Part Seventeen: Provided by the Enemy
To secure ourselves against defeat
lies in our own hands,
but the opportunity of defeating the enemy
is provided by the enemy himself.
--- Sun Tzu
Heero settled himself in the chair and wiped his palms on his jeans before setting his fingers on the keyboard in front of him. It had been nearly a week since he'd contacted the hackers; they should have something by now. Quickly he traced his way through the system, eventually spoofing a random ISP and logging into the forum.
"Wing here," he said. Pinky, Snake, and Rat were present, along with some of the other avatars he only vaguely recognized. "Any word?"
"Lots of words," Rat said as the anonymous smiley-face became a dove's wing. "You're coming from L2 again," he added. "Some net café dive."
Heero ignored the leading statement. "The news?"
"Where should we start?" Pinky asked. There was a pause, and Snake's avatar wiggled its tail, volunteering.
"Romchips were created as information storage. They're tiny rewritable CDs, encased in plastic. Require a specific reader and programmer. Can carry major encryption programs as part of the hardware."
"I could have read that on a web page," Heero commented.
"But what the web pages won't tell you is that every romchip has, somewhere in its base formatting, a serial number. These numbers are tracked by the corporations making the chips."
"Which means... " Heero let the question hang, and Snake's avatar wiggled again.
"If you can get one, we can track the serial number to its origin. Then, from there, we can work forwards to figure out what batch it was in, and where it would have been shipped. Not much more than that, unfortunately, but at least you'd know who put it into circulation and where."
"Good enough for now. I'll see if I can get my hands on a chip and we can give that a shot. Next?"
"I got information on who's paying the bills on L1," Pinky typed. The pigtails on the avatar bounced. "Remember that Preventers guy? The money's coming from an account in his name."
"That's the one. But it's not his normal account."
"What do you mean?" Heero leaned forward in the seat, intent.
"The account was opened the day before you left for L2, about two weeks ago. Since then, it's sent out five transfers, for electricity, cable, gas, water, and rent. But it's also gotten two transfers in, from two different accounts."
"Get anything on those accounts?"
"Yeah. The first transfer was from a personal checking account based on Earth, in London. Under the name of Quatre Raberba Winner."
Heero froze over the keyboard as a smile slowly grew across his face. This wasn't surprising, but it was nice to get confirmation.
"Wing?" Pinky typed, and Heero realized a full minute had passed.
"I'm here. You said two accounts. What was the other one?"
"An account in Switzerland. Enough money to pay the bills, by my calculation, for another six months. That was two days after the account was opened, and since then, no incoming activity. And no, I couldn't get any information on the originating account. That bank is locked up tight."
Mike came pounding into the room, his hand avatar waving violently. "I just got the email! Is he still here? Wing? That you?"
"Yeah," Heero replied dryly.
"Oh, man, have I got news for you! Say, can we still get answers for everything we find?"
"I don't see why not. Save them for later, though."
"I've got a whole list," the Hand said as he settled down. The avatar finally stopped waving frantically.
"First, what did you find?"
"Transfers from the Maxwell Church account to an account in Switzerland. Some bank with a crazy Swiss name. Or German."
"What about them?" Heero frowned. Duo was transferring money to a protected account. In comparison, the L2 banks were safe from theft, even if they were permeable to anyone with the skills to get in and simply observe.
"They're for two credits, three credits. Two or three times a month, for the past seven months. A wire transfer costs fifteen credits."
"That's a sign," Rat interjected.
"So we looked into it more. Snappy found it, actually. He went back and got the full logs."
The blue star avatar waved one of its points.
"And?" Heero was starting to get impatient with the kid, and bit his tongue to keep from growling at the computer monitor.
"It's not money that's going out. It's files, piggybacked on the transfer."
The room was completely silent. Rat's avatar waved its whiskers. Pinky and Snake didn't say anything, but both were still. Stunned.
Rosie spoke up. "When did you figure this out?"
"This morning," Mike replied smugly. "We wanted to save the surprise."
