By Rob Kelk
Inspired by the series "El Hazard" (released by AIC and Pioneer LDC) and DC Comics' Tangent imprint (created by Dan Jurgens)
This story originally appeared on the Anime Tangent Universe Mailing List. My thanks to all of the list's participants, especially Joe Monson, for C&C.
There are more author's notes at the end of the fanfic.
There were three of them in the Chicago boardroom - the Mayor, the Chief of Police, and the Fire Chief. None of them were happy. The Mayor was the first to speak. "Just look at this paper!" He waved the latest Tribune in front of the other two so that they couldn't help but see the headline:
"Bug-ROM" Terrorists Cripple London Underground - Five Dead
"I know you're worried," said the Fire Chief. "First Melbourne, then Tokyo, then Manhattan, then Paris, then Toronto, now London. We're all worried that the El could be their next target."
The Chief of Police cleared his throat. "My contacts in the NSA tell me they think the El is going to be those bastards' next target. And the NSA isn't going to do a damned thing to stop them; apparently, their intellegence network is more important to them than a few dozen innocent lives."
"So what can we do? Wait for them to hack into the control systems, and just have my men respond to the crash? That isn't good enough!" The Fire Chief slammed his hand down onto the table.
The Chief or Police shook his head. "We have to protect the El's computer controls. My brother-in-law says the best 'computer intrusion countermeasures specialist' in the country owes him a favor. I'm about to owe my brother-in-law a favor, because I'm going to ask him to get 'Mackie' Mizuhara to pay us a visit ..."
Meanwhile, a related conversation was taking place in a quiet restaurant somewhere in Turkey. Only one person at the table was visible; the other was cloaked in shadow. "Our last hacker was arrested by Interpol three hours ago. That is why we have contacted you. Are you willing to help us bypass the security on the imperialists' computers?"
The voice that replied from the shadows was feminine, but with an edge of steel. "If the Bug-ROM can meet my price, I am willing to penetrate their enemies' security systems."
"Your price is high, but there are none better than you, Miss -"
"Never use my real name, you fool! If you must call me something, use my 'handle'."
"As you wish, 'Ifurita' ..."
Makoto Mizuhara had never visited Chicago before. The wind off of Lake Michigan was cooler than he was used to, and didn't have the salt tang of the ocean breezes back home. He was homesick already.
The only reason he was here was because his old classmate said the city needed him badly enough to pay top dollar (Mackie had never flown first class before, either), but he had to speak with the Mayor in person to get the contract. He was already wondering whether he'd see Sheela again before their anniversary; his wife was far more interesting than the pompous politician he had to deal with before he could get to work.
"I'm very glad you've agreed to help us out, Mister Mizuhara. Or do you prefer to be called Makoto?"
"Most people call me 'Mackie', sir."
"'Mackie' it is, then. I'm glad you could come all the way from 'Frisco just to see us."
Mackie lost what little respect he had for the Mayor when the man used his city's most hated nickname. "Let's just get down to business. You want me to improve your computers' firewalls so nobody can tamper with the controls for the elevated rail system. I've already signed the contract, but I'll need an office close to your Chief Information Officer. When can you have that ready?"
"Right away," came the reply from an attractive young woman just entering the room. "You must be 'Mackie' Mizuhara. I'm Arielle Relryle, the city government's CIO. I'm pleased you meet you."
The two shook hands. "I'm anxious to get to work, Ms. Relryle. Where's my desk, and what're the technical specs of the 'El' systems I'm supposed to be protecting?"
"Your office is two doors down from mine - I had my assistant clear out a test-lab for your use. As for the specs, we may as well start with the box we're using as a dialup server ..." The two computer professionals left the room, their discussion quickly moving into the arcane realm known only to hackers and sysadmins.
Every head turned as the tall blonde walked into the quiet Springfield computer shop. She picked out a power supply and a modem, paid cash for them, and left, all without saying a word. The clerks and clientele were so overwhelmed by the presence of such a beautiful woman that they completely missed the utter lack of emotion in her eyes.
