Join Date: Jul 2005
Location: Las Vegas Nevada
Current Game: Dungeonseige series
Admiral Tran read the chip he had collected, rubbing his jaw. He had been ordered by the CNO to investigate the ships that had passed into pirate hands. It might have been easier if Page hadn’t died last year. His replacement Veren was a little too well connected to the Senate.
So he’d violated orders.
He was waiting for his best man to arrive. The one man he could trust to investigate thoroughly.
Out in the outer office, a thin man with unruly hair was going through his pockets as the Secretary glared at him. No one knew how Cracken had stayed in the Marines this long. He always looked unkempt, slovenly, walking the corridors of power with a perpetually stupid look on his face. After 34 years of service he was still a Captain when most his age had their third star.
Cracken reached finally into his tunic and pulled out the folder with his ID. He handed it to the secretary, who ran the chip into his scanner. It bleeped green, and he handed it back.
“Could you at least try to look presentable?” Cracken looked at the younger naval officer, already a captain, and ran his fingers through his hair, making it if anything worse than it had been. Then he pulled down his tunic, slid the folder back into the inner pocket, and walked up to the door, knocking.
Tran looked up, smiling sadly. Cracken was looking worse every year. He started to talk, but Cracken’s hand moved slowly. As he approached he kept fidgeting, looking it would seem, for something else in his pocket. He stopped at the chair, then gave it up as a bad job. He snapped to attention, and his eyes closed slowly, then snapped open again. Tran’s mouth tightened.
“I hear they are upset with you in the shipyard. “ He said gently.
“Can’t remember where to file the goldenrod copies.” Cracken said defensively.
“I can cover for you again, but you have to do better.” Tran printed out a chip. “I want you to head over to Personnel. They need a man in charge of records. Since all you have to do is put the files where they belong, you should be able to handle that.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” Cracken took the chip, holding it as if he didn’t know what to do with it.
“Put it in your ID folder. Inside your tunic.” Tran suggested. Cracken dug out the folder, slid the chip into it, turning the folder slightly so that Tran could see a glint of scarlet light. Then he put it away.
Tran sat there alone for a long time after Cracken had left. It could be worse than he had anticipated.
Captain Nial Cracken left the building, headed across the quadrangle toward the Personnel building. He saluted the senior officers he passed automatically.
Fifteen years earlier he had been a Master Sergeant, working as an assistant to a brand new Captain in intelligence assigned to the Embassy on Nal Hutta. Except for stripes instead of bars, he looked not unlike how he looked now. He had been the assistant to the Naval Attache. The captain had been sent as a replacement for a very successful agent who had died suddenly in a shuttle accident and despaired at ever being half as good. Cracken had walked him through the process, and was going to leave as the Captain tried to work out a contact schedule with the various agents he now had to handle and had muttered a name under his breath.
Cracken had taken pity on the man, and began listing each agent, the race of that agent, whether they were paid, patriots, thieves, disgruntled, all with the Captain staring at him in amazement.
Cracken had been the ace in the hole at the embassy for almost five years. A master not of disguise but obscurity. The man could wander through a room and even professionals had trouble remembering him. He had been the agent in place running the agents with a skill that made people wonder if he had done anything at all. He had been so good at his job that the Hutt Internal Security service had not even considered him a suspect. He saw everything and forgot nothing.
Cracken had a photographic memory, and had always thought that his image was the best possible disguise. Unfortunately, everyone seem to think he was the image. A misapprehension he had fostered his entire career. Everyone except for the extremely successful agent that Captain Tran had replaced, and Tran himself.
Tran had risen meteorically from that point on. He was already an excellent investigator and analyst, having Cracken working for him delivering the data had made him a man to watch.
When he’d gotten his first star he had returned home, with the bemused recently promoted second lieutenant to handle his records. Everyone had come up with reasons for why Tran had taken him under his wing. All were flat wrong.
Cracken began his act as he approached the building. He actually knew exactly where everything was. He knew exactly how much cash he had in his pocket (Ten credits 73 centimes in the front right beside his lighter) how many smokes he had left (three out of one 20 pack, one full pack. Both in the inner right breast pocket) and how many people he had seen today (421 counting the seventeen children between the ages of four and seventeen).
The quiet investigation on Corellia was to begin not by JAG or ONI, where it would have been expected, but in personnel, where one of Siriali’s old friends worked, as did another old associate of Tran‘s. It was a good thing they had.
Cracken fidgeted out his ID, and was sent down to records. He knew the system. In fact it had been upgraded thanks to suggestions he had made to Tran when Tran had been briefly assigned to Personnel after his return from Embassy duty.
He sat at his terminal, and processed the multitude of forms that fed a military bureaucracy instead of food. He was a stolid worker according to those that watched him, constantly emptying his In tray every hour.
