I liked Chapter Four. The gist of it, which I guess at first was going to be Chapter Two, i.e., what happens after Meg escapes into the car and details start to be revealed to her and the readers, turned into Chapter Four after the two intervening chapters introduced our antagonists. (But are they?)
For this chapter I had made some notes over the last couple of days, and for the most part the chapter followed what I expected. One of the things that I know I do reasonably well is dialog. I also like and do well with snarky, smart ass characters, so it’s no surprise that Meg is the one in this story.
Having finished Chapter Four, of course, and being pleased with it, I now had nothing for Chapter Five or Six. Back to Stover? Back to our mysterious, camping geek squad? Or press forward with Meg and Sherman?
Muses do their best work at night, so I slept on it. Good idea!
The good news is that my muse delivered a direction and a couple of ideas to play with. The bad news is that it was full day at the hangar and I’m falling asleep. Literally. You know that little “micro-nap” effect which will get you killed when you get it driving late at night? Yeah, doing that every paragraph or so. It looks like we’re getting a half chapter again tonight.
While I normally put in a lot of internal links to previous, related posts here, I won’t be doing that for what I hope will be this year’s thirty NaNoWriMo posts. If you have jumped into or stumbled onto this story in mid-adventure, there are plenty of other ways to navigate around the site to find previous installments. Actually doing so is left as an exercise to the student.
“Clearly Ms. Aoki had assistance in executing her vanishing act,” said Stover. “I am not blaming either of you for the outcome of your attempt to retrieve her. That shall happen in due time. The question we must ask is who is helping her and how did they know of our intentions?”
The small group strolled slowly along a pathway which hugged the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean. Far below them the surf could be heard relentlessly pounding boulders into sand. In the thermals rising off of the cliff face rode sea birds of a dozen species, some looking for their next prey, some looking for a handout. The path itself was gravel with a manicured strip of sod for a few feet on each side. Cliffside the lawn ended at a protective fence of native wood. On the inland side, an unruly and wild stretch of tropical jungle stood, thick and lush, buzzing with insects and birds.
The million-dollar view was wasted on Winston and Lewis. They were well aware of their employer’s demand for excellence and results, not failure and excuses. It was not only the tropical heat and humidity that had them sweating.
“Sir, our preliminary analysis of the security data from Homolacrum shows that it may have been tampered with,” Winston said. “Throughout the entire day’s worth of data there are sporadic dropouts and gaps. I’m having the timing and duration of the missing data matched to see if we can infer from it what is being concealed.”
“It’s the mystery of the dog that did not bark?” Stover asked.
“In a sense, yes, sir. I’m hoping we’ll find a pattern of missing data that will at a minimum give us a timeline of when activity was occurring that we are not supposed to know about, and in what locations that activity was occurring. From such a scenario we would know where to first start digging for additional answers.”
“Very good, keep me informed.” Stover looked at Lewis. “Mr. Lewis, do you have a comment? It appears that you do not agree with Mr. Winston.”
“With all due respect to Mr. Winston,” Lewis said, “I was there and he was not. I did not see any indication that anyone at Homolacrum was in any way attempting to deceive or mislead us.”
“That sounds like a hunch or a gut feeling, Mr. Lewis. Do you have any actual data to support it?”
“Yes sir, I do. For one thing, there was no time for the data to be edited. For events earlier in the day, certainly that was a possibility. But we were into their system and pulling data files within minutes of our arrival. There simply never was enough time for anyone to go through the recordings from that time period and edit them.”
“Perhaps they’re just faster and better than you and your team were able to be.”
Lewis was not pleased with the tone of that comment, but pressed on.
“Sir, we’ve had three days to go over the data and to debrief the entire team about the operation. There are a number of facets of the situation which don’t add up, and analyzing possible gaps in the data won’t address any of them.”
“Go on,” said Stover as the path reached a small gazebo. A table inside had been set with trays of fresh fruit, and a group of servants were waiting with drinks for everyone. Stover gestured for Winston and Lewis to pick a seat among the chairs surrounding the table.
