“Prime Minister Durand, I’m sorry to bother you, but we have an irregular situation at the security station. There is a gentleman who insists you will want to see him but refuses to give his name. He said to tell you Chen sent him, and that is sufficient identification. Is this some sham? Should we arrest him?”
“No! Please, extend every courtesy to him and I will see him in the blue conference room as soon as they can prepare it. Have them sweep it and activate the jammer fields. Explain to him that is the delay, and offer him refreshments until I can join him.”
The officer started to turn away but Joel thought to ask. “You weren’t able to ID him?”
“The security station has priority access and ran a national and European Union search as well as Interpol and what partial searches we can do in other systems. We have no data on him. That should be impossible inside our borders. Are you sure he is no danger to you?”
“Quite sure,” Joel said, even though he wasn’t. The officer could probably read that easily with his portable software. The basic sort foot patrolmen used on a street corner suspect. He looked at Joel, unhappy, but didn’t contradict him and went out.
The man was seated at the corner of the conference table turned toward the other seat he’d pulled out and turned toward him a little. It was an obvious invitation to sit. It felt odd like Joel was the supplicant in his own secure room. The man was Asian but dressed very nicely in a western manner, and thanked Joel for his hospitality in flawless French. The high end spex were unusual for Earth. He had a cup of coffee he pushed away. He didn’t rise but Joel didn’t feel disrespected. He extended a memory stick to Joel.
“I was told not to deliver this over com. I suggest you only read it on an unconnected computer in a shielded facility. The files on this detail who sold your fuel process to the North Americans. Who paid him, and the routing of the funds through seven banks to an end account in Columbia. The small changes the North Americans made to the drive system to improve the probability of it working at lower velocities are included as requested. We have no idea of course if it resides on any air gaped machine, but the server on which it resides in Maryland is identified and an administrative password for the network included if you wish to verify it, delete it, or alter it. You can transfer fifteen hundred grams in payment to the account listed in the end file at the Private Bank of Home. Is there anything else we can do for you?”
“Is this same information being conveyed to Miss Lewis on Home?” Joel asked.
“Certainly not. We are contracted with you. If April Lewis desires that information she will have to request it be obtained as an individual outside our arrangement with her partnership or as an officer of one of their associated businesses.”
That was normal policy but the man had no idea the depth of Chen’s personal relationship with April and what he might confide.
“Details of specific hardware and systems doesn’t fall within the sort of general report we make daily. Since we were told she recommended us and you have confirmed it, we will forward a finder’s fee to her.”
“You will pay her?” Joel asked.
“That’s just good business,” the fellow insisted.
Joel took a deep breath and tried to make sense of it. April could get the report, but she’d have to ask for it. And apparently hadn’t. Would she have to pay extra, or was that covered by some sort of retainer? He didn’t want to ask.
“Can you tell me how this information was obtained,” Joel asked hefting the card.
“I’d have to ask permission and that will undoubtedly entail a fee. Methods are closely held and valuable.”
“Never mind then. I’d have to ask for a secure…”
The lights in the room flickered and came back. The fellow looked briefly distracted and then snapped back too.
“Your pardon, I asked already but it’s a three second lag. It took a lot of power to get past some local interference. I hope I didn’t damage anything. My supervisor says the method is reproducible with your technology, so a general description without actual plans has significant value. If you wish to know how the information on the guilty party was obtained that will be an additional two kilograms of gold. The methods to search and crack North American secure networks aren’t for sale at any price.”
Joel thought about it. This sort of secret payment of huge sums could create problems later. It was the sort of thing political opponents dredged up and questioned. No way was he paying for this himself. On the other hand, his own people might be delighted to have this ability. They undoubtedly spent more in a year on things less effective than this seemed to be.
“Very well, tell me.”
“We identified your primary drive research facility and who works there by transport and phone records. Examining the education and work history of everyone who could be confirmed to work there took about six hours. Your security was too good to cost effectively penetrate there. We then went about bugging their homes and places they frequent with micro drones. Of the one hundred and sixty-four targets, three were impossible to bug, having aggressive drone safeguards and other high-end security. They are probably intelligence agents of yours or other countries. Of the remainder, six had such abnormal psychological profiles and atypical responses to key words and visual stimuli as to be unreadable. They may be socially functional but we consider them to be functionally insane. The rest we watched and noted their reactions to video programs, conversations they conducted, and conversations they overheard. The software is not much different from veracity or interrogation software. Pupil dilation, skin resistance, and other physical attributes can be sensed remotely. Even brain activity, if not detailed mapping, yet. It’s simply a bit slower to tally reactions to random words instead of read off a list of preselected words. Within twenty-four hours we had three candidates. Examining their associates, banking records, online interests or searches, and travel histories quickly isolated the individual thief. We were fortunate our man was not one of the well protected or insane workers. That would have delayed us.”
“All that is within our technical ability?” Joel asked.
“Yes. You may need some experience to catch up, but you possess all the elements.”
“That’s kind of scary actually. I’ll forward both payments together,” Joel promised. Now, he had doubts after the fact if he wanted his own people wielding such an invasive capacity.
“Thank you for your business,” the nameless man said and left.
Joel sat and thought about it a bit. For a wonder, his security didn’t rush back in and ask if they should follow the man. Apparently, they now saw him as a private asset of the Prime Minister. It might disturb them to know he could have other assets, but that was fine. It might keep them on their toes. As far as following him, Joel suspected that wouldn’t be easy. Chen’s minions seemed extra spooky if not downright creepy.