Alan Midnight, Matrix Investigator

Alan Midnight, Matrix Investigator in:


The Jamison Door


Chapter 6

Alan leaned back in his chair, his feet propped up on his desk. Smoke drifted lazily up from a lit cigarette in his mouth. The cigarette, and the floor lamp near the desk, were the only light that could be seen in the office. Alan sat in the darkness, deep in thought.

The room brightened slightly, as Rachel appeared, in a cloud of holographic particles. The tiny motes of light whirled and coelesced, forming the AI's ghostly image. She seemed to glow, in the darkness of the room.

"You have a message, from the Boss. Untraceable, of course. Shall I play it?"

"No need. I know what it says. Jack for the disk, right?"

Rachel nodded. "He wants you to pick a location to meet. Someplace public, but no police."

Alan was silent. Rachel watched him, patiently, her hands folded in front of her hips.

"I haven't finished decoding the file you got from Morgan," she finally said. "But it looks like all of the disks came from a specific shipment. They were broken up and sent to a number of different companies. But the Underground has them all now. All but that one."

"We don't even know if we have the right disk," She added. "Maybe there's one they missed out there. Maybe they've got the right one and don't know it. Maybe. . ."

Alan shook his head. "They don't have the disk. If they did, they wouldn't have taken Jack."

The room fell silent again. The smoke continued to drift around Alan's head.

"Why do you smoke those things?" Rachel asked. "You know they don't make them any more because they were bad for people. . ."

"No." Alan took the cigarette out of his mouth, and looked at it. "They don't make 'em any more because the folks who made 'em were stupid." He held the cigarette up. "There were plenty of ways to make 'em safe. . .including the palladium I'm usin' now. . ."

He put the cigarette back in his mouth. "They traded a few years of profit for their future. If they'd spent the money, instead of hushing it up and keeping people in the dark, they'd still be around today."

Rachel grimaced. "All for the best. They're still addictive. . . otherwise you wouldn't spend so much money on hiring folks to find them. . ."

Alan shook his head. "I can't get a hold of enough of 'em for that. This pack has lasted me. . .what. . .six months? And after it's gone, it'll probably be a year before I can find another."

She shuddered. "It's a nasty habit. From a nasty time. I don't know why you're so obsessed with the past, Alan, it was never as good as people say."

"No, it's not like that." Alan sat back in his chair. "If I keep reminders of the past around, it's not because I think it was somehow better than the present. It's. . .It's just to remind myself that the lessons of the past are applicable to the future..."

There was a moment of silence. "So. . .what should I tell the Boss?"

Alan still said nothing. He leaned back a little bit, his face falling into shadow. Only the red fire of his cigarette still burned in the darkness.

"Have you ever heard of the Maltese Falcon?"

Rachel shook her head, confused. "No. Is it a hacker legend, like the Jamison Door?"

"It was a movie. Humphrey Bogart, as private detective Sam Spade. He was looking for this statue of a Falcon. It was a gold statue, covered in jewels, a fabulous treasure. . ."

"'The stuff that dreams are made of. . .'"

Alan leaned forward, and took the disk out of his pocket. "The Falcon had been painted black, to hide its true value. It looked like just a worthless lead statue, but. . ."

Alan pulled out a pocketknife, and slid the blade between the two halves of the disk. "Scrape away the outer layer of paint. . ." The disk popped in half. ". . .and you reveal the gold underneath."

Rachel came around behind Alan, to look over his shoulder. There was the disk itself, made of a transparent, crystalline material. A couple of springs, some bits of metal to make the protective door that kept the disk from being damaged. Some padding, made of a material that allowed the disk to rotate easily. And the two halves of the case.

Alan set the two square pieces of plastic side by side on the edge of the desk, under the light from the floor lamp. There was writing on them, on what had been the inside of the disk. On one half was a map, a grid of intersecting lines, marked with some reference nodes and a large "X". On the other was a single word. "Gedanken"

"The information on the disk was never what they were after." Rachel said with a grin.

Alan nodded. "They were after the case."

The massive doors of the warehouse rolled open, and the Underground goons filed into the building. Alan gestured to them to stay on their side of the warehouse, by pointing his shotgun at them. He then dropped it to his side, however, so as not to be overly threatening.

"I've brought the disk, and no police, like the Boss asked. You guys stay behind that first line of crates, and I'll stay over here, by this door. Tell the Boss all's clear."

There was a moment where the thugs talked amongst each other, and then one of them stepped outside. He returned a moment later, with the fat man in the white suit.

"An appropriate meeting place," the Boss said, indicating the warehouse. It was the warehouse where they had fought before. "We both know the layout. There are no watching eyes, but it's neutral territory. . ."

He stood, waiting, while Alan gave the warehouse another once over. His Awareness Module still detected no movement in the catwalks. "No snipers this time, Mister Boss Man?"

"No need, Mister Midnight. As you have aptly demonstrated, you are well able to deal with such tactics. I have no desire to lose another operative."

"Wise decision. Okay, first things first." Alan held up his left hand, revealing a grenade he held highly clenched in his fist. "This is a thermal grenade, with enough yield to take out this warehouse, and most of the surrounding block. . .and of course your precious disk. Anyone shoots me, we all go up."

"As I anticipated, Mister Midnight. You have prepared well."

"My shotgun," he waggled it, "is for anyone but you who sets foot on this side of the warehouse. You're out of range over there."

"Again, very well done."

"First, I want Jack out of here. You've got him only because you wanted to get me here. Well, here I am, you don't need him any more. We both want the disk, but I won't do any more dealing until I know Jack's safe."

The Boss considered it a moment, then turned and spoke to one of his flunkies. The man stepped out of the warehouse, and returned a few moments later with Jack.

