We were riding in the back of a van to a meetup in Sacramento when Aaron slid closer and regarded me for an uncomfortably long time.
“What? Do I have something hanging form my nose? Arugula in my teeth? What?” He just kept grinning like an idiot.
“Nothing. I was just thinking....” I knew by now, that always meant trouble. “Things between us have been.... strained... the past few weeks.” He paused and searched for a reaction. I gave him nothing. “I feel like I'm to blame.”
“Ya think?” I tried to be lighthearted about it, but not let him off the hook. His unprompted confession of his feeling was the thing that put this wedge of awkwardness between us.
“They say confession is good for the soul” He smiled apologetically.
“Maybe YOUR soul.” I snorted. “It made me feel VERY....”
“I was going to say self conscious. But now that you mention it. Yes. That too.”
“I really am sorry. I never intended this.”
“You're a bright guy. You shouldn't have been surprised at an equal and opposite reaction.”
“In hindsight, I'm not. How can we go back to the way we were?”
“How do you feel about castration?” That got a bitter laugh. But at least I made him laugh.
“I was hoping for something a little less....drastic. I miss your friendship.”
“I miss you too.”
“Well, at least we have that in common. It's a start. Truce?”
“It was never a fight.”
“OK. An awkward standoff, anyway.” I couldn't deny that, and I nodded in assent. “So. Friends? Compadres? Pals?”
“More than pals. I'll at least give you that.” I smiled.
“Good!” He broke into a broad grin and gave me a bear hug. As he pressed up against me, it became clear his feelings hadn't changed, but he was willing to put those aside. As I felt him press into me, I was beginning to wonder if my reticence was softening as he was doing quite the opposite.
“Of course we have it all under control.” Bill Lynch was barely able to hide his contempt for the political appointee on the other end of the phone. 'Stupid little pissant' he thought to himself, 'you'll be back at some candyass ivy league school as soon as these current clowns get voted out, and I'll still be keeping the world safe for ingrateful little limpdicks like you.'
He forced a sharklike smile. “They only seem like they have unfettered media access and travel access. We want them to start believing they're untouchable, so when the hammer falls “BAM!” he shouted so loud and violently he could hear the person on the other end jump back and drop his phone. This gave Lynch immense satisfaction, knowing that even over a poor voice connection he could still scare the living SHIT out of a so-called superior.
“You just leave this operation to the Big Boys, and we'll hand you this cocky little bastard's head on a platter, and round up so many of his circle jerking minions that you're gonna need to build a shitload more prisons.” Lynch crowed.
His icy laugh sent a shudder down the secretary's spine. Preston Thatcher always fantasized about a prestigious political appointment. He never imagined that he would become the ersatz supervisor of the most feared man in the halls of power, not just in Washington but across the globe. This man was undeniably dangerous, and containing his reckless ambition and capacity for brutality to forestall a major government scandal, was the seemingly impossible task with which he was commissioned.
“Well Bill, just keep me apprised before you take any action.” Tucker said, whith as much authority as he could muster.
“You expect us to ask permission before dispensing justice?” There was no longer even the pretense of hiding his contempt.
“I just want... NO... we need to be in the loop on this. I don't want to find out about another one of your stunts by seeing it on cable news, We're a team. We communicate. Am I clear?”
“Sure thing bossman. I have your number. Just wait for my call.” And with a snort he ended the call and threw the phone against the wall, watching with animal satisfaction as it exploded into a thousand pieces.
“Um... I'm not so sure about this.” I confessed.
“Hell. I haven't been sure about anything for months.” Aaron replied. “The one thing I am sure about is that ignoring the elephant in the room wasn't getting us any closer.”
“Closer to what?”
“Closer. To each other. To sorting this shit out. Tell me you don't feel it too.”
“But now?” ...I blushed.
“I know you feel it too.”
“How do you know?” My eyes locked with his. He blinked. Then he blushed.
“Oh my God. You read my stuff. My PERSONAL.... PRIVATE stuff!”
“...information wants to be free” he squeaked in a timid voice.
“GREAT! I didn't think I needed locks on my doors... figuratively or literally. You already knew my darkest secrets.”
“I didn't know ...that” he volunteered meekly.
