Cyberwars: Latest Snowden Leaks

FRANCE-US-EU-SURVEILLANCE-SNOWDENThe case against the NSA’s program of cyberwarfare and espionage has become somewhat like an onion. With every new revelation, the matter becomes more stinking and fetid. Certainly, the first release of classified NSA documents – which dealt with the US’s ongoing cyberwarfare against China and other nations – was damaging to the agency’s image. But it has been the subsequent publication of documents that deal with domestic surveillance that have been the most damning.

According to Snowden, he was motivated to leak this information because of the troubling case of hypocrisy inherent in the NSA programs. And in the lastest leak, Snowden has now confirmed that at least five Muslim-Americans – including prominent lawyers, a civil rights leader and academics – were the subject of years’ worth of surveillance by both the FBI and the National Security Agency.

under_surveillance_full_v2Among the targets were Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations – the top Muslim-American civil rights organization in the United States – and Faisal Galil, a longtime Republican operative and former Bush Administration official who worked for the Department of Homeland Security and held a top-secret security clearance during the time he was under surveillance.

Also among the American targets was Asim Ghafoor, an attorney for the al-Haramain Islamic Foundation who who has represented clients in terrorism-related cases . He is also the man who famously discovered in 2004 that he and his clients were under surveillance after the Treasury Department mistakenly released to him a document listing calls he’d made to his clients.

wire_tappingOther targets include Hooshang Amirahmadi, an Iranian-American professor of international relations at Rutgers University and Agha Saeed, a former political science professor at California State University who champions Muslim civil liberties and Palestinian rights. All of the targets appear to have been singled out because of their Muslim backgrounds and their activities either defending Muslim clients or on behalf of various causes.

The individuals appear on an NSA spreadsheet in the Snowden archives called “FISA recap”—short for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Under that law, the Justice Department must convince a judge with the top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that there is probable cause to suspect of an American of being engaged in or abetting terrorism, espionage, or sabotage against the US.

FILE PHOTO  NSA Compiles Massive Database Of Private Phone CallsThe authorizations must be regularly renewed by the court for the surveillance to remain in effect, usually every 90 days for U.S. citizens. In none of these cases were the individuals singled out for surveillance because they were suspected of committing or planning a crime. And six years after the period the document covers, none of them has been charged with any crime related to the surveillance.

Greenwald says the revelations offer a more detailed look at who the government is targeting. Although there are some Americans on the list who have been accused of terrorism, the five highlighted in The Intercept piece have all led what appear to be law-abiding lives. As Greenwald explained:

This is the first time that there’s a human face on who the targets are of their most intrusive type of surveillance. [H]ere you really get to see who these people are who are the people worthy of their most invasive scrutiny. I think it’s important for people to judge—are these really terrorists or are these people who seem to be targeted for their political dissidence and their political activism?

 

faisal_gillAll of these five individuals identified in the article has gone on record to vehemently deny any involvement in terrorism or espionage. Outside of their ancestry, there appears to be no justification whatsoever for the surveillance. Faisal Gill, whose AOL and Yahoo! email accounts were monitored while he was a Republican candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates, had this to say when interview by The Intercept:

I just don’t know why. I’ve done everything in my life to be patriotic. I served in the Navy, served in the government, was active in my community—I’ve done everything that a good citizen, in my opinion, should do.

Ghafoor was also of the opinion that profiling had everything to do with him being targeted for electronic surveillance. When told that no non-Muslim attorneys who defended terror suspects had been identified on the list, he replied:

I believe that they tapped me because my name is Asim Abdur Rahman Ghafoor, my parents are from India. I travelled to Saudi Arabia as a young man, and I do the pilgrimage. Yes, absolutely I believe that had something to do with it.

https://i0.wp.com/media.nj.com/ledgerupdates_impact/photo/2012/06/muslim-lawsuitjpg-88e364e9b8e195f4.jpgCivil liberties groups have expressed anger that the five appear to have been targeted largely for having Muslim backgrounds. One such group is the Muslim Advocates, which released the following statement shortly after the story was published:

This report confirms the worst fears of American Muslims: the federal government has targeted Americans, even those who have served their country in the military and government, simply because of their faith or religious heritage. Muslim Advocates calls on the President and Congress to take steps immediately to reform the NSA surveillance program to uphold basic privacy rights and civil liberties that the Constitution guarantees to every American, regardless of faith.

