Lesson to Vanguard


hana_icon.gif mallory_icon.gif

Scene Title Lesson to Vanguard
Synopsis Malware and Wireless finish their project of the evening before. (Pity the poor Vanguard.)
Date November 29, 2008

Unidentified Ferrymen Safehouse, Lower East Side

Early morning light finds Mallory still on the couch, the only difference between when she fell asleep and when she woke up being the blanket that's been thrown over her sleeping form. Well, that and Hana's absence from the room. The ex-Mossad is downstairs, in the kitchen, actually /cooking/. If pancakes and scrambled eggs qualify as cooking.

Mallory pokes her head up from under the blanket, being one of nature's blanket-burrowers. She blinks a few times, sits up, rubs the gunk out of her eyes, and squints. This is a little weird. Also, she's not at home. People might worry. Mallory considers calling, then figures people probably won't realize she never came home. That's the beauty of holing up by yourself all the time. Swinging her legs down off the couch, she looks to the computer even as her nostrils flare. Food. Work to do, but… food. She leaves the computer room reluctantly, resting a hand on the banister as she descends the stairs to go to the kitchen.

Hana glances towards the stairs at the sound of footsteps descending. "Good morning," she greets. The computer will still be there later. The pancakes that have already finished cooking are loaded on a plate, along with some of the eggs. The plate is slid over the counter for Mallory to take; utensils and glasses have already been set out, so the girl won't have to hunt for them. By implication, filling the glass is her problem; Hana isn't going to try and guess what Mallory wants to drink.

"…Morning," Mallory says after another hesitation. Mornings are rarely good. She wipes at a little crusted blood on her nostrils and reaches for a fork, expression thoughtful. "This smells… good." Mallory stinks at small talk.

Hana isn't much for chitchat either, which suggests this is either going to be a quiet meal or one that takes prompt refuge in shop talk. "It'll do." It's food. Easy to fix. Keeps the body going. Doesn't require any of the chefly talent she lacks. Hana prepares a second dish for herself, leaving extra pancakes on a warmed plate in the oven; she fills a glass of her own with water and sits down across from Mallory. There's butter and syrup to be added, of course, though Hana opts for honey instead.

Mallory checks the fridge and finds some orange juice; she pours herself some and settles back in her seat, where she begins to eat quietly. No talking, just eating in relative silence. Methodical, even. "Thank you," Mallory says about halfway through around a mouthful of syrup-drenched pancake. "I think I have some ideas for new angles to go at it with."

Dark eyes flick up to Mallory as she breaks the verbal silence, and Hana inclines her head. "You can try those next, then. There are a couple of tricks I can show you in the process." A brief pause for the woman to take a drink of her water. "I set up some exercises you can work on in your own time. I'll point you to them when we're done here." Shop talk it is.

"Good," is Mallory's simple reply; and then she's back to eating in silence. She doesn't seem to mind the lack of talk. Not at all. If anything, it's easier. When she's finished, she takes her plate to the sink and rinses it off.

And no talk, again, which suits Hana equally well. She also takes her cleaned plate over to the sink, disposes of it, and then leads the way back upstairs. Hana takes up the same position as before, seated to one side, ceding to Mallory the desk chair. "Back to where we left off, then." The phone company.

Mallory nods; thus fortified and after a quick trip to the washroom to splash some water on her face, she has reclaimed her seat. She powers the computer on manually this time; no sense wasting energy with parlour tricks. There's some initial set-up before she closes her eyes and goes in, hands against the case. Both hands. And down the tangled corridors she goes, passing through familiar territory quickly, only pausing to check for new security features that may not have been there after her last visit. Her breathing slows. She slides past one of the first obstacles.

There are no new features; the eminently mundane operation is unaware of its uninvited technopath guests. The security programs are excellent examples of their kind, but traditional. Designed to counter traditional incursions.

Hana's awareness follows Mallory into the depths of computer code, a light touch drawing the girl's attention to a specific point. Here. Watch how the program works. When it hits the right point… Wireless leads by example, defeating the questing anti-virus software by simple expedient of becoming part of it, letting the code's own cycle of operations carry her further in.

! is Mallory's response to that. She waits for the opening in the turnstyle and slides on through after Wireless, a rare smile lighting her features back in the physical world. That is a good trick to know, that is. She hesitates by the next block, watching, waiting, timing, and then slips past that using the same method.

We're not hackers, Wireless points out, when she joins Mallory on the other side. We are the computer. Make it believe that, and everything else follows. In most cases. It's not as easy as it sounds, but it is simple. Until the computer-security companies start designing defenses to combat technopaths. Something you could do for Stillwater. Teach them how to guard against one of us. It'd put Diego's company light-years ahead of every competitor. But that's neither here nor there.

The account data is, of course, encrypted. But the key is also on the computer. Somewhere.

Mallory can's verbalize as well as Wireless in here; she's too far in to nod in the physical world, either. u craked? is the crude answer. im gud pizles. And she is. She starts shifting the information, poking her metaphorical nose in, testing the perimeters of the encryption, looking for patterns. The movement as a whole; the colours on the other sides of the Rubik's cube. And she makes progress, but she's not doing it the easy way. She's trying to make her own key instead of finding the one Hana's left. Maybe she forgot; maybe she's too interested and wrapped up in doing this.

If Mallory wants to take the difficult route, that's not Wireless' problem. She lets the girl chip away at the encryption, merely observing, offering neither advice nor obstacle. Hana is once more but a presence in the machine.

Maybe Mallory's wasting time; maybe it's better this way, that she does it herself. Time passes in strange ways in this world, but it's still a while before she forms the key, becomes it, and twists it in the only hole it fits. Encryption broken.