“That was nothing. Just a psychological exercise.” I glared at him. How much longer could I feign 'righteous indignation' before I was overwhelmed by the embarrassment that Aaron had read my most private, uninhibited desires and fantasies.... all involving a fictional hero I named after him?
“I was just... just...” he stammered.
“This conversation is over!” snapped. I wasn't actually angry. I was frantic. There was no way I could think of to get myself out of this, so I just feigned fury & unilaterally terminated the conversation. To my amazement ...and relief...it worked.
After a long, awkward silence, I couldn't take it any more. Someone had to speak. I guess it was going to be me. I tried to find a subject we could agree on.
“Just wondering. When do we stop parading me around to rally the troops and actually bring Lynch and his storm troopers down? And do you have any idea how?”
Suddenly Aaron's eyes gleamed. “Soon my love. And yes... I've been thinking of little else.”
“So suddenly I'm 'little else'?” I smiled.
He rolled his eyes and smiled ruefully. “I just can't win, can I?”
“With me.... we'll see” I smiled. “With your former employers... we're all counting on it.” I squeezed his hand and impulsively gave him a peck on the cheek.
“No pressure, eh?” he laughed. Then he got serious. “I won't let you down. While you've been meeting and greeting, I've been twining the threads of the trap. Payback will be epic.”
No one would call R00tkid humble. But he never bragged, because he never had to. He had a grasp of things few could match. He could hold staggering amounts of details in his head and see how they counterbalanced and interacted with each other.
That was why he was so valuable to the goons. He gave them the surveillance tool they scarcely dreamed of. And when they realized how bright he really was, they knew he was too dangerous to live.
Fortunately , he was always dozens of moves ahead of his employers. He knew they would eventually realize that their greatest asset could be their worst nightmare if he were to fall into the wrong hands. He also knew they wouldn't dream that he figured out their plan, so they would keep him around until he delivered every tool they asked for. SIMon was fully operational, but they didn't know that. And the even more ambitious LILITH his Logarithmicly Iterated Layered Intelligence for Transactional Heuristics would be able to monitor global money and commodities markets, geopolitical tactics and strategies and other complex systems projecting the near-immediate future with a staggering degree of accuracy. It couldn't tell you what was going to happen more than a hundredth of a second from now, but it was so accurate within that 10 millisecond window, that it seemed that reality had a built-in latency, and wherever it went, LILITH was already there.
This instantly gave the organization access to essentially unlimited funding. They could skim in the ebb and flow of any market they analyzed, in such small amounts that it was never perceived as more than faint background noise to guardians and regulators, yet the combined effect of these countless tiny threads was staggering.
Lynch now had all the tools to achieve his will to power. SIMon quickly compiled juicy dossiers on his political enemies, and LILITH could manipulate markets with such subtle finesse than it could make – or break – anyone financially.
Aaron explained his background with The Enterprise to Eve because it was necessary to explain how he built these powerful tools to understand how he intended to turn them against their alleged masters.
R00tkids real claim to fame wasn't ambition or audacity, though he possessed both in abundance. Those who really grokked his reputation, knew it was his subtelty, attention to detail and seemingly infinite patience that made him such a formidable force.
The plan had been gestating even when Aaron was working for the goons. Simon was riddled with rabbit holes, and LILITH's higher functions were not even dreamed of by its operators.
“The problem is, doomsday devices and tripwires. Lynch was always a big fan of cold-war style assured destruction”
“You mean Mutually Assured Destruction” I corrected.
“No. He never understood the mutual part. He is incapable of grasping that. That's one of the things that makes him so dangerous. He would bring the world down out of spite.”
“Isn't that a bit hyperbolic?”
“No. Not at all. He may not be able to imagine the power of the tools at his disposal, but he won't hesitate to wield them as a weapon. Trillions in capital could disappear in an instant. All digital records... financial, deeds and titles, hell, even simple personal identification could disappear like that.” He snapped his fingers. “It would be instant anarchy. Civilization would lurch back three thousand years in the blink of an eye. Even I can't imagine the scope of the damage, and I pride myself on my imagination.”
I just stared at him trying to grasp the scope of what he was describing.
“Bringing him down is child's play. Always was. Preventing him from unleashing any chaos on the way down is what's taking so much time and planning. But we have a plan that we're sure is as bulletproof as we can make it, and the trillions of tiny pieces are almost in place.”