The new revelations confirm for the first time that the government targeted U.S. attorneys, sometimes without warrants. Crucially, the revelations also give targets of the domestic surveillance legal standing to sue. Snowden indicated to Greenwald last year that he included the target list in the cache of leaked documents because he wanted people who had been under such surveillance to have evidence to challenge the spying in court.

An illustration picture shows the logo of the U.S. National Security Agency on the display of an iPhone in BerlinIn the past, journalists and attorneys have tried to challenge the constitutionality of the government’s surveillance activities in court. But since the defendants did not have proof that they in particular had been targeted, the courts were forced to rule that they did not have standing. The spreadsheet, however, provides evidence of targeted surveillance for those who have now been identified.

In short, this latest revelation has provided Americans, and not just those of Muslim descent, with the means to hold the NSA and the FBI accountable for the first time. Since the historic episode known as the “war on terror” began, revelations have led to challenges and promises for reform. But in all cases, the crucial issue of whether or not these programs would be allowed to continue has been carefully sidestepped.

cyber_security2Whether it was the failure of FISA reform to reign in domestic wiretapping and data mining, or the Obama administrations endorsement of “transparent” surveillance, it seems obvious clear that an administrative solution was not in the works. But opening the way for successive lawsuits for wrongful surveillance might just prove to be more effective.

What is certain, though, is that the battle between civil liberties and surveillance in the “Digital Age” is nowhere close to being resolved. As the daily volume of data sent around the world continues to grow – from terabytes to petabytes to exabytes – there will continually be a need for monitors to watch for sinister things. And as long as they are willing to push the boundaries in the name of security, there will continue to be challenges.

Sources: wired.com, firstlook.org

China Blocks Google for 25th Anniversary of Tiananmen Square

tiananmen-square-1989-tankIn preparation for the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre (aka. the June 4th Incident), Chinese authorities decided to begin blocking Google. It’s believed that the blockade is tied to this week’s 25th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre where the People’s Liberation Army cracked down on pro-democracy demonstrators. Each year, the Chinese government censors the web in an effort to limit protests against the thwarted uprising.

Aside from Google, several internet services were blocked or censored in advance, including social networks and other web communication tools. Though the Chinese government has not yet confirmed this, countless Chinese users have discovered Google’s services to be inaccessible since the last week of May. In addition, a report from GreatFire.org claimed that the government appeared to have begun targeting Google Inc’s main search engine and Gmail since at least the last week of May, making them inaccessible to many users in China.

chinese_hackerThe report added that the last time it monitored such a block was in 2012, when it only lasted 12 hours. At is states:

It is not clear that the block is a temporary measure around the anniversary or a permanent block. But because the block has lasted for four days, it’s more likely that Google will be severely disrupted and barely usable from now on.

Asked about the disruptions, a Google spokesman said: “We’ve checked extensively and there’s nothing wrong on our end.” And Google’s own transparency report, which shows details about its global traffic, showed lower levels of activity from China starting from about Friday, which could indicate a significant amount of disruption. Other major social media sites – such as Twitter and Facebook and Google’s own Youtube – are already blocked in the country.

A Google logo is seen at the entrance to the company's offices in TorontoOf course, this should come as no surprise, given the way this anniversary is received by Chinese officials. For the ruling Communist Party, the 1989 demonstrations that clogged Tiananmen Square in Beijing and spread to other cities remain taboo, particularly on their 25th anniversary. When June rolls around each year and the Tiananmen Square Massacre is commemorated around the world, including in Hong Kong, China’s ruling party typically conducts a web crackdown.

It’s not uncommon for Chinese censors to block certain comments from being made even on China-based company services, like Weibo, China’s own version of Twitter. And China also applies pressure to search engines like Baidu in their country in order to ensure that censorship filters are in place. And as with previous years, the run-up to the anniversary has been marked by detentions, increased security in Beijing and tighter controls on the Internet.

tiananmen_square_vigilThis year, the detainees included prominent rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang and Chinese-born Australian artist Guo Jian, a former Chinese soldier who last week gave an interview to the Financial Times about the crackdown. And as usual, the Chinese government made a statement in which it once again defended its decision to use military force against the pro-democracy demonstrators who gathered in the Square twenty-five years ago.

