Homunculus: Chapter 24: Response

The door to the lab burst open as Mort stepped inside, followed closely by Douglas. Other Dave briefly looked up from his workstation as they entered.

“OK,” Douglas demanded, “where is it?”

“Where’s what?” asked Other Dave.

“The unauthorized connection between the Simulacrum and the corporate intranet.” Douglas was already peering underneath the desks along the wall, looking at the rat’s nest of cabling.

“I, uh, don’t know what you’re talking about,” replied New Dave.

“Don’t play dumb,” warned Mort. “I got to spend the weekend here discovering the Internet traffic flowing between the Simulacrum and this room. Care to explain how that happened?”

“Not really.”

“Here,” Other Dave said, wheeling his chair over to the corner of the room. “It should be one of those blue cables running from the router up to the drop ceiling.”

“Which one?” asked Douglas. “There’s five.”

“Um, hang on.” Other Dave shoved a keyboard aside and climbed up on the desk. He shoved one of the ceiling tiles aside and stared up at the space beyond, tracing the path along which the cables had been run across the room with his finger. “No, it’s the black one. Don’t touch anything, I need to make sure that’s the right one.”

“‘Don’t touch anything,’” repeated Douglas. “Isn’t that what you two were supposed to do.”

“Yeah,” New Dave said, lifting his hands in front of him defensively, “that’s what you said. Then the boss comes over and wants to know why Jacob isn’t out blogging for everyone to see about about how wonderful everything is. He wants it done yesterday, and he’s the one who signs my paychecks.”

“That’s why we set up the link you were supposed to use in the first place. What, did you think I had facilities crawl around in the ceiling to install it for fun?”

“I don’t see why you bothered. We could never get so much as a ping through that alleged connection. This worked.”

By this time, Other Dave had climbed up on a desk on the other side of the room, fumbling with something above the ceiling tile in that corner. Mort stood on the desk where Other Dave had been, his hands on the router, waiting to hear which of the cables he was supposed to unplug.

“Of course you couldn’t get a ping through,” Douglas continued. “We had filters in place to block everything that wasn’t on the whitelist.”

“‘Deny all’ isn’t a whitelist!” countered New Dave.

“You never told us what destination addresses you wanted added to the whitelist!”

“Have you ever tried making a whitelist of everywhere you go on the web?” accused New Dave. “It can’t be done. Don’t try to tell me you were going to open up all outbound port 80 traffic.”

“No, I’m not going to let a billion-dollar system filled with all our trade secrets connect to J. Random Hacker’s server. And do you know why? Because then there’s nothing stopping bad guys from tunneling who knows what right past the firewall. Just like they’re doing Right Now with that little security violation,” Douglas said, pointing towards Other Dave.

“Who’s ‘they’?”

“Whoever it was that hired goons to break in and install a phone-home backdoor on the servers that’s been running ever since the fire, that’s who.”

“Found it,” Other Dave called to Mort. “It’s the black cable connected to port 5.”

“Got it,” replied Mort, pulling the network cable free of the router.

“Good,” said Douglas, “at least we’ve stopped the bleeding. Maybe now management will actually let us treat the patient.”

“So, um,” said New Dave, the anger in his voice now replaced with nervousness, “now we have to use the other connection.”

“No, there is no other connection,” replied Douglas. “Not anymore. Just the backup pipe, and that’s only because we can’t afford to operate without backups.”

“So Jacob’s completely cut off from the Internet now?”

“That’s the idea. We can’t risk it until we clean the servers.”

“So what do we tell him,” Other Dave asked as he hopped back down to the floor.

“Tell him we’re having some issues with the connection, and we don’t know when they’ll be resolved,” Douglas answered. “That’s all.” He shot Mort a sharp look to tell him not to add anything. Douglas knew the Daves talked with Jacob frequently, and since Jacob had been talking with whoever it was who was behind it, and never reported anything, they couldn’t necessarily trust him. If he could figure it out, so be it, but Douglas didn’t want anyone to help him along. “Although,” Douglas added, “if he starts acting weird at all, let me know.”

“What do you mean by weird?” Other Dave asked.

“I don’t know. You spend more time around him than I do.”

“By which he means, you actually spend time around him,” added Mort.

