Data Miners – Chapter 6


Nina was about nine minutes late getting to her desk that morning. Gareth had borrowed the car again last night and casually forgotten to fill the tank up when he dropped it off. Typical Gareth behaviour, but she was forced to take some of the credit. Had she not let him sleep over, he wouldn’t have been around to disrupt her morning routine. She could have superseded him simply by setting her clock, but such behavior is for grunts. Let the new kids greet the day, she decided long ago. Now that she’s got some clout around her office, she refuses to be a slave to an alarm clock.

The drive was pleasant, if a bit rushed. It was a pristine West Virginian morning, the air nice and dewy and mildly warm. It’s the kind of morning that’s pleasant for the first few hours, before the noon sun turns it all into sweltering heat. By then the residents of the sleepy town of Clarksburg were all too happy to retire to a working environment that boasted some kind of air-conditioning. Those that did not enjoy this luxury would just have to suffer or find some other way to stay cool.

Nina had broken a bit of a sweat getting to work and was pleased with herself for making sure her desk was outfitted with a box of Kleenex that was waiting for her on arrival. Grabbing a handful of the tissues, she dabbed at her face and around her neck, letting the AC do its job and cool her down until her pores closed. She looked at her keyboard and noticed there was a note sitting there with a prescriptive message scrawled across it.

Check our surveillance files, following j-pegs:




Possible forgeries detected! Need to know basis.

Mark J.

Nina was about to get herself a cup of coffee and ease her way into her work, but someone obviously intended to light a fire under her. The note also seems to suggest he got here a lot earlier than her today. What could have been so important as to warrant a really early start? She hops right onto her computer and calls up their surveillance database. Entering the names of each file, she waits as the machine does a search and pulls up each one. She sends each to her desktop for eventual printing and picks up her phone. Punching in Mark’s extension, a quick call ensues. Explanations are necessary, and they better be good! No one starts their morning with something like this without a damned good reason!

Nina looks around to make sure she’s alone. One after the other, the damning photos are rolled off and set down in the printer’s tray, their fresh, glossy surfaces reflecting the room’s fluorescent lighting back at her.

The photos are on the nearest side table a second later and Nina grabs a black and a white marker. She circles the pictures in white, underlines the name at the bottom in black. Grabbing a manila envelope from the shelf, she slides the three photos in and leaves the copy room in great haste. She is at the dark mahogany door with two plaques not a moment later. One reads Dave Griswold, Deputy Director, and the other, Law Enforcement Services Branch. Without announcing herself, she walks right in and slams the envelope down on his desk. He is in the process of finishing a call and looks up at her just in time to hear her speak.

“Sir, I think we’ve been hacked. I was alerted to these forgeries this morning.”

Griswold takes the folder and opens it carefully. Years of dealing with sensitive materials has conditioned the habit in him to treat every file folder as if it were containing anthrax powder or a copy of the constitution. He lays the photos out, and immediately forgets this habit. The three photos spread out around the desk so he can see all three circles that Nina has drawn.

“What the hell are these?”

“Fakes, sir. Found in the surveillance files. Not too convincing ones either.”

“Just what are you saying here, Righetti?”

“I’m saying that Johnson reported that someone hacked into the CJIS and planted these is our files.”

“Johnson came to you with this when?”

“This morning. He says he got a call from some press agent over at the Washington Post, something about these photos being sent to him from an anonymous source within our department. They wanted confirmation that they were real.”

“Confirmation…” Griswold said with a laugh. Trust the good ol’ boys at the WP to actually check first. Unlike most of their liberal counterparts, they knew how to take national security seriously. “So what have we told them?”

“Well, nothing yet sir. First thing I did was pull the photos and send them down to Criminal Investigations, asked if they knew anything about them. They said they had no idea what I was talking about, so I asked them to examine them for us. They all came back as a fake.”

“Jesus clusterfuck!”

Nina clears her throat. There’s something about a boss swearing so openly that makes her want to laugh, which she cannot allow right now. Combining religious obscenity with a compound word that strongly denotes group sex makes that especially hard. Why the hell is that word so popular with government people?

