Chapter 12: Hot Salt Lake Nights
That evening after an early dinner in the hotel, Kaitlyn’s mother called home and got some worrying news about the mining scheme. Ramón had heard through the local farmer grapevine that someone was using strong arm tactics to buy several of the farms further down the valley. One elderly couple had already sold, reportedly deciding to take the first offer to bolster their retirement.
Now that news was getting around, the rest weren’t so eager to sell, but certain pressure tactics were being used to get some more fast sales. One man that Ramón had talked to said the buyer knew all kinds of things about his financial situation and used that to set his opening offer. The man had refused, but he said it was a tempting offer.
On hearing this news, Kaitlyn expressed concern but didn’t reveal our plans to her mother. After Mary went off to the bathroom, Kaitlyn told me, “This doesn’t change a lot for me. It just gives me a bit more urgency to continue with the mission and get the info we need to bust this deal.”
I replied, “We can start tonight. I spent this morning getting some things together that will help us get the info you need.” She looked surprised but happy; before she could answer, I heard the toilet flush, so I said, “Now it’s my turn: no questions!” She got a bit of a pouty look on her face, but she stayed silent.
When Kaitlyn’s mother came back into the room, I told her, “We have to go out and do a few things. I hope it’s okay if we leave you behind?”
“Oh,” she said, “that’s fine. I’d like to do some relaxing tonight anyway. Have fun with…whatever it is you’re getting up to,” she said with a smile. I supposed she thought we were going out to a club or something. It suited me, and I preferred to let her come to her own conclusions, not actively lead her to wrong ones.
I picked up my laptop bag and the little shaving kit I’d bought to hold the cantenna rig, and we got out the door.
I asked Kaitlyn for the keys to her car, telling her I’d be driving tonight. She must have decided that my “No questions” admonition still held, so she just handed them over.
I drove us a few blocks away towards the JRE building, heading for a parking garage situated on the same city block, separated from it only by a one-lane alley. We went all the way up to the roof deck, where there were almost no other cars, and I parked at the edge of the lot towards the JRE building.
I ratcheted my seat back, got out the laptop, and proceeded to hook up the cantenna rig just as Jess had done with me watching earlier today.
Seeing the Pringles can, Kaitlyn finally broke her silence with a joke, “We just ate a couple of hours ago, Davie. You can’t be hungry again already.”
I just grinned back at her and continued setting things up, putting the cantenna on the Subaru’s dash, pointing at the JRE building, the coax cable just long enough to get back to the laptop. I did a bit of adjusting and eventually saw the network “
JRELobby” appear in the list of choices with a nice strong signal, so I stopped fiddling with it. I clicked on the option and was prompted for the WiFi password, so I dug back into the cantenna bag and pulled out the USB stick Jess had made for me, opened the single file on it and copy-pasted the shockingly short password into the connection box: “
jre-1942”. The company initials and the year it was founded! Stupid… No wonder Jess had cracked it quickly!
Kaitlin was now leaning over the center console to watch my screen as I worked, and her eyes lit up when she saw what I’d logged into, but she continued to keep her questions to herself. This must really be eating at her.
I pulled up a network scanner I had on the laptop already, which I used in diagnosing customer networks in my day job back in Moab, working for a computer service company that specializes in keeping the local small business’ computers running.
A little peeking around later, I found a machine on the network that identified itself as “
JREDVR”. I wondered… Did that maybe refer to a digital video recorder? Maybe one for a security camera network? I scanned that machine specifically now, rather than scanning the whole network, and found that it had a web interface, so I loaded that up in a browser and got a page with the logo of the company that had made the DVR and a model number. I opened another browser tab and found that I had Internet access through the JRE lobby’s WiFi network, so I put the DVR’s info into a web search and found the manual for it, and from that, the default user name and password. And lo and behold, it worked!
“Wow, they really are that stupid!” I said in a low voice.
Kaitlyn couldn’t keep quiet any more, asking, “What?”
I showed Kaitlyn the grid of live camera feeds, explaining, “That’s JRE’s security system. A friend cracked into it for me this morning. It wasn’t hard; these guys have terrible password policies.”
I browsed the camera feeds, making a note of where the cameras were all pointed. I was glad to notice that they hadn’t bothered to aim any of them across at the neighboring parking garage.
My explanation reminded me of something. “Oh, by the way, Kaitlyn, I found my +1 for the wedding: the friend that helped me this morning, Jess Jevgenijeva. She not only cracked JRE’s WiFi security for me, she also gave me the gear we’re using tonight to exploit that breach. We’d be stuck without her.”
