tagNon-EroticConspiracy Theory Pt. 03

Conspiracy Theory Pt. 03

byStarscream_UK©

Number 96



Monday, 11:13 am

The Home Office

"What have you been up to, Lucas?" Claire Miller was Director of Communications. Her dress and attire were everything Lucas expected of someone in her position. Grey, formal and boringly predictable.

"What do you mean?" Claire was capable but from a redbrick university. Southampton or Bristol, or somewhere of that ilk. Hardly 'one of us', he thought. Lucas was staggered at the lack of originality in her thought processes during her time in office – all those pieces of information passing through her hands each day…and not one attempt to utilise it for personal gain. What a waste!

"We have a Freedom of Information request through about that oddball computer committee of yours from that ghastly 'The Voice' rag,"

"Really. I have no idea what they are after." Lucas was almost absent minded in the dismissal of her statement as he turned around in his chair to have his back to her.

"You're sure of that? I'd hate to have something blow up. And so would the minister," she added.

'It's just boring computer systems, honestly Claire.' He turned back, with a razor-blade smile on his face. "Besides, you worry too much about what he thinks, after all he's only a Minister."

"Oh well, I'll just send them the sanitized minutes and attendance lists. That should bore whoever it is to tears. Someone called Hemmings." Claire said before she turned and left.

Bryant House, The Phoenix Industrial Estate

2:13 pm

Andy Dawson's handshake was surprisingly strong for an IT engineer, Ed Simmons thought as he was greeted at the large glass double doors of the Department for Work and Pensions building.

"I'm Andy," Andy said as they shook hands. "The guy who left the message on Sally's telephone."

"Thanks for agreeing to see me." Simmons answered as one of the security guards handed him a temporary identification badge. He clipped it to the breast pocket of his jacket as Andy escorted him inside the building. "You said in your message that you thought you had some sort of security situation?"

"Yeah," Andy said. "But we'll talk about it once we're in the office." He led the policeman through the office and to what looked like some sort of basement storeroom. However, once he was inside he could see why something like his became almost innocuous within the confines of such a location. "I have to admit that Sally's death came completely out of the blue."

"It usually does." Simmons answered as he looked at banks of monitors and printers seemed to be in constant operation. On one side of the room were engineers working on servers and answering what sounded like a never-ending series of ringing telephones. It's the helpdesk from hell, Simmons noted to himself.

"Come on, my office is at the far end." Andy made his way past the automated switchboard system and held open another door for Simmons. Once inside, and the door closed, the cacophony of noise from the main room reduced to a mere hum. "Okay Detective Simmons, can I get you a drink?"

"No, I'm fine thanks," He was anxious to get to the point. "So, what was this thing you found?"

"I didn't find it," Andy said as he handed Simmons piles of paper with data strewn across them. "One of the security analysts did – someone has been accessing our computer system and creating bogus records, then making benefit payments out to them."

"Okay," Simmons said as he stared at the piece of paper in front of him. "I…I don't understand any of this."

"Don't worry – look at the piece of paper on the left," Simmons did as he said. "You can see it itemizes the benefit payments by name, household and amount then tags that entry with the identification marker for the computer system that generated it."

"Okay – I've got that," Simmons said, following Andy's instructions. "So, this three letter code means…"

"ISL means the Income Support system generated the payment, JCS refers to Job Centre Plus, IBS is the Incapacity Benefit system, CSA is Child Maintenance, RPL is the SERPS Pensions system, PPS is the Passport Production System, you follow?" Andy asked. Simmons nodded. "Okay, look at the piece of paper on your right."

"There's another code…" Simmons said after several moments of gazing at the data on the sheet of paper.

"Exactly – UNK means unknown." Andy leaned back in his chair. "We've found nearly fifty entries like this in the last two weeks, but the problem is that our system only checks around two percent of all the new entries to the system. The could be hundreds of these sorts of entries dotted around."

"Unknown? How can it be unknown?" Simmons asked. Andy shrugged his shoulders and his chair creaked.

"No idea – there are only seven systems that generate these things – this isn't one our database recognized." Andy paused for a minute to allow Simmons to understand its implication. "Somehow, someone got into our system and generated these false identities and made these payments."

