Liminality #3

EYES ONLY

FCC-EAD 109.60.1.002

ZACH GRAVES is: Authorized to Read and Edit

Filed 05-09-02039 09:41 AM

By HEALTHWIRE (#a83f025)

CONTENT FOLLOWS.

If it had been printed, there would have been a page break at that point.

CONTENT:

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:

We believe our Research & Development server has been compromised. At 19:06 CST yesterday (05-08-02039), an unknown device began attempting to connect over a proprietary API approximately 40000 times per second. An internal audit has determined that this is the result of a third party.

This API is currently being used in the testing of sensitive personal medical devices on a grant from the Department of Defense, and as such it is of the utmost importance that we locate and stop the individual or individuals responsible for this likely attack.

DETAILS FOLLOW.

Another virtual page break.

DETAILS:

The device in question is being developed to measure adrenaline and cortisol levels in soldiers during combat situations, with the goal of lorem ipsum dolor sit amit in order to improve lorem ipsum dolor in potential future conflicts in the sit fasdfeamit Theater.

Any tampering by third parties is unacceptable and could pose a dire security risk. We’ve been unable to glean specific information on the origin(s) of the requests, but have been able to identify that they are coming through a Comcast connection located downstream from the node in Fallen Oak, IL. Or, at any rate, they appear to be.

TRACE DATA FOLLOWS.

At least they finally got rid of that This Page Intentionally Left Blank nonsense, Zach thought, as he scrolled past yet another page break. The next section contained information on the IP Addresses being used (many) and the nature of the requests (all identical handshake initiations, it would appear).

Zach was taking notes when Cindy called back, her face materializing in front of his eye. “Well, Zimmerman, it would appear that something is indeed on fire,” she said.

“A matter of urgent national security, no less,” he said with an arched eyebrow and a hint of over-seriousness.

“For the good of this glorious nation, we must track down these evildoers,” Cindy said in the same manner.

“Shall we begin at the usual spot?”

“I’ll meet you there in twenty.” Cindy’s picture winked out of existence again.

These cases rarely amounted to much of anything, and this one seemed like another instance of an overly paranoid cover-your-ass manager assuming malice when shoddy engineering was a much more likely possibility. But, well, that’s defense contractors for you. And a certain kind of sysadmin. The kind you find in enterprise companies. Not the good kind.

Zach picked his messenger bag up from the floor and put his External Anomalies Division tablet inside, along with a bottle of water, a brownie, and a can of coffee from the refrigerated drawer in his desk. He checked that his Division-stamped .38 was in proper working condition, with full ammunition and a full battery, and then put it in his shoulder strap holster.

Zach Graves had everything he needed to do some investigating. He took his blazer off the back of the chair and put it on, then headed out the door to meet Cindy, snatching his bicycle helmet & lock from the hooks on the wall as he exited.

Liminality #2

From the outside, the headquarters of the Fallen Oak, IL Branch Regional Headquarters of the Department of External Anomalies, Federal Communications Commission Charter 15.255, looked like it sounded, which is to say, linear, deliberate, and far too large than seemed necessary at first glance. As almost all of the many agents, researchers, librarians, secretaries, hackers, and interns who worked there would tell you, it looked like that from the inside as well.

Zach Graves, Probationary Investigatory Agent III.a, was no exception.

Each floor, at least on the floors Zach had clearance for (one through five, excepting four), was laid out in a rather intentional fractal scheme, with a large central corridor branching left, right, up, and down at regular intervals, each subsequent hallway smaller than the last. It reminded him of some sort of Platonic ideal of the inside of a bird’s bones.

When Zach had started a few years ago, his office had been off one of the hallways that barely fit two people going crossways; now, he had a room off one of the coveted tertiary hallways, only two nodes away from the central corridor on the second floor. It wasn’t a corner office, exactly—indeed, the building’s design shunned the very idea of corners—but Zach did have a window for the first time in his working life.

Granted, the window looked out directly onto a disused portion of the southern face of the courthouse next door, which had been bricked in to keep the homeless out, but still, one had to measure career progress somehow.

On this particular day, Zach was busy with a Division tournament of hearts when the phone rang. He tapped his earpiece. “Yes, sir?”