“Not an old flame, I hope?” she answered.
I laughed at that. “She was seventeen when I met her, and I was 26. No, Kaitlyn, more like a mix between little sister and guru.”
“She was your guru?” Kaitlyn asked incredulously.
“If you think I’m smart, wait until you meet Jess; she runs circles around me,” I replied, utterly serious. “She comes by it naturally, too: her parents are stereotypical Iron Curtain escapee mathematicians. Bulgaria, I think.”
“Explains the name,” my wife observed shrewdly.
I’d let Jess’ surname trip fairly gracefully off my tongue from years of practice, but I’d only give Kaitlyn about a 30% chance of being able to spell it from my pronunciation. Or, if I spelled it for her, about the same chance of properly pronouncing it again, having heard it done properly only the once.
I just said, “Right. Anyway, that heritage is why she was working at the same place I was, at about the same height up the org chart as I was despite being younger, both of us well up from the grunt jobs, me because I had a Master’s in CS, and she because she’s a self-taught high-school genius who graduated at 16 and got hired on immediately by the company a year before I joined.”
Kaitlyn’s eyebrows rose.
“We weren’t in the exact same job, you understand. I was in software development, while she was — still is — in information security, but the two fields have roughly the same level of complexity, just in different dimensions.”
“Anyway, what I really want is to get her and Vin together. I think they’d make a great little geek couple.”
“That might work,” Kaitlyn said. “Vin’ll be going to the University of Utah here in Salt Lake this fall.”
“And we’ll get them introduced a good month ahead of time,” I agreed. “With any luck, they’ll start chatting over the end of the summer and be dating in his first week at school. Between getting her into the family and what she did for me today, I think you can be well assured of her discretion.”
“All right, you’ve convinced me,” Kaitlyn replied with a smile. “You’ve got your +1.”
I returned my attention to the laptop, digging through the DVR’s web user interface. I found that the default user I’d logged in under still had admin-level access on the DVR, able to watch, rename, archive, and delete recorded videos. I could also make system level changes with this account, so I went in and added another account and gave it admin-level privileges, too. I called it “
frontdesk” and gave it a horrendously long random generated password, which I recorded in my password manager. That’d let me back in if they ever shut off access to the default account, assuming my guess was right that they’d leave my innocuously named account alone.
“All right. That’ll be useful. It tells us which lines of sight they’re monitoring, and it lets us scrub any recordings later if we get caught by one of these cameras,” I reported to Kaitlyn.
“Now to dig around on this LAN a bit more,” I said, then returned to the first scan, looking for more juicy machines on the wireless LAN.
Unfortunately, there just wasn’t much out there. The next most interesting thing I found was a vending machine. “Aww, nostril zits! All I can do is trick the vending machine into giving me free candy.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Kaitlyn burst out. “There’s got to be more than a vending machine and the security system on this network!”
“Oh, there are a few other little things. There’s a temperature sensor for the HVAC system, for instance. And during the day, there will probably be a bunch of laptops and such on this network. No, Kaitlyn, what this tells us is that they’ve got a firewall between this wireless network and their secure wired network.”
“Well, shit, Davie. What do we do now?”
“We’ve got to get inside. That’ll be the only way to get onto that secure LAN.”
Kaitlyn thought for a bit, then said, “I can do it, Davie. I’ll go in.”
“Invisibility, of course. My reserve for that spell is about 15, maybe 20 seconds these days.”
One of the things we can do as nature mages is affect the way light interacts with our bodies and its immediate surroundings. Essentially, we build a bubble around ourselves that directs all light coming in one side out the other side of the bubble, causing us to be effectively invisible, though not inaudible or incorporeal. Building the bubble takes a pretty big surge of natural energy. The bubble then shrinks to fit our skin and anything natural that’s directly connected to it. This is the bubble’s lowest energy state, so it takes the least power to maintain, far less than creating the bubble in the first place.
The problem is that it’s still a pretty expensive spell to maintain; thus Kaitlyn’s estimate of how long she could hold the spell using only her internal reserve power. Kaitlyn started out as a mage without any reserve to speak of, but she’d worked hard to build it up, much like learning to hold your breath under water for increasingly long periods. Once she’d charged those reserves up, she could run spells while disconnected from nature, the time varying based on how much magical energy the spell took.
She would, of course, have to be completely naked to initiate the spell, and she’d have to remain naked to maintain it. This led to my first question. “How are you going to get started? Where will you strip, and where will you keep your clothes?”
