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Chapter 27 - Vatican Spy

 

 

 

The first indication that something was wrong was Claude's silly Valentine's Day computer puzzle.  Then he unexpectedly went alone to the debate at the resort when Margery expected to be invited to go with him.  Then when he returned, he went straight to his apartment and didn't call her.  At first she couldn't understand it.  She hadn't bothered to watch his stupid debate.  She seldom watched any of his incomprehensible rubbish.  It amazed her that some very bright people seemed to take his nonsense seriously.

Now he was definitely not talking to her.  Her key was on her dresser and his was gone.

She considered breaking into his apartment but that was not so easy since her widget had stopped working a couple of weeks ago. 

When that happened she decided it had a flat battery but she could see no way of opening it.  She tried thwacking it on her expensive dining room table but it caused nasty dents in the wood.  She was so angry at what it had done to her table that she decided to teach it a lesson on her granite workbench in the kitchen.  The stupid thing flew into a dozen pieces and she had no idea how to put it back together.

She asked Claude to take a look at it not telling him what it was for.  He started to examine the parts to see how they fit together and then started quizzing her about where she got it and what she needed it for.

"Don't worry about it if you can't fix it," she said petulantly and snatched the parts from him.

She stormed into her bedroom expecting him to follow so she could use The Craft to take his mind off it.

Instead he was angry.  He came in and threw the remaining bits on the bed and went home.

***

They made it up for one night after she convinced him that she had bought it in an antique shop, thinking it was an old makeup compact, and was trying to replace the power pan when all those bits flew out.  She worked on him for a couple of hours. But the following evening he was cold again, said he had work to do in preparation for the debate and locked himself away in his apartment. Then he went off into the countryside in his car without asking her to come or telling her where he was going, before disappearing overseas.

Now he's really upset about something.  She can't get to him at all.  Is he just sulking because the debate went badly?

Finally it occurred to her to have a look the debate and 'lo and behold', as they say, there was her Bishop. 

The trouble was not the debate; he seemed to have unexpectedly won that, but that her Bishop was on the panel.  The Bishop must have seen out and about in the media with Claude as her current boyfriend and taken it into his head to warn him off.  Claude is now off-the-air permanently and according to Aden Hitch 'has been seen around town' with some very striking Muslim woman. 

"The bastard.  He'll need a special visit," she shouted furiously, referring to the Bishop.

Even though Claude's in the same building he's become impossible to track without her Widget.  He no longer shows up on the micro camera she long ago trained on his door from outside in the foyer.  And those she'd placed around his apartment are all off the air too.  The one embedded in her picture in his bedroom came back on briefly, just long enough to record being eaten by the jaws of the recycling robot.  His VPA must have some App, like her widget, that enables him to avoid her. 

"Maybe it's time for the Bishop to expose his sins to the world," she mused as she calmed down.  "No that would be a waste.  After all, a bishop can be a big asset in a game of Chess and I have a black queen that needs taking."

***

Claude had been amazed by the components scattered across Margery's kitchen bench top.

The function of the thing was not immediately apparent and might have remained so had it contained just one or two application specific integrated circuits but the two dozen or so electronic components were off-the-shelf items, readily available on line, and it had obviously been individually built by an experienced and skilled constructor possessing the necessary tools.  It was like a lab prototype. 

It was extraordinary to find such a thing inside a woman's make-up compact.

With his pocket communicator he was able to photograph each component and its serial number together with the laser-cut substrate on which they were mounted.  His VPA instantly produced a circuit diagram but it had installed software on an erasable programmable read only memory, or EPROM, and he couldn't run it without reading that.  Nevertheless the general purpose became obvious.  This was some kind of burglar's tool.

Who had built it and what was his girlfriend doing with it? It was like discovering she had a gun in her purse.

At first he accepted her story that she thought it was an antique and just wanted to change the powder pan, when it broke.  Why would she smash it if she knew what it was and then ask for his help to fix it?  No one could be so stupid.  She must be telling the truth. 

But then she could be rather impetuous and hadn't a clue about technology, which was another odd thing, given her much vaunted coding skills.

At some time recently he'd decided to marry Margery. It was odd because until recently he had regarded their relationship to be on a more casual level and he'd always been wary of commitment.  What was the point if you weren't intending to be a parent?  And she was very clear on that point.  But then Valentine's Day was approaching and it suddenly seemed like a good time to propose.  So he'd planned a little Valentine's Day treasure hunt.  He'd written a simple function in PHP.  If you gave it the parameters Claude and Margery it returned the location in his apartment of those chocolates she loves; and inside the box he'd placed the big ring that she'd admired so much when he somehow found himself with her in Tiphanies a week ago.