“So,” Douglas continued, glancing back sharply at Mort, “whatever you’d consider weird for him. Someone has been poking around the system; there’s no telling what they might’ve touched.”

“So when do you think you’ll get the machines cleaned and hooked back up to the Internet?” New Dave asked.

“Don’t hold your breath.”

“Is that before or after I retire?”

“That depends on how management reacts when I tell them about this little stunt that might’ve cost us the company.”

“Game over, man, game over,” remarked Other Dave.

The woman knocked on her boss’s door.

“Come in,” replied a gruff voice from the other side.

The woman stepped inside and shut the door tightly behind her. She nodded towards the phone in her boss’s hand.

“Hang on, I’ve got a meeting,” he said into the receiver. “I’ll have to call you back.” He set the phone back into its cradle. “What is it?” he asked, looking up.

“Sir,” she said hesitantly, still trying to think of a way to deliver the news, “you recall how you said you were unhappy with the results we’ve been getting from the package?”

“Of course I do,” replied the man. “Bunch of useless garbage. Network maps don’t help me when I need to know what’s on it! Good news, I hope?”

“In a sense. We’re not getting useless garbage from it anymore, at least.”

“What are we getting, then?”

“Well, that’d be the bad news,” the woman gulped. “Our last contact from it was over 24 hours ago.”

The man grunted. “Do we know why?”

“We do know it’s not a problem with the receivers. We’ve been maintaining at least 75% connectivity with them since the beginning, and there’s been no issues with pushing out updated node lists to the package. Besides, even 40% connectivity would meet our reliability target.”

“So they found it?”

“That would be my guess, sir.”

“I though you said it was stealthy. It was supposed to escape detection!”

“I thought so too, sir.”

“I told you it was too risky to establish direct contact.”

The woman shook her head. “We had to try, sir. We just didn’t have the bandwidth needed to do what we needed remotely. We needed someone on the inside. And we don’t have any indication that he told anyone we were even on the system to begin with.”

“But what if he did?”

“What could he tell them? He has no idea who we are, and there’s no way they’ll be able to trace the packets back to us. Frankly, sir, the initial operation was far riskier than this was.”

The man grunted again. “You’re telling me. If those two idiots you found hadn’t gotten themselves killed, who knows what they might’ve told the police.”

“Even if they had, they wouldn’t trace it back to us. They thought we were out to destroy the blasted thing.”

“What about the follow-up?”

“Almost unmitigated success on that front, sir,” the woman said, straightening herself out.

“‘Almost’?”

“It was even better than we had hoped, sir. There’s just one or two last bits of information we need to launch Plan C.”

“And you know how you’re going to get it?”

“It’s already in the works, sir.”

“Do I want to know?”

“It’s probably best if you don’t, sir.”

The man remained silent for a few moments. “I sure hope you know what you’re doing with this. This could turn ugly quickly.”

“We can’t stop now, sir, not with as far as we’ve already come. Your own words, sir.”

“Don’t remind me,” the man said, looking down at his desk. “This seemed like a much better idea at the time. But you’re right. No turning back now.”

“No, sir.”

“Well, go on, get to it. We need something concrete to show for all this, and soon.”

“Yes, sir.”

The woman opened the door and exited into the hallway. As she walked back to her office, she ran through the outline of the plan in her head. It was going to work. It had to work. And she knew exactly the right person to carry it out.

True, the two they had recruited to ultimately deliver the package had fouled things up royally at the end, and if the fact of the break-in hadn’t been discovered, she’d no doubt be downloading data practically at will. But they had gotten themselves discovered, so she had had to be far more careful about not getting caught, and even that apparently hadn’t worked. The cautious route wasn’t getting her anywhere.

The two had failed, yes, but there was hope for the third. No doubt he was angry with how things had turned out. She could use that. He’d be willing to be more reckless, willing to go farther. She just had to make sure he wasn’t going to go too far, that he stuck to the plan, like the other two should have done. She didn’t actually want anyone to get hurt, after all, and she knew a way to make sure no one that he really wanted revenge on would be in the line of fire.

Not directly, anyway.


Chapter word count: 1,667 (+0)
Total word count: 42,316 / 50,000 (84.632%)