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American Beijing Hotel

Beijing, China

Wednesday, January 20th, 2018, 10:00 am



      The team walked to Aaron and Sarah’s hotel room after they finished breakfast.  Jared’s limp from the jump at Peng’s house was gone.  It turned out to be nothing more than a painful experience.  Aaron hated how upset Sarah had gotten at them when she heard the story.  His mind kept replaying her words like a song, which despite its bad lyrics you cannot get out of your head, “You waited all that time just to be caught!” 

      They each had a computer to work on.  Each of the computers had a hacked satellite connection to the internet.  They were also wirelessly connected to each other.  Once the software and cameras had been installed in both generals’ houses, the team spent most of their time spying from their four computers.  The audio and video transmissions were also received from satellites. 

      “So, how much space did you liberate?”  Jared asked Oliver as they took their seats to begin their day of monitoring and spying.  Jared was referring to space Oliver ‘liberated’ on the internet to store the e-spy data.

      “Oh, I don’t know.  Maybe a terabyte or two, not much; I’m sure it won’t be missed.”

      “Do you really need that much space?”

      Oliver shrugged, “Better to be safe than sorry.”

      Aaron said from behind his computers, “Still nothing from any of Peng’s computers.”

      Sarah asked, “Did it look like they got much use?”

      “I only saw the one in his room up close.  Jared, what do you think?”

      Jared seemed to think for a moment.  Finally, he said, “Well, there wasn’t any clutter near the keyboard or mouse, but that place was pretty immaculate.”

      Aaron thought back to the way the computer looked, “The keyboard looked used.  Really, though, I think there were some small hairs on the keyboard, probably eyelashes.  There were also some keys that were a little dirty.  I think it probably gets used.

      “If we had a camera on it we could review to see if it was touched at all.  We don’t, though.”

      Jared said, “Use the camera in the hall.  It should show you when people go in and out.”

      Aaron brought up the video from that camera.  It showed the bedroom door, so he began to rewind it.  The couple left the room in the morning and went into the room the night before. He guessed if they were both in the room together neither would be on the computer. 

      When Aaron finally got to Monday night, he saw a blur of movement in and out of the room.  He stopped the video and played it from that point in regular speed.  Two men walked alone into the room carrying stuff.  A few minutes later, they walked out empty-handed. What was it though?

      “Look at this,” Aaron invited.

      They all gathered behind him to watch his screen as he replayed it.  The first man was turned away from the camera, so it was impossible to tell what he carried.  The second man seemed to be carrying something small, thin, and gray.  It was hard to tell because he held it to his side with his arm along its width. 

      “It could be a screen,” Oliver noted.  “Do you have another camera that will show them leaving?”

      Aaron pulled up a new window with the camera recording that showed the room where Jared had made friends with the dog.  Aaron set the time index to equal the time of the other recording.  He played the recording.  This time the video showed none of what the second man was holding, but it gave a perfect shot of the other man.

      “It’s the computer,” Aaron said as if he had solved the world’s oldest riddle.

      “Great, so you guys not only got seen, but you left a clue that you were on the computer,” Sarah scolded.

      Defensively Aaron replied, “No, we left nothing, and she saw nothing but our backs from the window.”

      Sarah pointed to the screen, “Then how do you explain that?”

      In a slightly joking tone Oliver said, “Maybe it needed to be serviced.”

      Sarah scowled at Oliver, “Maybe your software waved a red flag.”

      “My software doesn’t know semaphore.”

      “Can it be detected?”

      “Anything can be detected.  A better question is ‘was it detected?’  I’ll wager that it wasn’t detected, at least not by them.  There’s no chance either of them have the knowledge to find it.  Besides, even if they had the knowledge, they’d have to a have reason to be looking in the first place.  Those two probably wouldn’t even believe the computer could have its security bypassed.”

      Sarah looked back to her husband, “So, what did you do to get them to look?  That must be what happened.  The wife realized that you did something to the computer and had her husband send people to look at it.”

      Oliver added, “If that’s true, they probably did find the software.  They would’ve had it checked by some ace who would find it.”

      Sarah glared at her husband still waiting for an answer.        This was not a good week for Aaron. First, he got blamed for the incident on the plane and now for possibly getting the spy software discovered. 

      “Well?” she said, pushing for an answer.

      “We didn’t leave any clues.”

      Jared said, “You know, there really was nothing in that room of value except the computer.”