From there, it's a matter of locating the account number. The information associated with it. The bank account from which service bills are paid. More virtual travel — with more security measures on the far end.

Mallory keeps going, her head starting to ache from the sheer effort of making her thoughts work in this realm. Hers is a human mind, and this is machine. They aren't compatible save with work. This will help that, as will the exercises Hana prepared for her. Mallory drives on. Remember to be the computer. Be the data flowing, don't be a hacker. Find the links that are forged between that particular account number and other databases in other places where the distance is irrelevant. In the physical world, her nose starts bleeding again. Not too badly for now. Into the bank's system, with advantages a regular hacker doesn't have. Be the money flow, the series of ones and zeroes. See where it takes you.

Where does any secure money trail ultimately wind up? Servers in Sweden. More than one of them, actually, but if Mallory tries to wander Wireless will direct her to just one. She's still learning, and nearing the end of her capability; Hana will deal with the others.

We can make the money evaporate. Move it elsewhere. Change the PIN numbers. The fingerprints. Vanish the records altogether. In modern society, a ticked-off technopath is a very scary thing. They can't touch paper records… but scrambling the digital ones will wreak plenty of havoc.

Just don't do anything that ever traces back to you.

Mallory has to think. All that power, right at her fingertips. She could divert the funds, but where? Wherever she puts it is a link back to herself. No moving it, then. PIN numbers can be changed back, but maybe not if there's no record of the identity owning it. Maybe it can be a free account, locked away on its own floating island of data that doesn't exist on record, with only one key. She thinks about that, then thinks that the money will still have to get out of it somehow. And wherever she moves it leads back to her. So she reaches out, extends her will through the machine, and starts wiping things. Careful work around the edges, like taking something out of a picture in Photoshop, and then broader sweeps once inside.

The computer is not intelligent. It is utterly obedient to the instructions of its human users, and could not care less that one of the so-very-secure accounts hosted within the bounds of its mainframe is being wiped from existence. It is as if the records had not existed a scant handful of minutes before; as if one Richard Santiago had never made the deposits, or arranged the payment of phone bills from these funds. Less even than dust in the wind… and the computer continues to hum along in its electronic non-life, oblivious and indifferent, its human keepers afforded no warning of the change.

Mallory sweeps about, checking for any crumbs her efforts haven't eaten up. And she cleans a little specks, but then she's satisfied. This has to pass muster, though, so she forces her thoughts into words for Wireless. gud?

Very good, Wireless replies. You should return. To the real world, that is, where Mallory's body is protesting the strain of expanding talented horizons.

Is it ever. Mallory starts working backwards; she realizes she's close to the wire on this one. She doesn't know what happens if she passes out while she's on the inside, so it becomes a race to get out, strength flagging. Blood is flowing freely, her brain is sending sharp stabs of pain to her. STOP DOING THIS, IT HURTS.

The nosebleed is caught by a towel before it can make a mess; Hana's careful not to touch Mallory's skin, but decided to risk contact with a couple of cloth layers in between. A hand on her shoulder will keep Mallory from collapsing when she returns to herself, should that be the next reaction.

Mallory's strength flags as she nears the home stretch; maybe it's not a physical distance, but it's so far from regular human functions that in some ways it's a great chasm. Gathering the last shreds of thought, Mallory emerges. Her eyes promptly roll back in her head and, if Hana's hand wasn't there, she would've slumped forward and gotten a pretty nasty case of waffleface.

Fortunately, tall as Mallory is, she's not impossible for the ex-operative to pick up and move. Hana waits until the nosebleed resolves, then relocates the teen to the bed across the hall, bringing the bedspread back over to cover her. She'll let her sleep it off, however long it takes — hopefully not as long as some of Hana's overexertions. That would pose some difficulty.

The older technopath herself goes about other business in the meantime. First, dealing with each of those other accounts — and the phone service by which she located them.

The money is moved, in smaller sums, to a wide variety of charities and non-profit organizations, thousands (ten thousand here, a hundred thousand there, and eventually you're talking real money) of dollars appearing like magic in their accounts without so much as a record of a transfer IP. Given that there's quite a bit of money stored away, it's a lot of groups that benefit — including the Ferrymen and Phoenix, but anyone researching the mysterious appearances of funds would quickly be swamped by the diversity of beneficiaries. The largesse can't be traced to her.

The accounts, emptied, are not left with their framework intact. Digital fingerprint records are altered; if they match anyone, it'll be a marvel. Identifying codes are randomly scrambled. The names of account holders are substituted with randomly-chosen names from the Internet. No one save a technopath will be able to get into the accounts — which means they'll sit untouced, forgotten by the bank employees, collecting virtual dust until the end of time.

'Richard Santiago's' account with the Russian phone company is similarly shredded. Records? We have no Mr. Santiago in our database, sorry, sir. (That account number belongs to a Ms. Kayla Llewellyn, now.) No, we don't supply service to those phones. They're not on any account. Yes, sir, of course we can open a new one. I'm sorry, sir, but you don't seem to have authorization for those bank accounts; we can't bill them.

It takes even Hana time to do all of these things. But not, in the grand scheme of things, very much. Just the few seconds needed to trip her preparations from the night before, the milliseconds of their execution. And then she's free to research this Richard Santiago.

Lesson to Vanguard: Don't give anyone reason to call in favors from Hana against you.

(Better yet, let us pity them not at all.)

November 29th: Light on Water, Part I

Previously in this storyline…
Date Night

Next in this storyline…
Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right

November 29th: Where The Bear Shits
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