What no one noticed, was his attempts to break into the secure system and actually read those files. He found it tough going. He was an excellent slicer, but he found he needed a miraculous one to break through the security systems.
The Wraith Cantina was a dive, pure and simple. A place you went where nobody knew your name and cared less. The pair were an odd mix. Rath Amidala was from Krieos, running fast he could catch a fatal disease. His partner Nance Page was slim, petite, and looked as if she should be selling cookies. They got their drinks, and took a table in the back. The one they wanted had a robed occupant already.
“Weird.” Nance lifted the mug, sipping. “Somebody tagged you through your own files?”
Rath nodded. He had been checking his personal files, and found message he had not put there. MEET AT WRAITH. BRING YOUR BEST FRIEND.
Amidala looked around. “I thought no one could break into those files. Not without a code key.”
“I had one.” They looked up at the robed figure that had stood from his table, and moved over to them. His accent was the hiss of a Twi-lek. “Your own from last month.”
The pair turned to look the newcomer over. “So you knew I’d notice that it was an old code?”
“You change codes the way women change their dresses.” The figure looked at Nance. “No offense.”
“None taken.” Nance replied levelly. If she had owned two dresses when she was a kid, she would have changed them. “You set the meet, have a seat.”
The man at least from the voice sat, hand holding a glass of whiskey. It disappeared into the hood, and came out empty.
“First, my proof that I know what and who you are.” He gestured with his head toward Page. “Nance Page is the name you are using now. Full name Nance Welbourne Page. Daughter of miners on an obscure little planet. The miners revolted, and were put down hard. You were a sneak thief with a gift for locks and security systems.” He waved a hand. “Don’t worry. I’ve seen what that colony was like. If you weren’t a miner or with the government, it was find a way to make money or die.
“Your parents, were not involved in the rebellion, but were killed in a firefight between government and rebels. You joined the rebels, and used your skills to help them carry out assassinations. The rebellion ended when the Company pulled out, leaving you all to die. But you survived until another Company bought up the rights. They were willing to accept everyone. That is everyone but the hit team you were part of. You’re the only survivor after the bounty hunters got through. They think you’re dead.”
He turned toward Amidala. “Rath Amidala. Full name Rathmar Forgeren Amidala, twin brother to the last King of Krieos.” The figure shrugged. “If they had not used a Cesarean section to save your lives, you might have been the senior twin and claimed the family title. Your brother seems to still think that is what you wanted. After several attempts by assassins, you left home, but now it was bounty hunters on your trail. You faked your death with the help of an organization called the White Brotherhood. An interesting name for a criminal gang. They used your skill at slicing to make them a fortune until they ran afoul of the authorities. Most of them are dead or in prison. You skated by accessing the Police database, and removing your name.” He signalled, waiting for his drink to arrive. The pair watched him like dogs awaiting an order to attack.
“Now I for one don’t care what you might have done except for one thing. Right before you got together as a team five years ago, you each did a service for the Corellian ONI. If you don’t know what the other person did, you can ask later.
“But thanks to those services, I was able to find you. There are no bounty hunters looking, and I will tell no one. In fact, if you help with what I need, even the ONI records can be scrubbed.” The glass went in, and came out empty. “Plus we give you enough cash to start over, and get you off planet.” He signalled for another shot.
“Sounds tempting.” Nance said levelly. “What’s so important that you will do all of that for us?”
He picked up the drink, told them, and it followed the others into oblivion as they stared at him in shock. He had his next drink before either found their voice.
“You’re insane!” Nance whispered. “Do you know how secure those records are?”
“Better than you do.” He replied. “You don’t need to steal them. Just fry them, and make it look like someone off planet. And it has to be done during the day when the night precautions are not in effect, which would give you a lot more to deal with. Those are requirements.”
“I’d say it’s impossible.” Rath snapped. “Seven layers of encryption alone by day.”
“As I said. No need to steal or access them. Only to fry them. That’s only two layers deep.” The drink disappeared.
“He’s right.” Nance said. “Initial access and query access.”
“Yeah. But you set a virus loose Fleet Security comes down like the hammer of the gods.”
“That’s why you need to be quick and good. Both of you are that.”
They looked at each other, then at him. “And the pay?” Amidala asked.
“As I said. All records expunged, tickets off planet, and cash.”
“How much cash?” Nance pressed.
“Name a figure.”
“Half a million Corellian credits in gems. Each. Half delivered before we do anything.” Amidala replied. “This is so big we would never want to work again. Too much chance they would catch us even with your clearing our names.”
He paused. “Done.” He reached into a pocket, and a scintillating pile of gems poured from a bag. “These are so you can verify the money. The retainer you get for listening to the proposal. The rest if and when you agree.”
