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[Image: BB323D74-1AA0-4E48-9F7C-C6A55D77BA61_zpsmgn1t1r9.jpg]

The phone rang and an elbow jabbed him in the ribs.
"Who is calling at this hour?" Safa grumbled.
Carl snatched the wallet from the bedside table, rubbing his eyes as he did. When he saw the number he immediately sat up.
"I will take this in the kitchen," he said. Slipping his feet into houseshoes, he quickly shuffled out of the room. Safa was asleep again before he even shut the door.

Navigating the dark apartment by the light of the wallet, he answered the moment he entered the kitchen.
"Carl Kincaid," he said softly so not to waken Safa. Their apartment was tiny, only three rooms. In the central district of Moscow, it was all they could afford.

The voice on the other end spoke a few moments, then Carl felt the blood drain from his face. He rushed to the wall screens and padded the command for the tv.

Drenched in the blue light of the news, he absorbed the scenes on replay. Two ambulances departed the gates of the Kremlin. He put a hand to his forehead, jaw dropped wide when the images of the hospital interior were played. He immediately recognized the images as derived from hospital security feeds, and a knot formed in his gut.

"I'll be there in thirty minutes." He flipped on the coffeemaker and hurried to dress.


Thirty-two minutes later.

Carl cursed himself for forgetting his coat. All he had was the rumpled jacket of his suit, which he huddled down into for warmth. The pre-dawn air was frigid.

He anticipated the building that housed the Consulate on Digital Strategy and Security to be dim and empty. Instead, he found it bustling and bright. He must not have been the only one to get a call to come in.

Fumbling with his badge between numb fingers, he paused to look down the street just as the door unlocked. The Red Square lay three blocks away and even from this distance he could make out the noise of crowds and see the lights of the Kremlin reflected on the low-hanging clouds overhead. To think the place was nearly obliterated tonight, he shivered and ducked in.

A series of security measures awaited passage. Handprints, retinal scan, even a quick read DNA sequencer were required. Soon, he gained full admittance to the heart of Custody digital security Consulate. As a strategist, he only had his cubicle, but as he passed the director's office, he knocked on the window to alert them he had arrived. The scent of fresh coffee was heavy on the air. He poked his head in the door as the director looked up from his desk. The man was in his late fifties with thin gray hair and a square jaw. Like Carl, he wore a rumpled suit. He also dressed in a hurry. Carl hated to know who it was that called the director in the middle of the night to get to work.

"I'm getting coffee and I'll get right to work."

He dropped his stuff at his cubicle, snatched his usual cup, wiped it out with his sleeve and stalked off to the break room.
Carl began his career as a security engineer in a private corporation. Within two years he was running the company's digital security and under his leadership, successful attacks were nearly eliminated. He made a name for himself in the private realm, and made a good deal of money also.

Getting involved in government work was never something he intended to do. Until one day he tinkered with the wrong target and CDPS showed up at his door. He took a deal which included a big pay cut and a ho-hum job in the Consulate, but avoided jail time. That was ten years ago. Now, at thirty-five, he had come up in the world. He married, settled down, had an apartment in central Moscow, seemed to live the life to make his parents proud.

He was more careful these days when poking around targets, careful to stay out of the CCD territory, and kept up with the forums and current day rumors in the dark world. As a side benefit, he knew how hackers operated and his skills had been put to use on more than one occasion.

"You know I met the Ascendancy once. Yep. Right in his office, the one with the giant desk and all the flags behind it. I was there." He finished dumping sugar into his coffeecup. Misha handed him a stirrer.

"I can't believe he did that. We would be dust right now. I pray the Good Mother protects him."

Carl was never religious, so he shrugged. "I should get to it then."

Misha nodded and they parted ways. The coffee was burnt but hot. It seared his lip and he gasped as he sat at the desk. Of course the first image he saw online was the Ascendancy's burnt body. Guilt over hot coffee stinging his lip promptly muted further complaints.

"Let's see what you can tell me," he spoke to the image.

It wasn't the image or the video of course he cared about. It was the hidden data embedded with such files that he probed. Ever since the beginning of digital cameras, image files came with a pile of additional information. They showed the specifics of the camera that took the image, the gps coordinates of where and the time of when it was taken. If a cloud account was used, it shared log in information. Identification, IP addresses, emails. It was all there, if you knew how to ask the right questions.