Mackie and Arielle had been talking for hours. "Right, you've already applied all the patches that CERT's put out advisories on. Your biggest problem is that your firewall's already half a year old, so we have to assume it's been penetrated."
"Aren't you being a bit paranoid, Mackie?"
"Chicago's paying me top dollar to be paranoid, Arielle. That's my job. But you could be right - we may not have to worry about anyone who doesn't have the right connectivity software on his home PC. Oh, look at the time! I'm not keeping you away from anything, am I?"
"No, I don't have to be anywhere tonight. Have you settled in at your hotel yet?"
Mackie looked surprised, then flustered. "To tell you the truth, I haven't even checked in to a hotel. Which one would you recommend?"
"Well ... I have a spare room at my place. If you don't mind sharing a bathroom with a single girl, you could stay there."
"Thanks, but what would my wife say?" Arielle looked disappointed when Mackie said that. "I'd better stay at a hotel. Besides, it would look strange if I didn't bill a room to the Chicago government. I'll just check in to the closest hotel."
"Can I at least buy you dinner? I know a great pizza place that hasn't become a tourist trap yet."
Mackie thought that he had better not turn down all of Arielle's offers - he had to work with her, after all. "Sure, why not?"
Londs couldn't believe his luck. Sure, he cruised the singles bars every week, but he never met anyone as gorgeous as the tall blonde foreign woman that agreed to come home with him. The most surprising thing was that she didn't seem to be interested in him until he mentioned he was one of the PR men with the Chicago Transit Authority. Maybe she was just confused, even though he mentioned he didn't work for the rock group. She mixed a great Martini, though - he'd never had one that tasted quite like it before.
Was that a computer beep he heard just before he dozed off? It was probably just his imagination - the only computer he owned was the old 486 he used to "dial in" to the office, and why would she be interested in that?
When he woke up, she was gone. Londs cursed his luck and went to bed alone. He looked on the bright side - at least nothing he owned was missing ...
Everything was quiet in the Chicago Transit Authority's main computer room. Makoto was beginning to think that things were too quiet. Then he had a horrible thought - what if the "Bug-ROM" cyber-terrorists were planning on going after the BART instead of the El? He'd feel terrible if his friends or family died while he wasn't in San Francisco. Besides, the BART was far more computerized than the El was, and so was more vunerable. On the other hand, he trusted the firewalls and the other defence systems around the BART's controls - he had written or installed most of them, and tested them all regularly.
"Mackie? Mackie??? Earth to Mackie ..."
"Oh, I'm sorry, Arielle. I was just wondering what was going on back home. You were saying?"
Chicago's Chief Information Officer sighed. "I was asking if you wanted me to test your CGI-vulnerability detection script. But I think you've been working long enough today if your mind is wandering. Go back to your hotel room and call your wife; that'll help set your mind at ease."
"Actually, it isn't my script - I got it from ..."
"I don't care if you got it from the ghost of Elvis! All I need to know is if it works, and you can't tell me that in your current state of mind. Go and relax, Mackie."
"Yes, mother," he said with a grin.
As the two were about to get up, the traffic control computer's console started beeping. The messages were scrolling off the top of the screen faster than they could be read, but they were all the same:
UNAUTHORIZED ACCESS ATTEMPT FROM SERVER 'CTA-PUBREL-3' - CHECK LOGS
Then the messages stopped appearing. "Oh, shit," they whispered in unison.
'Ifurita' smiled. Thanks to that fool Londs and his poor choice of passwords, she was in. (She didn't know why anyone would use something as easy to guess as 'precious'. She didn't really care, either. All that mattered was that it got her to the control computer's firewall.) There was more security than she expected, but that didn't matter any more. Now to plant the virus ...
"Maybe it was a false alarm?"
"Don't bet on it, Arielle," replied Mackie. He re-activated the console's X software and opened a few status windows. "It looks like somebody's trying to overwrite the El's traffic control programs."
"What kind of changes are they trying to make?"
