Codename Chameleon

Chapter 7

What's the password?

Ratstar comes into the shop the next day just before we close and I can tell he's in a hurry to tell me something. We go to the pub and as soon as we've got drinks he starts to tell me his version of what happened last night.

"Soon after you left the guy from the Red Lantern turned up, he said two of his contacts were going to meet us at the Jug. He kept looking at his watch like he was expecting them any minute, but in the end they never showed up. They sent him a text to tell him they couldn't make it because the place was being watched by cops, and to get out of there without being seen if he could. He was in a panic because there were cops outside the front door and cops all over the Safeways car park. He said if they caught him with his laptop he was deep in it. I said give me the laptop, I'll look after it for you, but he didn't trust me that much. I'll tell you, if I had a laptop as cool as that there's no way. So I asked Jeanine if there was another way out that wasn't being watched. Of course there wasn't, but when I explained to her that he didn't want to be spotted by the cops, she helped us. She had a box of the things that people leave behind in the Jug, stuff that they keep for a while in case the guy comes back and asks for it. She found him an old wooly hat that she thought nobody would bother to come back for, and a rucksack that some student type had left ages ago, with some books in it. She took the books out and he put the laptop in. Just by luck at that moment a group of students who'd been in there all afternoon were drinking up and putting on their coats, getting ready to leave, so Jeanine goes out of the door and she starts talking to the cops, to get their attention away from who's coming out. She asked them what was going on, like she was just curious, but of course they wouldn't tell her anything. So the guy leaves at the same time as the students, walking out right after them, wooly hat, rucksack, of course they don't look twice at him and he gets away! And when he's safely round the corner Jeanine comes back in. She asks me how I know him and I just say, because we're both into computers and all he's done is a bit of hacking he obviously wouldn't want the cops to know about. But Nate, it wasn't totally a waste of time because while we were waiting he did tell me some stuff about Dark Ghost."

And of course this is the stuff he couldn't wait to tell me.

"He says none of the guys he's worked with have ever even seen Dark Ghost, they've got no idea what his real name is! They don't even know how he found out about the thing they've been working on, he just emailed one day with a solution to a problem they'd been trying to work out for ages. So of course they were more than happy to have him on the team, and pay him what he wanted. He can hack into anything! He says he has been trying to trace Dark Ghost himself for a month and got exactly nowhere. But I'll tell you something we know and he doesn't, we know Dark Ghost is an online gamer! "

I can see here that Ratstar's made up his mind, he's where I was last night. He thinks we've got the edge and he wants to go with it. We're going to go on with this and find Dark Ghost. Dealing with terrorists, cops, whatever it takes, we'll do it.

"See, Nate, when Dark Ghost is sending emails to terrorists or making sure his banking is secure, he's going to be very careful to cover his tracks because he knows he's dealing with hackers. But when he's online on spacecontinuum he's not thinking hackers, he's thinking gamers, so he might not be so careful. And he doesn't know we're looking for him! That's when he might make a mistake, slip up in some way that will give us a line to him."

"He already has," I say, "I shouldn't think he meant anyone to know about the Red Lantern. I expect he drinks there, it seems to be a hangout for these guys, and he had a flyer or something and scanned it into his computer to use in the Tokyo simulation. If you hadn't seen that in Fools Rush In after his virus hit, we would never have got this far."

So we arrange a time to log on to spacecontinuum.com and play some Warzone Space Station. I've got some killer mods planned for Sea Serpent Station that I want to try out. Even if Dark Ghost isn't playing it gives us a chance to get together and lay waste to the competition. If we play as often as we can he's got to turn up sooner or later, that's if he hasn't given up after we wrecked his station last time.

And when I log on, right away I see Ratstar but there's no sign of Dark Ghost. I'm impatient for a chance to try out my new torpedo packs. I don't have to wait long as with his usual knack for getting himself in more trouble than he can handle on his own, Ratstar picks a fight with the biggest station in sight, Tyrannosaur. I've been taking care to keep out of his way for months, but now I've got to help Ratstar out. I fire at him with two torpedoes but he's got good shields and they hold, they must be new upgrades, I'll have to get them soon for my own station. Ratstar I can see has invested in a new ion cannon, so what with that and my new torpedoes no shields are going to last very long. He's not finding it easy to target two of us at the same time because of the way his guns are placed around the station. He launches a group of small fighters but these are comparatively easy to pick off with our new weapons systems and he hasn't bothered to upgrade their shields so we soon finish them off. It looks like we're going to beat him and I think if I'd known it would be this easy I would have gone up against him ages ago. Then he gets an ally, an insignificant little station that starts firing at Ratstar with a plasma cannon. When I scan this new opponent I find that the station's small size is deceptive, he has highly effective shields and serious weapons, torpedoes as well as two plasma cannons. I look closer; there's something familiar about the styling of that plasma cannon mod. It doesn't take long to realise where I've seen it before. He's made a few visual changes but it's still a giveaway. Dark Ghost has entered the fray. I remember his tactic of getting help by teaming up with a strong player, then getting out quick if it looks like his ally is going down. He knows he's up against two of us this time and we'll be the ones he wants most to beat in revenge for what we did to him last time. His old station looked like he put in a lot of work on it and he'll need a lot of credits to get the new one to the same standard.

