Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sneak Peak: The Contagion By Damien Wright


 “TAX EVASION?  You’re holding a seventeen year old kid on tax evasion?”
    Chad Turner leaned against the hard wall of the FBI field office and watched his contact closely.  Chad was long and lean, dark and smooth, and not in any mood to deal with the fucking NSA.  The agent, his current contact in the Administration, was tall and thick and looked like he was constipated.  Chad assumed he was: too much HGH would do that to you.
    “Is that even legal?”
    “Of course it is,” the agent answered.  “We found a hundred and fifty thousand dollars… among other things, in a safety deposit box under his name.  We can put him away for at least a year for that, plus a few more for possession with intent.  And that’s if we can’t put together any other charges.  It’s all in the folder.”
    “I didn’t realize the NSA was interested in people’s taxes.”  Chad kicked himself off the wall and snatched up the folder, let it fall open in his hands and glanced inside.  “That kind of changes my opinion on the urgency of paying them.”
    Chad flipped through the pages.  He had seen them all before.  At seventeen, Toby Smith, AKA ToBiN, was already a career criminal.  He was a good criminal, by Turner’s estimation, but obviously not smart enough.  He had gotten caught.
    “How’d you get into the box?”
    “Well, we contacted DHS with his name.  They checked it out and then kicked it over to the IRS.  They looked into the family’s financials, which were all fucked up, so they got a warrant to look into the Mustang….”
    Chad was already getting bored.  The only thing worse than doing business with the NSA was having to actually meet with them face to face.  No Show Assholes, every one of them.  They’d sit behind their computers, or work out or whatever they did to look like tree trunks, and then swoop in and take the glory after Chad saved the day.  He had a worse title for the FBI, though.
    “Which was Toby’s,” he cut the agent off.
    “Right, but bought for cash and in his dad’s name.  But, naturally, when they checked the signature….”
    “The dad’s didn’t match?”
    “No, so they were able to get a warrant to check Toby’s financials and they found the box.  They opened it in accordance with the warrant and found about twenty thousand worth of Oxycontins, ten thousand worth of cocaine, another twenty in bootlegged games and such, and a hundred-fifty grand in cash.”
    “Why not hit him for the drugs?”
    “We are not,” the agent said gravely, “giving this to the DEA.”
    “Okay,” Chad sighed, “but they didn’t give it to Cyber-Crimes either?”
    “He’s listed as a national security threat.  DHS would have the lead if he wasn’t a hacker.  So….”
    “He’s not a hacker,” Chad corrected, “he’s a code monkey.  Get on with it.”
    “Well,” the life-sized GI Joe figurine shrugged, “we can push the tax trial for a year or so, ask for no bail because of the circumstances, keep him out of sunlight until we find what’s on his computer.  He’s known as ‘ToBiN’ online.  He’s well known for….”
    “I know what he does,” Chad cut in again.  He knew everything there was to know about Toby Smith, that was his job.  If he didn’t know, then there’d be a problem.  The fact that the NSA was just now finding out illustrated everything he despised about them.
    “Yeah, I guess you would, wouldn’t you?”  ‘Roid-head Bob’ looked at him condescendingly, and then continued.  “Anyway, the little shit never actually uses any of his viruses, at least not when we’ve been able to track him, so we can’t charge him with any of the anti-hacking legislation.  We could give him ten years if he’s been stealing and selling copyrighted games, which we believe he has, but we can’t prove it.”
    “What about the games in the box?”
    “Can’t prove he stole them, and he hasn’t sold them yet.  As is, it’s copyright infringement, that’s it.  If we can get two more names we can hit him with conspiracy and then he’ll serve some time, but just having them isn’t enough.”  Again, Roid-head Bob looked Chad over.  “I thought you would know that.”
    “So you figure you’ll take him off the streets with the tax charge and gather more evidence while he sits in jail,” Chad repeated from memory.  One thing government agents are not, is original.  “Makes sense.  What do you need me for?”
    “We found a program on his computer, and we can’t figure out what it is.  I was hoping you could talk to him and clear it up for us.”
    “Sorry, guy.”  Chad pressed the folder back into the man’s chest.  “That’s not what I do.  I don’t work for the NSA, they work for me.”
    “I was told you were a consultant, the best.”
    “I am,” Chad nodded, “and you’re not.  None of you are.  I use you when I need you, not the other way around.”
    “This is a matter of national security,” he fumed, “we called the Secretary of Defense and she sent us to you.”
    “Did she?” Chad asked, not impressed.  If they would just learn not to give his number out, he’d like politicians a lot more.
    “Yup.  She said if anyone could figure out what it was, you could.”
