Author Topic: Chapter 3  (Read 10705 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 3
« on: June 10, 2022, 02:59:40 AM »
Chapter 3

It was night, and it was raining. Hard.

Amir looked out the window of his modest apartment and watched as the rain was whipped against the glass, as if trying to attack him. The cold, the rain, and the late hour all contributed to how empty the street was down there.

Breathing slowly and contentedly, Amir reveled in his newfound peace. For the past few weeks he'd been ground down, slowly but surely, by the relentless pace of his exams. His fellow students had suffered accordingly- and they'd been his only source of comfort. Now the testing was over, and the grading had started. Amir wasn't concerned- he'd always been good at studying for and taking exams.

He was just about to go to bed when the buzzer by his door rang. Who could that be, at this hour?

Amir lived in a pretty safe neighborhood. The poor soul out there was probably getting soaked to the bone right now, so he let them in. A few seconds later someone knocked on his door. Curiously, he peered through the peephole.

It was Vicky!

Amir hurriedly opened the door and she stepped right in, closing it behind her. She was dripping from the rain, but at least she was dressed for it. Before he could even ask, she went over to the window and closed the blinds.

Belatedly, Amir realized his place was a mess. He hadn't really done any kind of cleaning the past few days, and it showed. She didn't seem to care, though. Whatever was going on was clearly important.

"I'm sorry to just drop in like this, but I couldn't risk calling you," Vicky began, shivering despite her heavy coat. "I don't know who might be watching me, or who else might get in trouble, so I snuck out my window, flagged down a cab, and paid in cash to get out here."

"Whoa, whoa, slow down, Vicky," Amir insisted. "What is going on here? Are you in some kind of trouble?" He glanced at the window. "Should I be expecting police lights out there soon?"

Vicky shook her head, gulping for air. "No, no. Whoever is doing this wants it kept quiet. They wouldn't want the police involved." She closed her eyes for a moment, and then at his insistence, took a seat in his living room. He sat next to her, a mix of intrigued and concerned. "I'll explain as best I can."

Vicky's story seemed like the script for a bad B-movie at first, but before long Amir was starting to think she was overreacting. He'd heard of corporations getting protective about their products and patents before, but it was unlikely they'd actually broken the law in order to keep tabs on her. He heard her out to the end though, just to be considerate.

"That's why I came here," she finished up, looking a little more relaxed now. "I need you to help me figure this all out. If they are watching me at work, I can't look into this myself. They'd fire me on the spot, if they're not planning to already. But I can't just let this go, either. I helped design this BT102, whatever it is. I'm responsible for how it's used. If it's being misused, I have to know!"

Amir hid a smile at that. Same old Vicky- unwilling to tolerate shortcuts, excess credit, and moral compromises. He nodded slowly, trying to figure this all out.

"Ok, I'll help you look into this," he promised after a moment, and she sighed with relief. "But we're gonna need some help. I can't just walk into Etani and ask to see their product lines. Even if this thing was made for medical purposes, I haven't even started my residency yet! We should call- or rather, I should call Tom. He's got connections in the Department of Justice, right? He could help us investigate quietly, and see if there's anything sketchy going on at your company."

Vicky grimaced. "I don't think that's a good idea. Even if Tom wanted to help us, I doubt he could. He's pretty embroiled in his new senate race, and he probably can't even make a phone call without half a dozen people knowing what it's about." She paused for a moment. "What about Tina? She's still working for the Windy City Banner, right? She'd jump at something like this, even if it is just proving me wrong."

At least she was willing to admit it might be nothing. Amir thought about it for a moment. He was still a little surprised at what she'd said about Tom.

Amir had known for some time that their trio was closer to being a duo these days, but he'd figured it had more to do with him being busy at med school than anything else. If she was actually doubting Tom's willingness to help, though.. it was a lot more serious than he'd thought.

Tina Rafferty had been a good friend of theirs as well, back in their college days. They'd first met at one of the many protests Tom had convinced them to join. She'd been reporting on the crowd and had bullied her way into an interview with Tom himself. After graduation, she'd bounced between several papers over the years, before being hired out here in Chicago. She had a pretty vicious streak in her writing, which no doubt caused all sorts of trouble with her superiors, but definitely drew a lot of readers. Tina would certainly want to be involved in this.

"All right. I'll call her in the morning." He peeked through the blinds. "It's still coming down pretty hard out there. You should stay here for the night. I'll get some bedding and sleep out here on the couch. You can have my room."

Vicky shook her head. "If someone's watching my place, I need to be back there by morning. I'll head out, flag down another taxi, and sneak back in the way I left."

Amir gave her an incredulous look. She was really taking this very seriously. "At least get something to eat before you head out. You look hungry, and I seem to remember you always liked Israeli cuisine. I could cook you something like back in the old days."

She smiled a bit at that, but didn't relent. "I'll eat when I get home. The longer I'm gone. the more chance they notice. Thanks for the offer though."

