The next chapter of what could someday be a novel is now available. Hope you like it.
I was twenty minutes late for work and had just sat down at my desk when Brad knocked. I assumed he was there to ream me out for Saturday night, but instead he said he had someone to introduce. And that’s when I met Carly for the second time.
“Mikhail, I’d like you to meet our new Human Resources Administrator.”
To her credit, Carly didn’t show any sign that we’d already “met”. She just smiled, shook my hand and said something about looking forward to working with me. On the way out, Brad turned back and said, “Be in my office in 30 minutes.”
Now, from most people, that wouldn’t be a big deal. Perhaps a little terse, but nothing significant. From Brad, however, that kind of lapse in “interaction management” protocol was like an open death threat.
I hit Scott with an IM to tell him what happened. His helpful response was that he heard the whole thing, and that it had been nice working with me. Then he got in a quick dig about how I was 6th in overall healing in the raid last night. Like I don’t have other things on my mind. What a dick. Besides, I was hung over. From the shit he gave me. I mean, really, I’m top healer 20 raids in a row and I have one off night and he’s gotta ride me about it.
Anyway, back to the whole Brad meeting. I was expecting another speech about public behavior and appearance clauses in my contract. Instead, he opened with, “There was a serious breach in security over the weekend, Mikhail.”
I had no response ready for that, so I just sat there and nodded.
“So you’re aware of the security breach?”
“No. I, uh, was just waiting for you to explain what you’re talking about.”
He let out one of his patient, long-suffering sighs. “Are you denying that you spent Saturday night in your office?”
“Then it would seem like an extremely unlikely coincidence that our network was compromised on the same night that you were here on your own.”
“Improbable, even.” (Opportunities for nerd humor don’t present themselves often enough – I just couldn’t let it go. Which is another of my many issues).
“What?!” (Nerd humor is wasted on most people. It usually just makes things worse).
“Well, Karl was here.”
“What are you talking about?” Brad was starting to lose his cool. This was obviously more serious than I thought.
“Sorry, I’m just saying that Karl was here too.”
“Mikhail, it is ridiculous for you to try and implicate a security guard in your attempt at corporate espionage.”
It was about this time that I finally clued-in to what was going on. This meeting had nothing to do with my performance at the banquet.
“According to the security report, you used a USB key to save some information from your office computer before you left. Do you have that key with you now?”
WTF? “Uh, yeah, it’s right here.”
“May I have it, please?” It wasn’t really a question.
I thought pretty hard about refusing, asking for the cops; you know, standing up for my rights as a citizen. Instead I did what every coward does in the heat of the moment – I gave in. “Yeah, no problem.” I handed him the stick.
Brad put the stick into his computer and started browsing it. “Have you copied any of this information to any other computers?”
“Nope. I actually forgot about it until you asked.”
Brad looked away from his monitor and stared me in the eyes for a long time. It was about equal parts absurd and intimidating and I couldn’t contain a giggle.
“This is far, far from a laughing matter, Mikhail.”
“Sorry. You’re just kinda freakin’ me out.”
“I’m going to do you a favor, Mikhail. I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and not terminate your contract immediately.”
Ok, he had my attention.
“I’m choosing to believe you when you say that you haven’t made copies of this information. I’m also going to believe that you accessed this information as some kind of juvenile prank. If, at any point, I am lead to believe otherwise, the consequences will be very unpleasant. Am I making myself clear?”
He was, and I let him know it.
“Good. I’ve already had Elias search your hard drive and confirm that you didn’t leave anything there. As far as I’m concerned, this never happened. Are we in agreement?”
I nodded again.
He slid a couple of papers across his desk and handed me a pen. “I’m sure you’re familiar with this form. Please sign and date it.”
The form was a ‘verbal warning acknowledgement’. I had signed a few of them before (and mentally chuckled at the irony of documenting a ‘verbal’ warning. Doesn’t writing it down make it a ‘written’ warning?). I scanned it and signed at the bottom.
For all his management training, Brad really didn’t understand human nature. Or, at least he didn’t understand my human nature. He also didn’t understand that, just because something was deleted from my desktop and recycle bin, doesn’t mean it’s gone. As any good hacker knows, information written to a hard drive remains there even after getting deleted. It doesn’t actually disappear completely until other information is written over that particular section of the drive. Since I had cleverly avoided doing any work all morning, chances were pretty good that the information would still be there.
It took me most of the afternoon to find, isolate and lift the data. It would have been faster, but I also had to write up a program that would make it look like I was working on something else – and I had to do both while making sure nothing new was written to the drive. Once I was sure I had it all, I layered it into an image of the corporate logo and emailed it to myself as part of a memo. It was possible someone might notice that the memo was much bigger than its content would suggest, but even if they did, good luck trying to crack steganography. I felt pretty safe …
The rest of the day was torture. All I could think about was getting home to really look at what I had salvaged. What could Brad possibly be hiding?
What I found was … mixed.
To elaborate a little, what I found was that Brad had been skimming from project budgets for years and had accumulated a little over two million dollars. It was an ingenious little scheme and it was clearly programmed by someone a hell of a lot smarter than Brad. I mean, sure, he might have come up with the concept, but ideas are dime-a-dozen. Someone with real talent put together the programming and the encryption to protect it.
And that was maybe the weirdest part of all. The encryption on the whole thing was world-class. This had been running for years and, as far as I could tell, I was the first person to stumble across it. My question was: How? How did I stumble across it?
It was only after my fourth parse of the ‘fishmouths’ program that I realized what I had done.