| The Network Revenant
Ten in the morning approached while Fia fought a silent war with her curiousity. Despite her alter persona, she had never gone in much for actual Revenet history. Although she had a healthy respect - even fear - of ESCHER, coupled with the standard-issue Flashrunner disdain for officialdom of any stripe, she found that she knew little enough about the organization itself. Litte enough, in fact, for her naturally inquisitive impulses, strengthened with a healthy dose of self-preservation every time one of the black-clad avatars slid past the entry to her cubicle, to push her to find data, in whatever form. Rumor, legend, history, annotated sleazejob, pay records, court transcripts, legal archives, or her stock in trade - the flow of resources both real and virtual.
Each time, she fought herself, winning silent sumo contests to throw her will away from control of her interface and send it staggering outside into the normal environment of pleasantly beige nonexistent carpeting and woodgrain desk surface - in short, all the trappings of her trade and task. Ten o'clock would save her, Fia figured; at ten, the workday would begin and acting would become action. Company time and policy describing corporate action, shielding her from both her traitor obsessive streak and the temptation of dead time, time slowed to tacky molasses here in the Downtown corporate Ouroverse where the flickerjack was made to hide in the deepest recesses of her 'ware. Ten o'clock. She checked the work queue, rationing her accesses; every five minutes. Nothing at nine forty-five. Nothing at nine-fifty. Unbidden, the file photo of Irinha's pursuer flickered into her mind, causing her to waste seconds of will and attention ensuring the thought remained partitioned in her braincase, walled off from her 'ware and its ever-inquisitive search agents. Agents she couldn't take offline for fear of raising suspicion, but which would immediately seize on his likeness with the tenacity of starveling mastiffs, burrowing into the net and the 'verse alike to find pieces of that unworthy's electronic data trail for her perusal, bringing them back to betray her.
The Bent were here for her; for her intrusion into the Bank's systems, that much was obvious. For what else, though, was the question - unwritten rules governed the interaction of the virtuales and the warriors of the Revenet, and an intrusion solely dedicated to exposing a child molester should, should have fallen strictly on the safe side of the line. ESCHER would have observed, noted, recorded methodology and backtrail, sniffed about for its endless imaginary evidential morgue, sampled snippets of shuntcode and screwjack routines, and withdrawn, leaving the investigation to the overworked and underinterested Blue Sox. The Blucher-Sarbanes-Oxley enforcement teams would confirm there had been no transfer of fiscal data, and log the incident, forgotten.
But that wasn't what had happened. Fia shrugged to herself as another intent-looking Fed avatar stalked past her cubicle doorspace, and checked the work queue again. There were entries trickling into it; she skimmed the headers, looking for her assignment tag.
Three chits in queue so far.
Eagerly, she tabbed the first one out of the queue in relief, settling back in her modchair with the peculiar stereo muscular harmony that caused both her avatar and her body to perform the maneuver, and with incarnate fingers eclipsed by her avatar's motionless hands, punched her desktab for coffee.
Chit one, budding before her in virtual before quickly growing off to various directions in a remarkable imitation of a time-reversed melting wax sculpture, was a standard work order. Search objective: Transfer of funds, account FirstBoston Gamma 7749836 TO account ExBankCayman 423-986-594-391. Querent: Reconciliation Department, Transfer Fees Networking. Date and particulars attached. Somewhere, somehow, a funds transfer had been made through the Bank; somehow, the record of it had become scattered in the Bank's systems. Enough remained to offer her the index information, but in order to reconcile the transaction record and, hence, The Books, the full transaction needed to be relinked as a single record, bits of it retrieved and located from all over the Bank's datasphere and assembled into a coherent object with a standard index link. If possible, original cryptotags for the transaction would need to be recovered; if not, new cryptotags would be appended, with her signature and that of her supervisor indicating that Bank personnel had reconstructed the records, along with the record of her search activity transactions for further record.
Fia had only been forced to recrypt a standard funds transfer twice in her tenure at the bank. It was a record she was proud of, in a small and private way, and one which caused the really nasty and broken indices to always end up in her queue - for her almost instinctual knowledge of how and where inside the Bank's maze of legacy, outsourced and consultant-built systems such records could explode into neon shrapnel of economics and liability. This one offered no challenge, no asterisked notes with guilty admissions of lacking information from the querying departments; a sign that more that likely all data was easily available but the sweeper systems couldn't re-link the records for some trivial reason. Transposed characters, garbled keys, timestamp desynch, all these and more were beyond the ken of the automatic datasweepers, which (while faster than humans, and more thorough in many cases) were legally proscribed from declaring their work to be complete or accurate descriptions of reality.