But the whole idea failed when she was completely flummoxed by the code. It was then he realised that she didn't know the first thing about coding.  Something was wrong.  Could this be the author of Find-a-loo@Air-ones&twos?  Maybe she had stolen it as that deviant had claimed. Now this burglar device, as he called it, warranted further investigation.  Although he had detailed photos and some idea of the functional design it would be good to get the actual parts back.  He would like to read the firmware that must be stored on the EPROM. 

***

When Margery left for work he let himself in to her place with his key and emptied her waste basket onto her table just ahead of the trash robot getting to it. There were the pieces.  He pocketed them.  But what was this? Screwed-up paper notes all with a similar message misspelt in different ways: 'Something urgent is come up.  Just come to make yourself home.  Back sooon.'

Who was she inviting in? Could he demand to know? Then he decided that he probably shouldn't ask and reveal that he'd been going through her rubbish.  In any case she couldn't have written them, given her advanced education.  So he swept them back into the basket and let the robot have them.

He didn't have the equipment for a full electronic analysis but he knew someone who did.  Claude's MV show employed his friend Ocker as a lab technician because he's a wizard with unusual electronics.  Ocker is a bit eccentric.  He believes that The Cloud is already a super intelligence of a non-human kind and should not be trusted.  So he lives in an old bunker, built during the times of separate countries when one might be expected to attack another with weapons of mass destruction.  It's still off-grid and electronically isolated.  He generates his own power from solar cells scattered around several hectares of native gardens above, where he also collects his own water and disposes of his septic-tank waste water in a vegetable garden.

The old multi storey bunker was under a substantial hill but Ocker has exposed part of one high concrete wall by excavating a good part of the hillside and terraforming his property.  Into the exposed wall he's cut deep double glazed windows and installed a high wide balcony from the upper storey creating his beloved barbecue, or 'barbie', area and providing panoramic views of the coastline a kilometre away.  It's perhaps the most interesting home of any of Claude's friends.

***

To remain independent of The Cloud Ocker has a bank of ancient early twenty-first century stand-alone computers, of the kind no longer available, and in the depths of his lower level a clean-room with the equipment and components to maintain them himself.

Claude approached down a stone path and into a sloping access tunnel.  Suddenly in the dim light there was a popping sound underfoot and maybe twenty super-bright blinding floodlights surrounded him.  He could hear the sound of a pack of angry dogs behind the lights.  Then everything went black.  He couldn't see a thing.  Ocker's voice was in his ear.  "Sorry Sky-mate.  You walked into my low tech anti-intruder system.  I forgot to pick up the bubble-wrap."

Ocker likes to have a nickname for men he thinks of as mates.  Claude's started out as Cloudy - from Claude.  Then when he was working with the big terrestrial telescope and complained darkly about the conditions Ocker went around the set calling him 'Cloudy Sky' and from that he became just 'Sky'.

Claude was still recovering his vision and from the fear of being attacked by rabid dogs.

"It's very simple Sky," Ocker was saying, "you walk on the bubbles - pop, pop, pop; the light units hear the noise with a little mike; the lights goes on; the dog recording starts to play from the big woofer behind each light; and this little heater fan blows me 'patent' dog breath spray and moves cardboard cut-outs of dogs to cast nasty big dog shadows on the roof.  Scares the shit out of any intruder.  Oh, sorry mate, do yer need to visit the dunny?"

Fortunately Claude didn't.

"What can I do you for?" asked Ocker.

"Take a look at this." And with that Claude emptied his pocket out onto a convenient table.

He showed Ocker what he'd already done and within minutes they'd gone to the electronics lab; mounted the EPROM in a socket; and were downloading the code.

Then they loaded it into a virtual simulation of the circuit that Ocker created from scratch, because he wouldn't trust Sky's VPA. There was no way he was letting that Cloud hosted thing connect to his system.

They both marvelled at how clever the burglar device was.  It was designed to selectively disrupt all the Cloud connected devices such as cameras and sensors within the zone of the person carrying it but only if that object was in the field of view.  The previous background data before the holder came into the field of view was stored and continuously fed back instead until they moved on and this was repeated in sequence for any camera or heat sensor or sound detector that the possessor passed.

