A mysterious intrusion


Bert’s office door is open. Munro appears and raps gently but firmly on the doorjamb. Bert lowers the desk lamp, sees who the visitor is, gets up and grabs his jacket from the coat rack nearby. He was looking forward to that visit.

– So it arrived. That was rather fast.
– Yes. I got a Dispatcher on it as soon as we had confirmation. You have good informers, Bert. Thank goodness.

Munro leads the way to the Management lifts. A security officer is holding Lift 2 with his key. Munro inserts his custom key on the opposite side and the lift doors slide open. Once inside, Munro pushes a button marked with the letter “P”. The lift goes up. Bert is puzzled.

– Aren’t we going to the Media Room at level -1?

Munro takes the v-disc from his shirt pocket. – I thought it’s best if we take a look at this in the Palladium. It’s more comfortable there, and the fewer people see this v-disc, the better.

– Agreed.

The lift stops, the doors slide open. The access to the Palladium is direct. Munro guides Bert to one of the side aisles, in what appears to be a sitting space of some sort. It’s not the first time Bert has been granted access to the Palladium, but that place never ceases to awe him. Munro inserts the v-disc on the side of the huge monitor and pushes some buttons on a numeric pad. Suddenly, the room feels different. Quieter. No, soundless. Bert looks around, trying to locate the weirdness. Munro sits in a comfortable armchair Bert didn’t notice before, and invites him to sit in another one by his side. Bert looks at him quizzically.

– I’ve activated room cloaking.
– Ah. Of course. I seem to never get used to it.
– You should see the effect on McAdams, the Head of the Environmental Department. I remember this one time when—
– Okay, let’s have a look at the footage now.

Munro darts a cold glance at Bert. Bert smirks.

– Apologies.

Munro smiles, satisfied. The monitor comes to life, and eight different feeds start playing in as many windows. Bert tries to make sense of what’s happening.

– So… Cam 1 overlooks the building entrance. Cam 2 covers the lobby. Cam 3 is inside the security office. Cam 4… What’s that exactly?
– It should be the inside of the main lift.
– …Right. Cam 5 is inside the Management office. Cams 6 and 7 take care of the Recordbase Halls. Cam 8 is… dark. Is it working at all?
– Cam 8 is inside the Maintenance room.
– Right. Since Maintenance is automated, the camera is activated only when someone enters the door to perform manual diagnostics.
– Correct.
– I hope they dispatched only the relevant footage.
– As you requested. The first three minutes show everything during normal operations, which means extremely boring feed. Then there is the recording of the intrusion up to the point when the CC monitoring gets deactivated.
– Okay, here they come.
– That looks like a service van.
– They’re dressed as telephone maintenance workers, you can spot the ARSCOM logo on the back of their jackets.
– They’ve stopped. They’re not going in. What are they doing?
– Cam 1 is too far from where they are. It’s difficult to make out exactly what they’re doing. That guy is crouching. Drawing a mark on the floor, perhaps?
– Well, telephone and power lines don’t run under that spot. District archive buildings have serialised schematics and I know them quite well.
– Yes. I expect they’re about to place some sort of machine. They have to do something to disrupt the security and gain access.
– I wouldn’t be surprised if they pulled out an old EMP from that rugged briefcase.
– Heh. I’ve studied their operations the best I could, and I’ve deduced that they must be Outsiders. What’s really bugging me is their relative freedom of movement throughout the megalopolis. How can they do that?
– Hmmm. The two quickest ways coming to mind are, a) they’re using temporary transit papers, or b) they have white governmental cards. Both of which can’t be easily forged as far as I know.
– Well, temporary transit papers are enough to move around Arslan.
– Problem is, TTP holders are forbidden to drive private vehicles. They are required to use public transportation.
– So we’re back to the government angle.
– Or… they’re not Outsiders.

Bert pauses the feed.

– Look at this.
– What?
– Elegant man with a briefcase approaching from the north side. Getting close to crouched worker.
– Asking for information?
– Mmm. I don’t think so.

Bert resumes the feed at half speed.

– Crouched guy stands up and gives the man something. And look there, on the ground.
– Something… shiny?
– Yes.
– Maybe a lens reflection?
– Come on, Munro.

Bert slows the feed to frame-by-frame progression.