      Aaron said, “True; there was some jewelry.”

      “Yes, but I don’t think it was valuable.  Moreover, she will know we didn’t touch it.  She probably has it set up in a certain way and remembers everything that belongs there.  After we left she surely checked the inventory and found it to be the same as it had been before she saw us.”

      Oliver said, “There could’ve been valuables that you didn’t see.  Maybe stuff in a closet or money in the dresser.”

      “Yes, but again, it would probably be easily inventoried and found to be correct.”

      “But could they really remember everything?  It’s like all those tales about people who thought they had something stolen or taken when in reality they just misplaced it or forgot.”

      Sarah said, “I don’t think these people would fit in those stories.  She knew the computer was the only thing of value and had it checked.”

      Aaron wanted to disagree that it was probably Peng who noticed because he was trained to assess things like that, but knew it would just become a pointless sexist argument.  ‘It doesn’t matter, I don’t knare what happened,’ he thought to himself.

      Sarah said to Oliver, “So, give us the worst case.  It sounds like they probably found it.  They probably won’t use any computers for a while, or may have cleaned them all.  Can they find us with that software?”

      Without hesitation, Oliver answered firmly, “NO.  At best, they’ll find the server that the computer sent its data to.  We access the server anonymously, and the little general’s data is on a separate server.  The data on the server may become compromised, but the little general’s e-spy software and data will remain safe.”

      “How can we be sure?” she asked.

      “Well, first we know his computers have been used.  We get data from his house all the time.  Second, it isn’t logical.  The two generals have very few connections to each other, except the fact they are both currently stationed in Beijing.”

      Oliver was right, of course. The little general was only in Beijing because his forces, as sparse as they were, had been charged with border patrol.  With no central location for his troops, he got stationed at PAC Headquarters.  His troops were spread out across the Mongolian, Indian, and Russian borders.  Border patrol, while one of the few active duties for the Chinese military because they had been at peace for so long, was still considered a distasteful job.  The little general had it because he had the least seniority among the generals and had to prove himself with a ‘security detail’ before getting better roles.

      Peng, on the other hand, was in Beijing for reasons of honor.  He earned the respect of the people and was welcomed into the capitol with his men.  It also caused him to be closely connected to the president, or from another viewpoint, on a short leash.

      Neither general had much in common with the other.  Even being generals wasn’t that uncommon: there were many generals in the Chinese army.  If Peng was going to look for other generals who were being spied on, it seemed unlikely that Tong would be one of them.  Aaron wondered if they were under a false sense of security, agreeing that it was unlikely the Little General’s e-spy software would be detected. 

      Jared asked, “Is it possible that the cameras were found, too?”

      To this, Sarah replied firmly, “No.  Those cameras are too small to be noticed.”

      “What about their signals?  Can they be detected?”

      “No, not easily at least, not that it prevents their detection, but the signals are heavily encrypted.  What does help prevent the detection is they are rebroadcast to mimic internet traffic.  The cameras are even smart enough to detect other satellite transmissions from the house and use their makeup as a base for the mimicked version.”

      Aaron said, “We can’t trust them, though.  He’ll consider the house compromised and we have to expect disinformation or no information.  The disinformation is more likely.  We don’t even know what he thinks our origins are.  For all we know he could think we work for the president.  He probably thinks we work for a European nation, or maybe the US.”

      Oliver said, “But the US is an ally.”

      “Exactly, keep your friends close and your enemies closer.  Or even, watch to make sure you get your slice of whatever pie the two countries would like to get.”

      Jared said, “We don’t know, though.  We have no idea what he thinks.  Really, there is nothing we can do about it.”

      Oliver said, “We could still plant bugs in PAC Headquarters.”

      Aaron shook his head, “No way.  It’s too risky.  If we get caught, it will be almost impossible to get in again, no matter how many of them are on vacation.  Besides, the spying is only to catch any information we don’t already have.  If we didn’t get any information we should still have enough to carry out our mission.”

      That was all that mattered: the mission.  They had left early so they could get an idea of the two generals’ daily schedules and maybe catch any information they missed.  It also gave them the opportunity to learn how to blend into the Chinese landscape.  Finally, it gave them time to practice the way they would enter the headquarters, hopefully undetected.

Copyright (C) 1998-2001 East Coast Games, Inc. and 2001 - 2006 Forest J. Handford

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