“First, there are obvious discrepancies between our body cam video data and the security data from the building. I know that it looks like Ms. Aoki just walked out the door in plain sight of two of my team, but the data from our team confirms that she is not seen. Therefore, I believe the building video of her leaving has been faked.”
“You just said that no one would have had the time to do that before you seized the data.”
“Yes, sir, I did. That’s one of the big discrepancies here. But while the building’s records do have periods of time when the data is missing, those gaps appear to be random. Not only do they occur throughout the data, even when all other evidence indicates the building was vacant overnight, but they appear on all of the cameras, including cameras that almost certainly had nothing to do with Ms. Aoki’s possible movements. Why would anyone go and edit data that had absolutely nothing to do with hiding Ms. Aoki, especially if time was extremely short?”
“Your point?” asked Stover.
“A much more logical explanation is simply that something is malfunctioning in the Homolacrum security system. If something is interfering with their system’s recording functions, it could cause random drop outs from random input feeds at random times. That is an explanation that fits the observed data much more closely. In addition, if I am correct, any time and effort spent on analyzing the dropouts for a pattern is a waste of time since no such pattern exists.”
Stover finished off a tall glass of lemonade and waved over a waitress to give him a refill. He was silent for several minutes, contemplating the drink, the view of the ocean, and the shrieking birds in the distance overhead.
“Mr. Winston, continue to research to see if there’s a pattern to the missing data, but if you don’t find anything soon, we’ll go with Mr. Lewis’ theory.”
“Yes sir,” said Winston, “I’ll see to it.”
“Mr. Lewis, you may be correct about some glitch or software error in the Homolacrum security system. Since they were so cooperative with us, perhaps we should repay them by alerting them to the problem. Better yet, we should be proactive and just fix it for them, preferably without their knowledge. We wouldn’t want to embarrass them, finding such an obvious error in a key system at a prominent software company. Of course, we would need to monitor their system closely to insure that our fix has been successful. Do you think you can make that happen?”
“Yes sir,” said Lewis. “I’ll have one of our IT divisions start work on it immediately.”
“Thank you. Regardless of the nature of the data discrepancies, we still have to deal with Ms. Aoki’s situation. While we can continue to examine her coworkers and the Homolacrum system issue, we must move on and simply find Ms. Aoki. Where are we at on that task?”
Winston looked at Lewis with an expression that clearly said he was looking forward to that answer as well, if Lewis could provide one.
“We have not yet been able to determine where she went when she left the building, nor do we know where she might be now.”
“People do not simply vanish in the middle of a city in this day and age, Mr. Lewis,” said Stover. “Please enlighten me on how this might have been done.”
“We’ve accessed all of the public safety video in an area for five miles around Homolacrum headquarters. While the video data shows that she walked out the front door and across the parking lot to the street, none of the street cameras have any sign of her.”
“So she wasn’t walking. She had someone pick her up.”
“That would be our belief. We have a list of all vehicles that passed by that area for an hour earlier and an hour later. We’re tracking them to see where she might have been taken.”
“You have accessed the observation systems in all transportation centers, of course?” asked Stover.
“Yes sir,” said Lewis. “We did that immediately after we realized she had fled. So far we have not seen her.”
“So, in brief, she could have gotten to anywhere on the planet within twenty-four hours of the time she started running.”
“Very well, continue to search for her. If anyone can come up with a clever way to look for her without interviewing all eight billion people on the planet, it would be greatly appreciated.”
“Yes, sir.” Lewis choked out the words as he did everything possible to stave off the panic that was threatening to commandeer his normally calm and steely exterior. He didn’t believe that Stover or Winston would go so far as to make him “disappear” for this failure. But Stover’s multi-trillion dollar empire was comprised of thousands of individual companies and divisions. All of them had an array of very unpleasant jobs where he could be reassigned and forgotten.
“Since Ms. Aoki has vanished, let us look at the problem from a different perspective. Have we had any success locating Kolohe?”
(CHAPTER FIVE to be continued)