Whoever leaked these images and videos had remarkable access to a very secure hospital. Moscow Central clinical hospital was the richest and most private hospital in the Central Dominance and all of Moscow itself. That meant someone knew exactly what they were doing.

So suffice to say, Carl blinked in surprise when he rather quickly found a signature embedded in the file data.


"No way." He mumbled to himself and rotated to face an adjacent screen. The glass panels around his cubicle sprang to life at his touch.

The IP address led him to a familiar group.


Carl leaned back in his chair, nestled the coffee cup under his chin and smiled. "Small digital world."

Edited by Ascendancy, Oct 4 2016, 10:43 PM.
Carl sipped the coffee, eyes narrowed upon the information. It was so easy he almost didn't believe it. In fact. He didn't.
"It has to be an imposter." Someone setting up Phaser to be the perpetrator. For one thing, he'd never heard of Phaser dipping into government affairs. Definitely nothing like this before. If Phaser was even real. Some of the guys in their world said he was AI- others claimed he was a man. Carl was never sure either way, as either truth would be remarkable. He had to find out if Phaser was really behind this.

He pulled up the Consulate's digital forensics suite software, Prodrome. Using it, he was able to route to the hospital security accounts. The Consulate already opened the connection. It was as easy as logging in as an admin.

Once inside, he did a search cross referencing the time stamp on the images of Ascendancy on his way to surgery with files that logged a full TCP connection. If Phaser was really doing this hack, he never would have allowed himself to connect fully with his target. It was too easily traceable. A full TCP scan would have alerted security administrators almost immediately. So Carl doubted that to be the case as there was no record of admin being alerted of a breech.

That meant the hospital's intrusion detection system had to be thwarted. That meant, Phaser needed to run a stealth scan at a speed that was below the threshold for detection. Phaser was more than capable of pulling that off.
Phaser was a legend in their world. Some believed he was AI, others a man, others something in between. Carl wasn't sure, but he knew Phaser's signature. Every digital forensic engineer did, but unlike the other law enforcement investigators, Carl respected Phaser. He even tried to emulate him once, to no success. Phaser was too good.

Carl was busy working through a dozen windows on Prodrome, studying the way that Phaser gained access to the hospital network. If it really was Phaser. The attack was not his usual M.O., yet the sheer difficulty of the task certainly was. If it was really Phaser, and not an impostor setting him up, then Carl had some serious questions for him. Like, what in the world was his game? Why sign the hack? Why not hide his trail? That's what Carl was trying to find out.

His coffee had gone cold by then, but he sipped it anyway. The sun was up outside, the office getting busier. He heard the shuffling of his cubicle-mate, the man that worked on the other side of the partition, suggesting his arrival. A face peered over the top of Carl's work station, but Carl didn't look up.
"Hey Kincaid. Hell of a night, wouldn't you say?"
Carl mumbled and nodded.
"You working on something?"
He frowned, "Yah. I'm onto something here. Now shut up and leave me alone," that final bit was defused by a crooked smile. Chuckling followed and the man fell back down below sight. The sounds of fingers tapping on keys soon followed.

Carl was looking through the hospital's filesystems by then. When a hacker gained access to a network, they always left bits of themselves behind, like a kid trailing breadcrumbs. The better hackers knew to delete their own breadcrumbs, hiding the traces of their presence. But a good forensic strategist could recover those files. Carl was doing the trace. Phaser, the real phaser, should have deleted his own files. But then again, he also signed the images. Maybe he wanted to be found? Why?

Carl browsed the Master File Tables for for areas available to be overwritten, a sign that a file had recently been deleted. When they were overwritten, and the new file was not as long as the previous file, the difference in space, or slack space, showed up. That was his in to find the breadcrumbs. It was like replacing a baguette with a biscuit; the biscuit wasn't big enough to fill in the space that the baguette once occupied.

Yes, he confirmed the hacker's presence. Now to determine if Phaser and the Borg's location was real or set up as an impostor.