The statement came from Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei during a daily news briefing, in which he said:

The Chinese government long ago reached a conclusion about the political turmoil at the end of the 1980s. In the last three decades and more of reform and opening up, China’s enormous achievements in social and economic development have received worldwide attention. The building of democracy and the rule of law have continued to be perfected. It can be said that the road to socialism with Chinese characteristics which we follow today accords with China’s national condition and the basic interests of the vast majority of China’s people, which is the aspiration of all China’s people.

tiananmen_square_vigil2On the subject of why Google was being targeted, Hong said only that the government “manages the Internet in accordance with the law”, which is consistent with the state’s position with all web-based censorship. When asked about the jailing of dissidents, Hong replied that “In China there are only law breakers — there are no so-called dissidents.” He also stressed once again that all departments of the Chinese government “consistently act in accordance with the law.”

For years now, Google has had a contentious relationship with China, which began with the company had once offering its search services to the world’s second largest economy. However, due to issues over censorship, Google decided to move its Chinese search engine to Hong Kong, effectively allowing them to operate outside the rules and regulations of the Chinese government. But as China demonstrated these past few weeks, it still has the ability to block the flow of traffic from Hong Kong into the mainland. 

tiananmen_square_vigil3It also aptly demonstrated just how much it fears the specter of Tiananmen Square, even some twenty-five years later. From clamping down on their people’s ability to learn more about the massacre, to clamping down on even the possibility of protest in advance, to continually denying any wrongdoing and suppressing information on the number of people killed, the legacy of Tiananmen Square continues to expose the blatant hypocrisy and denial of the Communist Party of China.

If history has taught us anything, it is that the fall of a dictatorship usually begins with one terrible mistake. The state of China committed that mistake a quarter of a century ago, and since then has relied on state-sanctioned economic growth in order to justify its existence. But in so doing, they’ve essentially created a Catch 22 for themselves. Continued economic growth ensures greater material wealth for more and more of its people. And a burgeoning digital-age economy means more and more access to information for its citizens.

In short, the CPC is screwed. And I for one would be happy to see them gone! Lord knows they deserve it, and the Chinese people would be better off without them, no matter what they try to insist. So on this historic anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre, I invite the CPC to EAT A DICK! And to the people still living under their hypocritical rule, please know that you are not alone. Hang in there, and wait for the day when these bastards join all the other reprehensible dick-heads on the ash heap of history!

Sources: cnet.com, reuters.com, (2)

Data Miners Published!

Dataminers_3It’s finally happened. After three years of writing, editing and constant picking, I finally got around to pushing Data Miners through publication! As you can see, I decided to go with the black and green cover, which I feel highlights the lines of code best. And I also made sure there’d be print on the side. I feel there should be demarcation between the front and back covers, hope you agree.

And here is the precis I decided to go with on the back of the dust jacket. Hope it encapsulates the story without giving too much away:

“Prad is a member of the DeMarchy, an elite society of data miners dedicated to finding the patterns in chaos and exposing the lies that permeate our society. Or so he thinks. In reality, he’s a second-rate programmer working for a faceless company and obsessed with a woman he can’t possibly have. Until one day when a mysterious package arrives that plunges him into a mystery ten years in the making.  If he can crack the code, he just might be able to save his friends and himself.  If not, they’ll lose everything: their jobs, their freedom, and even their lives. Like everything else in Prad’s wireless world, the answer is out there, just waiting to be mined!

But to give my loyal followers are more in-depth survey, the book was inspired largely by the works of William Gibson and his exploration of technology and its effects on society. But for my own purposes, I wanted some serious espionage and spy thriller stuff, the kind of things people would expect from a techno-thriller. After all, one of the cornerstones of the digital age has been fears about the loss of privacy, the dangers of government surveillance, and the threat posed by insidious people with the wrong kinds of talents!

Add to that the concept of Democratic Anarchy, a west-coast libertarian perspective, and some real history – which I shamelessly exploited for the sake of fiction – and you’ve got Data Miners. In time, I will be producing the sequel, Data Pirates, which focuses on the darker side of hacking and libertarianism, and a finale, entitled Data Moguls. But those will have to wait for my current workload to cool down a little…

In the meantime, look for Data Miners on Amazon-Kindle! It will be appearing on my author page for the ebook price of 4.99, or for free if you’ve got a Kindle Select membership. My first full length novel is out, Yaaaaaay! Follow the links below if you want a copy:

Amazon Author Page

Data Miners – Chapter 11

Wednesday morning.

