A red Astra trundled up to the sleepy London street, with only a couple of people milling about. A few other cars were parked up on either side of the road, and only a couple of the street lights were on, casting a slightly disconcerting orange glow. In the distance Eric could hear the sound of traffic – London never truly slept, even on cold December nights, and as he got out of the car, that buzz of activity seemed closer than it actually was. The rows of white-walled terraced houses all looked alike, with steps leading up to each door. Some of the steps were quite clean; others were spattered with bird droppings and wrappers from crisps and other items. Black fence poles cordoned off several steps that led to low-level flats. At least, that was how it was meant to look.
Attention to detail was everything, that Eric knew. These people operated in shadows; they knew how to misdirect. Peter pulled his grey duffel coat tight around his waist. “This way.” He drew curious glances from the other people in the street, and Eric knew why. A couple of them were starting to walk closer, quite briskly, but Peter wasn’t hurrying. He led them down one of the small, curving staircases to a black door, and slid a key card between a pair of bricks. The door clicked and Peter pushed it open. He looked up as the two approachees came over and flashed his card. They looked a little uncertain, but nodded and walked off.
“You two had better be right, because if you’re not I’m completely fucked.” He almost snarled as he quickly pushed Eric and Rob inside. The narrow corridor was lined with florescent tube lights, several of which flickered pathetically. Despite the appearance of cold brick walls, the corridor was quite warm, enough to prompt all three men to remove their coats. Eric made sure the USB drive stayed in his pocket.
Before long the corridor turned right and became wider. The lighting improved; big, circular LEDs ensured everyone could see. Several doors were lined up on both the right and left side of the corridor, each one with a key card access slot for entry. Sentries in green military fatigues shot Eric and Rob suspicious stares, but backed off when they realised they were with Peter. He slid his card into one of the doors on the right. “Corporal Stanton…” He asked of the closest guard, a young man with shaven black hair and hard, grey eyes. “Could you sort out proper clearance for these two? Ex-SAS that Colonel Dalton wants given Level 1 access.”
Stanton looked Eric and Rob up and down. Eric felt very sheepish in his tatty, stolen clothes, but years of training kept him cool under pressure. Rob smiled pleasantly.
“Very good sir.” Stanton headed off down the corridor. Peter pushed open the door.
“Why did you go and do that?” Rob asked as the door closed with a click. “We want to be discreet not obvious!”
“Yeah, and I want to keep my job, besides, sneaking around this place without proper clearance is pretty damn obvious.” Retorted Peter. Eric had to admit that the man had a point. “Besides, Dalton won’t refuse me, he owes me.”
“I dread to think why…” Said Rob under his breath.
The room they were in was reasonably sized, with a desk and two computers at one end – big towers hooked up to 19″ widescreen monitors. Headsets with microphone attachments allowed for private communications. The walls were plain white – repainted recently, judging from the faint smell in the air, though a fan whirred in the top right corner of the room. Two small black leather chairs with armrests were in front of either computer.
“Right, let’s get to work.” Said Peter as he slipped into one of the chairs. Eric and Rob both gestured for the other to take the other seat, before Rob more or less pushed Eric into it. “You might as well sit, you’ve been the one doing all the walking.” Rob insisted.
Peter picked up a small crosshead screwdriver from a little rack of drawers beside his terminal, and began to take the screws out the side of the computer, making sure to carefully stow the screws as each one fell out. With practised hands he then disconnected the wireless card, and the network card for good measure. “This will likely trigger an alert when I switch it on, so we best work quickly.” He said, more to himself. “Give me the USB.” He ordered. Eric didn’t argue and handed it over.
Peter fired up the PC, and it hummed into life. Lights flickered and the screen flashed up with familiar corporate logos that even the Army couldn’t avoid. Peter tapped in his login details – guarding them quite severely – and a series of icons appeared on the monitor. He stuck the USB drive into one of the slots, and tapped on the keyboard at a speed even Eric envied.
“What do we have that’s so important…” Peter opened up folders and sub-folders, clicking on random files. At least, it seemed random. There was a knock on the door.
“Answer that would you please Rob?” Asked Peter, never taking his eyes off the screen as lines of code appeared. Rob sneered but did as asked.
