I am so glad I have so much written! Wolf has declared tonight ‘early to bed’ as we are both exhausted.
The long weekend caused by the snow storm ate up most of the week. It took all the concentration Kate had to get back into the routine at work. She had just gotten settled down at her desk when Suzanne came in with that look on her face which said someone was going to die. “What’s the matter Suzanne?”
“We just got hit with a ton of paperwork.” Suzanne dropped a heavy folder on Kate’s desk and plopped into a chair.
Kate looked at the folder. “What on earth are they starting this time?”
“It looks like we get to jump through a whole new set of hoops to get our funding. Apparently when we had that break in a few months back, some genius in the Capital decided that we weren’t keeping extensive enough records.”
“Oh, like they couldn’t sit there and trace some homeless guy across the country? Like they really care?” Kate was being rather sarcastic.
“That’s just about what it boils down to. I don’t like it one bit. However, if we want to keep being funded, we have to do it. What they don’t understand is that lots of these people don’t have identification. Or, if they do, they don’t want to share it. We won’t be able to give them any real data.”
“No, about the only thing we can really give them is gender and a good guess at age.” Kate browsed through the folder. It looked like a lot of bunk to her. “I guess I’ll get started.”
“Oh, and there is a computer program that goes with it. If we can’t install it, they send some geek around to do it. Do you think that Eric could have a look at this stuff?”
“Of course.” Kate knew full well that Eric would want to look at this program and dig into it’s guts. “I’ll ask him tonight after supper.”
“Thanks!” Suzanne got up and left the room.
Kate looked at the guidelines and wondered if it had anything to do with the dear Sargent that Eric had scared off last Autumn. She sat it aside to read later.
“Eric, Suzanne wanted you to look at this software. It’s government issue stuff. Things we have to do now in order to get our funding,” she hollered down the hall towards his office space. Eric had taken over a corner of her sewing room. It was crowded, but it beat having the computer in the bedroom. That was something that Kate didn’t’ want to start. She’d managed for years with no TV, and she wasn’t about to give in to a computer. Eric grumbled a bit, but once he got his own office space, he was okay with it.
“What?” came his voice from deep in the room.
“I have this software that Suzanne wants you to look at and install for us. The government sent it and she’s got the creeps about it.” Kate walked down the hall and into the room. She held out a packet of CD’s to Eric.
He took it like it was a snake, and started to inspect it. He opened the package. “Did it come with an instruction book? Or just the order to install it?”
“The paperwork said start with disk one and if you couldn’t cope, call this 1-800 number and they’d get some geek to come help. I think it was the idea of someone in our system that made Suzanne uncomfortable.”
“No doubt. She’s almost as sensitive about things like this as we are.”
“I know. Can you look at it safely without causing any trouble?”
“Yeah. I’ll dump it onto my Linux box and make sure the network cable is unplugged.” Eric opened the CD tray on a black computer tower named Lefty. “I’ll let you know what I find.”
“Okay. Dinner will be ready in about twenty minutes,” she said as she left the room. “Love you!”
“Love you too, Kate.” Eric began to run the program.
Kate had plated out the children’s dinners and was getting hers and Eric’s plates ready when she heard cussing coming from the sewing room. Kate headed down the hall wondering what was going on.
“Damn it! Forn….” Eric stopped a stream of cussing as Kate came in the room.
“What’s wrong Eric?”
“This program. It’s spyware. Nasty, ugly, pissy…”
“I get the picture. What did it do to your computer?”
“Nothing I can’t fix. I used my Linux box, so it couldn’t get it’s claws all the way in. However, if you had used it on your machines down at the shelter, Oh my.”He was shaking his head.
“What would they have done? I’m not understanding why you are so peeved.”
“Spyware tells companies what you look at on the net or where you go. Sometimes they also allow viruses in, and other nasties. This one did it all. Any of the stuff that you type into the report matrix’s would be available to anyone who knew your address, and every time you logged in online. Oh, and this program demands that you log in online.”
“Shit. What the hell are they doing this for?”
“To get information. I’m not sure what information they are after, but that is what it will do. It will turn every machine it is added to into a direct feed to whatever agency built this.”
Kate looked at Eric as she thought a moment. “Could this be a tool to hunt down people?”
“People like you?”
“Yes. Exactly. Part of me is happy that we aren’t in your data banks any more. Part of me is really freaked out that this thing has landed at your shelter.”
“Okay, what am I missing?”
“Well, unless all shelters in this state got this little program, your shelter is being targeted. And if you are being targeted, the agency I worked for may still be hunting for me. The Sargent may have just lost a battle and have a new weapon.”
Kate was apprehensive. Trying to figure this out, and not coming up with any answers. “Okay, so if this is too late to catch you in our data base, how could it be a threat? I don’t understand.”
“It doesn’t read just your data. It also copies down your email, Internet usage and just about anything on your hard drive that isn’t locked down tighter than a bank vault.”
“Yes Kate, this is Spyware. It can do just about anything it wants and you can’t stop it once it is on your computer.”
“So they might be reading our emails? Our schedules, or anything that might lead them to you?” She wasn’t sure she really wanting the answer.
“Yes. And from what I can tell, if you don’t add it to your computers, they will make you add it.”
“Like threaten to cut our budget.”
“Exactly. Give me a few hours and I will see what I can do to work around this. Meantime, call Suzanne and have her come over to talk about this. Don’t mention it on the phone either. Just ask her to come over for a cup of tea.”
