Codename Chameleon

Chapter 8

Chameleon camouflage

He's got this cool desktop with an animation of a space shuttle flying across the screen. I'm tempted to copy it onto my PC but then I think it will slow it down which of course is the last thing a gamer wants. A lot of his files are videos and he's got some good video editing software. There's one called Isabel.avi and Ratstar has to take a look at this, so we waste about ten minutes watching Isabel and the Red Lantern band do two songs. There's a few more short videos of other bands and a few where he's just been wandering around London filming anything that catches his eye. There's one called Holiday.avi which looks like Spain or somewhere. We don't bother to watch all of these, they're a bit boring anyway. Then we open one that looks like it was filmed in a club, it's a bit dark and you can't see what's going on that well. The music's good though, so we leave it playing. It's hip hop, loud and with a lot of attitude. It's not a club I've ever been to, I don't think it can be near here. Everybody's dancing like they don't know they're being filmed, but every so often he does a close-up on some-one and asks them a question, like are they having a good time, and they smile into the camera and wave and say how brilliant the club is. The club night is called Machine Gun. Then he goes over to film the DJ who is called Crazy K, I've never heard of him but Ratstar tells me it's spelt Kray ZK. The DJ says a few words into the mic about what a great club this is and how cool it is to be here. Of course this is the cue for things to start going wrong.

A fight breaks out at the other end of the club and there's a lot of shouting and a lot of pushing as everybody tries to get away from the guys who are thumping each other. I see a girl getting shoved out of the way by a guy and she hits him in the face with her handbag. Luke is trying to move towards the fight with the camera but not having much success as the rest of the crowd is going the other way. There's a sudden jerk and everything looks blurred, I guess someone's bashed into the camera. Then things come back into focus, Luke's managed to get closer to the fight and I can see there's a guy on the floor with three of them kicking him. Then the security gets there, huge guys in black jackets who drag the attackers away and pick up the guy on the floor who can hardly stand up. I think I've seen one of the security guys before, a big black guy, but it's dark enough in the club that I can't see him too clearly. Ratstar says, "Isn't that the guy who's on the door at the Red Lantern?"

The big guy turns away from the fighters and sees the camera looking straight at him. He says something that isn't picked up by the mic and suddenly that's the end. I guess he must have told Luke to stop filming. We look through the rest of the videos but there's nothing at all interesting. Then we find a big zip file which has a password all to itself, and it's not Isabel. This must be where he hides the good stuff. He's named this file Winter. Ratstar reckons hacking into this file is going to keep him busy for a couple of days, so that leaves me on my own to fight our campaign against Dark Ghost in Warzone Space Station.

We finish looking through his files and Ratstar wants to look at his games, but I can see he hasn't got anything I haven't played. Then I get an idea.

"Let's take a look at where he's been on the net."

We take a look at his history and when I see what sites he's been looking at, I get a kind of a cold feeling. Of course he visits the Red Lantern site, he's got that one bookmarked, but the rest of his sites are military sites, army bases,and when I see this I start to think maybe we should just give up and hand the laptop over to Vincent Penny. There's one site, though, which is an odd one out, it seems to be a science site. It can't hurt to take a quick look at this.

This turns out to be one weird site. As I look at it, the page keeps changing colours. There's a lot of stuff about an amazing new technology for making electronic polymers, whatever they are. They even make some stuff called electrochromic nail varnish, it changes colour so that girls don't have to keep painting their nails all the time. I suppose for the kind of girl who's obsessed with painting her nails to match her kit, this is killer stuff. Then I see the real deal, the thing that got Luke hot for these electronic polymers. Down at one corner of the page is a link to the latest application, Multi-Cam, the new electrochromic coating for vehicles, chosen by the British Army for their latest range of newly developed tanks!

Now I know what to look for, I can't resist a quick flick through the army sites, looking for info on these new tanks. And I find it. Codename Chameleon, for warfare anywhere in the world. State of the art weaponry, laser pulse turrets, micro targeting system with infra-red viewscreen. Camouflage that switches from desert to jungle and back at the touch of a key. You don't even need to risk death by going into the desert or jungle yourself, these are vehicles for the twenty first century army, controlled from a remote computer. Real life gets more like gaming all the time. I wouldn't turn down a chance to test drive the Chameleon 1 prototype, I'm reading the specs here on the Pinford base website and it sounds totally cool. Someone's got to mod this so I can drive it through a few war games.