It’s been another hasty ride to work to get in on time. Prad hasn’t showered since Monday and is feeling the grime encroach on him again. His head is reeling from the dual assault of purple haze and not enough sleep. Working through code this morning is difficult, proceeding at one keystroke per minute. He has no desire to be looking at TPS reports right now or anything in Macro format for that matter. The few hours of sleep and the buzz he got from his last joint have not cured the case of busy-brain he contracted last night. He was hoping the light of day might make things a bit more clear, but if anything, it’s made it worse. Whereas the busy-brain kept him from sleep last night, it is now keeping him from work.

By ten thirty, he examines how much work he’s actually done and decides it’s futile. He half-wishes he brought the book with him just so he could peruse it. Then he wouldn’t be so fixated on it! Somehow, the mind had a way of obsessing over the things that the body didn’t have immediate access to.

He needs a distraction. Minimizing his work in his task tray, he pulls up his email and checks to see if anyone has written to him since yesterday. Sure enough, they are a couple new hits in his Inbox. One from Sa’id, one from the adult dating site, and even one from Angie. A few spam mails between, more offers for downloadable software and movies. He’s too excited to move these to his spam folder and goes right for the one from Angie. The subject line says it all.

>To: Prad123@yahoo.com
>From: AngCpr@gmail.com
>Subject: Bit weird huh?

>Hey Prad. Sorry for the misunderstanding last night. Had no idea you got a copy of Germaine’s book too. I suppose I can understand your >confusion, it was a bit weird of him to just start reaching out like that, right from the blue? Anyway, no worries, Scott and I kind of got a kick >out of it. We were also a little worried after you left, figured you might have been embarrassed. One other thing, have you heard anything about >the dear old prof? I was kind of wondering if he was still with us. It might be nice to find him and say hi one last time.

>Anglmrk

Prad feels incredibly warm and giddy inside all of a sudden. He notices she didn’t use his first name, but oh the tenderness implied in that email! And the fact that she thought to write him the morning after! The time on it indicates that she wrote it less than an hour ago, most likely while bored at work. He reads it again and notices the mention of Scott, the royal we that follows in his wake too. He could live without that, but even the presence of that five letter fun stopper can’t spoil his mood now. He opens up the one from Sa’id next. A sense of fraternal duty tells him he should do this before composing a gushy response to the boss-lady.

The subject line of Sa’id’s email is quite telling. He notes instantly the diminished punctuation and grammar as well. Clearly a step down from Angie’s message.

>To: Prad123@yahoo.com
>From: SdN72@hotmail.com
>Subject: thanks dude!

>hey dude thanks again for the ride home last night woke up with a wicked hangover how bout you. My landlady sez i made terrible noise last >night must have been when i woke up to puke my guts up good time all around though. shit that things got a bit heavy there for some people >isn’t it hate to see our people not getting along but have you heard the news? The fecking feds just made a release bout the whole dangle thing >and say that they think the >whole thing was faked but wont say nothing about how they got them or where the leak came from. dumbasses >huh only make things worse for themselves! ps what was with that whole thing in Angie’s room why were in there second time around i mean I >know what you were doing the first time pervert! take care, can’t wait for five oclock to roll around

>Sandngrr

Now he feels momentarily sidetracked. He did not hear that, must have left the radio off in his car this morning, or had it tuned to music. He really can’t remember. The only other time he ever catches the news is on the web, or by word of mouth. And on both fronts he’s been a little out of touch, at least for the last twenty four hours.

The email from the dating site now looms in his field of vision like a burning bush. He desperately wants to check it, to see who took an interest in his profile and what they look like/have to say for themselves. But he doesn’t want to keep Angie waiting. A message from her in his Inbox is like finding her at his front door, or so he imagines. Leaving her waiting would be nothing short of criminal. Going back to Angie’s message, he hits the Reply button and begins composing. He does his best to emulate the proper style with which she emailed him, not to mention the tone he established last night. If acting mature gets her to email him, he’ll ride that pony to the ends of the earth!

