Dark Siren: Part 5

Dark Siren CoverIt’s time for the final part of the Dark Siren serialisation. This takes the story up to the Chapter 10. Don’t forget you can see Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, Part 4 here.  If you like what you read, please do support an up and coming author and buy the full book as a PDF here for only US $7.95. Payments are accepted via PayPal or credit card.

A big thanks to Clifford Wycliffe for letting us run this serialisation. It’s a novel deserving of success and I have no doubt that’s just what it’ll achieve.

Chapter 9

Nez took of his jacket and hung it around the back of his chair. Learning to play Avataria like an old hand felt like a daunting task, and it was. One redeeming factor was that thousands of new residents were joining Avataria every week, so provided he could master the basics he shouldn’t stand out too much from the crowd. On the other hand, his aim of joining the AvPost as a freelancer wouldn’t succeed if he failed to persuade the Editor that he had a good working knowledge of the place and some new angles on stories about the citizens. He was also acutely aware that if he posed as a journalist he would have to write and converse lucidly. Then again, he could always say he’d worked for Hello! magazine.

Lauren’s first outing seemed to be going well. Once Nez had mastered the use of the page up and down keys to propel her around, he began to relax and enjoy himself. The first thing he noticed was that there didn’t seem to be too many other avatars around, although what few there were certainly reacted positively to Lauren’s seductive sashay. On Nathan’s advice he visited a few clubs, although these too appeared to be mostly empty as it was too early in the day for serious business both in the U.S. and Europe. Hardcore clubbers rarely surfaced before 11pm.

After several hours had elapsed and Nathan hadn’t returned, he ambled down the corridor in search of something to eat. Just off the Nursery he found what he was looking for, although it resembled a small boutique café rather than the institutional canteens he was used to.  The young man behind the counter was just shutting up for the day, and cheerfully offered Nez what food was left: sushi, zucchini, tofu, brown rice and a black bean salad, all washed down with organic orange juice or herbal tea. Nez grimaced, but took the free food over to a corner table where he’d spied a copy of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Lunch over, on his way back to the room where he and Nathan had been working he was met by Bremer.

“Frank, there you are. I came down to see how you were getting on. I’ve got everything that you asked for.”

The two men carried on to Bremer’s office, where some more coffee was ordered and the door securely closed. Bremer settled back in his chair.

“This is one aspect of my job that I really hate. No disrespect to you Frank, but the thought of all this information on our own citizens being mined by the agencies gives me the creeps. Sure, our country must be protected, but do we have to totally undermine our civil liberties in the process? Your case has merit, but some of the requests I get here are glorified fishing trips. Anyway, lecture over. Here it is.”

Bremer passed over a CD to Nez and continued, referring again to his notebook.

“You realise that we don’t ask for street addresses, so the only real way you can get an accurate fix on those names is by tracing their credit cards. IP Addresses are useful, but aren’t really enough by themselves, and in any case some of the griefing fraternity use anonymisers.”

Nez interrupted: “I understand how anonymisers hide the IP addresses, but what in God’s name is a griefer?”

Bremer laughed. “I can tell you don’t play computer games on the net. A griefer is usually a player who doesn’t stick to the rules and gets pleasure from messing up things for everyone else. Don’t you remember the Avataria property developer and the flying penis affair? That was in all the papers.”

Nez shook his head. “Don’t tell me, I don’t want to know.”

Bremer continued: “OK… as I was saying… on the CD you’ll find detailed chat logs, but don’t get too excited – we only keep these for two weeks so they may be of limited use. You’ll also find printouts of their public profiles which you may have already, plus the date when they first logged on.”

“First of all – Ariana McDowell, the Avataria alias of your villain Kyrylo. A big let-down. As you thought, he disabled the chat logs so there’s no information there, and the email address amcdowell@hotmail.com is, well, just a Hotmail address. He gave his real name as Ann Doe, and the only thing we can say with certainty is that she befriended Carmen Verne on November 7th last year and Menuti a few days later. She did seem to be into BDSM though. There’s a bondage group called Hellfire Inc. to which she, Menuti, and interestingly, the AvPost Features Editor Roxy Ryder belong. But all the activity on Ariana’s account stopped on the day of the Sydney raid you mentioned.”

“Second – the boys Ginger Stallion and Blow Dailey. As you correctly inferred from their profiles they’re in-world male escorts, and judging from their email addresses are students at UCLA in real life. The groups they’ve listed in their profiles give an indication of where they usually hang out: gay bars and BDSM parlours. On the positive side their credit card numbers are on file.”

“Now. Our friend Mr. Menuti has an email address at Yahoo, which is a little odd when you consider he’s supposed to be an executive. Joined in 2005, no credit card information at all, and when he logs in he rarely strays beyond the AvPost offices and a skybox in a residential sim called The Garden of Lust. He’s an advertising manager, but he never seems to visit potential clients. I have to say this is unusual behaviour, especially with rusted on business types.”

“The fourth name – Carmen Verne, the Editor of the AvPost – has been doing the job for two years, and she’s been a resident for as long as Menuti. No mystery about her real life name – Melissa Thurmann – she’s got credit card info on file and there’s even a real picture of her in her profile. I’d say she’s kosher.”

“What about her colleague, Roxy Ryder?”

Bremer glanced down at his notebook. “She’s been in Avataria for over two years, and spends all she earns at the Post on clothes. According to the info on file, she’s Roberta Harding with an email address at a community college in Houston, Texas.”

“Now we get to the interesting bit. I’ve been doing a little detective work here.”

Nez leaned forward in his chair in anticipation.