Those plasma cannons have made some serious hits on Ratstar and he's diverted power to his shields, which of course means he's got less to spare for his weapons. Caught between Tyrannosaur and Dark Ghost, Ratstar's not going to last long, and then they'll be after me. The only way we can beat them now is to get out there in a small fighter and try and take out both those plasma cannons. Ratstar hasn't got the firepower in his light fighters so I guess this one's down to me. I move control to one of the Firedragons that are already flying out towards his station. Here I come, Dark Ghost. I aim my torpedoes right at his weapons and fire.

For a moment I think I've been hit as I get that shooting star effect you get in this game when you take a hit and you die, but then I find I'm still in the small fighter. If he'd got me with those plasma cannons I'd find myself back on Sea Serpent Station. But now I can't even see Sea Serpent Station, I'm turning around looking for it but it's just not there. I can't see Ratstar, I can't see Tyrannosaur, I can't even see Dark Ghost. Only the stars, swirling as if I'm moving really fast, as if I'm spinning through space like a piece of junk knocked off a station in the middle of a battle.

Then I get a message from Ratstar, and I'm so pleased to see it, it's like I really was lost in space and I've just had a message saying rescue is on the way.

Where are you? Are you dead?

I lose the lost in space feeling and I'm back in my room.

Not dead, I type. Can't see you.

Your fighter vanished.

I'm somewhere else. Still in the game.

And then, as I realise it's true, I add a few more words.

Don't know how to get back.

I can't log off while a fighter is outside the station without losing that fighter. That's the rule. All my fighters are outside now, trying to take out Dark Ghost's plasma cannons, not that they're going to manage it without my mind in control. And without my help, with two enemies against him, Ratstar, my ally, is going to lose his station. This is a very clever trick Dark Ghost has played, I'd give a lot to know how he did it. He must have hacked into the game code, the cheat. Another thing, how did he get the credits for those shields and the plasma cannons when he's only just started with a new station? It took me months to get anything as good as that. More cheating, I imagine. I'm damned if I'm going to let him win by cheating. Whatever it takes I'll find a way back and get him for this. I just hope I'm not too late to save Ratstar.

Then I think of a way, and as far as I can see it's the only way. If I die while I'm flying this fighter, my viewpoint goes back at once to the Commander General on the battle bridge of Sea Serpent Station. I'll lose some credits for a life and of course the value of the Firedragon, but that's not too bad, not if it gives me a chance to get out of this, rob him of the satisfaction of having beaten me. Now I've just got to think of a way to die and that's not too hard, coming up ahead of my path as I drift haphazardly through space is a huge station, nearly as big as Tyrannosaur. I point the Firedragon's nose right at it and go to full speed ahead. I'm going to ram it, if that doesn't kill me I don't know what will. I've got to write off the fighter anyway so it might as well have a glorious end. I see the station's bulk looming ahead of me, I've given him no warning and before he has time to shoot I smash into the hull and I die. A flash of intense light, a brief shooting star effect and I'm back where I belong on my station's battle bridge. Wasting no time I take control of the Firedragon nearest to the enemy and fire again at those plasma cannons. This time Dark Ghost, thinking I was out of action, has been giving all his attention to Ratstar who's valiantly defending himself, his shields just holding. My shots get through and both plasma cannons explode in a blue lightening flash. Vapour trails follow the molten machine parts as they tumble through space.

Recalling the fighters as I don't want to be caught the same way twice, I check on Ratstar. His shields are almost down but he's still fighting, aiming his weapons at Tyrannosaur. I help him out with my new torpedoes which are proving well worth the credits. Dark Ghost has gone, he knows he hasn't got a chance without those plasma cannons. Tyrannosaur's shields are almost gone and it only takes a few more shots to finish him off. Ratstar and I have won again! Of course this means more credits and from the size of that Tyrannosaur station we should easily cover the cost of a new Firedragon for me and new shields for Ratstar. I check my credits and I see I have got an unexpected bonus, remember the ship I rammed? It wasn't as strong as it looked, it blew up when I smashed into it and that's more credits just for me. I hope whoever it was doesn't come looking for revenge.