"I don't care right now! We just have to stop the attempt ..." Mackie typed hurriedly. "Done. Those files are now only root-writeable, and the intruder hasn't tried to promote himself to superuser." The console beeped again. "Oops, I spoke too soon. I'm severing the system's link with CTA-PUBREL-3 ... he's gone." He then moved over to that server, logged on, and shut down its telnet daemon. "And now he's completely gone."
'Ifurita' stared at the CONNECTION TERMINATED BY HOST messages on her screen. Nothing she tried could re-establish the links.
"Mizuhara. It has to be Mizuhara! Why him, of all people??!!?" She cursed his name for five minutes straight without repeating herself as she prepared to abandon her motel room.
"What's wrong?" Mackie didn't answer Arielle immediately. She was about to repeat her question when he whispered a word she didn't hear. "I'm sorry; what did you say?"
"'Ifurita'. It has to be her. Nobody else writes code quite like this." Mackie was staring at a listing of one of the files the intruder managed to put on the system. "I think this would have caused all of the El's control signals to switch to green at 7:45 am. If she had compiled this, there would have been dozens of collisions during rush hour tomorrow morning."
Arielle went pale. "Oh my God ... Did you get it all, Makoto?"
"I hope so, but I'm not counting on it. Let's restore everything from last night's backup tapes, just to be sure."
Before she left that night, Arielle expired everyone's passwords. If 'Ifurita' had managed to copy the password files, they weren't going to be of much use to her after tomorrow morning when the passwords would all be changed. She was still nervous, though, and didn't sleep very well.
Oddly, Mackie's mind was at ease after the attempt. He now had proof that the "Bug-ROM" weren't going after the BART, so Sheela and the children were as safe as they always were. He slept quite well that night.
Mackie had gone through FBI and Secret Service debriefings before, but never with two more unpleasant agents. Of all the people in their respective Chicago offices, why did the agencies have to send people who so obviously hated each other? They were spending more time yelling at each other than they were in investigating last night's intrusion attempt.
The female FBI agent could yell quite loudly. "You couldn't catch a cold, Fujisawa! Why don't you go raid another roleplaying game company?"
The man from the Secret Service was just as loud. "At least we don't burn down the buildings we raid, Mishtal!"
Arielle leaned toward Mackie and whispered in his ear. "Don't they have better things to do than go over each other's mistakes? What are they talking about now, anyway?"
"I think they're talking about a couple of incidents in Texas a few years ago; one in Austin and one in Waco. I doubt either of them were personally involved ..."
Just then, the door opened and an attractive young woman walked in. She took one look at the two law-enforcement agents yelling at each other, rolled her eyes, and walked over to Mackie and Arielle. "Excuse me; I'm Special Agent Mann, from the CIA. You're Mizuhara and Relryle?"
Arielle nodded weakly in reply. Mackie gestured toward the other two in the room. "And these are ..."
Agent Mann cut him off. "I know who they are, unfortunately." She turned to the feuding agents and took a deep breath. "That's ENOUGH!"
The room was suddenly quiet.
Mann turned to Mackie and Arielle. "Now, shall we get started with the investigation?"
"Just a minute," interrupted FBI agent Mishtal. "What's the CIA doing here?"
"Keeping you two in line, although that isn't what I expected to have to do," replied the newcomer. "Mizuhara told the local police that he thinks 'Ifurita' is involved, and Interpol asked us to investigate any case that involves her." She turned back to Arielle. "Can I see the system logs, please?"
"We don't have a search warrant," objected Secret Service agent Fujisawa.
Mann looked at him condescendingly. "You might not have come prepared, but I did." She pulled an envelope out of her jacket pocket. "One warrant, authorizing me to examine any computer in this building. I trust you'll find everything is in order." She handed it to Arielle. "Now, let's please get on with the investigation before the NSA decides to get involved." Under her breath, she added, "with my luck, they'd send 'laughing boy' ..."
At that moment, 'Ifurita' was speaking with her employer. The "Bug-ROM" terrorist was not pleased.
"You promised us that the El would be disabled today. It is still running! How do you explain your failure?"
