Part Eleven: Haruspex Analytics, Jason Klein's Suite
Phyllis, Michelle, and Simon say nothing for a moment. The only sound in the room is the zwip of the drawstrings to Michelle’s hoodie as she pulls the left side out as far as it will go, then the right, then the left, then the right again. Finally Michelle pulls both, causing the hood to scrunch up over her face. Then she speaks.
“Why do you think he’s lying?”
She looks and sounds very young, right now. Less sarcastic. A lot more vulnerable.
“I can read him,” Phyllis says. “Usually when he lies like that it’s because he’s trying to protect us from something. Not today, though—today he’s throwing us to the wolves.”
“Jason wouldn’t do that.” It’s more desperate rationalization than than flat denial. “He’s not like that.”
“I would have agreed with you,” Phyllis says. “Before… before Billy.”
“He didn’t know anything about that!” Michelle, deciding anger is the best fuel for denial, slams both hands down on her desk, one on each side of her laptop. Her mouse clatters to the floor.
“He did,” Phyllis says. “He didn’t know it would be Billy, but he knew what that woman was doing, and he knew what it meant. And now… I don’t know, now, but whatever he’s doing, it’s not a business trip.”
“He had his go-bag,” Simon says.
Phyllis and Michelle turn to look at him. Simon is slumped in his chair, one hand tugging at strands of his spiky hair. His eyes have a faraway look.
“How do you know?” Michelle asks.
“I’ve seen it before,” Simon says. “When I first joined the group he told me it was important to have one, and he showed me his. To give me an idea of what it should have in it.”
“That doesn’t mean anything!” Michelle throws her hands in the air in frustration. “He doesn’t know anything about the business trip, so he takes his go bag. Just in case.”
“That’s stupid, Michelle.” Simon’s voice goes hard. “And you’re not stupid, so cut it out.”
“OK,” Phyllis says, “let’s take it easy. Michelle, I know you don’t want to believe Jason would do this. I don’t want to believe it either. That’s why I’m so damned angry. But you don’t take a go bag on a business trip. You take it when you’re rabbiting. You know this.”
“I wonder if he meant me to see it,” Simon says thoughtfully. “Like, if management flat-out told him not to tell us anything, he wouldn’t. But letting me see the go-bag, that’s not telling us anything. Technically. It’s letting me draw my own conclusions based on known behavior.”
Michelle falls silent as she thinks it over.
“Something to think about,” Phyllis agrees, “but right now I think we need to find out what the Incursion Protocols are.”
“We’ll know in a few minutes,” Simon says. “I’m almost in.”
Phyllis stares at him levelly. “You’re going to have to stop surprising me like this, Simon. It’s not good for my constitution.”
Simon grins in spite of himself. “I knew they’d expect me to try to take a look. So I set up a really obvious brute force attempt to keep them occupied, then started my real hack in a completely different location. I’ve been working on it for days.”
“Nice,” Michelle says, sliding from open hostility into grudging respect.
“And…” Simon squints at his laptop screen. “I got it. Uh, Phyllis, you’re the speed reader.” He turns his laptop toward her.
Phyllis scoots over in her chair and looks at the screen. It looks like there are a number of technical specifications and policy documents. She opens one of the policy documents and starts skimming through it.
Her eyes go wide.
“What is it?” Michelle licks her lips nervously. “Phyllis? What are the incursion protocols?”
“Hold on,” Phyllis says, voice tense. She scans through the document, closes it, and opens another. Time passes. She closes that document, and opens a third—one of the technical specifications this time.
“My… God…” her voice drops to a whisper.
“What?” Simon peers over her shoulder, trying to make out the text on the page. “What is that? Some kind of math?”
Phyllis closes the document and rolls back from the laptop. “One of you bring up a schematic of the building. I don’t care who, but do it fast.”
“Phyllis,” Michelle asks. Her eyes are huge from beneath her hoodie. “What’s going on?”
“We’re in trouble, honey,” Phyllis says. “I’ll explain it when we have time. I don’t think we have time right now.”
At that, both Simon and Michelle spring into action, each working at their laptop furiously. Simon is the first to bring up a schematic. Phyllis looks it over briefly, then shakes her head.
“That’s not real,” she says. “It’s too much of what you’d expect. I need to see the real building. But only look in the areas we’re allowed to look in for now. Eventually they’re going to notice your trick, Simon, we don’t want them to notice faster.”
“I have something,” Michelle says. “Look at this.”
Phyllis gets out of her chair and leans over Michelle to look at her screen. The schematic is definitely the building, but there are parts of it that very much don’t fit.
“This is what we need,” Phyllis says. “OK. We’re getting out of here. The three of us. Together. Problem is, we don’t want them to notice. So we need to find an exit route that minimizes detection. Michelle, you see this floor?” She points. “It looks like the security system just isn’t there.”
Michelle’s brow furrows. “Yeah. There’s not a lot of anything there.”
“If we can get there, I think we can take that stairwell down to the sub-basement.”
“Right,” Michelle says. “Then we can get to the stair leading to the delivery entrance.”
“We just need to figure out how to get there without being noticed,” Phyllis says.
“Show me,” Simon says. Michelle spins her laptop around. Simon scrutinizes the screen.
“Give me a second.”
Phyllis pulls her cell phone out of her jacket pocket and calls her husband.
Her husband sounds sleepy over the phone, which doesn’t surprise her given the time. “Hey, you. What’s up?”
“I’m gonna have to put in another long one,” Phyllis says.
There’s silence at the end of the line. When her husband speaks, he’s a lot more alert. “Sorry to hear it.”
“Me too,” Phyllis says. “I’ll call when I know more.”
“All right. Don’t work too hard.”
He hangs up first. Phyllis nods in satisfaction. They got Billy. They won’t get him too.
“OK, so I maybe have something,” Simon says. “So the security system here is tied into this central—”
“The Labyrinth,” Phyllis says. “Yeah, we all sat in the same briefing.”
“OK, OK.” Simon shrugs. “Hopefully they’re not listening in right now, or we’re pretty dead. Anyway, they recently had an upgrade and it’s been drawing more power than they can sustain. I think we can use that.”
“When they trip the power, they start drawing it from the city power grid,” Simon says. “That’s why there have been so many brownouts all over the city lately. But it takes about fifteen to twenty minutes, and during that time the system has holes in it. That’s our window.”
Simon starts describing all the locations where security will still be active, and he and Michelle plan a route that avoids most of them.
Phyllis nods in satisfaction. “Great work, you two. Now let’s get our go-bags.”