– It seems… two shiny somethings.
– We can’t see more on this lousy footage, but I’m willing to bet it’s three shiny somethings.
– Your three coins theory again.
– Okay, we’ll discuss that later. Now let’s see how things proceed from now on. But my guess is that what we’re seeing here is someone giving or receiving an order.

Bert resumes the feed at normal speed.

– Second worker opens his rugged briefcase. Takes something out.
– Looks like he’s using his shortwave phone.
– Elegant man approaches the entrance. Now we see him on Cam 2.
– Look, he passes the scan without triggering any alarm. So he’s certainly not an Outsider.
– I’m more concerned with the fact that the lobby clerk doesn’t check his briefcase.
– Perhaps it has something to do with what the elegant man shows him. Take a look at the feed from Cam 3.

Munro pauses the feed.

– You’re right, M. He gives something to the clerk. Looks like a document with something smaller attached to it. Meanwhile, the two guys outside are getting busy. They’re opening a small hole near the entrance stairs.
– Just what are these guys up to? Any drilling deeper than one metre sets off a Structure Integrity alarm…
– Huh.
– What?
– Just wait a second, M. This is the Bunyan District Archive.
– So?
– So… Think: what’s peculiar about it?
– Hmm.
– I’ll give you a hint: the Decentralisation.
– Shit. You’re correct. When the Decentralisation came into effect in 2052, the first four District Archives were Caxton, Langland, Wycliffe and… Bunyan.
– So that guy is not drilling anything. He’s opening the external maintenance panel using the old emergency procedure to temporarily isolate the Archive from the mainframe. Only in the oldest District Archives that panel can be reached from the outside. You have to know the exact location, though.
– That’s why no alarm’s been triggered.
– There is a major classified information leak going on here.

Bert resumes the feed.

– Now that fucker can access any of the Recordbase files archived locally.
– He’s not going to the Recordbase rooms yet. Look, he’s stopping on the Management floor. Soon we should have him on Cam 5. Who’s Head of Management at Bunyan?
– A Mr Patricks.
– I met him briefly at the last coordination symposium. A fairly morose fellow.
– He’s looking rather friendly with our mystery man. Observe the body language: it almost seems that Patricks is treating him like a superior. “Welcome to my humble archive, Mister X! Please make yourself at home, blah blah blah”… What the hell!?
– Patricks drops on his desk like a sack of potatoes. Mister X must have used a contact drug.
– And now he goes down to the Recordbase rooms.
– Look, one of the two fake telephone workers enters the lobby. Shows a card to the clerk. Proceeds undisturbed. This is so, so fishy, Bert.
– Mister X sits at the Manager’s workstation. It’s on Cam 7. Fake worker enters the Maintenance room. Cam 8 is on.
– Mister X opens the briefcase. What’s he doing? Those look like wires…
– …And that’s an odd briefcase. Hmm. Fake worker joins Mister X in Recordbase Hall 2. I don’t get why they’re lingering.

The eight windows on the monitor all go dark. Munro looks at Bert.

– That’s why.

Munro decloaks the room and retrieves the v-disc from the monitor. They both get up and Munro motions Bert to follow him. They approach the panoramic windows on the north-facing mezzanine. There’s a wonderful view of the megalopolis from there, although there isn’t much to see on a rainy evening in the Wet season. Low haze, drizzle, city lights. The two men just stand there looking out, without talking, for a long while. Then Munro breaks the silence.

– What we just watched over there has troubled me, Bert. Deeply. You know I’m an idealist at heart. I thought we were handling things rather well here in Arslan. You know, after everything that happened to this planet in the last forty years, and especially after World War III, I thought that we humans would finally learn the lesson. Seeing how great the Arslan community was doing, for a while I really thought everything was going in the right direction. But no. There’s always someone willing to sabotage, damage, destroy, undo the hard honest work of others.

A short pause. There’s now a hint of bitterness in Munro’s gaze. He stares at Bert: – I want you to get to the bottom of it, Bert. Find those responsible. Leave no stone unturned, etcetera. Whatever you need, you’ll receive.

– I have set a few markers on the footage. I’ll bring the v-disc downstairs and request some enlargements. I think I saw something on one of the feeds, but I want to be sure before working on a theory.
– All right. Let’s go. I’ll be in my office until 21:30 if you need me.