Nance picked up a Coruscanti fire opal, looking at it in the light. “Not synth?”
“That is for you to verify. However if I remember correctly, the bartender has a scale. Trust it?”
Amidala snorted. The bartender of the Wraith as a Bothan. No one could convince him to use a crooked scale.
The device was brought with the next round. Nance put the gem she had picked up on the scale. It was a combination scale scintillometer, with a connection to the exchange for verifying market value. The stone hit, was scanned, weighed, and a figure came up. 500 credits. The total of all of them came to just under 15,000.
“The stones are good.” she told her partner.
“So. Yes, or no?”
“We’ll need some time-”
“Within the week.” The robed figure said. “That is non-negotiable.”
He stood, and another stone dropped on the table. “That will cover our drinks.” He set down a pad. “That will contact me only within the next two days and can‘t be traced. Give me a time.” He turned and walked away.
The day started like any other in central records. But that was about to change.
“Perfect.” Amidala said, rubbing his hands at the sight of the terminal. Nance nodded, rigging pressure mines on the door, then another in the center of the floor.
The slicer sat down, and inserted the specially made chip. It had taken three days to make it, and when it was done it would fry so there was no traceable material remaining. He cracked his knuckles, and began programming.
He hummed an atonal song that would have grated if Nance had not been with him on jobs like this before. He worked swiftly, cutting through the first layer like butter. The second was harder, but now he was in. He uploaded the virus, and activated it, shutting down.
He almost made it. As he shut down the second link the computer froze, Fleet security slicers tracking to their location. At this distance they would be here in minutes.
“Let’s get out of here!” He snapped. Nance triggered the mine in the floor, and they dropped into the empty apartment below. A series of mines took them down four floors before they stopped. They peeled off the latex they had over their clothing, and Nance dropped a pyro on top of them. They were at the lift when the fire alarms went off.
The lobby was crowded when they arrived. People were moving swiftly and quietly toward the exits. The pair had just stepped out and turned to move down the street when an assault shuttle landed, Marines in combat armor and armed to the teeth pouring out. They missed getting caught in the cordon by walking calmly down into the mag-lev subway.
The next train was headed for Centralia spaceport, and they allowed it to leave, taking the one for downtown instead. Five minutes after boarding, they climbed out in the financial district. They walked to the street, caught an air cab to a local bar, and sat down to have a couple of drinks.
“I have never seen Marines move that fast before.” Nance said, sipping her brew.
“If they had known what had happened, they might have come in with shoot on sight orders.” Amidala replied. They stayed in the bar for three drinks, then caught a cab back to the mag lev line. This time they went past their target. Marines with scanners wee checking everyone leaving or arriving.
The Admiral rubbed his forehead. “Now explain again why I almost got arrested for bad debts?”
The Paymaster Lieutenant sighed. “Sir, whoever tried to access our payroll section used a sophisticated worm program what would have transferred cash directly from everyone’s accounts-”
“Yes sir. But it’s a subtle little bug. What it does is take just the last centimes from an account. Say your pay is like mine, 400 credits, 43 centimes. This would have rounded it down to 40 centimes instead.
“But you multiply that small change by almost a million Naval and Marine personnel, and it is one large chunk of money.”
“So they failed.”
“Well, yes and no. You see the worm is based on a Coruscanti data mining worm that deletes all data it passes through. In this case, everyone’s payroll records.”
“So you just input the ranks... Why are you shaking your head, Lieutenant?”
“Sir, when they changed the payroll allotment system ten years ago, it was decided to give bonuses for time in service, time in grade, medals of honor, combat time served, etc.”
“I know that.” The Admiral had been able to put a down payment on a house thanks to that new legislation.
“But those files are not kept in payroll, sir. They are in sealed Personnel files. I can’t just pay say every Vice Admiral the same! Some would be satisfied, but you for example would take a 10% pay cut until it’s fixed.”
“Oh hell.” The headache was getting worse. “So what do you suggest?”
“We need to enter all of the data necessary manually. Any attempt to load it by pad or data dump might have segments of the same worm.
“We’re lucky at least that the best man at manually data entry was just assigned to Personnel last week. Nial Cracken.”
“Cracken. I’ve heard that name-” The Admiral snapped his fingers. “About sixty but still a Captain? I was thinking of having a promotion board meet to refuse him a star. He’s already... Again with the head shaking?”
“Sir, there’s a reason he hasn’t had that second board. You see, he started as an enlisted man. He only made Captain about five years ago. When the board met the first time, he didn’t get his star because he isn’t what you would call a political genius. More of a ‘beat on it until the problem is solved type’. So he didn’t get an assignment to Staff or Tactical Studies Group. Both needed if you want a command above a company. They decided to have a second board the next year, but the Bursar in chief sat on that one and had his name pulled. After he explained why they agreed.”
