Advancement: Part 3

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Back at home, I dig up a charger for the phone and plug it into the wall.  The LED comes on, which is a good sign; the phone was probably just discarded for a newer model, not chucked because it was broken.  It’s going to take it a little while to get up to a usable amount of charge, which is perfect, because it’s going to take me a little while to get this garbage stink off of me.

I peel off my mask and gloves, strip down and hop in the shower.  When I get out, the bathroom smells faintly of dumpster, and I realize the smell is coming from my clothes.  That stench is pervasive.

Throwing on a fresh shirt and pair of pants, I bundle up my other clothes to take them straight to the washer.  As I pass through the kitchen, Brian stands up.

“Hey, mind if I grab a shower?”

“Please do!  I don’t want you stinking up my kitchen.  Need to borrow some clothes, too?”

“Yeah, if you don’t mind.”

“I don’t love encouraging you to dress up as me, but it’s better than having you sit around stinking.”

“Whoa, whoa.  Which one of us was just wearing a mask of the other one?”

“Oh yeah, I forgot that I was going to give that to Regina.  Regina, you need the mask?  It’s just sitting on the bathroom counter right now,” I offer.

“Dude, I’m about to see my own skinned face sitting on your bathroom counter?  This is some alternate-universe slasher flick stuff right here.”

“Sorry, I can’t hear you past the visible stink lines rising off of you.  Go take a shower.”

“See, this is what I’m talking about.  You’re basically telling me ‘it puts the lotion on its skin’ right now,” Brian shoots back as he heads for the bathroom.

I’ve got to be up for work in a few hours, so I should go to sleep, but there’s no chance I’m doing that before I find out if this phone was worth the effort it took to get it.  It’s only at 5% charge so far, but that’s enough to get it to power on.  I turn on the phone and wait impatiently for the home screen to load.

“How’s it looking?” asks Regina.

“Good, except — ugh.  It’s locked,” I say, as the screen pops up with a grid of nine dots.

“Aren’t most people’s phones?”

“Yeah, I guess, but I was really hoping that he’d just be a slide-to-unlock kind of guy.  Busy man on the go, maybe doesn’t always have time for passwords.  Woulda been nice to get a little break, is all.”

“We did find a fully functional phone that probably belongs to the guy we’re investigating.  I think we’ve gotten a break or two,” Regina points out.

“Nah, you’re right.  Still, one more break wouldn’t’ve hurt my feelings.”  I stare at the phone in my hand for a minute, as if that will cause it to unlock.  No miracle occurs, though, so I set it down with a sigh.  “To the internet, I guess.  We’re gonna find out how hard it is to hack into a phone.”

Turns out the answer is: not very!  As long as you prepared to do it ahead of time with any of a half-dozen tools.  If you didn’t do that, though, maybe because it’s a phone you found in a dumpster, you’re sort of screwed.  It’s not too hard to do a factory-reset on it, which’ll clear out the lock screen, but as it will also clear out all of the rest of the data, that’s sort of useless for my purposes.

I’m still Googling answers when Brian returns from his shower.  “How’s the phone?” he asks.

“Locked,” I tell him.  “I’m trying to find a way to bypass it.  Can you see if it’s got an SD card slot?  I might have something here.”

“Yeah, sure,” he says, picking up the phone.  “What’s your wifi password?”

“2dozenpoorlifechoices.  That’s the number 2.  Wait, why?”  I look up, and Brian is typing something into the phone.  “Did you get the phone open?”

“Yeah, man.  People are greasy.  I just took a look at the marks on the screen and traced over the most obvious swipe pattern.  It’s left-to-right along the top row, then down the right side.”

“And that was still there after this had been in the trash for who-knows-how-long?”

“Grease doesn’t really go away unless you put some effort into cleaning it, you know?  There, it’s connected.  Let’s see if we’ve got anything good on here.”

Regina and I crowd around behind Brian as he scrolls through the app list.  He clicks on the email icon and an inbox pops up, rapidly filling with messages.

“Aha, jackpot!  We’ve got access to his email.  Now, what do you have to tell us, email?”

Unfortunately, apparently not much.  Mr. Tanger heads a large and successful business, and conducts a lot of it through email.  We start out by just paging through it, looking for anything unusual, but a few minutes of reading about meetings his secretary has set up and golf games he’s scheduled to play convince us that we need a more targeted approach.

“What’s a keyword likely to be in an incriminating email?  Kickback?” Brian asks.

“Grift,” I say.  “Or embezzlement.”