"They were ready for me. The administrators hired the thrice-cursed Makoto Mizuhara to defend their systems. You had best examine your own organization; you may have a turncoat amongst your numbers."
"I'll be sure to mention your theory to our Great Leader. She might even think that you aren't trying to deflect attention away from your own ineptitude ..."
"Never say that again!" Ifurita took a deep breath and counted to ten. "You are welcome to examine my programs and tell me where I have made any errors."
"But I don't know anything about computers, dear lady."
Ifurita's voice went icy. "Then why do you think I am inept?"
The person at the other end of the line gulped. "I'm sorry. I was out of line."
"Thank you for realizing that. Do you want me to try again?"
There was a short pause. "No; they'll be waiting for you. Come back here as soon as you can." The line went dead.
Ifurita took a final look around her hotel room, then picked up her already-packed bags.
"So, she used incoming line number ... 7 to get into the system."
Mackie nodded at agent Mann. "We've already asked the phone company to run a trace on the line. They won't release the results without a warrant, of course."
Mann picked up the phone and started to dial. "It's a good thing that I can get a warrant on five minutes' notice, then. Hello, Judge, it's your favorite niece again ..."
Eight minutes later, they were on their way to the Airport Hilton.
Mackie, Arielle, Mishtal, Fujisawa and Mann were sharing a pitcher of beer and a pizza. None of them were particularly happy.
"Damn it all, I still can't believe we missed her by five minutes!" Fujisawa took a long drink from his beer.
"Well, at least we know what she looks like now," replied Mishtal. "Blonde, brown eyes, indo-european build, about 5'10" tall, Mizuhara's age, give or take a couple of years ... What's wrong, Mizuhara? You look like you've seen a ghost."
Mackie tried to speak, took a quick drink, and tried again. "Did she have a mole on her right cheek?"
Mann thought for a moment. "Just below the jawline, according to the desk clerk. Have you seen her before?"
"Maybe. There was a exchange student who looked like that in my graduate class at MIT. What was her name ... Jill? Jane?"
"Jean?" asked Arielle.
"That's it! Jeanie ..."
Fujisawa groaned. Everyone looked at him. "'Jeanie' sounds like 'genie'." He wrote the words on a napkin so the others could see the spellings. "And one of the most powerful types of genie was called 'ifurit'."
Arielle got the reference immediately. "And a female ifurit could be called 'ifurita'! But she wouldn't be that obvious, would she?"
Mackie nodded his head. "Jeanie always was more than a little full of herself. She very well could be that overconfident."
"There may still be time to find her at the airport," said Mann as she flipped her celphone open. "What was her family name, Mackie?"
Somewhere in Europe, three people were talking in hushed tones in a poorly-lit room.
"The hacker called Ifurita has been captured by the FBI. We will need another catspaw if we are to continue our reign of terror."
"But where will we find someone else of her calibre? We may have to abandon our signature method of terrorism, Great Leader."
The only female in the room shook her head. "No, I have heard rumors of another amoral hacker who is every bit as good as Ifurita. I want you to make contact with the one they call 'Kalia' and hire her for the upcoming attack on San Francisco."
The first man looked toward heaven. "Great; another hacker self-named after a supernatural being. A Hindu goddess, no less. I suppose I should tell our contact to use the 'struggle against the imperialist powers' routine again ..."
"Whatever you think best. Just so long as she cannot connect any of us with the Bug-ROM." The female looked at her watch. "And now it is time for me to go back to playing the part of the bored socialite."
The two men recognized their cue to leave. They bowed and made their way out of the estate, secure in their knowledge that nothing could connect them with her.
After all, how could anyone suspect that the Bug-ROM was being lead by Countess Nanami Jinnai?
I made liberal use of real institutions in this story. However, I was careful to avoid describing any actual computer systems. Please don't try to set up a network like the one I vaugely described - it won't work very well.
Here are a few URLs that give background information for some of the references in this story, in the order that they appeared:
And a legal footnote: CERT is registered in the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office to the CERT Coordination Center.
Last update: 16 February 2001