He gave the room the bird, and Rat promptly kicked him. The hand avatar reappeared a split second later, waving wildly. Heero, at the keyboard, laughed out loud, then quieted as he noticed the cashier girl giving him a strange look. He smiled at her, and ducked his head again.
"So what are in the files?"
"We've decoded the headers so far. The algorithm is different for each section."
"Hand them over to the room and we'll each take a part," Rat ordered.
"Okay... " Mike's avatar drooped.
"You still get the credit," Pinky chided. "Geez, kid."
"What was in the headers?" Heero pressed.
"I have it right here. Okay. It says: sentto -- 1069566- 61003 – 1060105819 - sandrock = winner. com@ returns. install. 04. com. Received: from thebe. nexus. com 147. 186. 44. 26 by carlin. mail. l2. spacelink. net with ESMTP id 19U4X17F19Nl3p81. Received: from 77. 218. 66. 159 by n15. ytr. scd. winner. com with NNFMP; 10 Oct 17:50:20 –0000."
Heero blinked at the long range of codes. "Looks like something from mail."
"Right," Mike replied. "Every bank transfer uses a series of headers very similar. This was a halfway point, so there's no acknowledgement that the transfer reached the last bank, but at least we know where it was headed."
"Unfortunately, if that's the Winner corporation, it'll be impossible," Pinky interrupted. "That company is huge. Like, monstrous."
"Gargantuan," Snake suggested.
"I get the picture," Heero typed. His dove wing waved at the room. "But I know where it was headed."
"Oh." Mike's avatar bounced for a second. "I was right! It is another Gundam pilot!"
"Makes sense to me." Rat's avatar smirked. "Find one, the rest will be around somewhere."
"Like bad pennies," Pinky said.
"You pink wierdo, it's birds of a feather," Snake retorted.
"Shut up, slinky."
"Get to figuring out the rest of that file, or as much as you can," Heero ordered. "Rat? Any success on your mission?"
"Some," Rat replied. "Rosie and I have been combing the track bot logs. We got one of the more recent ones, and one of the older ones. The one uploaded two weeks ago has an origin signature of 1069566 – 61003 - 1060105819."
"And that's who?" Heero pushed. "How do you decode that string?"
"You don't," Rat sighed. "They're applied as DSNs are granted, so just because you got a number doesn't mean the next person alphabetically would get the next in line."
"Unless you can find the number elsewhere," Mike typed. The room was quiet for a moment as each avatar stared at the hand. "Like... in the scroll above."
"H-O-L-Y-S-H-I-T," Pinky typed.
"So Sandrock uploaded it directly from his own logon," Heero stated.
"Looks like it," Rat said. "Damn, Mike, you're almost becoming useful."
"Yeah, you'd better believe it," the Hand replied, but mellowed the comment by wiggling the avatar's fingers.
"Anything on the other track bot?" Heero asked.
"It's got an origin signature of 1503262 – 5886 - 1061189867. I don't think we'll get lucky enough to stumble across that one right away. But we'll keep our eyes open for it."
"Good," the photographer typed. "Were the bots accessed regularly?"
"Nope," Rat said. "The server relay Sandrock accessed reports three uploads in two months, but we don't know what those previous files were. They might not have even been track bots."
"Files that just happened to go through that server, like if Sandrock's uploading files to a web site," Rat explained.
Heero nodded, thinking for a few seconds before he started typing. "So right now the missions stand as: Rat and Rosie are parsing the track bot uploads. Pinky and Allie, start working on that unknown account."
"Can we call in favors?" Pinky asked.
"What do you mean?"
"I know a few people that might be able to help."
"Can you trust them?" Heero frowned at the monitor. It was bad enough he had seven hackers digging through the Gundam pilot's personal accounts. He wasn't sure he wanted to get more involved. Secrecy becomes more of an issue, the more people it's multiplied by, he reminded himself.
"Absolutely," Pinky said. "One of them's my brother."
"In that case there's no way we'd let him in," Snake said. "He'll blackmail you into the next century once he's in."
"Shut up," Pinky said. "He does that, I'll beat him up."