To: AngCpr@gmail.com
Subject: Re: Bit weird huh?

Hey Angie. Don’t worry about it. It is I who should apologize for breaking in on you like that. I suppose these things happen. Sad to say, I can’t tell anything new about the prof. Last I heard, he got diagnosed and decided not to go the treatment route. Sad huh, but what can you do? One question though, are you absolutely sure he was the one who sent those books? I suppose it stands to reason, but why didn’t he send a real note or at least a return address? Oh well, talk to you soon. Take care, say hi to Scott.

Thaiwrrr

He grabs the mouse, his finger poised above the “Send” button. That’s when he realizes that his own inquiry is worth following up on. Not just idle chit chat, someone really ought to see if anyone else who was in their class or studied under Germaine at MIT also got copies of that book. He checks his address folder to see if he has any old email addresses. He’s still got the names of a few old friends there, but most of the addresses are old IST accounts. Prad shakes his head. Those accounts probably haven’t been used in over five years. Someday soon he must do a cleanup of his contact folder.

Luckily, he still has some hotmail and yahoo accounts for some people he used to hang out with: Lena, Mark, Josée, and Andrea. They were all pretty cool, but not too cool. They hung around with him, after all. If ever he were to be completely honest, he would admit that they were the people he fell in with because of his inability to get in with the truly cool crowd. Nevertheless, they are all MIT alumni and people who studied under Germaine. Surely they would be on his contact list if he wanted to start sending gift packages around. Clicking on the box beside each of their names, he adds them all to the recipient’s field before typing off a friendly generic message.

Hello all, sorry to drop in on you like this after such a long absence. But something’s come up with I feel concerns us all. I am, of course, referring to Professor Germaine’s illness. I’m sure you’ve all heard how our dear teacher is not long for this world. Last I heard, he’s got a few months tops before he… you know. Well, it may be that he’s decided to reach out to some of us before that happens. Angie and I both received copies of the millennial edition of Ghost in the Machine, the one with his foreword. We’re not sure, but we think he sent them to us. As fellow alumni sts, I was wondering if any of you got similar packages. If so, did it come with a note that contained more than just simple instructions? Angie and I would appreciate any info you have, as it would resolve this dilemma for us.

Thaiwrrr

He hits “Send” and moves onto his last message. It’s about time too. A response of this kind can only be exciting. His palms would be sweaty if he were a lesser man, or just a little cleaner. His pores are too clogged right now, luckily his armpits and crotch appear to be overcompensating.

>Prad123, you’ve received a profile message from Kittyhawk69:
>“Hi. Liked your profile, I think Asian guys are super hot! Come check >me out!”
>Follow the link below to see the full message and access their profile:

Prad immediately clicks on the site’s link to have a gander. Sure enough, for her pic, Kittyhawk69 lives up to the name. Her preferences send his heart into another tail spin: Hot chat, one on one, threesomes, toys and discreet relationship. His mind and libido begin the age old dance, the former insisting she’s a dude, the latter telling the former to shut up.

Yep, he agrees, too good to be true. But what harm can a little extended chat, via webcam to confirm she’s actually a woman, followed by a little meet and greet at a neutral site do?

You could end up with a disease, or finding a penis tucked under her ass! His mind tells him. But what has his mind done for him lately other than keep him in this dead end job? Another look at her preferences, cross-referenced with her other pics, ends the debate quickly.

Shut up, mind!

Data Miners – Chapter 10

3:13 am.

Prad is lying in his bed and wide awake. The sheets are becoming sticky and clinging to his legs. It just seems too hot for any kind of blankets. He’s tried sleeping without them but that’s too cold. He’s tossed and turned from one position to another, nothing seems conducive to nodding off. And then there’s having to be at work in less than six hours. He knows he’ll be useless if no sack time comes, but it’s no help. Too much on the brain, too many reasons to lie awake and ponder.

So it was good ole’ Albert Germaine who sent him that package? He’s a little let down, admittedly. But on the plus side he’s glad he’s not the victim of some crazed stalker or government spook. Still, it doesn’t exactly solve his problem. If the gifter was in fact Germaine, why the hell did he make it so anonymous? Why the odd choice of container and the cryptic note? Was there some kind of special intent there, a way of saying hello and goodbye to his old students before he kicked off? But if so, why not just announce that he was the one doing the sending? Why not give some more explicit instructions or include a letter or something? Knowing Germaine, it might be his idea of a joke. He was never really that funny, never got any of Prad’s jokes, that’s for sure.