“And bring her tinfoil hat?” she said sarcastically.
“Oh yeah….. a great big one!” Eric ‘s tone had far more seriousness in it.
Kate brought Eric his supper and then called Suzanne. She invited her over for a cup of tea and was waiting for her to show up. Kate paced nervously. More cussing issued from the room down the hall. She wondered if Eric hadn’t bitten off more than he could chew. And for Eric, that was a pretty big bite.
The doorbell caught Kate drifting off in thought. She shot straight up out of the chair and was at the door even before Luna could bark. Suzanne walked in and the two of them were off to the kitchen to talk. They brought Eric a cup of tea when they went down to talk to him.
“So, you say this is government software?” he asked.
“Yes. Apparently all the shelters in the state got it,” Suzanne said.
“Did you check?” Kate asked.
“Yes, of course I did. All of them got it, and most of them are unhappy. Apparently it’s worse than the phone company when it comes to messing up the computers.”
Kate knew how much Suzanne hated it when the phone company came to the shelter. They unplugged lines they shouldn’t and mess up all the computers. “So, we have to use this stuff if we want our funding?”
“It seems so. I am tempted to put it on just one machine, and only feed it select data if it does what Eric says it can.”
“Oh, it will. It’s nasty. Some code monkey had way too much fun with this. They must have sold their souls to the hackers to get this stuff without having to fess up about what it does.” Eric was upset.
“Can you disable any of it?” Suzanne asked.
“I think so. What will be interesting is if they can spot the blocks I add and what they will do about it. As it is, I think I’ll send it to some hacker friends of mine.”
“You have friends in the hacker community?”
“Yes. Just because I was homeless for a while doesn’t mean that I’m totally without contacts.” Eric’s reply was rather curt.
“Oh…. I’m sorry Eric. That was rude of me. I didn’t mean it like that, its just…just that you don’t seem the type to know hackers and such.”
“Hackers aren’t criminals Suzanne. Just people who really think out of the box.”
“Out of the box? Oh, that’s a good one Eric!” Kate said as she started to laugh. The other two looked at her, realized just what Eric had said and started laughing too.
Next morning, Eric was fretting over his tea. They were going to install the software, but with some minor modifications that hopefully would go unnoticed. Or, if they were, they would look like novice software install errors. Little things like forgetting to click certain boxes and pathways for file access. They had also planned to notify some of the other shelters in the area that were upset to co-ordinate the same errors. This way it wouldn’t highlight just one shelter. It would also let them know if any one shelter was being targeted.
“Are you sure this will work?” Kate asked.
“No. But it’s better than just stuffing that disk in and letting it go. I just hope I caught all the junk.” He put his cup in the sink. “Let’s go and get this over with.”
Kate nodded and grabbed her keys and handbag. The kids were already at school as Zach had driven that morning. He was interesting in what was going on, but Eric said that the fewer people around the office, the better.
It was a quiet drive to the shelter. Eric was running code through his head and making notes in his memo book. He was a meticulous note taker. Lists and notes as well as paperwork kept in files. Some days Kate didn’t know what to do with him. It seemed as if he never threw anything away. He’d already filled up the one file drawer she’d cleared for him. She also wondered just how much it hurt him to just up and walk away from so much of his life.
“Morning Suzanne!” Kate hollered towards her office as they came into the shelter’s main reception area.
“Good Morning! Are we ready to start?” Suzanne asked.
“Yes. Did you decide which computer to put this on?” Eric asked.
“I figure that we will put it on mine. I don’t do much email and most of this stuff is paperwork that I do anyways. If we need Kate to do something, she can work on my machine.”
“Alright. Let’s get to work.”
Kate handed the software over as well as a disk that Eric had burned last night. She had her own work to do this morning while those two installed the software. Eric and Suzanne went off to Suzanne’s office.
Lunchtime came and went before Eric poked his head in the door. “I think we got it all.”
“I hope so. Now to see if we light up any notice boards in some dark, dank office,” Kate groused.
“Yeah. Let’s hope that the other shelters got the stuff in like we planned.”
“We should hear from them fairly soon. Brian and Abby said that they’d call as soon as they were done. Each of them are adding it to just one computer as well. I can’t see the government having too much of a fit over that.”
“One could hope. I’m going to head down the street and grab us some lunch. Roast beef or turkey?”
“Roast beast.” Kate used the name her boys always had. Andy had accidentally said beast instead of beef one time and it stuck.
Eric smiled as he left the office.
Suzanne stuck her head in Kate’s office just as they were sitting down to eat their sandwiches.
“Brian and Abby have checked in. All went well and seems to be running okay.”
“Good. Now to see if all stays quiet,” Eric said.
“Sweetie, I’m going out hunting tonight.” Eric said as they were washing up the supper dishes.
“Alright, I sort of figured that you might. This thing has really stressed you out hasn’t it?”
“Yes. It is just way too close to stuff that I use to do. And I know that our little trip North a few months ago was not probably the end of the hunt for me.”
“Kate, I know we haven’t talked much about what I use to do, but you probably don’t want to know it all. Just understand that I did things that weren’t nice. Moreover, they were things that only I could do.”
Kate looked at him, wondering if she really did want to know, or was it just morbid curiosity. “Well, sometimes it might be something to talk about. It would certainly help me understand your moods sometimes. Or, your nightmares.”
“I guess you’re right. Just not now.”
“That’s fine. Have a good hunt.” She dropped the subject.