“Trillions? I don't want to call 'Hyperbole' again”.
“So don't. You've heard of 'the internet of things'? ”
“Of course” I nodded. “The latest media buzzphrase.”
“Old news. Really old news. You're a geek. Remember what Bill Gates and Paul Allen were working on before the Altair put visions of Microsoft into their heads?”
I nodded. “Some sort of automated traffic control system.”
Aaron smiled. Suddenly I felt really proud of having my 'geek cred' validated by the legendary R00tkid.
“Really just a precursor of the 'Internet of Things'... do you have any idea how many semi-dumb devices are networked? Thermostats, streetlights and office lights, temperature and moisture sensors, motion detectors, baby monitors, aquariums, smoke alarms and radon detectors, the list is staggering. And how many of them do you think have spare cpu cycles available?”
“Nearly all of them?”
R00tkid smiled. “Getting access to such a vast and heterogeneous ecosystem was non-trivial. What we've done makes Stuxnet look like the original Morris worm.”
I had to smile. This was as close to a brag as I'd ever seen Aaron come. “But you did.”
“To what possible end?”
He looked me in the eye and said quietly. “When that madman Lynch tries to crash the modern world, the modern world is going to fight back.”
Preston Thatcher was running late for his first meeting with members of the homeland security oversight committee. He dashed into his usual bistro, hoping Natalie would start his half caf machiato as she saw him walk through the door, and get in line.
Instead, another young woman in the familiar brown polo and green apron pressed a steaming to-go cup into his hand as he walked through the door.
“Just in time. Congratulations, you've been upgraded to our psychic service circle. Aren't you late for a meeting?”
He was somewhat nonplussed, but as he vetted the familiar aroma and confirmed with a small sip, he smiled and relaxed his guard.
“Time?” The woman tapped her watch, and Thatcher got back on track and headed for the door. Only to see he was being accompanied by the woman from the coffee shop.
“Don't you have to work?” He really didn't know what to make of this odd behavior.
“I am working, and we're both on the clock Mr Thatcher.”
He stopped in his tracks. “Who ARE you and what is this about?”
“First, let's keep walking. It will take us just over 2 and a half minutes to get you to your meeting, so I don't have much time.”
“First of all, who ARE you. You look familiar.”
“I should hope SO.” she laughed.
“Wait, are you some reality star? One of those prank shows?”
“I suppose you could consider me a reality star, in a very perverse way. I'm known to the public as 'Lady Eve'” She tugged at his arm as he stopped dead in his tracks. “Will you KEEP WALKING? We don't have much time!”
Thatcher resumed walking, trying to pay attention to the tsunami of information she was overwhelming him with, all the time reeling from being approached in public by America's most notorious escapee. ...or was that kidnapee? Even he wasn't sure anymore. He did pick up snippets of conversation. Rogue ops. Financial Armageddon. Congressional blackmail. And 'stay out of this' until the cleanup.
He also heard Patriotic Hero, Vice Presidential shoo-in, and Lynch on a meathook. He didn't understand much of what this girl was saying, but he liked what he was hearing.
“Well, THAT was fun!” I said half-facetiously as I rejoined Aaron and his crew. I was still on an adrenaline rush after my first time unaccompanied in “the real world” since the 'incident' in Prattsville.
Aaron gave the nod to return SIMon to real-time data and the surveillance grid covering the district seamlessly returned from 'the sandbox' to its usual live-feed.
This was equal part proof-of-concept and performance art.
I was the 'performance art' portion, trying to convince the bureaucrat that we were on the same side, and we were as good as we boasted. We were counting on him being bright enough to test our claim.
As for the proof-of-concept, Aaron was certain that he was able to feed near-realtime simulations into the grid, so that while I was walking in broad daylight with the director of counter-terrorist operations, the grid would be showing him traveling across town with an uncanny simulation of one of his aides, who he presumably met and acquired at the coffee shop. Nothing at all suspicious.
When Preston Thatcher thought to call up the log tapes and saw the grid coverage of himself walking to his meeting with Colin Fitch, a member of his personal staff, he was duly impressed. He began to think the outrageous claims the girl had made were more than idle boasts.
Maybe the psychotic mister Lynch wasn't so untouchable after all.
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