"Alright, Pink," Heero said, calling the room back to attention. "Do what you have to, but the less information you give out, the better. I don't want anyone getting involved that isn't absolutely necessary."
"Yes, sir!" Pinky replied, bouncing the avatar's pigtails.
Heero smirked, then grew serious again as he reviewed the tasks. "Last, Mike and Snappy are working on decoding those headers, with Rat helping. Snake, I want you on that as well."
"What about the romchip?" Snake asked.
"Until I get a serial number, there's nothing else to do, and I'd rather have your breaking skills applied to a file than wasted." Besides, Heero told himself, the difficulty of tracking purchases might be the reason for the track bot message that said 'Romchip no go.' If this was Duo and Quatre working together, what if Quatre had already attempted the same tactic?
Heero shifted in the seat. The hard plastic was making his butt fall asleep, and he spared a quick thought of torturing whoever purchased the chairs for the net café.
"That everything?" Heero looked around at the quiet avatars. Some were waving, others simply sitting quietly. "Alright, then. I'll be back on in the next day or two. After that I may have to ship out for a month or so."
"The two-week rule still apply?" The rat avatar shook its white frisbee.
"For the time being, but that may change. I'll keep you posted. Wing out."
Heero signed off, watching the windows scroll as he cleaned the cache. Every time he found more information, the result was always the same: a single question remained.
The yell came from behind Heero, and he spun on the sidewalk, bringing his hands up instinctively in a defensive posture. A second later he registered it was Enny. She'd jumped backwards at the same point, out of his fists' range, and had both her hands up in surrender. She was grinning.
"What now?" Heero scowled and turned his back on her. Unfortunately, as far as he was concerned, she didn't take the hint, but ran to catch up with him.
"You've got Jeet all hurt and stuff," she teased.
Heero glanced sideways, his expression icy.
"Okay, not entirely true," she amended, her good mood unfazed. "Just one of his fists. That boy can throw a conniption fit like nobody's business!"
"I'm busy," Heero growled. He lengthened his stride.
"I can see that. Walking can take a lot out of you."
Heero stopped and turned to face her. "What do you want?"
"Just your company." Enny peered into his face. "And I think you need a drink. I heard Terry's got some whiskey in." Heero's eyes must have involuntarily widened, because Enny smirked. "Thought so."
Ten minutes later they were back in Pops' bar, with Enny ensconced next to Heero. The dark-haired man had seated himself so his back was to the wall, and he was doing his best to ignore Enny's chatter.
"Latest gossip has it Terry's been seeing some chick on the side," she was saying. "You saw Dee, right? One of my girls?"
When Heero just shrugged, Enny rolled her eyes.
"Come on, Hito, what's going on? You nearly did a tonsillectomy on Jeet, then you insult him, and now you're all sulky." Enny leaned closer, and Heero did his best to lean away. "I think you're figuring stuff out." Her voice was softly triumphant.
"Really." Heero's voice was flat, and he stared at his empty whiskey glass.
Enny's voice dropped to barely a whisper. "And I think you're having a lot of trouble with it."
Heero's gaze didn't move from the glass. Carefully he studied the watermarks on the rim, and wondered whether it was hand-washed or if Pops bothered with buying a real dishwasher.
"Ah," Enny breathed into his ear. "Talk to me, Hito. I won't tell anyone, and it might do you some good."
"No," Heero replied, shaking his head slightly. "I've... got to figure this out on my own."
"Well, don't take forever with it," Enny said, patting him on the arm good-naturedly. "By the time you make up your mind, it could be too late."
"Maybe that wouldn't be so bad," he said, the words almost dragged out of him by some perverse need for conversation.
"For you, or the person who's waiting?"
"No one's waiting." Heero's frown grew even deeper, and he resisted the urge to slouch in the seat. His hands were fists in his lap.
"Relax," she said. Heero started when she surrounded his right hand with her cold hands, pulling it out of his lap to her knee. Carefully she pried the fingers open until she could put her palm against his. It was a strangely comforting gesture, and Heero found the tension slowly draining from his shoulders.