“They do look real enough, don’t they?”

“People can do some amazing things these days with Photoshop, sir.”

Griswold looks up at her. He is the first to admit that he’s not the most technologically literate person in the world. That’s why the Bureau is in the habit of hiring these young ‘uns. They do the leg work while the old workhorses do the thinking.

“Okay, so what else?

“Well, sir, I asked Johnson to start a more thorough search of our surveillance files, just to see if there’re any more fakes. In the meantime, I think we should consider giving the Post a statement.”

“Forget the Post,” Griswold replies. “A hundred papers must have their hands on these by now. There’s no way this isn’t going to be big news. We can expect to get reamed real good, real soon.”

“Yes, sir.” Nina’s stance tightens up some more. She knows this is serious. He’s using a butt metaphor. He looks down at the photos again and takes a deep breath. Reaching for the phone, he fetches it from its cradle and hits the button to connect him to the Criminal Investigations Branch. As it rings, he issues some new orders for Nina.

“I need to send these up the line. You get over to Johnson and ask him exactly who the hell contacted him at the Post. See if you can’t suck any more information out of them, like who sent them these.” A pause as the phone beeps a few times, waiting for the CIB to pick up. “I need to talk to the Cyber Division on this. Find out how in the hell those bastards let someone get into our files.”

She is about to leave when Griswold stops her for one last reminder.

“And for God sakes, keep this under your hat!”

Nina nods and is waved away as the answering service at the other end picks up his call. She can hear his bawling into the receiver just as she leaves the office.

“Andrei! I’m sending you something my grunts just brought to my attention. We’ve got a fucking leaky ship and I’m putting the blame squarely at the feet of your Cyber Division! PATCH YER FUCKING HOLES!”

The door shuts and all she can hear now are the muffled thuds of the DD’s explosive tirade. The noise follows her down the hall until she is finally back in the vicinity of her office space. Just about everyone she has passed is looking in the direction of the DD’s door.

More Badasses!

Last time, my list was already going kind of long with everyone from Alucard to Private Vasquez. So I thought I might make a second installment and include all the people I couldn’t, and break the mold a little by venturing outside of the world of science fiction. But as usual, the only real criteria is sheer badassness, those people who went above and beyond at kicking ass, keeping their cool and staying alive when all around them was dying or exploding! So here they are, the other badasses who deserve recognition for all their awesomeness!

Bill Kilgore:
“I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed, for twelve hours. When it was all over I walked up. We didn’t find one of ‘em, not one stinkin’ dink body. The smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole hill. Smelled like … victory.”

These are the words that soldier, surfing enthusiast and notorious badass Lt. Col Bill Kilgore is most remembered for. A seminal character is the 1979 epic war film Apocalypse Now, Kilgore was the commander of the an Air Cavalry brigade that was responsible for getting special agent Capt. Benjamin L. Willard and his PT Boat escort up the Mekong River. This he did by assaulting a company of Viet Cong that was controlling the mouth of the river, flying in low in attack choppers to the tune of “Flight of the Valkyries” by Wagner, blowing the shit out of everything, distributing death cards on the corpses of the enemy, and then ordering his men to surf on the breaking waves!

That’s right, in the midst of enemy fire, he disembarked on the Mekong Delta and told his men that it was either “fight or surf”. When told that this was too risky, Kilgore replied simply that “if I say it’s safe, it’s safe!” He would also remark in the midst of it that “Charlie don’t surf!” Loved by his men and feared by his enemies, Kilgore combined balls, daring, eccentricity and wry humor into one package. As if this wasn’t enough, Kilgore seemed to lament the fact that one day, the war would end. And why not? With no asses to kick and no death to defy, men like him would surely run out of things to do and die from boredom.

And as Willard himself remarked in his journal, Kilgore had a certain aura about him, as if nothing could touch him. Yes, given his indifference to explosions and bullets’ ability to miss him, Kilgore could only strike audiences as crazy, invincible, or some odd combination of both. But given his reputation, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kilgore survived the war and went on kicking ass until the day he died. I’m sure there’s even shrines somewhere along the Mekong river that are dedicated to him!