Of course there's nothing secret about this stuff, it's on the net for anyone to see, I could probably find the whole lot by putting the words "army tank" into Google, if I didn't mind sorting through the 21,604 hits. So why did Luke bother? Maybe he just thinks tanks are cool. By this time we've both had enough and Ratstar goes home, taking the laptop with him to see if he can hack into the mystery file.

The next night I'm kind of tired after being up late the night before and I think I'll stay in, maybe play a little Warzone Space Station. Ratstar's not logged on to the game and as far as I can tell, neither is Dark Ghost. Then I get a call from Anne, she wants to come round. So I log off and pick things up off the floor so it looks a bit tidier than it did last time. While I do this I'm thinking, what do I tell her about last night? That's the problem with having a girlfriend who's a cop, she's maybe not going to be so cool with the idea of me stealing people's laptops. Also, she and Vincent Penny have both warned me, more than once, to stay away from Curtis Winter and the terrorist gang, and I know Luke's got to be deeply involved with all that. And really, I haven't got anything new to tell her, except that Luke is a bit obsessed with tanks. So in the end I say nothing. Anne brings some beer and we have sex and drink a couple of beers and talk a bit, but she doesn't ask what I did last night so I don't have to tell her. It's a good thing Ratstar's taken the laptop with him. And it's good that she's here with me and we can hang out and talk and it doesn't have to be about cops or terrorists or any of the stuff she has to deal with in her working life.

But what I've forgotten is that while Anne's not watching the Red Lantern any more, now that Curtis Winter knows she's a cop, of course Vincent Penny will have put someone else there. At least that's my guess as to how he finds out I've got the laptop. Anyway, next morning when I leave for work I find him waiting for me, leaning on his car which is parked right outside my place.

"You'd better give it to me now! You fool, you know I could have you arrested! Haven't you learned yet that these people are dangerous? You could get killed! They've already shot at one of my officers!"

Yes, I know, I was there. "What are you talking about?" I say, to find out how much he knows.

"You know perfectly well what I'm talking about! The laptop you were given at the Red Lantern! Have you still got it, or have you handed it on? You should know better than to get involved with Winter and his gang again!"

"You've got it all wrong," I say, seeing there's no point in lying to him. He probably won't believe me even when I tell him the truth. "They didn't give me the laptop, I took it. They don't know it's me that's got it."

"You stole it?" He's glaring at me as if it was his laptop I'd nicked. "You'd better give it to me this minute! You have no idea what's on there, the trouble you could get yourself into. Get it now, I'll come in with you."

I suppose to make sure I don't grab the laptop, climb out of the back window and escape. Doesn't he trust me at all? "I haven't got it right now, I gave it to a friend, he's trying to break the password."

"What's his name? Where does he live?"

"I don't think he'd like me to tell you," I say, knowing how Ratstar feels about the police.

"Listen to me, if we don't get the information on that laptop before Winter and his crew, the consequences could be very serious. I'm talking life or death here. These people are terrorists! They don't care who they kill, civilians, children, they don't care! You've got to help me stop them. Do you and your friend want to put people's lives at risk?"

I don't know what to say. I just look at him like I'm dumb. I want to help but I can't shop Ratstar.

"Get in the car," he says, and I get the feeling he's really angry, "this time you're coming down to the station."

But before we go he insists on searching my room, just in case I'm lying to him. I unlock the door for him and watch while he goes through my stuff. He looks under the mattress, looks under all the stuff on the floor, looks in all the cupboards. He looks through all my games and CDs. He's searching a lot of places that are too small to hide a laptop. It's a good thing my place is small and I haven't got too much stuff, it takes long enough as it is. He doesn't bother too much with putting things back the way he found them and my room ends up looking even less tidy than it usually does. So that was a waste of time last night, picking things up. But the searching gives me time to think about what I want to do, and of course this does not include a ride to the police station.

"Look," I say as we get into the car, "what I could do is, get the laptop from my friend and bring it to you. But I can't tell you who he is."

"Can you get it now?" he asks, and I know he's going to go for it. It's got to be better from his point of view than dragging me down to the station and spending a few hours trying to make me tell him what I know, which might take some time now they can't threaten to beat you up.

"I think so. I've just got to phone him and fix a place to meet. Shouldn't take more than an hour." The hard part is going to be getting Ratstar out of bed at this time in the morning.

"I'll see you back here in an hour then, and you'd better have it!" He lets me out of the car and drives off, talking on his mobile as he goes.