Stanton was standing there, his eyes as stern as before, and behind him, in standard Army khakis, stood a tall man with a crown and two gold stars on his shoulders, signifying the rank of Colonel. Whisps of silver snaked through his thick black hair, that was nonetheless starting to recede from his forehead. His blue eyes looked tired; Eric suspected that was from the weight of command, though tiny red lines and flushed red cheeks indicated Colonel Dalton was a man who had over-indulged at one or point or another. A small moustache was technically a breach of protocol, but here, of all places, it went unquestioned.
“Who the hell are you?” Asked the Colonel, unimpressed with a complete stranger being in his base. The anger in the gravely voice deepened when he spotted Eric. His eyes turned to Peter, who had yet to turn around.
“Captain Myers, what do you think you are doing?” Dalton didn’t quite shout.
“Apologies sir…” Peter span the chair around. “Please meet Corporal Rob Dennings and Corporal Eric Cooper, formerly of the Regiment. I needed their help sir.”
“Again, apologies sir, I cannot say with uncleared officers present…” Peter nodded at Stanton, whose scowl remained unchanged. “… It pertains to the Ivory Coast.” There was something in the way Peter spoke the last two words that just slightly drained the blood from Dalton’s face.
“Understood. In future, perhaps you could run your plans by me?” It was less of a question and more of a warning.
“Of course sir.” Peter came across as far too nice.
“Very good. Carry on, inform me of your progress.” Dalton was all business now.
Dalton gave them each one final, searching look, before stepping away. Stanton closed the door.
“Thank fuck.” Peter span the chair back to the screen. “Can’t stand that arrogant prick. Still, he knows I can fuck him over. This is interesting. Very interesting.” He tapped on the keyboard again. “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
“Well, don’t keep us in suspense!” Rob walked back over. “What is it?”
A 3D box had appeared on the screen, with different-coloured lines arching out of it and streaming off toward various icons. Eric squinted, making out a few words, including ‘power grid’ and ‘communications’.
“Eric was right, it’s a backdoor alright, the mother of all backdoors. Whatever this is, it allows unseen and complete access to anything with a chip made by One Touch, and fuck me do they get around. They’re global. They can get into the Pentagon if they want to. Access MI5 databases, the Kremlin’s computers, and Lord knows how many mobile phones, and no one – at least, not unless they were very sure of what to look for – would even know they’d been hacked. The coding is very well hidden. You said this was sent to you?”
“Yeah. Someone inside the company sent it to me. No idea why they chose me.” Eric wished they hadn’t.
“Probably hacked your personnel file, knew your history.” Said Peter casually. “God knows why they didn’t just go to the police or something.”
“Maybe the police are compromised, or they think the police are compromised?” Rob said. “After all, you said this software is everywhere, it must have taken one hell of an effort to do that.”
“Come to think of it…” Peter kept tapping on the keyboard. “One company managing to get all those contracts is very odd. I reckon someone up high is pulling some serious strings.”
“All the more reason to find out as much as possible before we go to the authorities.” Replied Eric.
“Yeah yeah. The USB only has details of this backdoor, it doesn’t seem to have anything else on it, no files on who’s involved or anything like that. Sorry mate…” Peter sounded apologetic. “You can suggest One Touch is up to something dodgy with this, but anyone might be working with them. Plus, if I were them, I’d just deny all knowledge. Easily enough done. Worse, you might get ‘plausible deniability’.”
“So, we’ve achieved nothing.” Muttered Rob.
“Oh, no.” Peter said with mockery in his voice. “We now know we face an enemy we can’t link anything to, stop, or even identify. That’s progress.”
“Don’t give us that sarcastic crap Pete. It’s not helpful.” Rob allowed disdain to enter his voice.
“Well what do you want me to say? That’s the boat we’re in, all of us, including me now you’ve dragged my arse into it. Only thing is, this code might…”
The sound of raised voices cut Peter off. An angry discussion started up, that quickly died down again. Someone started hammering on the door.
“Captain Myers, open this door, that’s an order.” Colonel Dalton sounded annoyed.
“Is there another way out of here?” Asked Eric, scanning the room for any options.
“Nope. Well, not from this room, but there are ways out of the base. You won’t like them.” Peter grimaced. “Fuckin’ dangerous but I don’t think we have a choice.” He yanked the USB stick out of the terminal and handed it to Rob. “They’ll want Eric, they’ll assume he has this.”
Rob smiled. “Diversion and misdirection. Just like old times.”
“Yeah, well, here’s where you go…”