"Very well, Mr. Midnight. I will release your friend. But first I must see that you have the disk."

Alan put his shotgun down on a crate next to him, where Rachel was already sitting. He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out the disk.

"You'll be able to verify that it's the right disk soon enough. Right now I want Jack out of here."

The Boss spoke to his henchmen some more. "You realize you will not be allowed to leave this warehouse alive with that disk?"

"I'm aware of that. I want to see your disk as much as you want to see mine. Even trade, disk for disk. But Jack's safety is my first priority. As long as you're holding him, no deals."

The Boss nodded. "Agreed". He gestured to his man, who let Jack go. Jack walked slowly over to Alan's side of the warehouse. Alan looked him over as he approached. He looked a little bruised, but not too badly.

"They rough ya over, Jack?"

"A little," Jack said, "until they realized that I didn't know anything. They went easy on me once they found out that you never tell anybody anything when you're on a case. . ."

"There's a cab waiting for you outside. Get in it and get out of here."

Jack nodded. "Good luck, man." He walked past Alan, to the door in the back of the warehouse, and disappeared outside.

Alan watched him leave, then turned back to the Boss. "See that crate over there?" There was one crate near the thugs, just in front of the first line of crates on their side of the warehouse. Alan had moved it there, just as he had moved his crate over nearer to him.

"I'm going to walk over there and put my disk down on the crate over there. Your men can look at it, and verify that it's the right one. At the same time, you will walk over here, and put your disk down next to Rachel." He patted the cyberdeck.

"Once we've both been assured that there haven't been any tricks, we will both walk back over to our respective sides of the warehouse. You'll give me time to walk out this door, and from there on, it's all up to you."

"Admirable, Mr. Midnight. Admirable."

Alan picked up his shotgun, keeping it pointed at the ground. The Boss stepped forward. "All right then," Alan said. "Let's do it."

Alan and the Boss started towards each other. The Boss smiled as he passed, clearly sizing the lanky detective up. Alan didn't let him get close enough to let him test if he could take him an a hand to hand tussle, but still watched him carefully, just in case. As they passed each other, Alan turned his attention back to the thugs, making sure they saw his shotgun.

He kept eye contact with the men, watching for any movement, as he approached the crate. None of them moved. Carefully, slowly, he set the shotgun down, then just as carefully reached into his pocket and brought out the disk. His module shot him a few warnings, but Alan glared pointedly at each of the men, and they wisely decided not to make their move.

Alan put the disk down on the crate and picked up his shotgun. He stepped back. "Alright. One of you can come up here and check the disk."

A thug stepped forward, with some sort of device. Moving as carefully as Alan had, he waved the device over the disk. It bleeped at him, and he called out, "The disk checks out, Boss!"

On the other side of the warehouse, Rachel's voice answered him. "Their disk checks out, too."

Alan backed away from the thugs, keeping his shotgun lowered, but at the ready. He turned back to the Boss as he neared, watching him just as carefully as the first time they had passed. But just as their paths crossed in the center of the rows of crates, the Boss stopped.

"You've impressed me, Mr. Midnight. I could use an operative like you."

"I'm not for sale. I don't work for nobody unless I want to work for 'em."

"Fair enough. Still, you've come out of this with your skin intact. That's a great achievement."

His expression turned serious. "If you want to keep that skin intact, stay out of my way. Only one person can claim the power of the Jamison Door. If you get in my way, I will kill you."

"We'll see."

Alan turned and headed back to his side of the warehouse. At the crate, he took a moment to glance at the disk. It had been already been split apart, and Alan picked up one half and looked at it. A fine pattern of lines, a moire pattern of different lengths and widths, was marked on it. Properly decoded, it would form Jamison's brainprint.

On the other half of the disk, however, was what he was really looking for, the Protocol Address. It was a sequence of eight numbers; "That's what I thought," Alan muttered.

He grabbed the disk, and Rachel's deck, tucking the shotgun under his arm as he gathered up his stuff. He hurried to the door and outside into the sunlight, where an Autotaxi was waiting for him. He ran up to it, opened the door, and sat down inside.

"You got it?" he asked Parker, who was sitting in the seat next to him.

The Security Admin nodded. "The moment Rachel scanned the disk, we put up a firewall around the domain. It'll take the Boss a few minutes to break through it."

Alan put the pin back in the tear gas grenade and handed it to Parker. "Thanks for the loan."

"Came in handy, huh?"

"I told them it was a thermal grenade."

"Ah. If it makes you feel any better, if they'd shot you, I'd have gone in there and arrested them all."

"And you'd have cried at my funeral, right?"

"I wouldn't go that far. . ."

Parker leaned forward, to speak to the driver. "Headquarters. And step on it."

"Hold on." Alan put a hand on the seat next to the officer, to stop him, then turned back to Parker. "No offense, but this is my battle. And I'd rather fight him from home, with my own defenses."

Parker seemed to hesitate, but then nodded. "If we go in there, he might run. We might lose him. And he might go after the Door again later, when we're not as well prepared."

"I don't like it, though. One agent, against the entire Underground? Even the ASA doesn't send their agents into battle alone."

"I've got Rache. And besides. . ."

Alan turned the butt end of his shotgun to face him, and turned the end of the stock. It opened, revealing a secret compartment. Alan reached inside, pulling out a computer disk.

"So that's why they never found the disk on you. . ."

"You ain't gonna use that info against me some day, are you Admin?"

"Depends on if I wanna know if you're hidin' something."

"I'm always hidin' something from you, Admin." He handed the disk to Parker. "If I fail, this disk contains a program that will stop the Boss. It will tell you what to do."

Parker looked at it, then stuck the disk in his pocket. "Good luck," he said.

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