She said, “Hmmmm,” with a thoughtful look on her face, then reached across and picked up the laptop, flipping back to the browser tab still connected to their security system’s DVR. I saw her poking through the live feeds, evidently studying coverage and holes in the pattern.
After about 5 minutes of this, she closed the laptop, put it up on the dash, got out of the car, and went over to the barrier at the edge of the parking garage. She looked down over it and studied the side of the JRE building facing us, matching it up with what she’d seen on the camera feeds.
I got out after watching her work the problem for a minute, and she pointed down along the alleyway, out to the street edge, “There. See that tree planted in the sidewalk? I can strip off down in the corner of the garage closest to that tree, hand my clothes to you, become invisible, then run over to the tree and stick a toe down past the iron grating around the tree’s base to recharge. Once I’ve recovered, I’ll have my full reserve to maintain the invisibility spell as I run to the front door, just around the sight line from there. I’ll then burn most of my reserve crossing the lobby quietly, but once in the stairwell, I can drop the bubble and sneak about the old fashioned way.”
“Stark naked,” I pointed out.
“Yup, like a naked female Sam Fisher,” she replied.
“Fisher. The main character in the Splinter Cell games.”
I still looked at her uncomprehendingly, so she explained, “They’re a series of video games centered on a character that sneaks around secure sites, mostly at night, doing some of the same stuff we’re planning on doing here. Miguel and I used to play those games a lot as kids. Well, he’d play and I’d watch. Anyway, Sam’s got a fancy suit and night vision gear, but I’ve got magic!”
I was doubtful but didn’t say anything, so after a few seconds of thinking she said, “You know, I think I can kind of ‘sip’ at my magical reserves to take peeks around me for life presences, which will effectively let me see around corners, so I know when it’s safe to move and when I need to hide and keep still. I just need to leave enough of those reserves after my lobby streak to get through the rest of the building.”
“How will that work?” I asked. “Won’t all the tech get in the way? You couldn’t even see past the rail fence at your family farm the other day. Won’t the cubicle walls be the same problem?”
“I thought about that some after that night,” she replied, “and I realized it was because of a limitation of my perspective. We were on the ground at the time…”
“I remember it well!” I interrupted with a grin.
“Yes, well… Anyway, I just unthinkingly stretched my senses out along the ground with us. That’s why I ran into the fence and the patio.”
I realized she might be right, so I added my own speculation, “That’s also how you learned the skill: lying on your back in the canyon back home.”
“Right!” she agreed brightly. “The thing is, that’s all just an accident of perspective: the air is natural, so anything up in the air should be visible to me. Maybe clothing would tend to mask the life presence of others, but at the very least I should be able to sense their faces, right?”
“Sounds plausible. Give it a try!” I thought I could do this trick myself after hearing her describe it, but what was important right now is that Kaitlyn be able to do it.
“I…guess I have to peel here,” she said nervously. “It’ll be difficult enough to work the spell with magic draining only through my feet, much less across almost all of my body.”
I looked around the parking deck, but I didn’t see any cameras. Still, I wanted to be sure, so I led her over into a corner of the roof area. “Take your clothes off here in the stairwell. Its landing shields you from below and three sides, so you’ll be exposed only to a narrow view from up here on the roof deck.” Kaitlyn didn’t immediately begin disrobing, so I continued soothingly, “It’ll be a good test of your capabilities anyway: you’ll be using JRE’s stairwell as your avenue of ingress and retreat.”
As my fiancée began to strip nervously in the parking garage’s stairwell, I told her, “Turn around and close your eyes, then when you get your spell up, point to me, if you can.”
I walked backwards away from her, enjoying the strip tease as I went.
Shortly after she’d gotten completely naked, she said, “Yes, I see you Davie!” Then she spun and pointed straight at me, her eyes still closed.
“Nice!” I congratulated her. She opened her eyes and smiled, pleased at her success. “Turn back around, wait 10 seconds, and let’s try it again, OK?” After she’d spun her lovely front away from me and her just-as-lovely back to me, I ran back to her car, standing behind its main bulk, then waited out the remainder of the time I’d given her.
Shortly, she called out, “Yes, there you are!” and she spun and pointed at me again, eyes still closed.
Clearly an object in the way wasn’t a serious problem, so I called back, “Once again, please.” She spun, and I took off in a quiet run to one of the few other cars up on the roof deck with us, squatted down entirely behind it, even my feet hidden by the tire, and waited, peeking through two layers of side window glass to see my bared beauty standing alone in the stairwell.
Kaitlyn turned and pointed right at me!