Into the main routing request scheduler Fia went, her avatar blinkporting from her desk to her favorite metaspace. A flow diagram appeared before her, larger than her apartment block, composed of room-sized boxes of simplistic light. Fia stood before the base of the complex structure, which retained a transparent shell with hints of structural textures - windowsills and brickface ghosted on its insubstantial surface - and faced the middle of the base, where an enormous arrow painted itself into existence pointing inside. Pausing, she tagged the exterior of her avatar with what she knew about the records request, reached out with one hand to a clock hanging in her field of view and spun it back to the date and time of the transfer request's timestamp, and then - with a thought - sent herself, a simulacrum of the request, blurring into the datahedron she had built over her time at the bank.
Fia always associated the initial moments of a debug sim with pachinko. Her avatar was sucked into the 'lobby', representing the Bank's external processing and scheduling portal; a brush of querulous multifaceted insectile gazes across the tags adorning her avatar. She was shunted off to the side at blinding speed, 'watching' both from point of view and, via a small window in her vision, from outside the structure, as the bright shape of her avatar, representing the request, bumped and shuddered through various colored boxes representing the Bank's handling infrastructure. Familiarity with the process allowed her to mostly ignore the initial steps. Each time her avatar hit a representation of a particular system, she felt a slight 'tick' in her head as prepackaged log searches were fired off at the machine in question, verifying that the transfer had been seen at the real version of that box when it had actually come in.
A few seconds later, there was a jerking halt, followed by a painfully bright pulse of light, and the shuddering step-motion stopped, her avatar suspended between two boxes buried deep within the record-keeping section of the Bank. Pulsing iconography indicated that her representation of the request had been improperly routed between the two nodes; either her model's understanding of the nodes' behavior was incorrect, or those two nodes were the ones that had fragmented the transaction records. Given that her model had been proven accurate over several hundred runs to a point well past those two nodes, Fia nodded to herself somewhere off in her chair with a satisfied mien, logged the time/verse coordinates of the breakpoint, and prepared to manually examine the two nodes' records in realtime.
Before she could do so, however, her metaspace pulsed red three times to an accompanying tone. Silently freezing her debug sim, she withdrew a level, returning to her 'verse office.
There was an ESCHER-uniformed avatar sitting in a chair against the wall of her cube.
Fia looked at the man for a moment, then deliberately turned back to her desk surface and called up a flat display which she used to save her search state into shared storage. When she turned back to face him, he had not moved save for what might have been a quirk of one corner of his mouth at the snub. She shut down her display panes and clasped her hands on her desk, giving the man a slight smile. "Can I help you?"
"You can, ma'am. "
The avatar crossed its legs and settled slightly into the chair. Fia kept her face impassive, despite being impressed with the kinetics. The avatar was a youngish male, bland Caucasian. "My name is Lt. Fandling, ma'am. I've been assigned to this investigation. The Colonel briefed you on the process?"
"No. He said that you all might need our assistance and that you would speak to us directly if that was the case."
"I see." Fandling didn't look at all surprised. "Well, it's like this. I'm not sure if you're aware what happened in the Bank systems last night...?" He looked at her. Fia looked back, shook her head. "Ah. I can tell you this much; there was an intrusion which resulted in the close scrutiny of one of your customers by law enforcement."
"You mean the customer broke in?"
"Not precisely, no. We're not sure exactly what happened as of yet. All we know is that as a result of events which occurred in your Bank's systems, the customer in question was arrested under suspicion of crimes which had little if anything to do with financial misdoings, including his transactions at the Bank."
"I don't understand."
"That's all right. All that concerns us here now is finding out exactly which transactions were modified, and that, I'm told, is your department's normal job?"
"Well," Fia said hesitantly, "I don't know about modified, really. Broken, or damaged records - transactions that have become corrupted or their records lost, yes, we do that all the time."
Fandling smiled. His teeth, Fia noted, looked like they had been mapped from the real or were a fiendishly good sculpt; there were fillings and imperfections in them, and the noticeable yellowing of a smoker. "Exactly. We're looking for transactions which concern this particular customer which might have been altered over the past forty-eight hours or so."
"Oh. So this is just like a normal searchdive?"