Man, demon hunting has been growing in popularity in recent years! And with more and more heroines taking to the stage, its also been getting a lot sexier! This is especially true of Bo, the an ass-kicking vixen of Lost Girl and a leather-wearing succubus to boot! Much like her male peers, Blade and D, she is a supernatural being with mixed origins who uses her abilities to help those in need. Largely, this consists of hunting other supernatural beings who prey on the innocent and just like to stir shit up. In addition to her leather getup, her weapons of choice appear to be traditional in nature, crossbows and blades rather than guns.

Working with the only real friend she’s known since discovering her true identity, Bo and Kenzi run a sort of Fae/Human detective agency where they investigate paranormal events and learn more about the world she comes from. In the course of learning about her true origins, Bo is brought face to face with the Fae world and its particular struggles. After being told that she must choose between “the light or the dark” of the Fae world, Bo chooses instead to remain neutral and fight for humanity, largely out of loyalty to her friend.

In time, she meets and develops relationships with other beings, like the wolf-shifter Dyson, who holds down a day job as a police detective, and a human doctor named Lauren. These relationships, in addition to the nature of her job, allows Bo to keep one foot in both worlds, which seems to be the natural resolution to her predicament (i.e. having “lost” her humanity years before).

Bryan Mills:
“I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.”

Just as Ellen Ripley taught never to come between a mother and her child, Mills taught us never to come between a father and his daughter. Yes, with the release of Taken in 2008, we were all indebted to Liam Neeson for proving that a retired father-figure can still be the biggest badass on the block! Within ninety-six hours of learning that his daughter had been kidnapped, Mills flew to Paris and took down an entire Albanian mob ring and all those involved in their human smuggling. And part of what made it so damn cool was how effortless he made it look!

After spending years honing his skills with the CIA, a job which eventually cost him his job and custody of his daughter, Mills quit his job and moved to LA to be closer to her. However, things went awry when his daughter decided to take a trip to Europe to follow U2 on tour and ended up being kidnapped by a bunch of sex-slave traffickers. Thus the very thing that cost him a life with his daughter would allow him to bring her back home safe and sound! Not only was he able to deduce the identity of her kidnappers from a single phone call, he was also able to determine who amongst the authorities were on the take from them, where the bad guys safe houses were, and who they were doing business with. Not bad for an old man!

But really, the scene that took the cake for me was when he walked right into one of the Albanian mobs hideouts, impersonating a French government agent, and extorted the bad guys for more money!

Awesome, especially when you consider that it was all an act so that he could find out which amongst them was the guy he had a phone conversation with. And once he knew, he says so cooly, “You don’t remember me? We spoke on the phone two days ago. I told you I would find you.” Then proceeds to take them all out with his bare hands and their own guns! Oh, and that torture scene afterwards, where he hooks up Marko to the power grid? It was so good, I feel the need to quote his opening threat in full:

“You know, we used to outsource this kind of thing. But what we found was the countries we outsourced to had unreliable power grids. Very Third World. You’d turn on a switch – power wouldn’t come on, and then tempers would get short. People would resort to pulling fingernails. Acid drips on bare skin. The whole exercise would become counterproductive. But here, the power’s stable. Here, there’s a nice even flow. Here, you can flip a switch and the power stays on all day.”

Bad-Ass! If only Mills and Ripley could get together and make a baby, that kid would be the safest, most badassed kid in the world!

Dirty Harry:
“You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well do ya, punk?” One of the most quoted lines in Hollywood history. You almost forget that the man saying it was threatening to blow the head off some thug with an empty .44 magnum. And this was after he single-handedly foiled a bank robbery. Yes, this scene not only made Clint Eastwood’s career, it also immortalized Inspector Harry Callahan as one of the baddest dudes of all time!