Come to think of it, why the heck hadn’t Angie said anything about this to him and saved him a world of embarrassment? Of all the people in the Society, only they knew Germaine personally. Had it not occurred to her to mention that he had made contact with her, albeit in some roundabout way? Was she so distracted with that new beau of hers that she completely forgot about the little things that made for good discussion? Or did she like Prad so little that she didn’t even bother to think about how he might be affected too? He didn’t like thinking like this. If there was anything that could keep him up all night, it was the many reasons why Angie might choose to ignore him. An image of her and Scott making out on that sofa of hers gets stuck in his head. He bites his pillow and tries so hard to purge it, to substitute himself in there somehow, but comes up empty. Insomnia is very good at making things seem worse, especially matters of the heart. And at this moment, he hates Scott with a passion.

UGH! It’s no use! Finally, Prad gives up on sleeping and shoves himself up into sitting position. Legs over the side, toes touching the cool, thread carpet, he tries to give the matter some sober, wakeful thought. He’s a little perturbed about his behaviour earlier that evening, and the interview that’s coming up at the end of next week. He’s not in the mood to open the book the professor sent him; but then again, it might help with the insomnia. He chuckles at the thought, poor professor! The man is dying and he can’t even bring himself to read something he wrote, and can’t help but think it will be an incredibly boring exercise. But given what happened earlier, he really ought to read it and see if it can shed some light on things.

Or, he thinks, he could just roll a joint. That would help with the insomnia and would be a lot more fun. Lord knows he’s been craving it for hours now. No better way to relax than to give the body what it desperately wants. Ghost he can crack in the morning when things are light and he’s a little more clear. Nodding to himself, he gets to his feet and heads over to his desk where his box is waiting. He can feel the sticky sweet smoke on his tongue already.

His tongue is on the tab and the joint nearly rolled when the phone rings. Who the hell could that be? Who would call in the middle of the night? Someone who is looking to punish him perhaps? That list is short, for the moment. He eyes the freshly-rolled joint. There’s no way he can put it down now. Twisting it up, he stuffs it into one corner of his mouth and grabs the phone from the cradle.

“Kumustá, mama?”

“Yamal! This is your father!” a loud voice says in Thai.

“Sawat di khrap, bida,” he says, switching over and trying desperately not to sigh or sound annoyed. He already knows what’s up, and what he’s in for. Luckily, he’s well practiced in this field and has his responses on auto pilot.

“Were you sleeping?” his father asks impertinently.

“Yes, bida. But it’s okay.”

“Dee, kuman,” he says happily. It’s really just a courtesy, he already knows he has permission to chew his son’s ear off. A son can never deny his father that privilege, not where he comes from. “So how is work?”

“Work is fine, bida. I have been promoted.”

“Promotion?” his father asks. “When were you promoted last? What do you do now?”

Prad searches his memory, trying to remember the chronology of his lies. Has it been six months since the last time he claimed a promotion? Seems about right, so that’s what he says. Last time, he had become a senior programmer, so he’ll need to come up with something more austere this time. “I am a manager now, great responsibility.”

“How many people are you responsible for?”

Prad has to think about that one too. It’s a lucky thing he knows someone who is a manager, someone who’s reasonably close to, but doesn’t answer to. He tries to remember how many people Rohit has working under him. At least half a dozen names come to mind and it’s a nice round figure.

“Six people, bida. I have six people who work for me now.”

“What are their names?”

Prad takes little time in reciting the ones he can remember. Those he can’t, he fills in randomly. Manipulating or inflating the truth has become easy for him thanks to years of practice. It’s gotten to the point where he’s relatively quick on his feet now, quite proud of that fact too.

“Is upper management considering you for promotion?”

Prad hits the button on his torch and lights the tip of the joint. Before sucking in a small cloud, he opts for an ambiguous answer. What else can his father expect from him at this point in his career, or this hour in the morning? “They know of me, bida. But I cannot say for sure if they are considering me for an upper level position yet.”

