Codename Chameleon

Chapter 10

Who is Dark Ghost?

Anne's right that Vincent Penny wants to question me. First thing in the morning he calls me and tells me he's sending a car to take me down to the police station, so I have to phone in sick again. It's really unusual for me to be off for two days and I have to pretend I've got flu. I don't think Boss will understand if I tell him what's really going on.

When I'm through on the phone I go outside to wait for the car, but it's already there. Penny is so paranoid, I bet he made sure it was there before he phoned, in case I tried to run away or something. I'm hoping for a jam sandwich type car with a blue light on top and the siren screeching as the cops drive down my road at top speed, but no chance, it's just an ordinary car with only one cop to drive it. At least he's in uniform.

When we get to the police station the cop shows me to an interview room and after a minute Vincent Penny comes in. He turns on a voice recorder and asks me if I'd like tea or coffee. There's just him and me and the cop that brought me here. I'd like to see Anne but I don't want to ask if she's around. When we've got our cups of tea Penny starts the questions.

"What do you know about Dark Ghost? What's his real name?"

Of course this is the one that got away for them, they've caught the rest of the gang. I've had some time in the car on the way here to think about what I need to hide. This is probably the best question he could ask, I really don't know the answer and I don't have to lie.

"I know he's a hacker, a real ace, but that's all. I've seen him online a few times as well, he's a gamer, plays on spacecontinuum, that's a game server. He's a brilliant modder as well, that means he cheats by writing code to change things in the game. Nobody seems to know anything else about him. I've been trying to find out who he is myself and I've got exactly nowhere. He got into my computer with a trojan and modded my new game and he put all these ads for the Red Lantern Jazz Bar into it. That's why I went there, I thought he must have some kind of connection to the place."

I tell him about everything that happened in the Red Lantern, but I'm careful to make it sound as if I was there on my own, so I don't have to tell him about Ratstar. I tell him I once saw Curtis Winter there, talking to Luke Brady. I tell him I thought Luke could be Dark Ghost and that's why I took the laptop.

"We know what the connection was with the Red Lantern," he tells me. "One of Winter's accomplices was working as doorman there. A security guard gone bad. He regrets it now, he's going to give evidence for us against the rest of the gang. Probably hoping for a light sentence for himself. He's given us all the information we need to confirm it was Winter who killed Luke Brady."

"Why did he kill Luke? I thought they were on the same side. Was it anything to do with the laptop?"

"We've got no evidence that Winter even knew that Brady had lost the laptop. Apparently Brady wanted to leave the terrorist group, get a regular job and settle down with a girl. We've interviewed the girl, she's a singer at the Red Lantern. She says she's only been out with Brady twice and he's not her regular boyfriend. Winter was afraid Brady might come to us, he'd done nothing wrong apart from a bit of hacking, but he knew a lot about their plans and their membership. Pity there wasn't more on that laptop, he must have deleted the good stuff when he decided to leave the group."

Isabel King going out with Luke? Ratstar's going to be so jealous when I tell him. He's going to hate it that she went out with Luke and not with him.

"Couldn't the police find Dark Ghost, now they've got the laptop?"

"We haven't found him yet, and I'm not sure we will, he's too good at covering his traces. We couldn't track him through the hotmail account he used to get in touch with Brady. He'd set it up to look as if it was Brady who opened that account, or at least, someone using Brady's computer."

"Then maybe I was right first time and Luke Brady was Dark Ghost!"

"No, that's not possible. We've got evidence of Dark Ghost operating after Brady was dead. In fact, I shouldn't really tell you this, but Dark Ghost gave us some help at the end with getting the tank back. Do you have any idea why?"

"Don't know. Maybe Winter forgot to pay him?"

Penny smiles. "That's always possible. I expect he is just in it for the money, rather than any crazy ideology."

Penny shows me photos of the faces of three men, full face and profile, mugshot style. They've all got familiar faces. "Do you recognise any of these men?"

"That one's the guy works on the door at the Red Lantern, and the other two, I'm sure they're the men who attacked me near the Green Dragon." I remember just in time that it's not a good idea to tell Penny I saw them when they jumped out of the truck. I'd prefer he didn't know who was driving the tank, I'll let him go on thinking it was Dark Ghost.

