Alan Midnight, Matrix Investigator in:
The Jamison Door
Alan held perfectly still, as the three thugs readied their weapons. The leader had his small sap, but his two allies both had guns. They were waiting, at the moment, for their boss to make the first move, but Alan knew they would open fire if he went for his shotgun.
The bigger man was carrying, too, Alan could see the outline of the automatic pistol in his coat pocket. He could see a lot more than that, as well. Alan's Awareness module had already switched into Combat Mode, and its Heads Up Display was giving him a run-down of the situation. He knew exactly how much time he had to make his move, and the most likely counteraction on the part of each.
But Alan decided to let his opponents take the first move. Sure enough, the big man leaped at him, raising his club. The HUD told him it was only a feint. Ducking under the real blow, from his left arm, Alan brought his shotgun up under the man's swing, and fired a blast into one of the two gunmen. The other could not fire back without hitting his friend.
There was a cry of pain, and a wet, splattering noise. Alan didn't have time to check the damage, though, as his attacker had recovered. This time, he swung the club back for a power blow, opening such a large hole in his defense that Alan had to take it. He flipped the shotgun upward, cracking the rolled steel barrels across the man's wrist. His club sailed across the alley.
Alan moved before he could recover, grabbing the man's head, and slamming his knee into his face. In the next heartbeat, he stepped onto the big man's head, and leaped over his back, coming down on the second gunman. The startled thug managed to get off a shot, but it whizzed past Alan's side, adding yet another hole to his tattered trench coat.
There was a loud crack as Alan's shotgun smashed into the man's head, and he collapsed to the ground. Whirling, Alan fired the shot out of his second barrel, just as the head thug managed to get out his own pistol. Alan ducked a random spray of automatic fire, and then the alley went quiet.
"You doin' okay, Jack?"
The shorter man nodded, clutching his stomach, as he sat on the curb. "He knocked the wind outta me, Alan, or I'd have helped you out. . ."
"Oh, is that what the problem was. I thought you were laying in the street unconscious." Alan grinned.
From further out in the street, a gruff voice called out to the two men. "Well, well, Alan Midnight and his sidekick. I should have known." From the flashing lights of a squad of Security cars, a large, grizzled-looking man in a blue uniform approached.
"Hello, Parker," Jack growled.
"That's City Security Parker to you, Napier," the Security Admin snapped, tapping the badge on his uniform. The Setex Security Chief didn't like gang punks any more than Alan did, but he didn't like Alan much, either. Alan couldn't say that he relished the experience of being around the man himself.
"These three punks jumped me an' Jack coming out of the lab, there. I'm working on a case for Omnicom, so these three are probably with Worldcom."
"Don't tell me how to do my job, Midnight," Parker growled. "I can find out who hired these punks without your help."
"Just trying to cooperate with the law, Admin."
Parker snorted. "That'll be the day." He leaned down to examine the bodies. "You better still have a license for that antique of yours."
"Of course I do."
"And I have to clean up after it. You enjoy leaving a bloody mess behind you, don't you?"
"It keeps people off my back. Most of the time."
Parker stood up, as one of his men approached. "Here's the report, sir. Streetcams show that Mr. Midnight and his friend were jumped from the alley. The assailant acted only to defend himself, and used his weapon only after his attackers had drawn guns of their own."
"He always does," Parker said, staring at Alan. "One of these days, you're gonna slip up, Midnight. And I'm going to be right there when you do."
"Always a pleasure working with you, Admin."
Parker growled, and turned to his subordinate. "Get some body bags out here and clean up this mess. And make sure Mr. Midnight finds his way to wherever it is he's going. . ."
With that, Parker headed back to his car, and roared off down the street. The lieutenant looked like he was about to say something, but then looked at the remains of the three punks, and went about his business in silence.
Alan walked over to pick up Rachel, from where he'd dropped her before the fight. "You okay?" He asked her.
"All systems operational," Rachel's voice answered, from the deck.
"Good." Alan walked back to Jack, at the curb. "Okay, where to next?"
Jack thought for a minute. "Well, we're definitely on the right track. Those three wouldn't have jumped us if that disk weren't something important."
"Well, there was nothing to be found where it was, and where it was going to be. . . what about where it came from?"
"The recycle center, huh? You think this may have been reclaimed by accident?"
"That would explain why someone wants it back so bad. It would be possible to re-construct the previous formatting, with the proper equipment."
"I've got equipment like that, back at the Ranch."
"The boy genius, huh? All right. . . you take the disk with you, I'll check out the recycling center. Maybe I can track down where it's been." Alan slipped the disk out of his inside pocket, and pressed it into Jack's hand, keeping it hidden behind his palm the whole time.
