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NEWS:   (June 03, 2007)  more...

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Chapter 15 - April 5-7, 2003 - Episode 5

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Dom takes the grate off the airshaft in the building utility room with the screwdriver of his Leatherman tool. He puts the tool back on his belt. Sweat beads on his temples and his breathing becomes shallow and fast. He leans slowly forward so he can illuminate the shaft with his LED flashlight and pokes his head in while keeping his body far back. He pulls his head back suddenly, then forces it back into the shaft. He puts his hands on his thighs as if using them to force his legs toward the shaft.

Very slowly he pulls his body into the shaft by the handholds above the opening.  The LCD light joins the Leatherman tool on his belt and, after hesitating, he turns it off. The sweat is now dripping from his chin despite the slight chill in the room and the even colder air in the shaft. It takes him a minute to place both his feet on rungs below the opening. He sobs once with fear, then forces himself upright and resets his face from sob to clench.

Stooping in the shaft, Dom reaches out and pulls the grate back into the shaft opening. He can just squeeze his forearm out to screw the grate back in.  But he drops the tool. Now he has to remove the grate again; lift it; reach down and pick up the tool and resume the job. He is moving steadily but in slow motion.

Dom climbs the shaft. Dim light filters through grates from rooms with lights. After two stories of painful but accelerating climbing, Dom reaches the grate into hackoff’s server room. The room is lit faintly and LEDs twinkle on the many machines. Cool air from the shaft is drawn past Dom’s sweaty neck as it whispers into the room. Dom starts to reach out through the grate with the tool, then stops and carefully puts the tool back on his belt. He takes out one of his shoelaces, ties one end around his wrist and the other to the tool, and then reaches outside. He does drop the tool as he tries to work with it but it doesn’t fall out of reach in front of the still screwed-in grate since it is attached to his wrist. Dom grins slightly and succeeds in removing the grate and entering the room. He puts the lace back in his shoe but doesn’t tie it.

Now Dom is comfortable again, clearly back in his element. He activates a monitor and pulls a tray with a keyboard out of one of the racks. Seated on a wooden stool, he grunts, snuffles, and talks to himself as he navigates through the hackoff server farm and then establishes contact with several customer sites. Now five monitors are in use: one is attached to a local server, a second is remoted to a customer server Dom is working on, two are monitoring other customer servers, and one is running a utility Dom cobbled together to look for anomalies in the packet streams in and out of hackoff. After a few minutes, Dom commandeers a sixth monitor and hooks into building security so he can watch the elevators coming up to hackoff.

Very gingerly and a step at a time, Dom installs his upgrade on a customer server. Nothing on the monitors indicates that the other customers are being attacked. Dom runs a few tests to verify his install at the first customer site. The test gives six greens and one yellow. Dom tinkers a bit more and the yellow turns green. He now runs scripts to upgrade multiple numbers of customers simultaneously. The scripts automate what Dom did manually to the first customer, so he is free to watch. His head swivels from monitor to monitor. Once, he quickly shuts everything down. Then, after a few checks, resumes the process.

Something catches Dom’s eye on the building security camera. He grimaces and increases the number of simultaneous upgrades. Now he is also watching the door to the server room but it doesn’t open. After ninety minutes, the upgrade process is apparently done. Dom runs another round of tests. He looks at the IP packet log again.

Dom goes back to the shaft but only to replace the grate. Atypically, he combs his hair and tucks in his shirt, which has come out of his belt. He tries to brush some black dirt from the shaft off his shirt but only succeeds in smearing it. Then he walks briskly to the server room door and opens it.

“Hello, Dom,” says Mark Cohen. The detective is leaning against the wall across from the door and about ten feet down the hall. There is no one else in sight. Mark keeps some of his weight on the wall as if to avoid frightening Dom.

“Hello, Mark,” says Dom. “I saw you come in.”

“You mean I didn’t activate the backdoor right after all of that?”

“No. You did fine. There is a tiny discontinuity, though, when the loop repeats on the camera. I tinkered with it as much as I had time to and figured no one would see it unless they were looking for it and no one would do that except me.”

“Figures that you would leave a backdoor in the backdoor.”

“You didn’t have to come here to arrest me. I told you I would turn myself in when I finished doing what I had to do.”

“And did you accomplish what you needed to accomplish? Are the customers safe?”

“Yes. Yes, I did. If you’d interrupted me when you first came in the building, the bots would have had to finish the upgrade by themselves, which would have been fine. But I wouldn’t have known it was fine. So I appreciate your waiting. So why did you wait, though? Why didn’t you arrest me right away?”

“I wanted to put you under obligation,” says Mark. “Is there somewhere we can sit down?”

“Am I allowed in my office?”

“As long as you’re with me.”

The two men sit across from each other at the table in Dom’s office. Dom is breathing heavily but slowly. He looks relaxed, although he’s filthy from the shaft he crawled through. Mark is tidier but more tired-looking than Dom; his shoulders are slumped, but he is smiling.

“How did you know I’d be here?” asks Dom.

“I got Kevin to bolt the cyber backdoor.”

“Yeah. Why did he do that? He’s my friend … I thought he was my friend…”

“He is your friend,” says Mark. “I let him think you wanted him to do it. That avoided a conflict for him. He was glad to do it.”

“He’s a good guy, but he doesn’t play games well,” says Dom. “Still, glad to know I have a friend … one friend.”

“You paused. What did you think of?”

“Nothing,” says Dom. “So, go on… You got Kevin to lock the cyber backdoor, and…”

“And that meant you’d come here. I could’ve bet that you’d come in the real backdoor and then take a backdoor into the server room but that was just a guess. I had cops at both sides. When I got the report that the cop on the backdoor had been distracted, I was on my way. By the way, who did that? Who helped you?”

“I will never tell you.”

“Actually, that could be construed as obstruction of justice.”

“Construe it however the fuck you want.” Dom sits upright and defiant.



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