Working for the SFPD, Inspector Callahan became the template for an entire generation of movie cop. Nicknamed “Dirty” because of his reputation for crossing boundaries in order to get the bad guy, Callahan was also a man of deep principles who believed very strongly in what he was doing. Always, his weapon of choice was his trusty .44 magnum service revolver, a gun that is notorious for packing an incredibly punch! Though he might use other weapons in the course of duty, or just his bare hands, the magnum was always the gun he is seen wielding in iconic images.

Often condemned by higher ups and authorities for being a “rogue” or “loose cannon”, he was in fact the kind of guy who only broke the rules – including his own – when it was absolutely necessary. And when it came right down to it, his rough exterior hid a semi-tortured soul that longed for a world in which life was simpler, people were civil, and no one committed grisly crimes. But as long as they still did, he was prepared to whip out his gun and shoot them up!

Sounds like a cliche now doesn’t it? Well, that’s because Eastwood established it as a household theme! Callahan was, for all intents and purposes, the original bad-boy cop, willing to bend, grease and even break the rules in order to take down the criminal psychopaths and avenge the victims of violent crime. But always, he loved what he did, and was a hell of a lot more committed than the pencil-pushing bosses and red-tape bureaucrats who complained about his methods! (Whoa, speaking of cliches!)

John McClain:
The man who put the hard in Die Hard! Unlike most of his peers, Detective John McClain of the NYPD was good at taking down bad guys not because of his big brain or super human fighting skills, but because of his raw, unrelenting determination. Relying on a cop’s instincts, a strong sense of duty and the desire to protect the ones he loved, McClain triumphed over criminals and terrorists through persistence and his refusal to just roll over and die. Basically, he was like an itch they couldn’t scratch, slowly driving them mad until they lost all control and died in a fiery explosion or a spectacular fall.

A veteran cop with the NYPD, McClain established his reputation as a badass by taking down twelve terrorists in LA who decided to celebrate Christmas by seizing control of a multinational corporate building and taking its employees (including his wife) hostage.

This reputation was further cemented when, on the following Christmas, a bunch of paramilitary goons decided to hold an airport hostage so they could fly a Central American war criminal in safely and then ferry him away. His third stint involved stopping a former East German infiltration expert-turned mercenary who also happened to be the brother of Hans Gruber (his first victim) . Last, but not least, he managed to foil a bunch of cyber terrorists who chose July 4th to stage a massive heist involving “fire sale”ing the US economy and all its utilities. Again and again, McClain brought them down by enduring endless beatings, running around, and getting there just in time to screw up some element of their plan.

In this way, McClain did demonstrate a sort of subtle genius by being able to get under the bad guy’s skin. In all cases, the criminals he was dealing with were adept at planning and manipulation, relying on fear, feints and bluffs that would make their opponents play into their hands. Intrinsic to their plans was a sense of control, ensuring that all things went according to schedule so they could get in and get out without being caught. By putting himself at the center of things and constantly gumming up the works, McClain robbed them of this control, thus making them act rashly and stupidly until their plans unraveled. But of course, the bad guys were always on the verge of getting away when McClain finally did them in, ensuring that things stayed suspenseful until the end.

Tragically, his commitment to badassery and being in the wrong place at the wrong time cost him his marriage and pretty much alienated him from his daughter. It also led to a love-hate relationship with the bottle and a 401k that had seen better days. And though it seemed like time had run out on his marriage, John was ultimately able to rebuild things with his daughter, mainly because he saved her life! And, as predicted, she was pretty ballsy and tough herself. Guess the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree ;)

Much like Dirty Harry, John Rambo is one of those heroes that has been imitated so many times over the years that he’s become somewhat of a cliche. However, if one were to dig deep beneath all the merchandizing, knock-offs, and half-assed imitations, one finds an original creation who was quite the badass indeed. And like most of Stallone’s roles, there was some real substance to this character before a series of sequels buried it under a mountain of cliches and repetitive plotlines.