“Hey, Zach. Whatever you’re working on, I’m going to need you to stop soon.”

“Well,” Zach said, typing gotta go, pick up where we left off again?, “Sure, give me a few minutes? I just need to wrap up this report.”

The other three players voiced their frustrations, not that they hadn’t all done the same rapid-fire cancellation at some point in the past. Zach empathized. The tournament was only in its second bracket, and it had already been four months.

“Call me when you’re done, OK?”

“Will do, sir,” Zach said. “Appreciate the flexibility.”

Zach waved his hand and the hearts game vanished, replaced on the monitor with the other desktop he used for actual work. He located the report and pulled it up in the editor. “In conclusion, further study is required,” he typed, and then saved it.

He skimmed the report for typos, and it looked like the autocorrect had taken care of everything he missed. And with that, he submitted An Examination of Common Causes of Wearable Climate Hardware Malfunction: FCC-EAD 107.22.5.208. It would be reviewed and sent back with recommendations in 2-3 business days before finalization and publication, at which point Zach would be tasked with selecting a colleague to draft the abstract. Finally, at the end of the month, the piece would go out with the External Anomalies Division’s monthly report, and the glorious cycle of bureaucracy would begin again.

The thoughts ran through Zach’s head in the regimented language that every bureaucrat found themselves thinking in, sooner or later.

No biggie. Time to call the boss. He tapped his earpiece again. “Jeffrey Tsao,” he said, and the line started to ring.

“Zach. Thanks for getting back to me so soon.”

“No problem. What’s going on?”

“Seems we’ve got a priority-one anomaly report coming in from Healthwire. Deputy Director Freeman said it’s our number one priority, in fact. I told him I’d put my best agent on it. Called you anyway.”

Cute. “I’ll get right on it, sir. Should I give Zimmerman a ring? We usually work well together.”

There was a pause. “That would probably be best, yes. You two have done some good work lately.”

“Thank you, sir. Anything I need to know that won’t be in the file?”

“Figuring out what’s not in the file is your job, Graves.”

“Touché, sir. Well, I’ll let you know if I need anything.”

“Please do. And try to stay within the usual budget this time. I’ll talk to you later.”

Get stuck in New Atlantic City one time, Zach thought, and you never hear the end of it.

The connection closed. He tapped his earpiece twice. “Cindy Zimmerman. Video.” The plastic rectangle in front of his right eye came to life with a semi-transparent “Connecting…” flashing gently. After a moment, Cindy’s face appeared, behind her an office much like his own.

“What’s on fire this time, Graves?”

“I don’t know, but Freeman would like it dealt with quickly. At a good stopping point in whatever you’re doing?”

Cindy’s eyes refocused as she looked past the screen, through the image to whatever she was doing, and then refocused on Zach.

“God, yes. I’m doing quota work.”

“Great. Let’s both give this file a read and then re-connect?”

“Sounds good. Zimmerman out.”

Zach refocused his own eyes as the image faded out and the screen turned back into the minor irritant in front of his eye that it was most of the time. He turned to his workstation and opened his assigned case files with a practiced gesture, selected the blinking red one, and started reading it.

Liminality #1

Liminality

lim·i·nal

ˈlimənl/

adjective (technical)

  1. of or relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process.
  2. occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold.

 

0.0

 

Tien wound his ATV between the short trees that dotted Superior Crater. It was dark out, and no lights shone from the ruined city ahead. Rather peaceful, really, save for the occasional small mammal that he would swerve to avoid (or at least try to). There wasn’t a human in sight, or so the trackers told him. He let himself relax. It was nice to be out of the office.

He hadn’t seen the crater first-hand before. It was pretty, just like people said, if a bit… brownish. But brown grass was better than no grass.

The vehicle chirped and he looked at the dash. Fuel heat nominal; no threats or surveillance detected; no messages… ah. He’d entered the demilitarized zone between Canada and the US. This was, of course, expected, but the lack of markings meant that he had to rely on the equipment. Tien snapped out of his daydream, stopped the vehicle, and exited. He opened one of the hatches in the rear and pulled out the checklist and a pen. He would fill most of it out on his sleevetop later–best to do the paper part of the paperwork while things were quiet, since it took longer.

