Chapter 19

The door to Dean Blaine’s office slammed open without so much as a knock. He glanced up, his face impassive, while his hand pressed against a switch beneath his desk that would simultaneously fill the area of tear gas, detonate a concussion blast, and send an electrical current through every living being within fifty feet of the office. When dealing with Supers, emergency procedure tended toward the overkill, so much so that Dean Blaine would be caught in his own defense measures if he used them. He’d requested it be that way; holes in security only gave the cunning a place to slip through.

As it turned out, this was unnecessary. The man coming through the door was Mr. Numbers, though a far less composed Mr. Numbers than Dean Blaine was accustomed to seeing. He was unshaven for at least a day, and his suit hadn’t been pressed in some time. Briefly Dean Blaine wondered if the task had been too much and had driven his calculating brain over the precipice of madness. Then he noticed the sheets of paper clutched tightly in Mr. Numbers’ hand, and it all came together.

“You found something?”

“I did,” Mr. Numbers replied. Mr. Transport followed a few steps behind, more put together than his partner, which was a curiosity in itself. The duo sat down immediately and Dean Blaine paused the conversation long enough to pour them both some waters. He then got up and shut the door firmly, afterward flipping the light switch a curious number of times. Only when this was done did he retake his own seat.

“All recording devices and cameras are off. I’ve expanded my negation field so that our minds should be unreadable. This room is specially insulated and equipped to make it impossible to hear through, even with augmented senses. In our world it is impossible to say if anything is truly secure, however this is as private as I can possibly make our conversation. So, did you find a hole in security?”

“No,” Mr. Numbers said. “So far as I can tell your internal systems still haven’t been compromised. What I found was something that made me think it is time to shift the focus of the investigation.”

“Oh?” Dean Blaine tried hard to hold onto his detachment. There were precious few options outside of having been hacked, and none of them were positive.

Mr. Numbers slid the pages across the desk. “Despite months of scouring information, I’ve yet to see a single sign that someone has entered any part of the Lander system without authorization. However, in my reviews I did notice something peculiar. On the day of Mary and Hershel’s kidnapping, there was an authorized access and a large download of information. The user was George Russell.”

“Not to be a doubter, but all of the teachers here access the system and the data stored within on a regular basis. Helping our students often requires sorting through massive amounts of historical information, searching for past students who have faced similar personal obstacles or had the same type of power and what tactics worked best for them. I’ll give you it is curious, however I fail to see what conclusion it could lead to.”

“There’ s something more,” Mr. Transport told him.

“Yes, yes there is. Two things, really. One, the part of system this data came from is not connected to any pathway or archive I’ve seen so far. I’m assuming you have a few chunks of data not meant for just anyone, even professors, to see?”

“There are certain pieces of information which are considered too dangerous to be given out freely. Board approval for access is required,” Dean Blaine admitted. “Even I’m not privy to all the information on those servers. The only time I accessed one was back in my Hero days when a former student turned villain was threatening a town with a doomsday device. He’d created something similar in his time here, and looking at the schematics aided me in finding a way to defuse it. That’s the sort of information kept on those files. Too useful to destroy, too dangerous to spread.”

“Well, George found a way in, and he took a big-ass chunk of it,” Mr. Numbers replied.

“That data is heavily encrypted. Even if he downloaded it, he won’t be able to read it,” Dean Blaine assured his guests.

“Encryption can be cracked,” Mr. Transport reminded him.

“We utilize an incredibly complex one. It would take centuries to break, if ever.”

“Complex by whose standards? Because I can do computations in my head seven times faster than the best computer built so far. Then again, that Murray kid hasn’t taken a swing at it yet, so maybe I’ll lose my record before I die. Or maybe some Super out there has the gift of looking at a scrambled code and reading it like a daily newspaper.”

“Point taken. We can’t dismiss anything as impossible,” Dean Blaine yielded. “But while I grant you, this does finally give us a stepping off place on their motive, I fail to see how it informs us about our leak in security.”

“Because George made the download at eleven that night. Or rather, he connected at eleven and finished his business at one the next morning. Seems it took him some time to access what he was looking for,” Mr. Numbers explained. “And we know with certainty that is…”

“Impossible,” Dean Blaine finished, comprehension dawning at last. “Because at that time he was already involved in a kidnapping.”

“Correct,” Mr. Numbers confirmed.

“And we were using Mrs. Tracking at the time, so if he were using a teleporter to hop back and forth between locations we’d have known about it,” Mr. Transport added.

“Which can only mean someone else was using his credentials. Someone he would have had to give them to, our security is top-notch. Someone who was here, using a terminal in the school while our entire staff was in an uproar over a pair of suddenly missing students,” Dean Blaine laid it out.

“The whole thing was a shell game,” Mr. Transport said simply. “While we were chasing George and Persephone, someone was here doing the real job.”

“Hence why I feel I can stop looking for a hole in the security system,” Mr. Numbers said. “What we have here is not a hole, it’s a mole.”