"External hackers maybe?" Simmons asked. Andy shook his head.

"I wish it was that simple," Andy said. "Whoever did this did it from within the internal mainframe system – the firewalls were intact when we examined them. It's like something just opened a back door, stepped into our software and helped itself to whatever it wanted," He leaned back a little farther, prompting more creaking. "And we haven't got a clue who or what did it."

Tuesday, 12:22 am

The funeral of Donald Close had been a sombre affair. Even though he knew that he would have been ejected unceremoniously if discovered, Dan Crossman had taken the risk and managed to get within zoom lens distance of the ceremony. Even at range the photographs were clear – which helped to create some sort of framework on which to hang his rapidly unravelling work to. The data Amy and he had gathered seemed to be swimming around his head without any structure to it.

So far, three members of the same departmental committee had turned up dead. As he sifted through the pictures he'd been able to identify three people there not connected to Close's family that were of interest to him and his investigation; the first was Anita Rodriguez – the prospective parliamentary candidate that he had interviewed nearly a week ago. She seemed to be in conversation with the second, who was a man in his early forties – from the descriptions others had given to him, Dan reasoned that it was probably Darren Priest, who so far had evaded numerous requests to be interviewed by Dan.

The third man appeared to be in his early sixties and stood with a much younger woman in close attendance to him. Initially Dan had written her off as some sort of trophy wife, however her behaviour throughout the burial had been distinctly odd. She had been constantly observing the others at the affair, almost as if she was sizing them up. That's what had convinced Dan that this man – with his long grey coat and umbrella to protect him from the rain – was probably Sir Lucas Denby.

Once the final photograph had been taken, Dan retreated back to his car, confident that he hadn't been observed. He tucked the photos back into the brown envelope they had been stored in, along with a hard copy of all his notes on the matter. He lifted the cup of coffee to his lips and looked at his watch – it was after midnight. He shook his head after he'd finished his drink.

"I need to get home," he said to himself as he scooped up the piles of notes that Amy and he had made. "Get some sleep."

****



Edward Simmons found himself sitting in a car park in the dead of the night, shaking his head. How on earth he'd thought this was a good idea was beyond him now. He should have arranged to meet his contact somewhere less inhuman than a multi-storey car park. Just as his thoughts turned to the prospect of being stood up a car pulled into the space across from him. Even in the dim hue of the artificial lighting he could see the occupant well enough to recognise him.

It was Gideon Pryke.

Simmons got out of his car and walked over to the passenger side of the other vehicle – a dark green saloon car. He opened the door and got in. The interior was warm.

"Evening Ed." Pryke said.

"Ditto Gideon," Simmons answered as Pryke put the car into gear and pulled away. "Good of you to see me at short notice."

"No problem mate, let's go get a drink and talk."

"A drink? At this time of the night on a weekday?" Simmons asked. Pryke chuckled.

"Don't worry – I know somewhere we can go."

****



At the same time, Dan Crossman was struggling to get the key into the lock in his house. Eventually juggling the key in the lock he succeeded – to find his domestic residence in disarray. The house had been turned upside down, yet there was one thing he was certain that whoever had been here had been searching for above all else – the notes he had made concerning his investigation. After trying to organise things he found himself struggling to make much of an impact. Somewhere, towards the rear of the living room, he could hear his telephone ringing. It continued to do so as he pulled various items of furniture out of his path.

"Hello." He said as he answered it.

"Dan, it's Amy…"

"You too?" he asked, assuming the worse.

"Yeah – my place has been totalled – I've been trying to get hold of you." She replied. "Did they get your notes?"

"No – I had them with me at the office," he said as he stood a chair up to sit down on. "What about you?"

"I've got my laptop with me – I'd gone to my brother's for dinner and got back just after midnight." There was an uncomfortable silence over the line. "So, what do we do now?"

"Meet me back at the Voice in about half an hour – we'll figure out what our next step is together."