After a few more questions about Dark Ghost's online habits, Penny tells me I might have to go to court to identify the two guys who attacked me. Then he stands up, he's through with questioning me and impatient to move on to something else. Though I've told him everything I know about Dark Ghost, which isn't much, I've managed to keep all the secrets I needed to keep. Nothing about Ratstar and the secret files he wiped off the laptop and nothing about Anne.

"Is Anne here today?" I can't resist asking.

"No she's not, she's busy somewhere else today. You fancy her, don't you? You might as well give up that idea, she's a happily married woman. Anyway, you're too young for her."

That explains why she didn't want me to tell anyone.

He doesn't offer me a lift back in a police car. I suppose now I've told him all I can he doesn't care where I go or what I do. So I have a long walk home but I don't really mind because it gives me a chance to do some thinking. First I think about Anne. If being married isn't going to stop her, then certainly it isn't going to stop me. I won't even tell her I know she's married. Then I think about what Penny's just told me about Luke and why he died. It's a relief that it wasn't because I took his laptop. The big thing I can't explain is why Dark Ghost would want to help get the tank back to the base. From what I've seen online I don't think he's the type to do anything just to be nice and help others. I walk down the High Street and past the Jug and Bottle, too early for Ratstar to be there yet. Then past the building site, the old warehouse conversion, and I notice someone's tagged the Red Lantern poster. In one corner of the poster, not covered by the thick black loops and lines of the tag, is the bar's phone number. Slowly, deep within my brain, an idea starts to grow. I save the number on my phone.

When I get home I call Ratstar and arrange to meet later in the Green Dragon. I tell him everything Vincent Penny has just told me about Luke Brady and Dark Ghost. Then I go online and log on to the spacecontinuum server. Ratstar's online already. There's a surprising number of people online when you think it's the middle of a weekday. You'd expect most gamers to be at work or school. They must be skiving, like me.

I get mobbed by a gang of pirates, ok, there's only three of them, but they've got small manoeuvrable ships and it's not easy to fight them off. They've got skull and crossbones logos on their ships, but I can see they're nothing to do with Dark Ghost, because they've got a white skull and crossbones on a black background. The Jolly Roger. No support from Ratstar, he's got some kind of duel going with Tyrannosaur, who's built his huge station back up to nearly its original size. I kill one of the pirates by demolishing his ship with a well placed missile. The other two have to loop away to avoid being hit by massive chunks of debris from the exploding ship. I charge my weapons, waiting for them to regroup and renew the attack. But instead of heading towards me they're moving away, towards another station operated by someone who's just come online. Four more pirate ships appear out of nowhere and move against this station from the other side. Another ship follows behind them, I'm guessing it's the guy I've just killed who has respawned. That makes seven pirate ships against this one station, seven black ships with a white skull and crossbones against one defiant station with a black death's head on a swirl of grey smoke. The pirate clan must think they have some exclusive right to the skull and crossbones logo. Even with the numbers on their side they won't find it easy to kill Dark Ghost.

But of course it doesn't have to be one against seven. I remember that moment when I thought Curtis Winter was about to use the tank's weapons against a police car and there was no way I could stop him. Dark Ghost came to my rescue then. Also those pirates attacked me without provocation, and while I guess that's just what you'd expect from pirates, still, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, right? So I launch two fighters and send them speeding straight to the heart of the battle. The damage Dark Ghost did to my game is not forgotten or forgiven but for the moment I'll let it go.

Before my fighters can get there Dark Ghost has got rid of one of the pirate ships whose shields are no match for his modded plasma weapons. The rest fly furiously around the station, evading his fire. My fighters target one who has got separated from the main group. A few hits from my lasers and that's the end of him. They really should have invested in better shields. Then something happens I've never seen in this game before. A group of remotes comes out of each of the remaining ships. They're small, in the shape of droids, grey metal, with the bulky body of a spacesuit and a skull for a head. Altogether there's about twenty of them. Each one carries a remotely operated limpet mine. Gravity pulls them in towards the slowly revolving station.

