My God, Katherine was right. As usual.
Trish Dunne stared in amazement at the search-spider results that were materializing on the plasma wall before her. She had doubted the search would turn up any results at all, but in fact, she now had over a dozen hits. And they were still coming in.
One entry in particular looked quite promising.
Trish turned and shouted in the direction of the library. Katherine? I think youll want to see this!
It had been a couple of years since Trish had run a search spider like this, and tonights results astounded her. A few years ago, this search would have been a dead end. Now, however, it seemed that the quantity of searchable digital material in the world had exploded to the point where someone could find literally anything. Incredibly, one of the keywords was a word Trish had never even heard before . . . and the search even found that.
Katherine rushed through the control-room door. What have you got?
A bunch of candidates. Trish motioned to the plasma wall. Every one of these documents contains all of your key phrases verbatim.
Katherine tucked her hair behind her ear and scanned the list.
Before you get too excited, Trish added, I can assure you that most of these documents are not what youre looking for. Theyre what we call black holes. Look at the file sizes. Absolutely enormous. Theyre things like compressed archives of millions of e-mails, giant unabridged encyclopedia sets, global message boards that have been running for years, and so forth. By virtue of their size and diverse content, these files contain so many potential keywords that they suck in any search engine that comes anywhere near them.
Katherine pointed to one of the entries near the top of the list. How about that one?
Trish smiled. Katherine was a step ahead, having found the sole file on the list that had a small file size. Good eyes. Yeah, thats really our only candidate so far. In fact, that files so small it cant be more than a page or so.
Open it. Katherines tone was intense.
Trish could not imagine a one-page document containing all the strange search strings Katherine had provided. Nonetheless, when she clicked and opened the document, the key phrases were there . . . crystal clear and easy to spot in the text.
Katherine strode over, eyes riveted to the plasma wall. This document is . . . redacted?
Trish nodded. Welcome to the world of digitized text.
Automatic redaction had become standard practice when offering digitized documents. Redaction was a process wherein a server allowed a user to search the entire text, but then revealed only a small portion of ita teaser of sortsonly that text immediately flanking the requested keywords. By omitting the vast majority of the text, the server avoided copyright infringement and also sent the user an intriguing message: I have the information youre searching for, but if you want the rest of it, youll have to buy it from me.
As you can see, Trish said, scrolling through the heavily abridged page, the document contains all of your key phrases.
Katherine stared up at the redaction in silence.
Trish gave her a minute and then scrolled back to the top of the page. Each of Katherines key phrases was underlined in capital letters and accompanied by a small sample of teaser textthe two words that appeared on either side of the requested phrase.
I secret location underground where the I
I somewhere in Washington, D.C. the
I uncovered an ancient portal that led
I warning the pyramid holds dangerous I
decipher this ENGRAVED
SYMROI.ON to unveil I
Trish could not imagine what this document was referring to. And what the heck is a symbolon?
Katherine stepped eagerly toward the screen. Where did this document come from? Who wrote it?
Trish was already working on it. Give me a second. Im trying to chase down the source.
I need to know who wrote this, Katherine repeated, her voice intense. I need to see the rest of it.
Im trying, Trish said, startled by the edge in Katherines tone.
Strangely, the files location was not displaying as a traditional Web address but rather as a numeric Internet Protocol address. I cant unmask the IP, Trish said. The domain names not coming up. Hold on. She pulled up her terminal window. Ill run a traceroute.
Trish typed the sequence of commands to ping all the hops between her control rooms machine and whatever machine was storing this document.
Tracing now, she said, executing the command.
Traceroutes were extremely fast, and a long list of network devices appeared almost instantly on the plasma wall. Trish scanned down . . . down . . . through the path of routers and switches that connected her machine to . . .
What the hell? Her trace had stopped before reaching the documents server. Her ping, for some reason, had hit a network device that swallowed it rather than bouncing it back. It looks like my traceroute got blocked, Trish said. Is that even possible?
Run it again.
Trish launched another traceroute and got the same result. Nope. Dead end. Its like this document is on a server that is untraceable. She looked at the last few hops before the dead end. I can tell you, though, its located somewhere in the D.C. area.
Not surprising, Trish said. These spider programs spiral out geographically, meaning the first results are always local. Besides, one of your search strings was Washington, D.C.
How about a who is search? Katherine prompted. Wouldnt that tell you who owns the domain?
A bit lowbrow, but not a bad idea. Trish navigated to the who is database and ran a search for the IP, hoping to match the cryptic numbers to an actual domain name. Her frustration was now tempered by rising curiosity. Who has this document? The who is results appeared quickly, showing no match, and Trish held up her hands in defeat. Its like this IP address doesnt exist. I cant get any information about it at all.
Obviously the IP exists. Weve just searched a document thats stored there!
True. And yet whoever had this document apparently preferred not to share his or her identity. Im not sure what to tell you. Systems traces arent really my thing, and unless you want to call in someone with hacking skills, Im at a loss.
Do you know someone?
Trish turned and stared at her boss. Katherine, I was kidding. Its not exactly a great idea.
But it is done? She checked her watch.
Um, yeah . . . all the time. Technically its pretty easy.
Who do you know?
Hackers? Trish laughed nervously. Like half the guys at my old job.
Anyone you trust?
Is she serious? Trish could see Katherine was dead serious. Well, yeah, she said hurriedly. I know this one guy we could call. He was our systems security specialistserious computer geek. He wanted to date me, which kind of sucked, but hes a good guy, and Id trust him. Also, he does freelance.
