Road Kill

Road Kill is a thriller that starts with an average day for government intelligence analyst who sits in the wrong seat on his early morning flight. When the passenger who sits in our hero's intended seat ends up dead by poisoning, the story quickly accelerates to a cat and mouse game. The main character is being framed for possessing intelligence that he did not gather. He must go on the run in an attempt to clear his name and stay alive.

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14. Part 14 - I'm Screwed

I looked around at the equipment in the boat’s cabin and it dawned on me. Athenos had this stuff in the boat so that he could take it to international waters and not be subject to US laws. I noticed the powerful array of antennae and the dish on the roof of the bridge. This was no fishing boat. This was a floating data center.

Ben and Jones must have noticed it to.

“That’s some pretty hefty satellite communication you have. What kind of speed to you get?” Jones asked.

Athenos looked at him and smiled.

“It’s the fastest available and I have full redundancy.”

“Seems like a lot or hardware to put on your boat, how often do you take her out?” Simpson asked.

“As often as I need to,” Athenos answered in an increasingly clipped tone. “I didn’t ask you here to discuss my computing preferences. Our friend here has a problem, which he has made your problem, and I’m going to try to help unravel it.”

Athenos silenced the group with his comment. He was right of course and somehow, despite his unimposing stature, he exuded a demand for respect.

“Now let’s get down to business. The first thing we need to do is cast off the lines and take the boat out to international waters. Then we’ll get online and see who’s been messing with your backup images.”

The three of us exchanged looks. Athenos was alone on the boat, so if he meant to do us harm, we probably could handle him. Jones and Simpson went up to the deck and cast off the lines while Athenos went up to the bridge and started up the twin inboard/outboard engines.

Once we traveled the requisite 14 miles off shore, Athenos dropped anchor and we reconvened in the cabin of the boat. He began switching on monitors and three large screens came to life. Athenos turned his attention to me.

“So, what are you hoping to find?”

I explained my routine for backing up images of my laptop to the Dark Web and that this was a common practice in the intelligence community. A very strong encryption was used so that hackers were deterred from trying to compromise the files. A special key generated by a CIA supercomputer was used to encrypt the file and it could only be unencrypted by using a complementary key.

He entered some commands on one of the screens and a single prompt came up and I recognized the legendary entrance to the dark web.

“Okay, let’s see what we can find” Athenos said more to himself than to one of us.

After about ten minutes of typing and examining, he turned to me.

“Come and take a look at this. I think you’ll find it interesting.”

I looked at the screen. I saw the familiar naming convention that I used for my laptop image backups. I usually used the Julian date (YYYYMMDD format) followed by the time in military format and my initials. I always did backups at the end of each day. There were six weeks’ worth of backups following this convention. When I got to the most recent, I noticed that the backups had time stamps that were not at the end of the day. They were at various times during the night. This didn’t seem right, but I think we had found the mysterious backups that had been altered.

I found the five backups that appeared to have come from another source and told Athenos that these were the ones that we needed to trace. I had the encryption key with me on a secure thumb drive and I brought up the first faux backup with it.

ENCRPYPTION KEY NOT VALID

That was the message I received.

I tried it again.

ENCRPYPTION KEY NOT VALID

Frustrated, I tried the key on one of the backups I had run. It worked.

“It appears that these other backups were encrypted with a different key,” Athenos said.

I didn’t know how that was possible. In order for that to happen, someone would have had to obtain a legitimate backup of my laptop, decrypt it, augment it with the additional information, and then encrypt it with the new key. That just didn’t add up.

“Somebody really wanted to screw you over,” Athenos said stating the obvious.

I asked him if he could find out the IP address of the person who put them there, a numerical sequence that identifies computers. As he was about to answer, we could hear the sound of an approaching ship. Athenos hit a kill switch and shut down all of the equipment immediately.

“We’ve got company,” Ben said. “Stay down here. I’ll check it out.”

He took a pistol from the bag that Jones had given him to carry and climbed the stairs to the deck.

“I’m not sure where he got that,” Jones said. “I didn’t put that in the bag.”

I started to panic a bit, but Athenos seemed generally calm. He sensed my confusion over his lack of alarm.

“I don’t have anything to hide on this boat. So many people run businesses like gambling and porn sites in international waters and outside of the U.S. The authorities can’t touch anything out here, and if they do, I can do a dump of anything stored on my system from a single switch. I don’t store anything on these computers. Everything is on servers all over the world,” Athenos explained.

Jones seemed nervous. Despite his line of work with a detective, the bad guys he dealt with weren’t nearly as scary as the federal government or whoever had sailed out to greet us.

I stood up and peered out the porthole and saw the distinctive colors of a Coast Guard cutter that had pulled alongside us. We could feel the movement of someone boarding the ship. Then we could here Ben Simpson angrily exchanging words with whoever had boarded. We couldn’t hear what they were saying, but from the tone, it was clear that Ben was not happy and that the other person was responding very calmly.

“What do we do?” Jones asked

I honestly didn’t know the answer, but I didn’t want to take these innocent civilians down with me. We quickly worked out our story. I coerced Jones into helping me and he took me to Athenos who was also forced to get involved. They only helped because they feared for their lives.

After a few more minutes of the one-sided angry exchange from the deck, the cabin door popped open and I could see Ben Simpsons legs descending the stairs back into the cabin.

“I just want to say that I am totally against this. Whatever happens from here is not my fault,” he said as he rejoined us in the cabin.

I then saw a familiar brand of black loafers descending the stairs beneath the pant legs of a typical dark blue suit. Then the last person that I wanted to see emerged.

“Well, well. I’m sorry to crash the party. Would you girls like to fill me in?”

It was Donovan. He had found me somehow. I was screwed.

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