    “Give me the program,” he grumbled, yanked the phone out of his ten thousand dollar coat pocket and fired it up.  The douche handed him a small flash drive and he pressed it in.  “One would think someone else knew something about their fucking jobs.”
    “Excuse me?”
    “You heard me.”
Chad studied the programming code with mild amusement.  It was a “Cherry Bomb” virus, designed to detonate at a specific time and date.  Deferred release was the official term.  But this one was very sexy, extremely well made.  Made for a purpose.  He wasn’t surprised they couldn’t figure out what it was.  It was written in a code only a select group of underworld writers could ever fully understand, a dynamic code, constantly shifting and changing encryption.  Toby hadn’t finished it, though, which was strange.  It was a masterpiece.  The fact that Toby didn’t finish writing it sent a warning pang through Chad’s stomach.  It meant he was definitely planning on selling it.
    “Who the fuck do you think you’re talking to?” the guy in the suit that cost less than Chad’s boxer’s asked, puffed up his chest like an exotic fish.
    “I’ll talk to him,” Chad ignored the question and open the door to enter the interrogation room, but stopped.  He turned slowly towards the agent, smiling, “You won’t be here when I come out, will you?”
    “No, but I’ll be watching.”
    “Good,” he said, “watch and learn.”


Chad crossed the room and was immediately slapped by the hot, humid air that poured from the vent above the accused.  It’s in no way illegal to toggle the thermostat to keep a suspect unhappy.  Chad saw it all the time.  There were more elaborate means as well, but heating up the room and making the suspect sweat was just as effective as the next measure.
    “So ToBiN,” Chad watched Toby’s eyes light up when he heard the name, “why don’t you tell me about the cherry bomb.”
    The room was small and well lit, the only furniture a metal table and three uncomfortable chairs.  The large two-way mirror on the far wall was the room’s most prominent feature.  The rest was very monotonous and depressing, not unlike the rest of the field office.  In the chair against the solid wall sat Toby Smith, a chubby young man with red hair and green eyes.  His face was flushed and he had sweat on his brow, which beaded about the same size as his freckles and acne.  He was still shackled, and he held his hands in front of him on the table, twiddling his thumbs and muttering to himself.
    Chad ran a well manicured hand through his short, expertly cut hair, and continued, “I would expect better work from you.  It’s not finished, I presume.”
    Chad studied the kid, and knew by the glazed look in his eyes that Toby hadn’t been fed in a while.  Another nice infraction that couldn’t be proved in court.  Lower the blood sugar, lower the will to fight.  Toby was eyeing him back, and squinting as if trying to think.
    “Oh wait, I know you,” Toby said finally, “you were ‘The Titan’ back in the day, right?  ‘Turner the Titan’ they call you online, you’re my idol man.”
    Chad grimaced and looked down.  He hated that name.  Only a fourteen year old kid would put his last name in his online alias.  Chad had been fourteen, but it still stung.  He used to get off on people admiring him, but now it was just one more liability.  He didn’t know how Toby recognized him, but shit happened.
    “You’re a fed now man?  That’s fucking disappointing.”  Toby shook his head and shifted in his chair, looking frustrated more than anything.  “I guess they pay you well for screwing your comrades.”
    “Toby, listen to me,” Chad said calmly.  “I had a chair and a choice very similar to the one you have now.  They’ve got you on tax evasion for the money in your deposit box.  They found the drugs, which they can use to charge you with intent to distribute narcotics, and they’ll get the conviction.
    “They’re investigating you for trafficking in bootleg programs and games.  You’re looking at ten to twenty years on that one, alone.  Add in this little baby,” he held up the flash drive and spun it in between his thumb and forefinger, “and they can tack another twenty on.  If they decide to make the terms run consecutively, you’re looking at forty-one years bitch time.  Is that what you want?”
    Toby tapped his foot steadily, glaring across the table.  Young, dumb-ass, cowboy, Chad thought.  He used to be one of those cowboys, but not anymore.
    “I’m seventeen,” Toby said, and straightened his back, “they can’t touch me.”
    “You’ll be tried as an adult,” Chad shrugged, “and they’ll send you away.  Or they’ll just wait a year to file the charges, then you’ll be eighteen, and you’ll be screwed.”
    “They can’t do that, I know the law.”
    “You’re dealing with the federal government, man.  They can do whatever the fuck they want.  Ask the boys in Guantanamo.”  He shrugged again.  “Give them some time.  They’ve already got their lawyers looking into it, and soon they’ll have you charged with so many different things you won’t be able to read all the indictments without your eyes getting fuzzy.  They’ll have to hire a speed reader just to save time.