I stood and called as I walked back to her, “Did you see me through the glass?”
“No,” she said. “The glass is as good as steel plate to this sense. I had to slide up over the car and look down. I saw your hair first!”
“And my clothes? Do they block your sense of the rest of me?”
“Yup, but since we aren’t going up against a mosque full of burqa-clad women, I should be fine with this much. Think of it, Davie, I’m basically able to see around corners! Not in much detail, but still!”
“It is very exciting,” I agreed. “This is sounding do-able. Scary, but do-able.”
“Yeah,” she agreed. “Anyway, it’s my mission. It’s my family’s farm, Davie, and I will not flake on them just over a risk of getting caught.”
“Plus you like being on display,” I pointed out, half-seriously.
“Um, yeah, sometimes,” she admitted, “but not here, not now. This is about the mission, not about streaking.”
I wasn’t quite sure about that, but I held my peace, asking instead, “How are your reserves?”
“The first time I started questing out for life senses, I was sloppy and my control was terrible. It wanted to go out in a fat disc from my body, as I’d learned the spell, like a pancake, you know?” I just nodded, so she continued, “Well, I wrestled it around, and by the time I saw you, I’d probably lost about a second’s worth of my reserve for the invisibility spell. Then on the second try, I was faster to focus the spell out into the garage, and I’d come up on to the balls of my feet.” She raised herself up by way of illustration, then came back down purposefully hard to shake her breasts. I smiled broadly in appreciation, and she continued with a smile of her own, “That didn’t take nearly as big a bite out of my reserves. Then on the third one, I did a lot better about controlling the spell’s focus, but you’d gone far enough away that I had to hunt you down, so it took about as big a bite from my reserves as the second try did.”
“Can you still create the invisibility bubble?” I asked, concerned.
“Yeah, but it’ll almost drain me. Don’t worry about it, I’ll have enough left to get to that micro oasis out there in the sidewalk,” she said, referring to the captive tree. “Can I get dressed now?” she asked, a bit plaintively.
“What, you don’t want to go downstairs like that? It’ll save you a strip at the corner of the garage,” I pointed out in my most helpful tone of voice.
She stuck her tongue out at me and put on only her slacks, blouse, and shoes, in that order, gathering the rest up into her arms and handing it to me.
While she re-dressed, I came up with a new objection, but I held it, motioning her to come back to the car with me. I didn’t want to be overheard discussing the plan.
Once in the car, I tossed her underwear and socks into the back seat, then asked her, “How will you get the evidence out? I can’t send you in with a USB stick; it’d wreck the magic for sure, just holding it.”
Kaitlyn didn’t even have to think about that. Apparently she’d already worked that bit out. “I can probably find a USB stick on-site. And if not, I can probably find a logged-in PC and use their own email system to send the data to myself.”
I stepped in now, this being my area of expertise. “Not to your personal email account. We’ll set you up with a free email account for the purpose.” After thinking about it for a sec, I added, “And we’ll use their own wireless LAN to do it, so it’ll be untraceable back to us!” Kaitlyn smiled broadly at this cute little touch.
I pulled the laptop back over to my side of the car and set that up, then we continued discussing the plan. “The third floor’s still all lit up. You’ll have to avoid that.”
“Yeah,” she said, acknowledging the point. Then after a few seconds, “It’s go time.”
Kaitlyn and I got out of the car, walked down to the ground floor via the same stairwell she’d just bared her body in, then across the ground floor to the corner closest to the JRE building’s entrance. There in the dark corner of the garage, Kaitlyn removed her shoes, blouse, and slacks again, calmed herself, and after a few seconds slipped into a trance and disappeared. She was getting good at sliding into a trance state! I hoped she’d be able to do as well in a more stressful situation.
I heard the pat-pat-pat sounds of her running out of the garage and towards that tree planter. I saw the young tree bend slightly toward the JRE building, knowing it was Kaitlyn hanging on, dipping her toes into the meager city soil at its base, through the grating that let pedestrians walk packed close by during rush hours. I imagined her losing her invisibility bubble, hanging off the tree trunk by one hand, making a triangle with her nude body, her callipygous buttocks and muscular back towards me. I shuddered with the erotic imagery chasing through my mind.
Then I saw the tree spring back, heard more pat-pat-pat sounds and saw JRE’s revolving front door start to spin up for no apparent reason. She was in, and I was alone.
I gathered up Kaitlyn’s clothes and made my way off to set up the meeting spot at the nearby park as we’d agreed, worry grinding in my gut.