Born to a Navajo father and Italian/German mother, Rambo enlisted in the army at an early age and was sent to Vietnam where he served two tours: one as a regular solider and another with the Green Berets. After being taken prisoner and tortured, he escaped and deployed one last time. After all that, Rambo returned to the US to find that people had turned against the war and hated him for being a veteran. This led to a severe case of PTSD and some serious trouble with the law.

In the original novel, Rambo was arrested, escaped from jail and became the target of a manhunt. This ended with his death in a secluded wood after he had taken down several officers and National Guardsmen. In the movie however, Rambo doesn’t die but surrenders, speaking of the horrors he’s witnessed and lamenting how he cannot return to a normal, civilian life. He then is taken to jail where he remained until the second movie came out.

In the sequels, Rambo finds a sort of resolution to his conflict by returning to active duty, again and again. Ultimately, it seems that the solution to his inability to reintegrate into a peaceful lifestyle is to embrace a life of violence, but for the sake of helping those in need.

His first redeployment (in First Blood, Part II) is to his old stomping grounds of Vietnam where he is tasked with rescuing POW’s who never made it home. His second is to Afghanistan, where Soviet forces have taken his old friend and mentor Col. Trautman prisoner and he and a bunch of mujaheddin warriors must break into the camp to save him. In the fourth and final installment, Rambo comes out of retirement one last time to help a bunch of missionaries who have been taken hostage by the military Junta in Myanmar/Burma. In every case, Rambo racks up the kills, relying on his trusty bow and arrow, M60, KBAR knife, and any machinegun he can get his hands on to eviscerate, carve, punch holes in or blow the bad guys away!

Yes, as I said, things got pretty cliche with this series, relying on the latest news sensation and the repetitive theme of an old warrior returning to what he knows to make the carnage seem emotionally accessible. But who the hell cared? If there was one thing Rambo was good at, it was kicking some serious ass and it didn’t really matter who’s it was! In the end, they fell by the hundreds, overwhelmed by his mighty arsenal and signature sneer!

Raylan Givens:
What do you get when you cross a cowboy with a Federal Marshall? Why, Raylan Givens, of course! The star of the hit series Justified, Raylan Givens is a no-nonsense, gun-toting, wisecracking lawman who seems to have learned the art of law enforcement from guys like John Wayne and Dirty Harry. Much like his predecessors, he has a penchant for breaking the rules and pissing off his superiors in order to reign in the bad guys. But of course, no one can fire him because he’s just too damn good!

Born to a criminal family in Harlan County, Kentucky, Raylan joined the Marines in order to get away from the drugs, criminals and white supremacists that his hometown was known for. After becoming an expert in small arms and the quick draw, he enlisted with the US Marshalls and became a law man. Known for his accuracy, fast hands, tendency to wind up shooting people and signature cowbow hat, Raylan quickly earned the reputation  of being a “cowbow”, both in terms of appearance and sensibilities. Naturally, he would be the first to say that he tries to resolve things peacefully, but somehow, violence keeps breaking out.

After a “justified shoot” involving an arms dealer whom Raylan told to leave Miami in 24 hours or risk getting shot on sight, Raylan was transferred back to his home state of Kentucky. Here, he found the county of his youth overrun by the Oxycontin trade, prostitution, and violence, often involving people he used to call family and friends. More often than not, Raylan is forced to reign in people who are much like him, people who he could have easily become if he had made slightly different choices (echoes of Garry Cooper there!).

Don’t ask me how I managed to forget Xena last time around! This iconic, heroine, warrior-princess, inspirational figure is someone without whom no list of inspirational badasses should even be written! So I amend my previous mistake, and include her here and now. I knew not what I did, please don’t send me hate mail. Moving on…

Xena is without a doubt one of the most popular heroines to come out of popular culture and fantasy/sci-fi in recent decades. Tough, smart, and sassed mouth, she is anything but prim and proper and has been generally known to kick some serious ass and look good while doing it. Whether she’s high-kicking, wielding that Chakram (throwing disc), slashing through bad guys with her sword, or just leering at people with those eyes, Xena is to badass heroines what AC/DC is to classic rock. In short, it’s dam hard to imagine one without the other! Originally appearing in the series Hercules as a villain, Xena went on to become his friend and lover and even earned herself a spin-off which did better and ran longer than its forebear.