Reluctantly, he nodded. "All right. I still don't think your company has tapped your phone, but just to be safe, I'll get a pair of burners. I'll make sure they have each others' numbers, and then mail one to you. That way we can keep in touch despite Big Brother. Sound good?"

She agreed and left shortly afterwards, and Amir retreated into the bedroom, his head spinning. He trusted and respected Vicky, and would have helped her regardless of the situation, but this all seemed too unreal! Hopefully Tina would be able to help them make sense of it.

-.-

Despite Vicky's desire for swift action, it was a couple of days before anything encouraging happened.

Amir's burner phone arrived during that time, and she used it to keep in touch with him about what was going on at work. Or rather, what wasn't going on. She'd seen no signs that anything had changed. No indications that she might be in trouble, or was being investigated over this BT102 situation. Of course, that could just mean that whoever was looking into it was being careful to keep her unaware.

According to Amir, Tina had responded immediately to his call, but she needed time to look into the matter. Vicky didn't question that: she'd learned years ago that Tina did her best work when left to her own devices. Finally Amir called back, just after Vicky had gotten back from work. In case someone had bugged her apartment, Vicky went into the bathroom and turned on the shower before answering. She was starting to agree with Amir that maybe she was just being paranoid, but something told her to be sure anyway.

"Hey, Vicky. I'm here with Tina," Amir said after she answered the phone. "She's got some news you'll want to hear."

"Hey, Vic," Tina spoke up. "So I got ahold of Etani Tech's shipping records for the last month, and there's no mention of any components called BT102 going out, or even being warehoused there. Your bosses really need to update their firewall, by the way," she added disdainfully, and Vicky smiled.

"Anyway, you thought there might be something fishy going on, and you were right. I compared the shipping records to the inventory at the time, and it looks like the records were altered. There was a batch of something manufactured but not put on the official list. If that's your BT102, it looks like they made six of them and shipped them out over three weeks ago."

Vicky shook her head. "That was just after my circuit design was completed! They must have just been waiting for the last piece of the puzzle, and my design was that piece." She sighed after a moment. "Still, that doesn't tell us where those six units went, or what the BT102 even does. We're back at square one."

"Maybe not, actually," Tina put in. "These BT102s, they're really small, right? Like a couple of inches long?"

"That's right," Vicky confirmed, wondering where Tina was going with this.

"Well, instead of mailing them, which would leave a paper trail from Etani Tech to whoever they're in business with, it's possible they just handed a box of these things over to their truck drivers with instructions to mail them from another location. That would bypass the paper trail. If they phrased it right, the truck driver probably didn't even know it was anything illegal."

That made sense. If the BT102 was dangerous or being used for something illegal, whoever was responsible at Etani would want to take precautions. Still, it was just a theory. Tina was just guessing that's what they did. "Ok, let's say that's how they got the devices out of Manufacturing. Can we figure out which truck they were on?"

"I think so," Tina said excitedly, and Vicky could hear tapping on a keyboard through the phone. "Yeah, Etani uses GPS tracking on all their associated trucks. There were.. four trucks that left your Manufacturing department that day. Two of them were just going to your home office. I doubt they'd be used. Another went north, out of state, to deliver up here to Chicago. According to the GPS, he didn't stop anywhere on the way, so he's probably out too. The last truck made a delivery to Cincinnati before coming back."

"Wait, I knew my superiors kept track of most employees, but they also track the trucks and where they stop? Isn't that pretty invasive?"

There was a pause on the other end. "Well, unlike most shipping companies, Etani actually owns the trucks, the trailers, and the contents. I suppose they want to be sure their investments are safe. Besides, all that information was included in a release form signed by all the drivers. It sounds like they know about all that and are fine with it."

Vicky wasn't sure she would feel the same in their shoes. She'd read about the steady increase of cameras, GPS tracking, and phone surveillance across America during the last few decades. There was no question that it had made their country safer, but it had also made peoples' lives a lot less private.

"Here it is," Tina cut in. "The Cincinnati driver stopped three times. A rest stop, a diner.. and a USPS just outside of the city itself! I think that may be it."

"Are you sure he was mailing something? Maybe he just needed to find a bathroom."

"I'm looking at the map of the area," Amir spoke up, probably feeling a bit left out after all of this. "It's a small road: two lanes only. Truck drivers don't park a big rig like that on such a small street without a good reason."

Vicky thought about it. This whole chain of reasoning seemed like a pretty long shot, but she had no better explanation. Besides, Tina had been investigating possible crimes for years, and had racked up an impressive list of successful stories. "All right," she said after a moment. "I don't suppose you can hack into the USPS too, and find out where that package was sent?"

"Uh, no," Tina admitted over the line. "It would be risky even to try. Ever since 9/11, government agencies have tracked the postal system just as much as their own people, in case of possible letter bombs. Besides, I think I know a better way. I'm gonna hang up and call you back in a few minutes, ok?"

Vicky had barely opened her mouth when the line went dead. She looked at the burner phone wryly, and put it down. Same old Tina. When she set her mind to a task, everything else became second priority, including politeness and consideration.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2022, 03:56:52 AM by Daen »