“Guys, who’s actually going to write ’embezzlement’ in an email where they’re siphoning money?” Regina asks.  “It would probably say something like ‘transferring funds’ if it said anything at all.”

“Okay, check for ‘transferring funds’ then,” I say, and Brian plugs it into the search box.  This returns a disheartening number of results, and as we start to flip through them, I realize that I don’t have any way to tell if they’re legitimate or not.  They all seem reasonable to me.

“Dead end,” says Brian after a few minutes, having gotten all the way through the results.  “What else?”

We try a few more variations on the theme — “special consideration,” “generous donation,” and “offshore,” among others — but nothing interesting surfaces.  After half an hour or so, I reluctantly have to quit for the night.

“All right, sleuths, I’m off to bed.  Tired eyes on the construction site aren’t good for anyone.  Let me know in the morning if you find anything cool.”

“You got it, man,” says Brian, typing ’embezzlement’ into the search box.  It returns no results.

“See?” says Regina.

“Well, I had to check!”

I leave the two of them to it and close myself in my room.  Despite this being the third time I’ve gone to sleep today, I’m out in no time.  Naps are good and all, but nothing beats a long, uninterrupted chunk of sleep.

Not that I have time to get that right now, as my alarm is waking me up all too soon.  It’s better than nothing, though, even if it doesn’t feel like it as I drag myself out of bed and to the kitchen.  The phone’s sitting on the table with a note next to it reading, “Wake me up. I’m still driving you to work.  Check out the email that’s up on the screen. –Regina”

Following the note’s suggestion, I open the phone.  The email reads:

Mr. Tanger,

I will be happy to arrange a demonstration at your convenience.  I’m glad that you understand the opportunities that this influence could provide a man in your position.  I will have the paperwork ready for you at the demonstration.  Obviously, you will not be required to commit to anything, but I’m certain that you’ll want to move forward with this as soon as possible once you’ve seen it in action.  It really is quite an incredible advance in the power of suggestion.


My pulse speeds up as I read the email.  This is it, then!  This is the scientist who infected me with the nanomachines, who’s been jerking me around all this time!  My first real thread to him, something solid.  My mind races as I consider what to do.

The wisest course of action is probably just to do nothing.  Letting him know that I’m onto him isn’t really a good idea.  But I’ve been at his mercy for so long that I can’t turn down the opportunity to make him sweat a little bit in return.  Besides, the email address looks like a junk one anyway, something created to serve a temporary purpose, so there’s at least a chance that he’s not checking it anymore.  So he might not get my taunt, anyway.

With this weak rationalization in place, I type the sender’s address from the letter into my phone and send off a short email from a throwaway address of my own.

Good morning, doctor

Your experiments are learning.  I’m coming for you.


I grin as I hit send.  That ought to give him a jolt in the morning.

On the way to work, Regina asks me, “So, did you see the email?”

“Yeah, I wrote him a response.”

“What?  Dan, really?”

“Yeah, it’s fine.  I sent it from a junk address, and all it says is that I’m onto him.  Nothing about me or anything to trace it to anyone.  I just wanted to yank his chain.”

Regina shakes her head, but she’s smiling.  “I hope you’re right, Dan.”

“What, like you don’t want to see the guy sweat?  Serves him right.”

“I’m not feeling bad for him!  I just hope you’re right about it not being a bad idea.”

“Ah, it’ll be fine,” I tell her.  “Dig through the phone some more today and see if you can find anything else, like where the demonstration took place or something.  We’re finally onto this guy.”

Work is its usual carefully chaotic jumble of heavy objects and moving parts, and I do my best to put all thoughts of the email out of my head and just concentrate on getting things done.  Lack of focus on the site puts people’s lives at risk, a fact which Mr. Steele regularly reminds us.  Still, I can’t help but think about what else we’ll find.  Mr. Tanger is clearly working with the nanomachinist, a willing subject.  He knows who he is and how to find him.  We can track him down and make him take the machines out of me, give me my life back.  Or maybe just set them to superstrength and invulnerability again.  I’ll be honest, that was pretty handy.

My train of thought is interrupted by Christopher yelling, “Hey, stop!  Dan, look out!”  I look up from the load I’m carrying to see one of the earthmovers bearing down on me, mere feet away and closing fast.  It’s close enough for me to see the face of the man behind the wheel, a guy named Carl that I barely know.  The look of malice on his face makes it clear that this is no accident, and as I desperately try to throw myself out of the way, he swerves to follow me.  The tires loom large in my vision as I scramble to escape.

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