"Yes. Except the parameters are a bit different - I'll be giving them to you - and I'll be along as a rider. Hopefully, after a few dives, I and my staff will be familiar enough with the Bank systems that we won't need to bother you folks and you can go back to your normal jobs."
"I see. Well, Lieu...lieutenant? Yes, well, my manager said to help with whatever you needed, so I suppose we can start whenever you'd like." Fia smiled at him across the nonexistent space and clamped control down on her nerves. Somewhere inside her 'ware she was reordering routines, staying strictly inside her own modules - moving her most powerful simulations of the Bank's systems into archival storage, bringing out older versions which hewed more closely to those distributed by the Bank's Tools department.
"Excellent. Let me see, then." Fandling's gaze went somewhat abstract. "I think we can start with a basic sweep search for any transactions recorded officially for the subject. Just to get a baseline. These will likely have no connection with the modification transactions, but should provide us with a base of data."
"Sure. What's their ident key?"
Fandling reached across the desk, handed her a datahedron. "Here."
Fia took it between her fingertips. It glowed briefly, questioningly; she acquiesced silently to her 'ware and it vanished, flowing into her avatar as neon oil. Her search tools lit with information. She studied the target pane for a moment, then spun it to face Fandling. "Is this correct?"
He glanced at it. "It seems to be."
"All right then. Beginning run." She closed her eyes, started the clock. Somewhere the Tools she'd dug up out of her ware booted into a fresh metaspace, giving her just enough time to pray that they ran without requiring all manner of upgrades; fortunately, her 'ware had been diligent about maintenance, and they lit, flowered and assembled into a polyfaceted representation of the Bank's storage systems, simpler than her main transaction sim. When the activity had ceased, she touched her search pane and sent the ident key flooding into the hedron, lighting it up with purpose and power; probes lanced out from it into the edges of the 'space to make connections to the Bank subsystems while custom search routines dissected the information in the search pane and made educated guesses about the data the key would reveal. Blank templates formed, waiting to receive results; she 'saw' Fandling over her left shoulder glance around in surprise as account blocks materialized.
"This is my search routine, Lieutenant. It's making assumptions about what sorts of accounts the target has based on the key type and data, and it's preconstructing account objects to hold search result data to save time." Even as she spoke, one corner of the pyramid of glowing templates began to haze over, the cleanliness of fresh structures flooding with the sin of instance data. "There, see? It's found something, and this way it has somewhere to put the results rather than simply spooling it out into the middle of nowhere."
Fandling looked at the pyramid. She thought he was recording everything, but couldn't be sure. "Yes, I see. Thank you."
They watched silently as her search routines flooded the metaspace and the pyramid they had built with data. After a few seconds, the pyramid was full and the space pulsed orange. Fia turned her avatar to face him. "That's it. The full record is linked into the pyramid, if you grab it, you'll get the full run." He nodded, tapped commands on a pad that materialized at his hand, then turned back to her.
"Okay. Now the work. In the past forty-eight hours, somehow this set of data was altered by someone outside the Bank's systems. We need to see which pieces of the data were altered. The problem is that we (ESCHER) don't know your backup system intimately, so I need you to highlight for me which parts have changed as compared to your primary through tertiary and archival backups."
Fia nodded to him, laughing somewhere deep inside. As her routines spun back out, she sent them to do his bidding and then sat motionless, waiting, aware of his scrutiny. Once, she turned to look at him, unreal eyes meeting unreal eyes with equanimity and receiving a smile unreal on both levels before they turned back to watch her electronic minions loping back. The pyramid acquired scabies, red, orange and yellow spots flickering through it where data disagreed with various levels of backup. At random, Fia called a few up to look at them, showed them to Fandler. "Here, this one...reconciliation by another financial institution, backdated over the primary account. Next, interest payment accrued, credited, but disagrees with archival backup. And so on."
He frowned. "How many points of discongruity are there for this set?"
She flickered her fingers over a pad. "Let's see. For the past two days, looks like two hundred and sixty seven. That's about average for a normal user record set."
Fandling was silent. "I see. Thank you."
Fia looked at him, spoke tentatively. "Lieutenant, I'd like to help you, if you can give me an idea of what you're looking for-"
Fandling shook his head. "Not at this point, ma'am. This has been most helpful. I need to confer with my colleagues, but thank you, we'll keep your cooperation in mind." He smiled perfunctorily again, copied the dataset, and 'ported out of her dataspace.
By the time she got uplevel to her office, he was gone.
Fia snorted and dropped Out entirely to have her coffee.
<--Back | The Network Revenant | Forward-->