“Why?” It was pretty much a military axiom that it’s either up or out. If two promotion boards met and turned you down, you were supposed to resign.
“Sir, he has the Blood Stripe, two Naval Medals of Honor-”
“Two? You mean two mentions.” The Admiral said.
“No sir. Two distinct awards ten years apart. Both for Valor. He also has Two Parliamentary Crosses, also for valor.”
The admiral suddenly saw where this was going. “With a lifetime stipend each.”
“Yes, sir. 5% of his salary every month for life. But if he resigns or retires, that not only goes up to 10% each, but there are the promotions as well. Each of those medals had an automatic promotion of one rank upon retirement.”
“So what? We pay him a Brigadier’s...” The Admiral watched the lieutenant shake his head.
“No sir. Each medal give him one step up the ladder. We had the same argument with the Parliamentary fifteen years ago when Fleet Admiral Freido Dodonna retired. He was supposed to get a promotion for both of his medals, but there wasn’t a rank to raise it to. That is why he is paid more than the Prime Minister.”
“And this Captain...”
“Would be paid a Fleet Admiral’s salary, along with time in service bonuses plus 50% additional pay above that. He would be getting paid more than the two senior officers in the entire Navy combined. As you can see, the promotion board didn’t want to force him into retirement.
“As it is he got the first PMC eight weeks out of boot camp at the age of 20 for the Bertrand incident and racked up three of the five before he was 25. Right now he draws more pay than you do, sir.”
The Admiral glared at him. “So this Admiral except for his stars is the best why?”
“He has a slight problem speaking when he’s dealing with a computer. He stutters, mumbles, digresses, that kind of thing. He learned to use a Keyboard back when they were still standard, and can type just under 100 words a minute. Give him the Fleet list, have him go through personnel files and pull the necessary data to send to Payroll, and we can be back on track before the next pay period.”
“But that’s pretty sensitive data.” The Admiral hedged. “What 90% of fleet has their pay deposited directly?”
“Sir, he’s not smart enough to be a good thief, sir.”
Cracken tapped the annunciator on his desk. “Cracken, Personnel.”
“Captain, please hold for Admiral Wainwright.” The voice said. A moment later, he heard the Admiral. Since there was no viewscreen on his desk, Cracken allowed himself a smile.
“Have you heard about the payroll problem?”
“We need the necessary data passed to Payroll ASAP.”
Cracken counted mentally. Right before Wainwright could snarl he said, “Sir, since the officer’s data is more sensitive, I will pass off enlisted records and first 3 Officer’s ranks to my senior staff, if that is acceptable. We may be delayed by the normal requests we get, but they will handle those as well.” And you don’t give a damn about some E2 fresh caught boot getting paid when it’s you that gets arrested for failure to pay debts. He didn’t add.
“That sounds like an excellent idea.” Wainwright’s voice sounded like someone that had just seen a pet do a trick he hadn’t been taught. “By the end of the week?”
“If I start at the top and work down, I’d say ten days, sir.” Which means only Naval Captains commanders along with Marine Colonels have problems. But that doesn’t bother you either.
“Then you had best get to it.”
Cracken told his staff what they had to do, Called half a dozen different departments for loans of clerks, and had the senior officer records transferred to his terminal. He began as he had said, at the Fleet Admiral.
The payroll department needed a lot of data. Dates of entry rank combat and service commands, medals, and when they had been awarded.
What a lot of people didn’t realize was that promotion boards had to file written decisions, with signatures. Having funds directly deposited gave the discerning a record of how much money went through your banks accounts. Each page was looked at by the patient man, and set aside.
He could hear groans from the records sections outside. All they heard was the machine gun click of his keyboard.
Nance looked up as the robed figure approached. The man sat, his whiskey disappearing into the hood. “According to fleet Security, a bunch of Coruscanti immigrant kids broke into the fleet records section.” He looked at Rath. “That was pure genius.”
“Thanks.” Rath replied. “To tell you the truth, if I’d known how close we would come to getting caught, I would have jacked up the price to 1.5 split.”
“One question. Whose idea was it to ding the credit reports on the Admirals and Generals so they would end up with dunning notices?”
The pair looked at each other.
“Neither one of us really like officer-” Nance began.
“-Especially those with stars-” Rath added.
“-So it was both of us actually.” Nance finished.
The robed figure looked from face to face. Then set down a bag a little larger than his hand. “The bonus is for the most fun I have had in years.” He stood, and left.
Nance called for the scale. Silently they tested each stone
“Son of a bitch.” Nance said when they had been counted.
“Like he read my mind.” Rath said.
They had been paid a million five.