly. “And we’ve got at least three hours before we meet with Tango and the dean in his offices.”

“We could take advantage of that and gather some direct evidence about their involvement,” Frog said. “If you’re up for a little ‘dirty’ work, so to speak.”

“I’ve got their offices loaded up in your mapping interface, boss,” Hadaly said.

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