7: Connections (part 4)

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7.4 Data Dumped

Conradville: 24–28 October 2120

"There's more gone," Melissa said, her voice incredulous.

"What?" Janet called from the lounge.

"The stuff on Cognizant we found last night."

"Did you keep a copy?" Janet said, coming through into Melissa's room.

"Yes, I've still got that, and copies of all the other stuff. It's the original source that's no longer there."

"Hmm, I wonder..."

"Wonder what?"

"Don't search for anything else new until I've had a word with our computer guy, Tariq."

The next evening Tariq and his partner, Yefim, were over at the Davidsen's quarters for a hastily arranged meal. Tariq knew they had been invited at short notice for a specific reason, which Janet had refused to reveal until after the meal had finished. So, while Keifer and Yefim stayed in the dining room to put the universe to rights, Janet and Melissa took Tariq through to the lounge and brought him up to date with what they'd found.

"Just what are you getting involved with here?" Tariq asked. "Not exactly standard LSA remit, is it?"

"It's really Melissa's, um, project," Janet said. "You know, all that L-Squared stuff with the telepathic patients. Turns out all of them have histories that intertwine around a whole bunch of companies that constantly pop up and disappear over the last century."

"But, as we dig up new data, almost as soon as we find it, it just disappears," Melissa said.

"All data?"

"No, Tariq," Janet said. "Mainly just the stuff about the organisations the patients tended to belong to – Cerebralta, Cognizant, xMind, Xanlintec, Progenitag and several others. Especially when we find vague connections between them. It's almost as if someone is tracking what we're looking for."

"Never heard of any of them," Tariq said. "How soon after you find them do they disappear?"

"Always within an hour. Some go within minutes," Melissa said.

"Really? Hmm, okay, let's do some digging," he frowned, taking control of the terminal. "Right, let me have a full list of those – what are they? Organisations? Companies? What do they have in common?"

"Very little on the surface," Janet said. "Some were electronics companies, some more like mind, body and spirit clubs, others were research – though what they were looking into never seems to be consistent from one mention to another."

It took Tariq a few minutes to find some intact references to one of the more down-to-earth companies, called Linden Enterprises. Melissa had found a reference to it on a note about Progenitag. Linden had ceased trading in 2073 and its main concern appeared to be the handling of patents and applications developed by a Doctor Linden Willard Ashley. Tariq downloaded and stored a local copy of what little there appeared to be on Linden. Ten minutes later the original reference had been purged.

"Wow," he said, shaking his head. "You're right – I must admit, I hadn't believed you at first."

Three days later Tariq phoned Janet and Melissa.

"I think I've found something," he announced. "Damned clever in many ways. Stupid in a few important ways."

"What do you mean?" Melissa asked.

"I don't think it's a person. It's more like a program or maybe a whole bunch of programs. Probably well hidden as I can only infer its existence indirectly by what it's doing. A bit like the old computer viruses and malware."

"I thought they'd finally defeated all of them when the AI systems came online," Janet said.

"That's why this one is really clever. It's obviously managed to evade the AI routines for years. But, by the looks of things, it can't work independently. It needs to hook itself into an existing event before it can do anything. So, it's probably monitoring certain lines of communication – i.e. general searches across MoonNet for specific terms – like the names of those companies such as–"

"Don't say the names out loud," Janet reminded him, not trusting the security of the communication systems.

"Okay, yes. Anyway, when something triggers it – such as you retrieving data containing references to those companies, it springs into action tracking back to the source of your data and deleting it – somehow without bringing attention to what it's doing."

"You said it was stupid as well," Melissa said.

"Yes," Tariq laughed. "If it was really clever, it would not only get into your local storage and delete your copies, but perform its own searches as well, though the latter might raise its profile too much, making it more detectable by the AI systems."

"How has it evaded them?" Janet asked.

"No idea as I haven't managed to nail it down to a physical program file."

He paused for a moment. "Hmm, I wonder if it has the ability to mutate to avoid detection – many old computer viruses could do that. You'd better print out hard copies of everything you've found just in case it does find a way back to your local copies."

"Good idea," Janet agreed.

Later on, Melissa sat in the lounge with her mother. On a table were paper copies of the data they'd found – those copies might now be the only evidence that such data had ever existed.

"Just what in hell have we uncovered?" Janet said. "It gets weirder and weirder."

"Yes. Telepathic people, possibly. Lots of strange connected companies whose information disappears as soon as you look at it. Who would go to such effort to set up something like that? Any why?"

Janet shook her head. She had absolutely no idea.

The plot thickens? Thank you for reading Splinters. Do please vote and/or leave a comment to tell me what you think.

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