When Ratstar's done choosing his new shields, he starts trying to work out exactly how Dark Ghost pulled that trick of making me disappear. It's not easy to hack into the game code, so he doesn't get very far. He calls me to talk about how it happened, how it looked and felt when I was suddenly thrown into another part of the spacecontinuum universe, and ends by persuading me to go to the Red Lantern with him the next time Isabel King is singing there. If we go on like this we'll end up as hacker hangout regulars.

Ratstar checks the Red Lantern website and soon we're heading for Soho. When we get to the Red Lantern I'm careful to keep an eye out for Curtis Winter. Anne's told me the place is being watched, but I wouldn't be surprised if Winter managed to sneak past the cops and make it in here anyway. He probably knows about a back door from some little alley that the cops aren't watching. While Ratstar's getting the beers I take a look around but luckily there's no sign of him, so I start to relax. Isabel King has just started to sing when Ratstar's friend walks in, Luke, the guy with the laptop, which he carries around with him like it's welded to his hand. If we could just get a good look at that laptop I bet we would be a whole lot closer to finding out what we need to know.

"Ratstar, if you want some time alone with that laptop, don't tell him we're mates, act like you just happened to get talking to me in here. I've got an idea." Of course Ratstar would like nothing better than to get at some of the secrets that he's sure are hidden on the laptop's hard drive. He even leaves off staring lovestruck at Isabel King for a minute and starts asking me what the plan is, and I've only just filled him in when Luke sees Ratstar and comes over to join us. Now all I need to make this work is for him to leave the laptop unguarded for a moment. But this doesn't seem likely to happen as all he does is drink really slowly and stare at Isabel King, he's as bad as Ratstar. If he would just drink up quick then he'd have to get up and get another beer and he might just leave the laptop here with us. In fact he takes so long that I've finished my drink and I don't want to wait for him so I end up buying a round, so now there's no chance of getting him away from the table anytime soon. But when we've got nearly to the end of the second drink Isabel King and the band stop for a break and Ratstar says, "If she comes down to the bar I'll buy her a drink, let her know how much we like the show, what do you think?"

Luke only has to give this a moment's thought before he says, "Great idea, but I'll get the drinks, it's my round anyway!" I guess he thinks that way he'll be the one to make a big impression on Isabel King. I wouldn't bet on it, I expect guys buy her drinks every time she's here. So when Isabel makes her entrance into the bar it's like a race with Luke and Ratstar both trying to get to her first. Luke wins and buys the drinks but guess what, in the rush he's left his laptop behind. I hate to miss out on a free beer specially when I've just bought him one, but I look at them talking at the bar totally involved with Isabel King and getting the drinks in, and I realise this is probably the best chance I'm ever going to get. Luke's leaning over the bar talking to the barman and nobody's taking any notice of me at all when after a quick look round I pick up the laptop from under the table and walk straight out of the club. When I get outside the cold air hits me but for the moment I don't care about the cold and as I walk fast towards the tube I want to laugh and shout out loud, I can't believe I've done this and got away with it. I can't wait to get home and take a look at his files.

But when I get home I find the flaw in my plan and it's something so obvious I feel really stupid. Of course if the stuff on here is so secret he would have a password. So I'm sitting here looking at a login screen. Username I guess is Luke, but I don't know where to start with the password. I just hope Ratstar has some ideas. Of course Ratstar doesn't leave the Red Lantern until it closes, so it's nearly midnight before he finally gets to my place. "Luke thinks you're a cop," he says. "He's paranoid about cops catching up with him. He didn't even realise you'd gone off with his laptop before the band started again, he's really crazy about Isabel, can't take his eyes off her. But when he found the laptop was gone he didn't wait to hear the rest of the show, he just rushed off. Didn't tell me where he was going. He asked me who you were and I told him you were a guy I'd met once or twice who came up and started asking me questions about the place and who else drinks in here. I said all I'd told you was that I wasn't a regular and I didn't know many people. That's when he said you must be a cop."

" Any ideas what his password could be?"

"Don't know, but he did tell me the name he uses online, it's Demon, you could try that for the username." So I delete Luke and type in Demon. Now all we need is the password.

"We need to get into the guy's head, imagine what word he might use, come on, Ratstar, he must have told you something that would help. Wait a minute, you say he really likes Isabel King?"

In the password box I type the word Isabel and hit enter. And suddenly we're in.

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