Next, he opened regedit in the network, the registry that logged everything about everyone that accessed the server and what they did while inside. Users, the time they used the system, the software used, devices connected, wireless access points, what and when the files were accessed, searches performed and more. Manipulating this data could reroute a hacker's location to anywhere he chose. For instance, an Anonymous member, John Borrell III, hacked into the computer systems of the Salt Lake City police department and the Utah Chiefs of Police. The FBI was called in to investigate and they traced the hacker back to the IP address of Blessed Sacrament Church's Wi-Fi AP in Toledo, Ohio. The hacker had apparently cracked the password of the church's wireless AP and was using it to hack "anonymously" on the Internet. In the end, Borell was caught because he bragged about the hack on social media, the idiot. Surely Phaser wasn't doing something similar? Surely the signature wasn't bragging? Or was it?

By now, Carl had determined that Phaser was really involved in the hospital hack. He really had extracted image and video files from the internal security. And those files were shared with addresses consisted with Borg activity.

What he didn't know was why.

Phaser never got involved in governments. His M.O. was personal, fun, chaotic and mischievous. He was not known to interfere with espionage of nations. Why now? He signed the image. He knew someone would connect him to the crime. So why?


Carl scratched his scalp and decided to get a fresh cup of coffee. His cubicle mate watched him stalk off, but didn't interrupt the inner monologue.

After the walk to clear his head, and a bathroom break, he checked messages and saw Safa was trying to get ahold of him. He quickly told her everything was ok. He was safe. The bomb was caught in time. There was a classified matter he was working on and he'd call later but not to expect him for dinner.

He was on his way back to his desk when the director flagged him. He should have known.

"Sir?" He popped his head in the director's office.
"The Consul is breathing down my neck. And the Under-Consul is breathing down his. Where are you at?"

Carl gripped his coffeecup. "I have found the evidence of the hack and trying to confirm who did it."

The director nodded, "how much longer?"

Carl looked at a clock. It was almost lunchtime. Damn. No wonder he was starving. "Should know some more in a few hours."

The director waved him out and Carl hurried back to work. Luckily, he had a stash of M&M's in his drawer: the peanut butter kind. Laced with ZEF-caffeine enhancers. Even better.
A hand touched him on the shoulder. Carl's eyes were fixed to his screens.

"Carl, your wife has called four times. Call her back."

He nodded that he would. Four times? That was a little excessive. It was only -

It was 11 o'clock! No wonder he was starving.

He rubbed his eyes and snatched his personal Wallet. Safa. I am so sorry. I'm okay, but wrapped up with work. I may not be home till tomorrow. Everything's okay though. He knew she worried about him. And with the news going on about nuclear bombs and terrorists, and the fact that he worked near the Kremlin for the government, she must have been out of her mind.

A relieved message was returned, and he relaxed long enough to get a drink of coffee. It had gone cold half a day earlier. No wonder it tasted awful.

The hours flew by once he was in the zone. Eyes, mind and hands all focused on one coordinated effort. Finding Phaser. By the afternoon, he believed that the real Phaser was the one to leak the images. Although Carl had no idea what his motive was. It was very uncharacteristic for the hacker.

Then he went on a quest to find Phaser in person. To seek where the hack originated. But the signal was weird. He must use a work station on the go. It bounced all over the place. So Carl assumed the signal was being rerouted on purpose, but something about it didn't feel like a goose chase. It felt legitimate. Like it really did move.

Then he had to cover enough of his own tracks, write a report, and submit just enough to the director to not be bothered for a while but not yet point out Phaser as the culprit until he knew more. Something must be wrong with the guy. Maybe he was being blackmailed.

Iris was working a security monitoring station when the first alarm went off. Her fingers danced over the keyboard to identify the problem quickly but a second alarm went off.

The team all began to work like crazy. But Carl wasn't here he was at his desk working on something else - something else important. He was their best analyst. He could find the attacker and catch him in the act.

Iris hurried and grabbed the important information, the trace of IPs used of everything she could pull in that moments notice and she sent that information to Carl with a 911 alert and code red. Maybe this was connected to what he was working on - the coincidence was too close.... She hoped that he could help. If not they were all in trouble. This guy was good.

(( continue here ))

Edited by Sage, Jan 16 2017, 02:42 PM.

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