Her own back story begins with her as a pirate and criminal, until she met and was double-crossed by a young, ambitious Roman officer named Julius Caesar (played by none other than Karl Urban). After surviving his brutal betrayal, she went to the East and joined some warlords, losing herself in revenge and violence until she tired of it and returned to the west. Here, she continued warring and raiding, until she met a demi-God named Hercules whom she initially tried to kill, but soon joined forces with him in order to defeat a warlord who had taken control of her army.

In time, she and Hercules had a love affair and she decided to change her ways. Nicknamed the “warrior-princess”, she soon teamed up with a young woman named Gabrielle who she taught to fight. Together, the two began roaming the lands of the ancient world, seeking out injustice and fighting for what was right. As she fights the forces of evil, Xena must also fight the forces of her own past, striving to resist the temptation to return to her old ways. Oftentimes, Gabrielle’s friendship and company prove to be the difference between resisting and succumbing.

Sounds cheesy, no? But it’s also pretty effective. In addition to being a hero to women and young girls everywhere, Xena’s relationship with Gabrielle has proven to be an inspiration to the lesbian community who claim that this powerful bond is a prime example of love which transcends gender norms or social mores. So in addition to her trademark war cry, disc-throwing and swashbuckling skills, Xena is a hero for being brave in a way that has nothing to do with ass-kicking or weapons. She is brave just for being true to herself and not giving a damn what anybody else thinks!

Final Thoughts:
Okay, now that I’ve paid homage to all these badass icons, I think I got what I need to draw some tentative conclusions. Basically, it seems to me that all of them share certain characteristics that set them apart and make them so damn unforgettable. So if you want to be badass like them, you better start thinking about adapting some of the following to your repertoire:

  1. Roguish Personality: Whether we are talking about detectives, mercenaries, or freelance hunters, it seems that in order to be badass, you need to be willing to break the rules a little. Things like convention, regulations, and red tape are the kind of things that inspire annoyance, tediousness and the desire for you to do something outlandish and possibly reckless. Screw what other people think, you know what needs to be done and someone’s got to do it! If not you, then who?
  2. Strong Values: But it’s not enough to simply break the rules. There has to be a higher purpose to what you are doing to justify this disregard for procedure and discipline. Basically, you need to have a strong commitment to what is right and know the difference between simply following orders and doing what needs to be done. After all, people following orders led to some of the worst crimes and miscarriages of justice in history! You gotta see the big picture and circumvent those who don’t sometimes, otherwise shit can happen!
  3. Mad Skills: Whether you’re weapon of choice is a gun, a sword, some high-tech device, or just your hands and feet, you need to practice hard and be good at what you do! No hero has ever excelled by being lazy or neglectful of their basic fighting skills. You don’t need to be the best, mind you. Many a time you will confront someone who is more skilled than you are. But in these cases, your wits and your righteousness will overcome. Hell, you may even find yourself being rescued by a sidekick or someone you thought was against you. Heroes are good like that. They have friends and helpers where the bad-guys do not ;)
  4. Troubled Past: Let’s face it, all this ass-kicking and smart-ass talk can’t conceal the fact that you’ve got some demons! Hell, all heroes do. Perhaps you’re struggling with your past, perhaps you’re not 100% okay with where you came from. But whatever the case, you know that ultimate resolution will come only through confrontation. Only by facing those who best embody your fears and demons will you prevail over the darkness you hold inside. But don’t do it too quickly! Chances are, you’ll become boring once you’ve vanquished your enemies and found inner peace!

Well that’s my assessment at least. But of course, if you are a true badass, you aren’t going to follow MY rules are you? Of course not! So take what you will from these “guidelines” and find your own path to badassery. For no matter what people may tell you, badasses are all rugged individuals at heart. If everybody did it, it would cease to be badass wouldn’t it?