I am blinking amid the restricted servers and I don’t remember why I’m here.
I remember details – keystrokes – but I can’t remember anything beyond VerreTek’s last firewall. I’m holding a drive, though. I realize, with a jolt of pride and terror, that I was successful. The encryption did its job erasing any memory of what I read, but I got through. I have the data.
“Miss Palmer? Are you in here?”
Booted feet, a harsh voice. They know full well I’m here. There are no security warnings on my screen, so nothing I did during my hack attracted attention, but somehow, I’m suspicious.
I check the time and swear silently. I’ve been in here for 20 minutes – way longer than permitted. The encryption must have messed with my perception of time.
“Yes?” I call as innocently as possible. I hide the drive in the pocket I sewed into my bra – lined with a few square inches of inordinately expensive scan-deterring fabric – and dart three rows away, where I pretend to be working on a terminal. I sabotaged it yesterday to give myself an excuse to be here.
Two security guards appear at the end of the row. “Miss Palmer, you don’t have clearance to be here unaccompanied for more than ten minutes.”
“I’m so sorry!” I gesture to the terminal, its black screen helpfully flashing a scattered assortment of green cursors. “This should’ve been a really easy fix and I totally lost track of time –”
“Would you come with us, please?”
Again, they aren’t asking.
They walk me back and forth through two scanners, wave around me with three types of detector wands, and pat me down. Nothing picks up the tiny drive.
They could order a strip search, but I’m a nineteen-year-old girl with a spotless record and prodigy-level encryption skills. VerreTek isn’t really concerned about me. They just have to put in the time to make it look like they bothered.
I just have to outlast them. So, for the next few hours, I lie – sort of.
Hour one. “What were you doing in the restricted servers?”
“Fixing a broken terminal.”
“Some secure files were accessed from another terminal in the same room.”
“I never saw any secure files.” It’s not entirely true – I saw them, I just don’t remember them. But it’s enough to fool the lie detector, and that’s all that matters.
Hour two. “What were you doing in the restricted servers?”
“Fixing a broken terminal.”
Hour three. “Your work record indicates you should have had no problem fixing the broken terminal.”
“That thing hadn’t gotten a software update in three years. It wasn’t compatible with the new ports.”
The lie detector trembles, but the guards are tired. Just a little longer and I’ll be done with this place, and all the evil it protects, for good.
Hour four. “Sorry for the inconvenience, Miss Palmer. You’re free to go.”
I’m not sure how an innocent should react. I go for indignant. “What about the secure files?”
“What about them?”
“Did they trace the hack?”
“I think that’s a little above your pay grade.”
“That’s my job – if something’s failed, I need to –”
“If something failed, you’ll just have another long day tomorrow.” He gestures at the door. “If we have more questions, we’ll find you.”
I don’t even think about the drive until I’m safely back home. With the biomonitors on the bus and the constant sweep of surveillance trucks and sentry bots, just elevating my heart rate an unusual amount could get me in trouble.
I don’t even know yet if it would be worth it.
In my room, I listen for the slow grind of the surveillance sweeper. It passes, right on schedule, and I activate my camera. I hook up the drive and start to read.
It’s like recalling an old dream, or hearing a story someone swears involved you, but you can’t remember. All of VerreTek’s secrets – bribery, blackmail, weapons deals, black-bag disappearances – they’re all locked under the memory-inhibiting encryption I help improve.
I read their secrets aloud for the camera, my insurance. By the time the next sweeper passes, I’m powered down again, only now I remember everything I’ve read.
I send a secure message to my contact: Have VT data. Please advise.
The response is quick: 1800 bus to LA.
I lie awake after that. What I’ve read is hard to forget – only now I wish I could. At least tomorrow I’ll be doing something about it.