There was a moderate hum through the coffee shop as it was unfortunately nearly full of the barely tolerable: other people. Their conversations, which Nadia was sure were inane, fell just short of drowning out the tinny noise trying to pass for music emanating from the corner speakers. But the shop also smelled like cookies and had free wifi, so it was an acceptable refuge for today. She settled into the chair and put on her headphones, preparing to block out the world.
A command box popped up on her screen, it was a user notice for the security software she'd rigged up. Quickly she scanned the lines of code that followed, frowning. Something was trying to either monitor or access her browser, it wasn’t clear which, but it wasn’t any Trojan, phishing program, or adware she recognized. Her program kept automatically throwing up firewalls and it kept blasting through them. With a few keystrokes she re-routed her IP address, piggybacking on a couple of other computers accessing the coffee shop’s open network. Nothing could get through to the other users, but it would make her difficult to trace. She leaned back and took a sip of the milk foam on top of her coffee.
The command box reappeared, she raised her eyebrows at it. Whoever was behind that program was *good*; and Nadia knew good. But she wasn't working on anything in particular today, the most dangerous thing she had planned was downloading music. Where had she stumbled on this thing? Or was she being targeted? Assuming the worst, she got to work: pulling out all the stops to disable or loose the hostile program. No matter what trick she tried, the bug followed, sometimes a little closer to getting in, sometimes a little slower. She took a moment during one of the slow periods to slip in her own phishing code, using a weaker firewall as bait. Whatever this was, the number of hoops it was making her jump through pointed at something far more sophisticated than an autonomous program. Someone was controlling it, actively chasing her for reasons she could only guess at, and she wanted to know who. Finally she rerouted her IP through an Australian communications satellite she’d hacked a couple of weeks ago and had been saving for a rainy day. It was her last trick, but it was a doozy. Half the cell phones and TV stations in Australia directed through that satellite. Anyone who could get through would have to take their time, and she’d have a whole new bag of surprises by then.
Halfway through building a program that would (in theory) wipe the hard-drive of anyone who tried to access her files or programs, her progress was blocked by a Skype window informing her that she’d signed in remotely. Before she could log off a “New contact” window appeared. There was no message, but the screen name was Oracle.
Her cursor hovered over the "Block” button. It couldn’t be, it wasn’t possible… She clicked “Add” and opened the chat window.
Nadia stared at the angular green face and green background that was “Oracle’s” cover image. This had to be a joke, maybe an imposter.
Now she knew it was fake. Oracle, THE Oracle, was supposedly complimenting her on her game, via Skype. Not that she didn’t deserve the compliment, of course, her game was good and the world should know it; but there was no way that Oracle, the underground super-hero tech support, hacker, and digital spy that seedy forums would only whisper about, would use something as generic as Skype.
NtheBoss prove it
Oracle Found you didn’t I?
NtheBoss not good enough howd you do that anyway?
Oracle I broke the encryption key on Skype’s server ages ago. As long as I know where to look I can find anyone’s account and force their default device to log in. The runaround earlier was only to see if you’re as good as you claim. You are.
Nadia smiled, again with the compliment. Pretty soon she’d start wishing it really was Oracle on the other end.
NtheBoss still till doesnt prove ur the real Oracle
Oracle Your name is Nadia, you and your brother were recruited by Paco Tejas to provide data and IT support for Jaime Reyes who became the Blue Beetle after acquiring the Kaji Da scarab. The scarab used to belong to Ted Kord who was the previous Blue Beetle, also an inventor, strategist, CEO of Kord Industries, and had terrible taste in sweaters. Prior to that the scarab was in the possession of Dan Garret, the first Blue Beetle, granddaughter of whom, Danielle Garret, has occasionally helped the current Blue Beetle team by providing background information on the scarab and using equipment inherited from Ted Kord. You were shot with a particle beam by a member of the Kaji Da Liberation Army, an extremist group of Reach revolutionaries, and spent the last two months recovering at the STAR Labs facility in Phoenix, Arizona under the care of Dr. Chandrashakar, who never understood your music preferences. You are sitting in a shop called ‘Roots and Shoots’ in Austin, Texas drinking a white chocolate mocha with a triple shot of expresso and wearing a purple hat.