I go back into my room and call Ratstar. I tell him I've just been talking to the cops and I need to give them the laptop if I don't want to be arrested. I tell him where I want us to meet and warn him that I might be followed. I tell him to make it quick and he says no problem, he'll be there. Then I call work to say I'm sick and can't come in, they'll probably think I've got a hangover. Before I leave I take a last look round my room, wondering why Anne really came here last night. When I get to the end of my road I look back as I turn the corner. A man I've never seen before is walking slowly several yards behind me. He avoids meeting my eyes. I walk as fast as I can, hoping to put some distance between us, maybe lose him in the rush hour crowd coming out of the tube station, but when I get to where I'm going he's still with me. I just hope Ratstar is where he's supposed to be.

This place looks very different in the bright morning light. It's the big house where the party was, the night I first met Ratstar. Before my pursuer can catch up with me I'm in through the gate and I go quickly round the side of the house to the back. If anyone's home they're probably all still asleep at this time. As quietly as I can I creep through the gap in the fence into the alley that runs past the back of the house. Then I run, the way we went that night, past the rubbish bins and out at the back of the cinema where Ratstar is waiting with the laptop in his hand. I take it from him and he runs round to the front of the cinema where he can vanish into the crowd in the high street. I walk back along the alley with the laptop and I've almost got back to the gap in the fence before I see the man who's been following me. I walk past him calmly as if I've never seen him before. I don't bother with the gap in the fence this time but apart from that I go back exactly the way I came. Of course he has to follow me. I get back just within the hour and Penny's already waiting for me, sitting in his car parked outside my place. He grabs it from me without a word of thanks.

Something's wrong. He should be pleased at having got the laptop into his hands at last, but if possible he looks even more angry than he did earlier this morning. "You won't talk about anything you've seen on here, if you know what's good for you," he says, and makes it sound like a threat.

"There's nothing much, just some home videos, that guy Luke seems obsessed with making videos. And he's got a thing about tanks."

"Tanks? There's information on here about tanks?"

"Only what anyone could find on the net, stuff about the latest army tanks, the ones with some new kind of camouflage."

"If you'd told me this last night! I've just heard from Pinford military base. The Chameleon 1 prototype was stolen from there this morning!"

He drives off, switching on his siren and fixing a blue light to the top of his car. Suddenly speed seems more important than secrecy. Whatever he's expecting to find on that laptop has got to be more important than anything we saw last night. No point going in to work now, they're not expecting me since I've phoned in sick. I'll give Ratstar a call and see what he's doing.

"Hey, Nate," he answers his phone, "you're not still in trouble, are you?"

"I am, with Penny. You remember the Chameleon 1, that new kind of tank we saw on the net? They've gone and stolen the prototype from Pinford army base! And Penny says its our fault because we didn't give him the laptop last night!"

"Yeah, I thought they might be going to try something like that. I managed to break into that secret file."

"You did? Why didn't you call me?"

"I did call you , but you weren't answering your phone."

Then I remember, my phone did ring last night when Anne was here, but she said, "Don't answer it," and really I didn't want to right at that moment, and by the time she went I'd forgotten about it.

"I wanted to tell you, it was all about tanks and codewords and passwords. There was a lot of stuff about the security systems at Pinford, a map and everything. They must have had to do some serious hacking, I bet it was Dark Ghost who did that. So I knew they were up to something. I was thinking I'd like to keep the laptop, but if there's a chance they might find out I've got it then I'd want to maybe sell it, or if I have to, just dump it. And I wouldn't want to give those secret files away to just anybody. So I deleted a big chunk of that stuff from the laptop, the files that looked really secret, all the security passwords, that kind of thing. And I thought now we've got the laptop, they couldn't do what they were planning. But I guess it was too late, they must have made a copy."

"You deleted stuff from the laptop? Penny will kill me!"

"Well, if you really want you can give him a copy of the files. I emailed them to you."

"You did what?"

"Yeah, I know you thought the tank was cool, so I thought you'd like to take a look at the files. And I thought it might be useful to keep a copy, just in case. So I emailed everything to you before I deleted it."

Great. Now I've got top secret information hacked from military computers sitting in my inbox. Good thing Penny didn't think to check out my computer when he searched my room. I'd better get rid of it quick, before he comes back. He'll never believe I didn't know it was there. When I tell Ratstar I'm not going to work he says he'll come round. While I'm waiting for him I'll take a look at the email he's sent me.

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