****



The bar was almost unnoticeable in the dark alley. Gideon led the way, with Simmons trailing behind him. Even in the company of the other man, the detective felt uncomfortable. Gideon opened the door for him and Simmons took a step inside. The interior was equally dim – all booths and shadows. Gideon overtook him and made straight for the bar. He pointed to an empty booth, directing Simmons to it. As the detective sat down Gideon joined him with two glasses of whiskey.

"So what do you know?" Gideon asked him. Simmons took a swig from the glass.

"I've got three dead senior civil servants who were all members of a software committee on my patch, another one in the next door neighbour's area and a dead member of MI5 in a burned out shell of a car who was assigned as a PPO to a Home Office mandarin also on said committee," Simmons said. "All within a week."

"It's a good job I live in the country then these days," Gideon joked. "City life is just too dangerous – must be the Hoodies." Simmons couldn't stop the smile creeping across his face.

"I'd forgotten how much of a smart arse you can be Pryke," Simmons countered. "Tell me this is all a coincidence."

"Sorry mate," Gideon answered. "All I can say is that they're probably connected to something I've been keeping a casual eye on."

"What?" Simmons asked. Gideon shook his head.

"Can't say – classified." He replied. A look of frustration swept across Simmons' face. "Look, if I could tell you I would – you know that – but I can't."

"Yeah, I know that Pryke," Simmons answered as he took another swipe at his drink.

"If I find out anything you can use I'll let you know," Gideon offered. As Simmons nodded, he noticed a distinctive looking oriental woman enter the bar and make eye contact with Gideon.

"Hey, looks like you've got company," Simmons said. "And I'd better get home – the wife will be wondering where I am."

"Okay Ed," Gideon stood and shook his hand. "I'll be in touch." As Simmons left the table, Yuriko sat in the spot he had been in. "Anything?"

"No, nothing at either one." She answered. "I made it look like someone had broken in, but once they talk to each other…"

"Yeah, but it was worth the risk," Gideon said. "So I guess we go for the office then tomorrow night?"

"That would seem the logical place for them to keep their information."

Gideon smiled at her choice of words. "You sound just like Spock when you say that."

Yuriko looked puzzled.

"Spock?'

The Offices of The Voice

Wednesday a.m

"What the fuck is going on?" Amy almost shouted at Dan as he entered the office. "Who is breaking into my bloody flat and ransacking the place? And you're fucking late! You said thirty minutes, it's nearly an hour."

"Amy, just calm down…"

"Don't tell me to calm down – whatever this is," she indicated to the paperwork stored in his briefcase and the laptop on her desk, "it's getting people riled up."

"That's a good sign," Dan answered. "It means we're actually on to something."

"Fuck you!" venomous words fired at him. "You might like all this sort of shit, but it's scaring me. Nothing is this important." Amy pulled her arms across her body and started to shake. Dan cleared the couple of feet between them in a few seconds and wrapped his arms around her.

"Come on, there's no need to get upset, just take a deep breath for a second," her shaking was beginning to evolve into sobbing. "Okay, you're in no state to do anything right now so we'll get you to a hotel somewhere for the night."

****



By the time the morning sunlight filtered through the curtains in the double room in the inconspicuous bed and breakfast, Dan had trawled through all of Amy's research while she slept. That was the deal they had struck, Amy would sleep while Dan stayed awake, watching over her.

"What time is it?" Amy's voice was groggy. Dan looked across at her in the bed.

"Just after eight," he answered. "Tea or coffee?"

"Coffee." The answer was blunt. Dan got up and switched on the kettle. Amy sat up in bed and rubbed her eyes. "Sorry about last night, I just sort of freaked out."

"Its okay – you have a point you know," he answered as he tore open a sachet and dumped it into a cheap looking mug. "If you want to pull out of this…"

"What?" Amy asked. "No, we started this together and I want to see it through to the end." She sat up in bed and reached for the drink that Dan handed to her. "Have you read through the files?"

"Yeah," Dan replied as he sat down on the bed next to her. He looked through some notes he'd made while scouring the files on the laptop. "Impressive stuff – no luck with that mystery chap I snapped at the coffee shop the other day?" Amy shook her head. "What's this about a burned out car?"