She froze. Sure, some of that information could be figured out by paying attention at the right times and places in El Paso, Jaime wasn’t exactly a master at hiding his secret identity, and a good chunk of the rest could be found by breaking into her files, which the other person had proven to be willing and able to do. But not all of the info was in the same place. They would have had to have hacked in before and had time to piece the info together into a cohesive narrative. Then there were the things that were just impossible to find out. Her hand shook slightly, a remnant of the KDLA attack, as she typed a reply.
NtheBoss dr c’s the one who told me to play music
She winced, rereading it. She’d been going for glib but had been too nervous to come up with anything better.
Oracle Music is therapeutic, especially that which is familiar to the patient. Why did you leave the facility?
NtheBoss I was done
healed cured it’s a festivus miracle!
Oracle According to your file you still had weeks of PT left. Why run away?
NtheBoss my friends and family think i’m dead why would STAR lie to them and tell me everything? i had to leave before they did something to me that I couldnt undo
Oracle You hacked their mainframe?
NtheBoss it was a saturday i was bored
Oracle If you broke out because of the lies told to your friends, why haven’t you contacted them?
NtheBoss why bother they think im dead
Oracle You’re not that cold.
NtheBoss you don’t know me
Oracle No, but I have access to your STAR labs psych file. Dr. C didn’t think you were.
They miss you
Nadia blinked and sat back. That sentence was the most obvious thing in the world, but somehow it made everything else more believable.
NtheBoss i cant
Oracle Why not?
She took a breath, if this wasn’t Oracle she could be in serious danger, and if it was there was still no reason to trust her. Oracle had helped Jaime in the past, he could be on his way here right now.
NtheBoss you no about my brother. after i ‘died’ Hector went a little nuts he stole a KDLA scarab and ran away. i need to find him. i need to tell him im okay before i go to anyone else
Oracle Your friends could help you.
NtheBoss no. Hector has a scarab whether he’s wearing it or not. I have some idea how those things think if i call in Jaime i have no guarantee he’ll be able to keep kaji da from blasting Hector to kingdom come and beyond. if i contact anyone else they’ll just pull him in and square one. Hector is safest if Blue doesnt get involved
Oracle Jaime has reined in the scarab before
NtheBoss i didn’t just read my STAR file when i hacked their system. the scarabs been rebooted nd now seems more erratic - their words
Oracle Why Austin?
NtheBoss last place Hector was seen
Oracle Getting on a plane.
NtheBoss it’s a start
Oracle Why a coffee shop?
NtheBoss free wifi
Oracle Which is a lot easier to access your computer through than a home network
NtheBoss it’s damn good coffee
NtheBoss how did you find me anyway?
Oracle When you wireless-enabled your toothbrush you didn’t give it nearly as much protection as your laptop. I used it as a back door.
NtheBoss i’ll have to work on that
Oracle You don’t have to work alone Nadia. I’ll keep your secrets, and you can ask me for help anytime.
NtheBoss thanks just keep an ear out for hector i’ll contact you next time
Oracle You mean this little bug that slipped through my system earlier? Good design but it’s been running in circles. Just save my Skype contact.
NtheBoss seriously though? Skype?
Oracle Access to the servers remember? This conversation never happened.
NtheBoss one more question
NtheBoss howd you know about my hat?
Oracle Look up
Oracle has signed off
Nadia looked around. She’d checked this place for security cameras when she’d walked in, maybe she’d missed one? No, just the motion sensor over the door, which chimed as someone hit the wheelchair access button. A pretty red-headed woman rolled through and waved at a sports car that was pulling up to the curb. Otherwise, everyone else in the shop was chatting with friends except a man reading a book and a young girl on a cell phone that not even Oracle could use to break into her computer.
Suddenly feeling exposed, she shut down her laptop and headed out to catch a bus to the airport.