Dark Ghost's on-station weapons are nothing like accurate enough to pick off these small targets. I can do it with my two fighters, who are reinforced within moments with two of Dark Ghost's own. Between us we can shoot the little droids one by one and watch the limpet mines explode with a green and gold burst of colour, but there's no way we've got time to get them all before they get so close we can't risk a shot for fear that the explosion will damage the station. I'm still going to take out as many as I can. After they've finished off Dark Ghost they'll probably come for me.

Dark Ghost's not shooting nearly as many as I am, I feel like I'm doing all the work here, and it's his station that's being attacked. Then suddenly there's a bright white light glowing round all the enemy ships. A small black object appears at the centre of the screen and grows larger and larger. I know what it is long before it's large enough to make it out. I've seen this effect before, when Dark Ghost took control of the tank back from Winter. The black skull and crossbones grows until it fills the screen, blocking my view of the ships for a moment. Then it vanishes in a brilliant flash of white light. The droids and limpet mines have gone, leaving no trace. The five pirate ships are still there, but there's no white logo on their sides. They're just plain black ships now, pirate insignia erased.

That's improved the odds a bit, a station and four fighters against five ships. Dark Ghost's plasma gun picks off one before he's even got over the shock. Another is so busy avoiding the plasma pulses that he doesn't see my two fighters coming up behind him. Then Ratstar, who's managed to finish off Tyrannosaur all by himself, well done Rats, launches a missile right at a ship that's got within his range, chased there by one of Dark Ghost's fighters. The pirate's already depleted shields give up and the ship explodes, an engine shearing off and just missing a collision with the small fighter. The remaining ships decide to cut their losses and take off, but the four fighters give chase and soon manage to surround one of the pirate craft and obliterate it with repeated laser fire. Only one escapes to fight another day. After a beating like that they won't want to take us on again any time soon, not without some better shields anyway. There's hardly any damage to the fighters and we've all gained points today, specially Ratstar after beating Tyrannosaur.

I get a message from Ratstar. "Why are you fighting for Dark Ghost? He's our enemy."

"He helped with the tank, and I hate pirates," I send a message back. It's no point trying to message Dark Ghost, who has never been known to chat online. Must be part of the mystique of being a top hacker of unknown identity. While I've been gaming, the idea that came to me as I stood by the wall of graffiti covered posters has been pushed down deep. I don't let anything distract me in the middle of a battle. But now a thought breaks through to the surface and I consider it for a moment.

I send another message. "I think I know who Dark Ghost is. I'll tell you when I see you at the Green Dragon." Then I log out and make a phone call. A machine answers which is what I was expecting. I leave a message saying who it's for, and that it's urgent, and could whoever picks up the messages please pass it on. Then I say, "Lightning and Ratstar would like to meet you tonight at the Green Dragon in Edison Street. Any time after eight." As I hang up I start to feel the adrenaline surge. Tonight I could be having a drink with Dark Ghost!

When I get to the Green Dragon Ratstar is already there. He keeps asking me who I think Dark Ghost is but I don't want to tell him. I could be totally wrong. Or Dark Ghost might not get the message. Or Dark Ghost might have something better to do tonight. So I don't want to talk about it. So we play pool, which means if I want to keep beating Ratstar and the other guys who play here, and some of them can actually play, I need to forget about Dark Ghost and concentrate. But by the time I've won ten pool games in a row and no one wants to play me any more, not even Ratstar who lives in hope of beating me someday, I've decided Dark Ghost isn't coming. So I think I might as well sit down and have another beer and tell Ratstar about my idea.

But just as Ratstar gets to our table with the beers I see a girl come in on her own. She's about our age, dark hair pulled back into a ponytail, no makeup, wearing combats, trainers, an old denim jacket. She's looking round as if she's meeting someone. Then Ratstar turns round to see what I'm looking at and she sees him.

"Hi, Rick," she says, coming over to our table. At first Ratstar doesn't recognise her and I'm not sure if I would if I hadn't arranged this. But after a moment he can see it's Isabel King.

"Hi, Isabel," he says,"Can I get you a drink? Are you meeting someone?" I can see he hasn't got it, so I do the introductions.

"Hello," I say, "Thanks for coming. I'm Lightning, this is Ratstar, and you're Dark Ghost."