"Things are getting out," she told him, her eyes trained on Terry, over at the bar.
Anyone looking would have thought they were sitting too close together, possibly holding hands, maybe even a couple. But Heero's cold expression and Enny's thoughtful stare would have contradicted the conclusion. Heero slowly turned to look at Enny, taking in her green hair, and that garish orange-pink lipstick. Her teeth were stained yellow from too many cigarettes.
"I heard you've gotten a little closer to your boss than most folks might think is good for an employee," she murmured.
"You're the second person today who's suggested that," he growled, and thought of yanking his hand away. But now Enny was petting the back of his hand, softly, repeatedly, and it was rather... soothing.
"I bet Pops was the first," she said, and smiled sweetly when he nodded. "He likes Hel, wants her to find someone nice and settle down so she'll stop making his life miserable. He's got this whole protect the little woman vibe going on."
"She doesn't need his protection."
"You know that, I know that. Shit, everyone knows that but Pops. But seems to me you're just making friends so you can get close to someone else." Enny smiled, and this time the look was tinged with sadness.
"That's... not true," Heero said, then swallowed hard. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Enny nodding to the bartender, and he shut his eyes for several seconds before speaking again. "We already... cleared that up."
There was a clunk, and Heero opened his eyes to see the whiskey bottle set in front of him. Terry was already heading back to the bar, threading his way through the early afternoon crowd. Enny poured a shot, threw it back, poured a second, and pushed it towards Heero. Her left hand remained in her lap, cradling his.
Heero took the shot, wincing as the harsh liquid hit the back of his throat. He blinked twice and set the glass down. Enny immediately refilled it and pushed it back to him. He paused, gave her a skeptical look, and downed the drink.
"Now," she stated, obviously settling in as she poured another shot. "Hel knows you're not interested, is that it?"
"Yeah." His voice already sounded fuzzy.
"And does she know who you do like?"
"I... don't know." He drank the shot.
"Do you know who you like?"
Numb, Heero nodded.
"That's a start. Does this person like you back?" The whiskey bottle gurgled as the glass was filled for the fifth time.
Slowly Heero shook his head, then downed the drink.
"Ah." Enny's voice was soft. "Where are you staying?"
Surprised, Heero raised his head to look at the girl again. His eyes narrowed. "I'm not sleeping with you."
"What?" Her eyes went wide, and then she giggled. "Please, I'm not about to sleep with you. You think I'm suicidal?"
"Sui-what?" The dark-haired man stared suspiciously at the glass. Maybe she'd drugged it. Then he counted, and that small voice said something about five shots in fifteen minutes.
"You're so off-limits, it's not even funny," Enny was saying. Her voice faded out for a second, and then came back, loud and clear. "You staying in that hotel down the street?"
Heero shrugged, then stopped. The room was spinning.
"Good. We'll take a cab, and I'll get you checked in."
There was a pause, and Heero felt himself come to his feet. He was pretty sure he was on his feet, although he couldn't really feel his nose, or his hands, or his knees. Taking a deep breath, he steadied himself and gathered his energy to glare at Enny. She flinched slightly, so he was certain he'd managed the look.
"Calm down," she told him. "You needed to get drunk like nobody's business."
The dark-haired man pondered her statement for a second, then nodded, pulling himself together long enough to stride angrily from the bar. Enny followed, shocked, just behind him. Once outside, he stopped, and swayed lightly from the sudden halt. Enny was already at his side and hailing a cab.
"I'll get you to bed."
"It's four in the afternoon," he told her, surprised his mind was able to calculate the passage of time since he'd last looked at a clock.
"Four-fifteen," she amended, and grinned. "You could use the sleep, away from everyone else. Sleep, by the way, without beating yourself up over mistakes that weren't really mistakes to anyone but you."
Before Heero could protest, Enny had tucked him into the cab and taken him to the nearest cheap hotel. Twenty minutes later she'd laid him down on the lumpy mattress, pulled off his boots, and draped the thin blanket over him. Grinning at his slack jaws and the light snores, the green haired pimp left his shoes by the bed and let herself out, locking the door behind her.