    “But,” Chad continued, and lightly ran his long fingers along the smooth table top, “if you cooperate, tell me what I need to know, they might go easy on you.  Maybe they drop a charge, decide to make you ‘queen for a day’ and let you rat out all your little friends.  Who knows?  But you’ll have a chance.  I’m being honest with you, Toby.  If you don’t talk, you’re shit out of luck.”
    Chad let Toby think on that for a moment.  He watched him make his decision.  There was never any real possibility that Toby would stand up for something larger than himself.  That was why he was on one side of the table, and Chad was on the other.  
    Toby looked down at his lap.  After a few moments of that, he looked around the room, studying the bright white, painted walls.  Then he gazed at the mirrors for a moment, and finally looked back at Chad.
    “You can’t prove it’s mine,” he said finally.
    “They found it on your laptop.  Don’t fuck with me.  Even if I found it in a dumpster I’d now it was yours.  There’s only two coders in the country that could write something like this: You and SpEkTeR.”
    “Man, fuck SpEkTeR!” Toby snapped.  “Fucker couldn’t write something that nice if his life depended on it.  He sits on his ass and collects credit cards.  Fucking sell out.”
    “Why isn’t it finished?”
    “How do you know they didn’t just bust me before I was done with it?”
    “Because, Toby,” Chad said, and leaned in close, “I know everything.  Fifteen years ago they arrested me and offered me a job.  They did that because I’m the best in the world.  You left it unfinished on purpose.  Now, tell me what you know.”
    “I don’t really know anything,” he stammered.  “Okay, so I am finished, at least I’m done with it.  That’s the way they wanted it.”
    “I know that.”  Chad leaned back, checked his diamond cufflinks.  “Why unfinished?”
    “People do that all the time.”  Toby shrugged.  “They do it so you can’t sell it to a competitor, usually.  Anyway, these guys gave me very specific details on how they wanted it.  I made it to the letter the way they asked.  I don’t know who they are, or what they’re gonna to do with it.”
    “How much are they paying you?”
    “A hundred thousand.”
    Chad raised an eyebrow and glared back across the table at him.  “For an unfinished program?”
    “I don’t understand it either, but that’s what they offered.  I have a lot of people ask for unfinished stuff,” he repeated.  “I figured this guy sort of knew what he was doing.  Maybe he just didn’t know how to do the whole thing himself.  It’s a lot of money, I know.  But what do I care?  I’m a business man: I aim to please my customers.”
    “He had you write it in a very unique code.  Guy like that knows what he’s doing.”
    “What the fuck do I care?” Toby asked again, venomous.  “You give a shit about what your employers do?  Company man?  No, fucking A you don’t.”
    “How do you make contact with them?”
    “I don’t.”  Toby spit on the floor.  “They’re supposed to contact me next Wednesday, that’s when the deadline’s up.  They’ll send me a friend’s request and I’ll save a picture file.  Inside will be all the information on the meeting...”  Toby’s eyes lit up and he held his hands together like a prayer.
    “But hey,” he pleaded, “they’ll probably find out I got pinched.  There’s a whole network that watches for stuff like that.  Once someone posts that I got arrested, it’ll be on every hacker blog in like five minutes so I can’t turn on them.”
    “I know that, ToBiN, but we’re going to try anyway.”
    Chad got up and walked to the door, he had nothing more to say.
    “Hey, what happens now?”  Toby sputtered.  Apparently he thought Chad would hold his hand through it all.
    “What the fuck do I care?” Chad mocked as he turned the knob.  “My guess is you’ll have a very unpleasant next few decades. Say hello to Big Bob the white supremacist for me.”
    The door slammed behind him, but Chad didn’t care.  It always did that in field offices.  They ran so much re-circulated air through them he could practically feel himself getting sick as soon as he walked in.
    As his long, steady strides brought him past the lines of cubicles, he checked his phone and noticed a message from Beth, the love of his life.  He opened it, hoping it would lift his spirits, but before his eyes could scan the text a screen opened with the words “Call from Osirus.”  He answered.
    “Yeah Osirus,” he said into the receiver.  Osirus was his digital gatekeeper.  The program that allowed him access to all the government files that ‘consultants’ never saw.  Because Turner Technologies llc. was so much more than an IT firm that ‘occasionally does business with the federal government.’
    “Code in please,” Osirus responded.
    “CT8507,” Chad breathed as he walked through the revolving doors and emerged onto the busy streets of Denver.  “What do you have for me?”
    “SpeKteR is preparing to make a sale.”
    “Tell the surveillance units to wait for me.  I’ll be in Boston in under three hours.”