Ratstar has to sit down for a minute, he's so totally shocked. He's even forgotten he offered to buy Isabel a drink. So I remind him. "Rats, get Isabel a drink."

"Uh, yeah, what would you like?" But even after she's asked for a beer he still sits there staring at her for about a minute, with a very different look on his face from when he used to stare at her on the stage at the Red Lantern. Then something settles in his mind and he goes and gets her a drink.

"How did you know it was me?" she asks quietly, glancing round as if worried that someone might be listening. I think she's safe, someone's just put some dance music on the jukebox.

"I guessed, I was lucky. I knew it had to be someone who went to the Red Lantern, or worked there, and I thought Luke might have made things easy for you by telling you his password. So you were the most likely person."

"Does Rick know you're working with the police?"

"Where did you get that idea from? I'm not with the cops, no way! I had to go to the station this morning to answer a lot of questions, but I didn't say a word about you! Rats was always helping me to look for Dark Ghost, but he had no idea it was you before I told him."

Right on cue he comes back with the drink. "Have you asked her about our game?"

So much for my plan which was to show her we knew too much about her but were prepared to be friendly, then name our conditions.

"What game?"

"Fools Rush In And Explode. That's what got us onto the Red Lantern, you used the poster in your mod."

"Oh. That game. Sorry. It's kind of hard to think of good ideas for posters, I didn't think anyone would notice the details. I can take that off if you want."

"Cool!" says Ratstar, and that's all he needs to know. He doesn't care about what happened with the tank or how Dark Ghost got involved with terrorists, though I'm curious. I expect when he's had time to get used to the idea that this is Dark Ghost sitting next to him, he'll want some hacking and modding tips.

"I want to ask you something," I say, "Why did you stop Curtis Winter from getting the tank?"

"How do you know about that!"

"I was driving, then Winter took over. I thought he was going to kill a carload of cops, then you took over just in time."

"That was you? I thought it was the police!"

"I took Luke's laptop," I explain, and fill her in on how I got a chance to drive the Chameleon 1. "But why stop Winter, when you were working for him?"

"He killed Luke! I mean, I wasn't in love with Luke, as the police seem to think, but he was my friend, and Winter shot him! So I wasn't going to let him have his tank, and kill even more people."

"But when all that was going on, the police hadn't found him yet."

"I was working the night he was shot and he said he would come to the Red Lantern to hear me sing. He said after the show was finished I could come back to his flat and have a drink and a take away. When he didn't turn up I thought I would go to his flat and see what had happened. I'd been there once before and I knew the way. I knocked on the door and got no answer but I could see there was a light on inside. He's on the ground floor so I thought I'd go round to the back and shout through the window. I thought he just hadn't heard me, or thought it was someone else, someone he didn't want to see. There was a gap between the curtains and the light was on. I could see him dead on the floor, a bullet wound in his head. I know I should have gone to the police but I was scared they'd find out I'd been working for the terrorists."

"How did you know it was Winter who shot him?"

"I knew Luke was afraid of Winter, though he never said so. When I came home after seeing Luke dead, I hacked into Winter's computer. He was typing a report to the others in the gang. When I was working for them I found out the codes they used and I read the report. He told them he'd had to kill Luke when Luke threatened to betray them to the police."

I expect the police will manage to break the code sooner or later. Ratstar gets in a technical question here, something about codes which is far above my head, and Isabel is more than happy to give him a long and complicated answer of which I probably understand three words. After about five minutes of this they're each other's new best friends and I decide it's my turn to get a round. Maybe by the time I get back they'll be talking about gaming or something I know about.

I like Isabel a lot more when she's not in her Red Lantern persona, and Ratstar's as crazy about her as ever. She's definitely more fun when she's had a few beers. By the end of the evening Rats is teaching her to play pool. She's never played before so now there's someone he can beat. But not for long, is my guess, she's an incredibly fast learner. Though I'm always going to watch her in case she cheats. She's agreed that even if she hates Fools Rush In, that's no reason to stop other people playing it, and she's promised to put something on the net that we can download to fix our games. In return, we've promised never to tell anyone she's Dark Ghost. And if the three of us team up, we'll be unstoppable in Warzone Space Station.