This story has been removed as of 15 January, 2010.
C&D and any other future stories will be only be posted on Authonomy from now on.
It has been removed to reduce the risk of plagiarism. I want to publish this story. I plan on revising it. And to settle the odds even more comfortably in my favour, I have sent several dated e-mails of this story to myself, as well as a couple older versions and an alternate ending. So don't do it.
Cloak and Dagger
The man in the cell was named Itachi Watanabe, although that was probably a pseudonym. On the security monitor, he paced like a cornered animal, pausing periodically to stare pleadingly into the direction of the camera. He was a Japanese programmer; allegedly, he could hack into the most sophisticated firewalls, including—but not limited to—that of the IMA.
The IMA was an extremely secret organization that mostly did mercenary work, selling their services to the highest bidder. Sometimes they did work for the government; usually not. The blood trade was far more valuable than gold, more valuable than diamonds … and far more deadly.
Watanabe had left no signature of any kind. It had been a silent entry, and a silent escape. If he had kept his mouth shut, he might have remained undetected but, unfortunately, he hadn't. Watanabe had made one fatal error: he had bragged to his friends, and one of those friends was a client of the IMA. Out of a duty-bound sense of honor, this client had made a discreet call from a pay phone and then the men came for Watanabe in the middle of the night.
The computer programmers couldn't figure out how a nobody from Japan could hack into one of their mainframes, but they intended to find out … and fast. Yesterday, all of the computers in node seven had crashed instantaneously. One of the technicians, a bright, young graduate from MIT, had discovered the cause. A computer virus in an e-mail, which one of the employees had carelessly opened and released. The infected computer transmitted the virus to every computer on the same network. It had been so obvious, they had overlooked it completely, chalking the incident up to techno-terrorism.
Pandora, the e-mail had said, She's a curious girl. There hadn't been a sender.
Michael Boutilier stared at the monitor, studying the man's features. His lips were cracked and bleeding as he spoke—probably pleading again, although since this video had no audio, he couldn't be sure—with a wild-eyed desperation that implied that, finally, Watanabe was ready to talk.
He swung around in his chair, facing the technician. "What was he saying?"
"I'm not sure." The technician peered at the screen. "He's been babbling for a while now."
The technician shrugged.
"Give me the computer read-outs. I'll talk with him."
"Last guy didn't have much luck. Japanese have a very strong sense of honor. They die for it."
"Whoever said anything about killing him?"
Michael took the elevator down to B-1. The underground rooms had steel doors with key cards. He swiped the card through the slot and entered the room, causing the man to jump. The holding cell was empty, except for a single wooden table, a chair, and a cot.
He set the man's file down on the table and rolled up his sleeves. "Sit down," Michael snapped.
The man did so, trembling.
In Michael's hand were two computer printouts. One was from the IMA database. It showed the page Watanabe had accessed—a list of encrypted placements for various weapons. According to their informant, the man sitting across from Michael had stayed up half the night gleefully attempting to crack the code. Like a kid, Michael thought, With a fucking decoder ring.
The second printout was a copy of the infected e-mail.
"Does this look familiar?" He held up the first printout.
Watanabe stared at the page bleakly, before shaking his head slowly. "No."
Michael had anticipated the lie but it still pissed him off. Before Watanabe could get any farther, Michael shoved the metal desk forward, knocking the Japanese man out of his chair. With a cry of alarm, he tumbled out of the chair, sprawling gracelessly on the floor. He walked over to where the fallen man lay with deliberate slowness. "Do you consider yourself an honorable man?"
"... I ..." The man's black eyes darted from left to right. "... why—what do you ..."
"You're protecting someone—" Watanabe opened his mouth "—don't lie to me. I know you're protecting someone. Hackers rarely work alone, Mr. Watanabe, as I'm sure you're aware. Do you honestly believe that you are the first to have attempted to gain entry through our firewall?"
"… no …"
"As I said." He knelt down. "Would you put a price on honor? How much is your allegiance worth?"
"Honor is worth more than blood money," the man said.
One look from Michael made him shut up.
"No, I'm afraid honor is absolutely worthless. Honor won't save you now, and whatever pathetic comfort you derive from it will do little to ease the pain I am about to inflict on you." A pause. "Do you know what we do to liars, Mr. Watanabe?"
Watanabe swallowed with visible effort. He had not eaten for almost three days. "No."
"In the next room, there is a man waiting to show you—" he paused, indicating a small hand-held radio "—he is just a phone call away and I can assure you, his methods are questionable even by our standards. Even by mine." He pinned the man with his hard gaze. "I'm sure you can imagine."
The Japanese man wet his cracked lips. As if he could, indeed, imagine.
