xxxv. underdressed

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All the letters could have corresponding numbers. I bite the inside of my cheek in a muse while pondering the next obstacle. What numbers could these letters represent?

The most logical answer was that the letters represented the numbers by where they were placed in the alphabet. Quickly, I translate the possibility in my mind.

35.3397 83.2367

These numbers probably represented the location itself. Even then, it could have been the global location number, longitude and latitude, the GS1 system, coordinates, GPS feedback, or even some other type of covert numbering system.

My lips instinctively falter into a grim smile. I pull open my computer and type in the different possibilities. One by one, different possibilities were crossed out. First was global location numbers. GLNs had to be 13 digits long—this number was conveniently 12.

GPS feedback numbers were extremely different from traditional garmin number graphs, so that was crossed off. When I put in longitude and latitude, the location of Lake Manasarovar in Nagari, Tibet came up. That was a barren area with a loosely dense permanent population but with a relatively large magnitude of tourists.

I suppose it would be a good place for anyone to hide. The remote place was barely on the communication satellite maps.

The only possibility left were coordinates. Putting in standard north and west coordinates, the location of something familiar popped up—the local police station of Albemarle, North Carolina.

My heart stops cold.

Albemarle was where I grew up. My father was a police officer.

The answer of the code just came with more questions. Of all the cities in the world, what did my town of less than 20,000 people, my town with no infrastructure, and my town where my family lived and died have to do with anything? Albemarle was nothing but a place I left once my father died.

A seismic tremor spread through my every limb. This must have all been a coincidence. This must have all been a coincidence. Suddenly, my burner phone pings alive. Its ghost-like hollow ring fills the four walls of the empty room. The hopeful bright blue shadow it cast in the dark belied the murderous sender.

"Have you broken the code, Darling?"

My fingers linger on the keyboard. Part of me felt responsible for protecting the town, and telling Thirteen the location would undoubtedly cast chaos onto the population. What a precarious situation that I, of all qualified people, knew the truth.

"Not yet. I haven't even gotten through the user root yet. It's unlike anything that I've seen."

That wasn't a lie per se. The encryption was extremely strenuous, taking around three hours running counter commands.

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