This is an untitled speculative short fiction set in the world of Assassin’s Creed.
Part 2 – Capture the Flag
“How did you find me?” Farah gasped, color returning to her face as she tried to catch her breath, “I still can’t believe the utility lift did not crush us? How did the break fail at that moment?” Her voice was nearly shaking.
The young man from the subway cracked a wry smile unbefitting the circumstances. “Those things are so unreliable, all outdated embedded hardware. Hard hat definitely required if you know what I mean”
It had nearly struck the van pursuing her seconds after she caught sight of him, rendering the narrow alleyway exchange impassable. The timing was impossible to be coincidence.
They had arrived near the address, behind a boarded single level business. There was no one else in sight, and nearly all sound was drown out by a freeway overhead.
“Reddit,” he answered her first question to a raised eyebrow. “But let’s get you something to drink and a place to sit down first” They disappeared into an unremarkable door to the boarded-up building.
Barren at first, as her eyes adjusted to just narrow beams of light coming between gaps in the plywood over the windows. Trash, broken wooden pallets, a primitive steel drum fire pit abandoned for years. Deeper into the building he led Farah down a set of stairs into darkness where lights flickered to light as they approached. A small cluster of old telecommunications equipment hummed as they passed, moving down another flight of stairs and into a maintenance access corridor. Decades of redundant pipes and layers of cable rotted in masses along the walls and ceiling. Somewhere far above she could hear they had passed under a large street. A subway car shook the metal catwalk as they navigated.
“The name is Nadji by the way,” he broke the silence as he unlocked a mid-passage steel door. They passed through a narrow electrical closet and through into a dimly lit room that buzzed with the noise of high flow ventilation. Tall rows of computer equipment filled the middle of the spotless, dust free room. Soft clicks of storage devices sang a quiet song beneath the roar of fans. Opposite them and up two steps a woman and another man waited. The man was older, shorts and island tourist shirt as out of place as his greying last century roadie goatee. The dark-haired woman was in an expensive business skirt and blazer that suggested professional hostile acquisitions, but with a boldly shaved undercut and numerous piercings. A neck tattoo peaked out of her tight collar. They were waiting near monitors that appeared to show street camera footage.
Nadji opened a small fridge and began running off names of various energy drinks, sodas and beer. Farah hesitated; skies how good a cold soda would taste. She spotted bottled water and nodded as he retrieved it for her. She collapsed into a rolling chair, suddenly aware of how disheveled she must appear as she unstuck her scarf from her neck. Finishing a long quaff of her water, her idle gaze came to rest on a long cloth-shrouded piece of equipment nearby about the size of a table, a faint glow emitting from under. There was a new spark of recognition. She knew what this was.
Following her gaze to the shrouded device, the older man spoke. His rich American accent filled the space between them like the strike of a piano chord. “You made it, kid” he began. He introduced himself as Ray and appeared to have been busy at several of the systems as they arrived. Many of the active terminals ran programs Farah was familiar with from tech coursework, including one security research tool she had seen demonstrated at a webinar on reverse engineering. Hackers.
The woman was Naomi. She had the confidence and tact of someone who was probably in charge, and a demeanor that was sharp in contrast to “weird white uncle” Ray and warm expression Nadji.
Naomi shifted as she began explaining. “I am old friends with your CS advisor,” she said. “He told me you were doing very well in your classwork and were interested in a career in Infosec.
“You are familiar with bug bounties corporations occasionally pay out?” Naomi continued. “We spotted an unusual one for an older piece of Abstergo equipment that was not commonplace, and as far as we could tell not in use anywhere as they were replaced by newer, safer models. Even possessing one was to risk unwanted attention, you’d have better luck buying an American voting machine.
“The defect was linked to at least one lawsuit, and presumably the quick release of the next revision. Why the bug bounty now, by an account we think is a throw-away used by an Abstergo insider?”
Ray cleared his throat. “Because they were hacked, that’s why. Someone got their hands on this model and managed to break into their network”
“We don’t have proof they have been hacked,” Nadji reigned Ray back a bit. “It’s speculation but it would make sense”
Farah stood up. “You’re talking about the animus?” she concluded in a whisper, walking to the shrouded equipment. Her mother’s obsession. She didn’t think it existed. Stories about DNA memories and unusual patents for advanced medical technology. The room grew closer around her as she turned back to face the others. The question sat on her lip longer than she wanted, until she swallowed as she spoke.