Can he be discreet?
Hes a hacker. Of course he can be discreet. Thats what he does. But Im sure hed want at least a thousand bucks to even look
Call him. Offer him double for fast results.
Trish was not sure what made her more uncomfortablehelping Katherine Solomon hire a hacker . . . or calling a guy who probably still found it impossible to believe a pudgy, redheaded metasystems analyst would rebuff his romantic advances. Youre sure about this?
Use the phone in the library, Katherine said. Its got a blocked number. And obviously dont use my name.
Right. Trish headed for the door but paused when she heard Katherines iPhone chirp. With
luck, the incoming text message might be information that would grant Trish a reprieve from this distasteful task. She waited as Katherine fished the iPhone from her lab coats pocket and eyed the screen.
Katherine Solomon felt a wave of relief to see the name on her iPhone.
Its a text message from my brother, she said, glancing over at Trish.
Trish looked hopeful. So maybe we should ask him about all this . . . before we call a hacker?
Katherine eyed the redacted document on the plasma wall and heard Dr. Abaddons voice. That which your brother believes is hidden in D.C. . . . it can be found. Katherine had no idea what to believe anymore, and this document represented information about the far-fetched ideas with which Peter had apparently become obsessed.
Katherine shook her head. I want to know who wrote this and where its located. Make the call.
Trish frowned and headed for the door.
Whether or not this document would be able to explain the mystery of what her brother had told Dr. Abaddon, there was at least one mystery that had been solved today. Her brother had finally learned how to use the text-messaging feature on the iPhone Katherine had given him.
And alert the media, Katherine called after Trish. The great Peter Solomon just sent his first text message.
In a strip-mall parking lot across the street from the SMSC, Malakh stood beside his limo, stretching his legs and waiting for the phone call he knew would be coming. The rain had stopped, and a winter moon had started to break through the clouds. It was the same moon that had shone down on Malakh through the oculus of the House of the Temple three months ago during his initiation.
The world looks different tonight.
As he waited, his stomach growled again. His two-day fast, although uncomfortable, was critical to his preparation. Such were the ancient ways. Soon all physical discomforts would be inconsequential.
As Malakh stood in the cold night air, he chuckled to see that fate had deposited him, rather ironically, directly in front of a tiny church. Here, nestled between Sterling Dental and a
minimart, was a tiny sanctuary.
LORDS HOUSE OF GLORY.
Malakh gazed at the window, which displayed part of the churchs doctrinal statement: WEBELIEVE THAT JESUS CHRIST WAS BEGOTTEN BY THE HOLY SPIRIT, AND BORN OF THE VIRGIN MARY, AND IS BOTH TRUE MAN AND GOD.
Malakh smiled. Yes, Jesus is indeed bothman and Godbut a virgin birth is not the prerequisite for divinity. That is not how it happens.
The ring of a cell phone cut the night air, quickening his pulse. The phone that was now ringing was Malakhs owna cheap disposable phone he had purchased yesterday. The caller ID indicated it was the call he had been anticipating.
A local call, Malakh mused, gazing out across Silver Hill Road toward the faint moonlit outline of a zigzag roofline over the treetops. Malakh flipped open his phone.
This is Dr. Abaddon, he said, tuning his voice deeper.
Its Katherine, the womans voice said. I finally heard from my brother.
Oh, Im relieved. How is he?
Hes on his way to my lab right now, Katherine said. In fact, he suggested you join us.
Im sorry? Malakh feigned hesitation. In your . . . lab?
He must trust you deeply. He never invites anyone back there.
I suppose maybe he thinks a visit might help our discussions, but I feel like its an intrusion.
If my brother says youre welcome, then youre welcome. Besides, he said he has a lot to tell us both, and Id love to get to the bottom of whats going on.
Very well, then. Where exactly is your lab?
At the Smithsonian Museum Support Center. Do you know where that is?
No, Malakh said, staring across the parking lot at the complex. Im actually in my car right now, and I have a guidance system. Whats the address?
Forty-two-ten Silver Hill Road.
Okay, hold on. Ill type it in. Malakh waited for ten seconds and then said, Ah, good news, it looks like Im closer than I thought. The GPS says Im only about ten minutes away.
Great. Ill phone the security gate and tell them youre coming through.
Ill see you shortly.
Malakh pocketed the disposable phone and looked out toward the SMSC. Was I rude to invite myself? Smiling, he now pulled out Peter Solomons iPhone and admired the text message he had sent Katherine several minutes earlier.
Got your messages. Alls fine. Busy day. Forgot appointment with Dr. Abaddon. Sorry not to mention him sooner. Long story. Am headed to lab now. If available, have Dr. Abaddon join us inside. I trust him fully, and I have much to tell you both. Peter
Not surprisingly, Peters iPhone now pinged with an incoming reply from Katherine.
peter, congrats on learning to text! relieved youre okay. spoke to dr. A., and he is coming to lab. see you shortly! k
Clutching Solomons iPhone, Malakh crouched down under his limousine and wedged the phone between the front tire and the pavement. This phone had served Malakh well . . . but now it was time it became untraceable. He climbed behind the wheel, put the car in gear, and crept forward until he heard the sharp crack of the iPhone imploding.
Malakh put the car back in park and stared out at the distant silhouette of the SMSC. Ten minutes. Peter Solomons sprawling warehouse housed over thirty million treasures, but Malakh had come here tonight to obliterate only the two most valuable.
All of Katherine Solomons research.
And Katherine Solomon herself.