"Rachel?" He queried.
"No eyes, no ears. The exchange was clear."
Alan nodded at Jack. "See you around."
Jack grinned. "Not if I see you first."
Alan leaned against the wall, watching from under the brim of his fedora, as the Omnicom records manager looked through his databases. "I've got several dozen shipments on the books for that day," he reported. "The one you're looking for, I think, was from Morgan Excess. . . to the Omnicom Lab on Tenth, right?"
Alan nodded. "Tenth. Right."
The fellow gestured, bringing up a new display. "Morgan delivered a set of archival disks to the Lab at 12:45, two months ago from Friday. The disks were delivered to procurement, then delivered to the offices on Tuesday. Your friend Art's disk sat in its box until last week, when he signed for a new box, and used it to process inventory the day before yesterday."
"Hm. . ." There was a short pause, and Alan leaned forward. "This is not the first access to these records."
"Oh? Can you track down the previous access?"
"No. It came in from Morgan, though. They requested a track on the shipment."
"Morgan." Alan scratched his chin, thoughtfully. "An Excess company, you say?"
"Yup." The fellow nodded. "They buy up our old disks, after they've been wiped of sensitive data, of course, and recycle them for use by other companies. Optical Storage being what it is these days, a disk can far outlast the usefulness of its data."
"Tell me about it." Alan said. "The technology's improved a lot, but the basic design of the computer disk hasn't changed in over three hundred years."
"Three and a half inches square," the man said, holding up one of his own disks to confirm the point. "Exactly the right size to fit in a pocket."
"Yeah." Alan leaned against the wall again. "You have to make sure you wipe the disk, though, before you excess it."
The man laughed. "Tell me about it. We skipped a wipe about six months back, and you'd have thought the world had come to an end. The suits were swarming all over this place for weeks afterward. . ."
Alan stood, stepping forward to get a better look at the holo. "What about the other companies Morgan does business with? Can you get a list of the other places they might have shipped disks to that day?"
"No, you'd have to go to Morgan for that. But I can tell you this. . ." He directed his attention to another portion of the display, and brought up a list of messages. Cycling through them, he selected one. He then opened up a few routing commands.
"The other request, the one that came in before you? It was also directed to a couple of other companies. Betacom, Worldcom, Cybertech, and Streelcom."
"All of which have had break-ins. . ." Alan muttered.
"Nothing. Thanks for your help."
"Hey, no problem, Midnight. Tell Jack I said hi."
Alan gathered up Rachel, then turned and walked out the door. He remained silent as he headed out of the building. Once outside of the Omnicom Recycle Center, Alan addressed his deck. "Did you get the info he brought up on his holo?"
"Of course," Rachel's quiet voice assured him. "I'm currently running down the most likely path to Morgan's three distribution sites in Setex. I assume we are going there next?"
"You got it," Alan grunted. "Our pal back there may have given us the answer. If whoever had that disk before Omnicom forgot to wipe it first, they might have a real strong interest in getting it back."
"But we found no data on the disk."
"Omnicom always re-formats their disks on arrival, as part of their processing. But a disk can be un-wiped. Our friends may still be worried that the info can be taken off of it."
"Well, hopefully Jack and Murray can do just that. I'm sure that. . ." Her voice trailed off.
"If anyone can crack whatever's on that disk, it's the boy genius," Alan agreed. He then looked down as his jacket, as a high-pitched alarm erupted from the deck.
"Alan!" Rachel sounded startled. "There's a break-in at the office!"
"What! Didn't you sense them?"
"They knocked out my sensors somehow." Her voice lowered, becoming almost like a growl. "Oh, they'll wish they hadn't done that. I'm transferring to the office."
"I'll meet you there!" Alan hailed an Autotaxi. As the automated vehicle pulled up beside him, he leaped through the door, not even waiting for the aircar to stop. He barked out the address to the AI, slamming the door even as the cab leaped away from the curb and back into traffic.
It took mere minutes to get to his office, but even as he charged down the hall to his door, Alan could tell that he was too late. The door had been kicked off of its hinges, from the inside, it looked like. He stepped up to the opening, holding his shotgun at the ready as he scanned the room, but only Rachel was there.
"I'm sorry, Alan," the holographic woman said, almost in tears, stricken by her own helplessness. "I tried to stop them, but they broke down the door. And they knew I was a holo, so they didn't even try to dodge me. . ."
"It's all right," Alan assured her. "You did the best you could."
Unconsciously, Alan found himself trying to put a hand on her shoulder. Of course, it passed right through her. She put a hand up to that spot, though, and smiled back at him. "Thanks," she said.
Alan nodded. "Okay, let's see what they got."
