Paranoia (149 of 170)

—of —
by Joseph Finder
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Macmillan: Paranoia

Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder.
All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.


Both of us were stuffed from dinner, a little unsteady from too much wine. Actually, Alana seemed a little more toasted than me. She fell back on the creaky bed, her arms outstretched as if to embrace the whole room, the inn, the night, whatever. That was the moment for me to follow her onto the bed. But I couldn't, not yet.

"Hey, you want me to get your laptop from the car?"

She groaned. "Oh, I wish you hadn't mentioned it. You've been talking about work way too much."

"Why don't you just admit you're a workaholic, too, and be done with it?" I did my AA meeting riff: "Hi, my name is Alana, and I'm a workaholic. 'Hi, Alana!' "

She shook her head, rolled her eyes.

"The first step is always to admit you're powerless over your workaholism. Anyway, I left something in your car, so I'm going down there anyway." I held out my hand. "Keys?"

She was leaning back on the bed, looking too comfortable to move. "Mmph. Okay, sure," she said reluctantly. "Thanks." She rolled over to the edge of the bed, fished her car keys out of her purse, handed the key ring to me with a swanning, dramatic gesture. "Come back soon, huh?"

The parking area was dark and deserted by now. I looked back at the inn, about a hundred feet away, made sure our room didn't look over the parking lot. She couldn't see me.

I popped the trunk of her Miata and found her computer bag, a gray flannel-mohair-textured nylon satchel. I wasn't kidding: I had left something in here, a small knapsack. There was nothing else of particular interest in her trunk. I swung the satchel and knapsack onto my shoulder and got into her car.

I looked back toward the inn again. Nobody was coming.

Still, I kept the interior dome light off and let my eyes get used to the dark. I'd attract less attention this way.

I felt like a creep, but I had to be realistic about my situation. I really didn't have a choice. She was my best way into AURORA, and now I had to get inside. It was the only way I could save myself.

Quickly I unzipped the satchel, pulled out her laptop, and powered it on. The car's interior went blue from the computer screen. While I waited for it to boot up, I opened my knapsack and pulled out a blue plastic first aid kit.

Inside, instead of Band-Aids and such, were a few small plastic cases. Each contained a soft wax.

By the blue light I looked at the keys on her key ring. A few looked promising. Maybe one of them would open file cabinets on the AURORA project floor.

One by one, I pressed each key onto a rectangle of wax. I'd practiced this a few times with one of Meacham's guys, and I was glad I did; it took a while to get the hang of it. Now the password prompt on her screen was blinking at me.

Shit. Not everyone password-protected their laptops. Oh, well: at least this wasn't going to be a wasted errand. From the knapsack I pulled out the miniature pcProx reader that Meacham had given me and connected it to my handheld. I pressed the start button, then waved Alana's badge at it.

The little device had just captured the data on Alana's card and stored it on my handheld.

Maybe it was just as well that her laptop was password-protected. There was a limit to how much time I could spend out in the parking lot without her wondering where the hell I'd gone. Just before I shut down her computer, just for kicks, I decided to type in some of the usual-suspect passwords—her birth date, which I'd memorized; the first six digits of her employee number. Nothing happened. I typed in ALANA, and the password prompt disappeared, and a plain screen came up.

Oh, man, that was easy. I was in.

Jesus. Now what? How much time could I risk spending on this? But how could I pass the opportunity up? It might never come again.

Alana was an extremely well-organized person. Her computer was set up in a clear, logical hierarchy. One directory was labeled AURORA.

It was all here. Well, maybe not all, but it was a gold mine of technical specs on the optical chip, marketing memos, copies of e-mails she'd sent and received, meeting schedules, staff rosters with access codes, even floor plans....

There was so much that I didn't have time even to read through the file names. Her laptop had a CD drive; I had a little spindle of blank CDs in the knapsack. I grabbed one, popped it into her CD drive.

Even on a super-fast computer like Alana's, it took a good five minutes to copy all the AURORA files to a disk. That's how much there was.


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