"Collateral Damage" - Part Four

14 October 2042
Bay City, California Free State

Valkyrie made a face and shook her head at the harsh, barking guffaw coming over her headset.
She had gotten back to her flat sometime after midnight and left a vmail message for Janus to call her back. Then she'd gone online to do some hunting on her own. After an hour of nosing through several nodes plus making some discreet inquiries at a few 'Net watering holes, she'd given up.
As she'd thought--Eddie worked clean. Not a trace of himself left anywhere. Oh sure, she'd seen the end results of some of his runs; some security logs weren't as secure as their owners thought. He was quick but thorough and only had to deal with black ICE once or twice. And even then, he hadn't left a trace.
But Eddie, like any respectable 'Netjockey, had multiple ways of hiding his origin and identity. Mask utilities were just one way. Proxy servers. Remoting from and through multiple compromised servers. VPNs. Foreign VPNs. VPNs connecting through a proxy server before hitting the 'Net. Lots more.
He'd used a variety of techniques and variations to hide his tracks and the logs showed signs of it.
Clean work
So it was back to Janus.
So she waited.
Janus had called back just after 04:00 hours and she'd asked him point blank: "When did you sell out Fast Eddie?"
The guffaws on the other end of the line were slowly dying down.
Valkyrie said: "If you're done, Janus, how about answering the question?"
"Now why in the holy hell," replied Janus, "would I want to  waste my time with a pissant 'jockey like Fast Eddie?"
"We all know you suck up to the highest bidder," said Valkyrie.
"That's jealousy talking, Val. I'm just highly compensated for my particular skillset. As you should be, too. If you only agree to finally work with me."
"When hell freezes over, Janus."
"Come on, Val. You're too good to waste your talents in a shithole like Bay City."
"What--I should move to the NorFed states?"
"Why not? You'll be making more here than there. At least three times as much."
"I'm doing just fine here," said Valkyrie. "Besides, I happen to like this shithole."
"I'm telling you--we'd make a great team."
"Answer the question, Janus."
"We were great before."
"I was young and stupid," said Valkyrie. "Answer the damn question."
"Fine, fine. No."
"No, I did not sell out Fast Eddie."
"Don't lie, Janus."
"I'm not lying, Val."
"Even after Denver? Jakarta? Munich?"
Janus chuckled. "He got lucky in Munich. But the answer's still no. I did not sell him out. I don't have time to fart around with you losers out there. I'm sitting pretty here, thank you very much. You could, too, you know. Just say the word."
"Goodbye, Janus," said Valkyrie, and cut the connection.
Then she closed her eyes for a moment and a memory bubbled to the surface.
A memory she thought long gone.
She felt her chest go tight.
And she smashed the memory bubble with a mental sledgehammer.
No, she thought. Not again.
Never again.

*   *   *

Chicago Metroplex, Northern Federation of States
06:07:33 CST
Janus took his headset off, put it on the workstation in front of him, and leaned back in his chair.
He stared at the bank of monitors in front of him, the screen all running programs, each screen a flickering ever-changing display of alphanumerics, schematics, and cascading windows of images.
It had been two years since Munich, two years since Fast Eddie nearly flatlined him.
It'd had been his own damn fault.
He'd underestimated Eddie.
And at the same time, he'd admired him.
Eddie hadn't played by the same rules as other 'jockeys he'd gone toe-to-toe with.
The boy took chances.
"So what kind of chances did you take this time, Eddie?" he said out loud and looked at the monitor bank expectantly.
It stared back at him, the light from the flickering displays dancing over his impish features.
The question hung in the air for a good long time and Janus felt the desire poking at him.
Quietly at first.
Then gaining momentum.
Twenty minutes later, he reached for his data cable.
"Let's have a little peek at you, Eddie," he said to himself and slid the plug into his headjack.
*   *   *

Bay City, California Free State
09:02:45 PST

When Doc answered the phone, Valkyrie related her conversation with Janus.
"Do you think he's telling the truth?" said Doc.
"Might be," she said. "Or he might not."
"That doesn't help Eddie."
"I know, I know."
"Can you check him out?"
Valkyrie sucked in air through her teeth. "I can try."
"Is he that good?"
"At not being checked out? Yeah. He's that good. But I'll see what I can do. Any luck on your end?"
"Waiting to hear back."
"How long before you hear?"
"I'll give them another hour," said Doc. "Then I'll call again. What about you?"
"Before I find anything on Janus?"
"Couple of hours," said Valkyrie. "Maybe. Maybe longer."
"That good."
"Do what you can," said Doc.
"You, too," said Valkyrie.

*   *   *
13:14:47 PST

"Is our asset in play?" said the voice on the other end of the line.
Carter grinned and leaned back in the hotel room chair. "He is, Mr. S."
"Any problems?"
"You're sure."
"I have my best people on it."
"That's good to hear."
"Were you expecting problems?"
"I was."
"Rest easy," said Carter. "They've checked and triple-checked. All's well, sir."
"That's what I like to hear. And everything is set for tonight?"
"It is."
"Well done, Carter."
"Thank you, Mr. S."
"You know what to do. I'll leave you to it."

*   *   *

13:28:27 PST

Eddie looked at the text message from Valkyrie.

<Doc still talking to his contacts. Will let you know as soon as I hear something.>

<Thanks, Val> he typed back.

*   *   *

18:29:15 PST

Eddie heard his cellphone trill for attention.
Not the cellphone he'd hoped.
His other phone.
He picked it up from his workstation. The display read: BLOCKED NUMBER.
He gritted his teeth.
The bastard who put the bloody implant in him.
He let it ring twice more then answered. "What?"
"Good evening, Mr. Howard--I mean, Mr. Fast Eddie."
"Let's get this over it, right?"
"Patience, Mr. Eddie. We're only just getting started."
"Talk already."
A pause. Then: "In the next fifteen to twenty minutes you will get a call. A request to trace a number. You will merely agree to do the trace then you will hang up. We will contact you again for the next step."
"Remember your lovely new features, Mr. Eddie."
"Tosser," he said and hung up.

*   *   *
Fifteen minutes later, his phone rang again and when he looked at the display, he felt his heart start to jackhammer against his chest.
"Eddie," said Kat. "I need you to run a trace and tell me where the call is going."


NEXT TIME: "Consequences"

"Collateral Damage"
Part 1 | Part 2| Part 3