"I can call him right now, Mr. Watanabe." A long, terrible silence followed. He let his words hang in the air until the man started to squirm. "Do you want me to call him?" His query met with no response, but Michael didn't press the button. "I'll ask you again. Do you recognize this? Does it look … familiar?"
This time, Watanabe nodded wearily.
Michael shuffled the papers, revealing the second printout. "And this one?"
Watanabe frowned, leaning closer. Michael held the paper just out of reach—he didn't think the Japanese man was foolish enough to make a grab for it, although he was certainly spry enough to do so—but there was no need to lead him into temptation. At last, he shook his head slowly. "No."
Michael didn't even bother arguing. He simply pressed the button on the walkie-talkie.
"Wait!" the Japanese man cried, "What are you doing? I'm telling the truth!"
"You have already lied to me twice. I won't be lied to again." To the walkie-talkie he said, "Get Callahan on the line—"
"No!" Watanabe made a wild lunge for the walkie-talkie. Michael kicked him in the stomach, whereupon he promptly fell to the ground like a sack of cement and started sobbing. "Please—"
"Get Callahan," he repeated, shooting a cold look at the crying man, "Subject is being uncooperative."
"No," the man wheezed. "I'll talk."
"I'll tell you anything you want to know—anything—please—please, don't hurt me!"
"You have a minute."
"But I—" He wet his lips. "Okay. I—I came across something similar to this once—a few years ago—"
"This?" Michael brandished the second printout.
Watanabe flinched. "No. Not exactly. But they're very similar. Both make references to Greek mythology. In one case, Pandora; in the other, Hephaestus. Now, please, can I—"
"Who is he? Where does he live?"
"America. He goes by the pseudonym Hephaestus. I think he might—"
"Your minute is up. I suggest you answer my question."
Watanabe swallowed heavily. "I don't know his address. But I . . . I can give you his name."
Michael stuffed the papers in the pocket of his jacket. "I'm listening."
"It's Parker." He coughed up blood. "Rubens Parker."
+ II + II +
+ II + II +
As he walked out of the holding cell, he spoke once more into the walkie-talkie. "Get him some food and water – but keep him under observation." He waited until the woman on the other end of the crackling line assented before shutting off the device.
"All work and no play makes Michael Boutlilier a dull boy."
He looked up and started, his right hand reaching for a weapon that wasn't there.
"Ye going to shoot me?" he asked, sounding amused.
Of all the people to slip in front of, it had to be this one. He let his hand fall harmlessly to his side. "What do you want, Callahan?"
"You called me. I suppose the weasel decided to talk. Oh well. I prefer them stubborn."
The holding cells were separated from the main building by a steel door with an access panel. Michael punched in the code and was unable to completely hide his disgust when the fawn-haired man followed him into the elevator. "Don't you have something you need to do?" he asked coldly, folding his arms.
"Didn't ye know? I'm assigned as your back-up."
Back-up for what? His eyes widened. Oh, fuck no.
The doors parted with a hiss of air and Michael stormed out of the elevator.
"Where are ye going in such a hurry?" the other man mocked, easily keeping pace with his brisk stride.
Goddammit. Richardson knew there was no lost love between them. Perhaps he hoped they would closely monitor each other for mistakes—he was taking this case like a personal attack. Michael slammed the oak desk of a bespectacled researcher, causing the woman to jump. "Hennessey. Get me everything you can on a Rubens Parker." I won't be the one to screw up.
Hennessey nodded briskly and slipped out of the room, heels clicking against the tiles.
The other man watched her leave. "Parker, mm? Someone I know?"
Michael turned around, studying the other man with cold green eyes. "Didn't Richardson debrief you?"
"Maybe." A cat-like smile. "A second opinion never hurts."
"He's the hacker that caused the network to crash," Michael said shortly, "If Watanabe isn't lying."
"If," Callahan said, stretching the word out, "There would be no if, providing I'd had my way."
"Richardson wants to keep him on. He's a blubbering idiot, but useful behind a keyboard."
The other man sighed. "Pity."
Michael waited impatiently, turning slightly away from Callahan. He was the only field agent in this agency that unsettled him. He wished Richardson would cut him loose—keeping on a man like Adrian Callahan was like training a shark or a lion; it was only too happy to obey you while you were still in power, but if you ever showed weakness, even for a moment, you could find yourself in trouble.
The mousy woman returned a few minutes later with several sheets of paper. "Here. Parker, Rubens."
Michael glanced down at the top sheet, which showed a photograph. His target was the middle-aged man in the middle, with his wife and daughter on either side of him like bookends. The setting was a bit too flat and too perfect, suggesting a studio photo. His lips tightened. Perfect.
Nobody crossed the IMA and lived to get away with it.