The room was trashed, but it was obvious that Rachel had interrupted them in the middle of their search. "I don't see anything missing," Rachel told him. "I'm pretty sure they were after the disk. I eavesdropped on them for a few minutes before I materialized."
Alan pulled at a dome-shaped device that had been placed on the back of his desk. Looking around the room, he gestured at a similar device stuck on the wall near the door. "Here's how they jammed your sensors. A Null field. You're lucky you spotted them at all."
"It was the fact that there wasn't anything there that alerted me. You're not the neatest man in the world. But their override made it look like this room was clean."
"It isn't clean now," Alan commented. Rachel nodded her agreement, looking around herself at the mess. "Well, I guess I'd better start trying to get this in order."
Rachel giggled. "You know, they might have been done and gone by the time I could get here, except for your obsession with paper records. Just as I materialized, one of the guys was saying that he'd never seen so much paper in all his life!"
Alan laughed, as well. "I bet I slowed 'em down good." He looked up at his AI companion. "Did they say anything else? Anything that might help us track them down?"
Rachel frowned, pushing her glasses up on her nose again. "Not really. I listened in as long as I felt I could. But they really didn't say that much. Just that they needed to get back."
"You think they knew you were listening in?"
"No, just well trained. 'The boss doesn't pay us to jaw,' one of them said, 'just get back with the Jamison Disk.'"
"Wait a minute." Alan stood up. "Jamison Disk?"
"Yeah. That's what he said. I've never heard the name before. Does it mean something?"
"Maybe. . ." At that moment, there were footfalls in the hall. Alan waved Rachel to silence, and then dropped down behind his desk, bringing up his shotgun.
Jack wandered into the room. "Holy. . ." he muttered, looking around the room at the mess. "What the hell happened here?"
"Long story, Jack," Alan said, standing. "I hope you've got good news."
Jack shook his head. "Murray went back five generations on that disk, and wasn't able to find anything more than account reports and inventories. No top-secret deals, no hush-hush conspiracies, nothing."
"Well, someone wants that disk. . ."
"I can see that." Jack studied the room a moment more, then waved at Rachel. "Hiya, gorgeous. I like the new look."
Rachel smiled at the complement. "Thank you."
As Alan walked over to join them, Jack reached into his pocket, and pulled out the disk. He handed it back to Alan. Alan stared at the little gray square of plastic, as if sheer willpower could force it to give up its secrets.
"What would you say if I told you that this could have something to do with Jamison?"
"Matt Jamison. As in, the Jamison Door."
"You don't think. . ."
"It's the only lead I've gotten so far. Rachel overhead one of the guys who trashed my place call it 'The Jamison Disk.'"
Jack looked worried. "That can't be. The Jamison Door is a myth."
"Can someone tell me what's going on?" Rachel looked from one of the two men to the other. "I've never heard of this Jamison, or seen any reference to a Jamison Door. What are we talking about?"
"It was long before your time, Rachel, long before the Matrix, as a matter of fact. It's not surprising that you haven't stumbled across it until now. . ."
Alan walked back over to the pile of papers next to his filing cabinets, and began to gather them up. "Matt Jamison was one of the men who worked on the first stages of the Matrix, back when it was part of an older network called the Internet. Back then, the Matrix wasn't a virtual reality net, like it is now. It was a more primitive connection between computers, mostly for text communication."
"Of course. I remember now. Matt Jamison was on the team that developed the neural interfaces to the Matrix." Rachel nodded to herself, placing a slender finger next to her lips. "He was in charge of the user interface, mapping the brain waves of human users to their electronic counterparts."
"Exactly." Jack glanced at Alan, and then picked up where his friend had left off. "There's a story. . . a legend, really. . . that grew up around Jamison. It's said that when he created the user interface to the Matrix, he created a 'back door', a special way into the system, which gave him special privileges."
"That was a common technique among programmers back then," Alan put in. "Programmatic constructs hadn't been developed back then, so everything was written from scratch, usually by one person, or at most two, working alone on a module. . ."
"Like you do. . ." Rachel finished for him, with a smile.
Alan shrugged. "I'm a throwback. Anyway, the programmer who was responsible for a user interface module or some other gateway would often give himself a special way in so he could check the system out -- or sometimes for more nefarious reasons."
". . . Which was one of the reasons the practice was outlawed for modern corporate programs," Jack added.
"The theory goes, Matt Jamison put a 'back door' into the Matrix, a secret access gateway. Anyone who can find this gateway and use it will have unbelievable power -- almost god-like power -- over the Matrix. Commerce, communication, distribution, research. . . heck, these days, everything depends on the Matrix."
"Control the Matrix. . ." Jack began.
". . . And you control the world." Rachel finished.
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