“There is another name – Joss Guest – which appears in the friends lists of both Ginger Stallion and Blow Daley. Nothing unusual, you might say. Could just be a regular client/friend/relative – whatever. Well, it could, but not with a real owner called Jack Gallagher.” He paused for effect.

“Senator Jack Gallagher, you mean?” said Nez, trying to sound unconcerned and neutral.

“Yeah. And how do I know it’s Gallagher the Democratic Senator and not any old itinerant Irishman?”

“Tell me.”

“Because three months ago, Senator Jack Gallagher became the first major league politician to set up his campaign office in Avataria. You must have read about it in the press.”

“Yes, I did.”

“Now he was given dispensation to use his own name to log into Avataria with – a $1000 privilege he paid for with a credit card. He certainly didn’t use the name Joss Guest, and he filled out the application form online like anyone else. So when I saw that name I went back through the records and checked. Not only are the credit card numbers the same, but so are the email addresses: jackgallagher@globelink.com.”

Nez digested this information silently, instantly aware of the implications and repercussions that could ensue if it became public knowledge. Bremer however was ahead of him.

“I know, I know. You don’t have to say anything. My lips are sealed. You and I are the only people who know about this so far. Of course I can’t vouch for our criminal friends.”

Nez let out a long low whistle. “Boy oh boy,” he said finally, “if this is going the way I think it is, the whole lid could be blown off the race for the Democratic nomination.”

“Absolutely. Not to mention the whole electoral process. Unless there’s an innocent explanation. I suppose that’s always possible.”

“Possible, but not very probable. If Gallagher happens to be some kindly old relative of Blow Daley’s mom, why wouldn’t he pick up the phone rather than communicate in that convoluted way? It wouldn’t make sense.”

“No. Perhaps not.” Bremer had placed the tips of his hands together and was staring out of the window, lips pursed.

“So is that it?” Nez suddenly became businesslike.

“Uh… Yes, I think so. I’ve recorded all the IP addresses of the computers used by those names, also a list of credit card numbers – they’re on the CD – and backdated the entry into Avataria that shows up on your profile. That will help when you talk to Carmen and make sure you’re taken seriously. Newbies have no status at all.”

“Martin… I really appreciate your help on this. May I call you if I have any more questions?”

“Of course. And I wish you the best of luck. Here, let me show you out.

Chapter 10

San Jose, CA.  26 January 2008 : 6.05am PST

It was still dark when the phone rang the next morning. Nez had just fallen into a deep sleep, having spent most of the night tossing and turning, unable to stop thinking about Gallagher and Kyrylo and the avatar they apparently shared. His hand groped blindly for where the phone should be. It was Everett on the line, and judging from the number in the LED window on the handset he was still at home.

“Frank?” the tone of voice was sharp.

“Cameron? What the fuck do you want? It’s six o’clock on a Saturday morning for Chrissake!”

Everett ignored the outburst.

“Things have moved on since we last spoke. There is now a joint operation in force between the FBI and the AHTCC – that new hi-tech crime agency downunder. So I want you to pack your bags, get down to the office as soon as you can and file a report on everything that Bremer told you yesterday. You’re booked on a flight to Canberra tonight.”

“Canberra? Canberra Australia, you mean? Why me? Why Australia? From what Bremer told me the action’s all at home,” said Nez bad-temperedly, now completely wide-awake.

“Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but the Feds want Kyrylo ASAP and the Aussies have already screwed up. They want you there on the ground to help catch him.”

“Have you cleared this with Rod Finlay?

“Frank… it was Finlay who wanted you to go. We both agree your skills will come in useful.”

“Kyrylo’s Avataria communications weren’t coded.”

“Don’t argue with me Frank…”

“I’m sure the Aussies have analysts and internet specialists too, you know.”

“That’s not the point. Do I have to spell it out for you? With your background and inside access to Avataria management… “

“All right Cameron. Keep your shirt on. I’ll discuss this with you later.”

Nez replaced the phone and mouthed a silent ‘Goddamn’ at the wall. He swung his legs out of bed and headed for the bathroom and the shower. What game was Everett playing now? From the sound of them, Simon Austin and his team were more than capable of bringing Kyrylo in on their own. Maybe Finlay knew more than he was telling Everett. His thoughts turned to Gallagher. Should he mention Bremer’s detective work in his report? On balance, no – let Everett sweat a little longer. If he didn’t know about Gallagher already, another few days wouldn’t hurt.

He quickly dried himself and shaved, then went back into the bedroom to dress. What was the climate like in Canberra this time of year? Hell, he didn’t even know what season it was – the southern hemisphere summer? Jeez – why did every conversation he had with Everett put him in such a bad mood? He wrenched a case from a shelf in the closet and irritably packed it with his passport, clean summer clothes, shaving gear and a few toiletries from the bathroom. He was just about to go down to the kitchen when he had second thoughts.  Dropping the case at the top of the stairs, he instead went across to the spare bedroom that he kept as an office to carry out his ritual morning prayer to the White Dawn.

Ten minutes later he retrieved the case and carried on downstairs to the kitchen, feeling in a much more positive mood. The American way of solving problems through argument and analytical process had its advantages, he knew, but somehow he’d always fared better with k’é, the Navajo spirit of peace and harmony, gone for the most part these days. The calming effect of those ancient rites his father had passed on to him never failed to surprise, even though in all other respects he had completely given up any semblance of living the traditional lifestyle. He stirred a teaspoon of instant coffee into a cup of boiling water and cursed when the fridge failed to yield any drinkable milk. He lit up his first cigarette of the day and thought about what he had to do and whom he had to notify before leaving for Australia. Too early to phone Alex and Julia, he’d do that later from the office. So apart from them, the depressing answers were 1) nothing much, and 2) nobody.

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