With the graceless efficiency of a seasoned public servant at the Ministry of Corrections, he began filling out the tedious form. Most of the legwork had been done by the computer, but for accountability’s sake he still had to check off all the right boxes, and then sign, date, and scan it for later filing. Not like it would matter much for him, where he was going, but it was quite important for future such experiments, and a duty was a duty.

About halfway through he reached back into the hatch and pulled out a black plastic briefcase. Opening it, he set aside some paperwork and pulled out a parcel of clothing–some nondescript suit, the kind you’d see on an extra in old movies–then stripped out of his Ministry jumpsuit and into the vintage design.

Back to the clipboard. Check. Check, check… he removed a device from the hatch and unfolded it onto the ground. Check. He turned it on, check, check… it activated with a whirring sound, and his sleevetop blinked green under the suitcoat to indicate it was the right kind of sound. Check.

After putting his old clothes and all the packaging and other detritus he’d managed to produce into the hatch, he checked one last box on the form, then signed it three times, dated it, closed the hatch, and fed it into the dashboard scanner. He detached a small rod from the vehicle and put it in his breast pocket with a practiced move, then stepped onto the device he’d unfolded. Finally he plugged the device into a socket on the side of the ATV, double-checked his footing, and pushed the only button on it he hadn’t already pressed. The whirring sped up, he gripped the pair of handles that stuck up from the middle, and vanished. A moment later, when the checklist had finished scanning, an antenna rotated briefly; one more moment and the ATV began flashing and then exploded with a cold, quiet spark, leaving a vaguely ATV-shaped scar in the dormant grass.

random short #1

i was at a funeral one time. i was at a funeral many times, but this is just the one i wanna talk about. New Orleans style jazz funeral. paraded down the streets. played the saxophone. paraded through bars, we got a shot in every one. this was part of the guy’s will i guess. he wanted a New Orleans style jazz funeral in marin. guy had a kid with Mama Cass actually but we’re not supposed to talk about that.

anyway the important thing is that his funeral was kinda fun! i guess it was actually his wake that was fun. people told stories, people played songs. that’s the kind of funeral i want. if somebody has to talk about the overdose just make sure it’s done tastefully.

the reason i say that his wake was the fun part is because the funeral got weird. sure, there was the body and all that shit to deal with and that’s heavy and clumsy to carry around and whatever but you have like one job and that’s not dropping it on the ground until you’re supposed to drop it on the thing that will later put it under the ground right?

and then suppose you don’t do that job well? right. body everywhere.

anyway. sometimes you just suck at your job. volunteers especially.

i was a volunteer.

What Level is Beatrix Kiddo?

So my husband has chicken pox(?!), and he’s cooped up inside all day for the next n days, and yesterday we watched Kill Bill Part 1 and Django Unchained. When I got up this morning, he was watching Kill Bill Part 2. He is, shall we say, a Tarantino fan.

During the Crazy 88 fight in Part 1, I was like, if I wanted to make her character sheet, what on earth would I put on it?

I’m going to go with a human Fighter since she is very tough and obviously has a lot of combat feats. For instance, Great Cleave would allow her to kill all those dudes in one round, as she does repeatedly. Weapon Focus: Katana seems likely too. She needs Power Attack and Cleave before she can get to Great Cleave, so she’s at least level… wow, a human Fighter can get there by level two. Let’s add in Weapon Specialization: Katana, so now we’re at level 4, with an unused feat. Now, I know this will weaken the overall build, but I’m going to throw in a one-level dip in Monk for plot reasons. Stunning Fist is a fairly obvious feat she needs to have at the end of Part 2, and she can’t get it as a Fighter until level 8.

So, now we’re at human Fighter 4/Monk 1 and we have an unused feat still. I’m also house-ruling that multiclassing doesn’t have an XP penalty, because duh. What else. Let’s add Improved Critical to unarmed strike, so now we need to be Fighter 8/Monk 1. That’s level 8’s bonus feat, which leaves us with the unused level feat, another unused level feat, and an unused bonus feat. We should be able to round out the character now. Perhaps Combat Reflexes (bonus feat), Diehard (level feat), and Endurance (level feat, prerequisite for Diehard).

And there you go. As for Part 2, I did my best. I have no idea how to recreate the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique except for more monk levels. But this build feels right.