In addition, separate circuits searched The Cloud for the last dozen valid security codes for any lock or security device in the vicinity derived the security algorithm and sent the appropriate codes so that all Cloud controlled locks in the vicinity were opened.  It also cracked encrypted passwords using the same algorithm.  Coloured LED's at the edge of the glass mirror made it glow green for clear, yellow for caution or red for no go. Local passwords were listed in fine print on the mirror.  The builder had left a signature:  Mohandas.

If this was a burglar's delight Ocker was beside himself with delight too.  He loved this Cloud defeating thing and wished that he'd invented it himself. 

"This Mohandas bloke's a genius," he declared.  "I'm going to copy it onto a handheld.  Sky mate, would you like to have this thing on yer handheld too?  I can make a few mods to it right now if you like. Would yer like to stay for dinner?"

If Ocker was going to have one, along with who knows who else out there, Claude couldn't see why he shouldn't have one too; and anyway it might be useful.  "Yes, that would be great mate," he said. So they settled in Ocker's lab like a pair of engineers working on a prototype satellite.

Once he'd upgraded the hardware Ocker was ready to install the correspondingly modified firmware, that Claude had been working on.  But he was paranoid that Claude's VPA had access to this handheld and insisted that he wasn't about to inadvertently provide a back-door for The Cloud to get access to his systems. So after they'd fired it up and tested the mods he wouldn't connect it but used a portable card reader to upload the firmware. 

When they'd finished Claude to tried it out on Ocker's local systems.  It did nothing.  Cameras still worked and locks stayed locked.  All that work for nothing.

"No that's great mate!" Ocker declared: "This thing only works because everything out there is Cloud connected these days.  I can assure you that it'll work perfectly well at your place."

"By the way," said Ocker displaying the original board on his big screen.  "Look at this.  I can tell you why this one stopped working."

Claude had thought that was obvious.  It was in several dozen pieces. 

"No.  Before that."

"What do you mean?"

"Battery's flat." Claude hadn't considered that, they usually last for decades. 

"Sometime, since it was made, water got in to this thing and a new conduction path formed across here slowly draining the battery," said Ocker pointing to the damage.

Now Margery smashing it open made more sense.  His doubts were confirmed.  She was lying to him in more ways than one.  She was obviously involved in something nefarious and he realised that he didn't know her at all. He wouldn't bother about the ring.  Now that he no longer trusted her he realised that he didn't even like her very much.  Had she put him under some sort of spell?  She certainly excelled in the bedroom.

As they said goodnight Claude thanked Ocker who insisted that he should be thanking Sky for bringing him this brilliant Cloud deceiving invention. 

When he returned to his own place Claude used his newly modified hand-held to run the simulation.  As expected it unlocked his door and made him invisible to his own security system.

***

He wasn't too worried about Margery using her burglar tool against him.  He'd given her a key some time ago when he got hers, so it would've be pointless using it against him.  But who else she might have been burgling or spying on was a mystery. Now he wished that he'd kept at least one those notes.  He could have done a DNA swab and got fingerprints and even a spectral scan on the ink to discover who had written them.

There were very few spy services that he was aware of, now that there was World Government and no military or diplomatic services and it was very hard to hide from The Cloud.  Maybe terrorism was still a threat but why?  The old regional independence movements hadn't lasted a generation.  He wasn't aware of any organised dissent or unrest against the Government.  Ocker's paranoia about The Cloud had its basis in the very real truth that privacy from the Government no longer existed and software bots watched for any illegal activities of that sort, so the Government no longer needed a spy service.

The only groups that he could think of that disliked each other sufficiently strongly to still have a clandestine spy service were those supporting the opposing organised religions like the Knights of Columbus; or the Knights of the Southern Cross; or their Protestant equivalents; the Masons; or Islamic Jihad.   At dinner once, when she was dropping names, Margery mentioned that she knew people high up in the Catholic Church. Could she be some kind of Vatican spy?  If so she was deep under cover.  He'd never seen her go to church.  But what better cover than a prominent atheist as a boyfriend or even a husband? 

Could she be the second girlfriend in a row who was lying to him about her religion?  He decided to have it out with the Bishop he was to debate on Sunday.  And he certainly wouldn't invite Margery to come with him.  What he had planned to be their engagement trip was off.

 

 

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