"It was found the same day Doctor Close died, about three miles from his house," Amy said. She paused to swallow some of the drink Dan had made her. "The car was one of a batch purchased by the Home Office as part of their car pool about eighteen months ago."

"How did you find that out?"

"Serial number of the engine," Amy answered. "Its all part of the police report on the internet, then I cross referenced that against the information held in the DVLA Database by pretending I was ringing up to report the vehicle as a write off."

"Smart!" Dan seemed impressed. "How the hell did you come up with that?"

"Just a hunch, but it's a bit too much of a coincidence don't you think?" Amy replied. "Who do you think knocked over our homes last night?"

"Not sure," Dan said. "But I've got a couple of thoughts on that – including our Japanese friend at dinner the other night."

"Seriously?"

"Yeah – she asked me to tell her if I came across anything connected to a software package she believes was stolen from her company a few years ago," Dan said. "It's all tied into that software committee Amy. The thing is I just don't understand how yet."

The Home Office

Denby looked at the flat screen computer terminal that was sitting in front of him. Many of his colleagues and counterparts had scoffed at him for taking an interest in the new technologies of the day, but he had seen the way the winds of change were blowing.

Months of intensive learning to get his knowledge up to a reasonable level had enabled him to leap frog many men younger than himself and maintain an edge over his departmental rivals. If you asked any of them the difference between Java and C++ they'd think you were discussing brands of coffee.

He allowed himself a small smile as the screen winked to life. The display was slightly distorted as the faint sound of a hard drive could be heard spinning up. Once it was operational he logged onto it using his private identification details – and found that the little test he had conducted had been more successful than he'd initially hoped. Denby paused for a moment as he typed in an activation code in one particular field of the screen.

"Voice recognition software activated." The voice was almost musical in its tone, the sweetness of its feminine tones dancing around Denby's head.

"Lucas Denby." He spoke clearly and slowly – Simpson and his team told him that there could be a few problems with this level of complexity at this relatively early stage. It had taken them nearly five years to figure out Hamilton's coding and convert it into something they could use.

"Voice recognition complete." The voice hummed. "Good morning Sir Lucas."

"Good morning Oracle," Denby answered. "Please state the progress of the program Back Door."

"Program Back Door complete." Oracle replied. "Funds totalling twelve thousand, six hundred and forty four pounds recalled on behalf of benefit claimants and paid into bank account details specified. Periodic weekly payments to be made until new benefit accounts are suspended."

"Excellent," Denby said. "Confirm named account details."

"Sole account name Rachel Mitchell, account opened via electronic banking as per your request." Oracle confirmed. Denby nodded, pleased with his work to provide himself with some sort of back up plan should Mitchell become compromised. After this much mayhem there was always the chance she might become an embarrassment.

"Thank you Oracle," Denby said. "That will be all."

"Sir Lucas," the machine spoke. "Where is William Hamilton?" This infuriated Denby; I thought Simpson had resolved this glitch.

"That will be all for today Oracle." Denby repeated sternly. "Shut down." The screen hesitated for a moment then flickered into darkness.

He'd wanted to check on the progress of the other project he'd initiated. Superficially, it was a search for research being done on AI's by other parties, although it was really a mechanism to assess the level of the competition. As it was it had already come up with a Japanese company using a programme obviously related to Oracle. Someone must have been busy before Rachel solved the leakage problem. But for now he needed Oracle not diverting its efforts to locate Hamilton more than a progress report.

Denby picked up the telephone and dialled a number from memory. His software team would have to get back to work.

****



Thursday 9.11am

Her mobile rang – much to her dismay as she lay in the large comfortable bed cocooned in her slumber. As her mind registered the dull ring tone, Rachel pulled herself out of bed, glancing over at the alarm clock. It was just after nine in the morning.

"Rachel my dear. My contact at MI5 says we may have a problem. They are very pleased with the way you plugged the leak, and disposed of that busybody Close, but someone is investigating. Do you think you'd be up to some further housekeeping?" Denby spoke softly, like her father had done when she was a child in her bed at night, before he had left her and her mother to struggle on through single parenthood.

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