His father grumbles. “How old are you now Yamal?”

Prad lets out a cloud of acrid smoke and tries not to grumble himself. “I am twenty-eight now, bida.”

“Do I need to remind you that when I was your age, I was entrusted with the management of an entire branch office?”

“No, bida,” Prad replies. He has heard this story many times and knows it backwards and forwards. The great Chanarong (“The Warrior”) Pradchaphet, oldest boy of the Pradchaphet clan, who left home to become a senior executive in a foreign land. By his late twenties, he was working in Luzon, where he met Prad’s mother, incidentally, and got married. By his thirties, he had moved them all to the Pacific Northwest where his work and career in electronics and software had continued apace. Prad and his brothers had all received the majority of their education here, studying engineering, computer sciences and marketing, all with the intent of following in their father’s footsteps. His sisters’ paths were slightly different; being girls and having a different set of cultural expectations to deal with, they had all been able to go their own way. By the time all his children were old enough to leave home, Chanarong had moved with his wife back to Thailand to enjoy a working retirement. And he never let any of his children forget who had spawned them or what he done for them.

“Well then,” his father continues. “Just be sure you are doing all you can to get recognized.”

“Khap khun, bida,” Prad says, thanking him formally.

“Are you dating anyone?” his father asks next. Prad smirks and takes another puff. Ordinarily, his father covers all aspects of his professional life. His personal life is usually the province of his mother. He can only guess that she’s unavailable or his father is stalling until she can come and interrogate him herself.

“No, bida. I have not yet met a woman of sufficient quality to marry,” he replies.

“No nice Asian girls where you work?”

“No, father. My position makes it impossible for me to date the people I work with.”

Prad is surprised. Usually, his father likes to beat around the subject of what constitutes a “nice” girl. He knows how it works, the boys must marry girls who fit their family’s background, culture, expectations, etc. Prad’s elder brother, Khemkhaeng, has already performed this duty, hence Prad now receives no quarter in this area. As the second oldest son, he can expect this kind of harassment for years to come; until he either capitulates, or elopes and never talks to them again.

“I see,” his father replies. “What about going out? Are you getting out? Have you met nice girls at Temple?”

“No, bida. Not yet.”

He almost loses it there. His eyes have not seen the inside of a Buddhist temple for years and even if they had, he’d have no interest in a girl who attends. Not unless it is strictly out of familial duty. Where would be the fun? He even coughs a little in the process. His father is quick to notice. The signal is too clear for him to blame it on a bad international connection, damn telecommunications!

“Kuman! Are you smoking?”

“No, bida,” he says, coughing once more. “I am getting over a cold.”

“You are sick?” his father says with newfound concern.

“Yes, bida. But I still must go to work tomorrow. I need to sleep.”

His father pauses and comes back a little deflated. Smoking up seems to have paid off tonight. “Ko di, kuman. Ratri sawat, then. I shall pass along your love to your mother.”

He might be imaging it but he thinks he hears some scorn in the last words. A hidden reminder of what he called her not too long ago.

“Have a good sleep, kuman.”

“Khap khun, bida,” Prad returns. “Rātrī s̄wạs̄di̒.”

There’s a click and the signal goes dead. Prad returns the phone to its cradle and takes a few more puffs of the joint before stubbing it out in the small bowl that sits by his computer. The bottom is burnt in many places from the many roaches it’s held over the many months it’s been there. Yet Prad cannot bring himself to buy an ashtray. Somehow, that would seem like a breach of the buildings no smoking policy.

He feels a mild sense of euphoria set in and he yawns. A good sign. He gets back into bed and pulls the covers up to his chin.

Data Miners – Chapter 9

Tuesday night.

Prad is standing outside Angie’s apartment door. He’s been invited this time, so it’s all good. Everyone within the Society has though so it’s not exactly special either. But there is an occasion. News of their accomplishment has spread like wildfire through the DeeP underworld. The New York Times and Seattle Times ran the story, CNN and MSNBC have picked it up, and even Fox News is running segments where pundits are saying this is some kind of liberal conspiracy, which only adds weight to the scandal. The fulcrum of the scandal appears to have been the FBI, who chose not to comment when the story first broke. That, they knew, only managed to fuel all the media speculation. As they had anticipated (quite brilliantly, in Prad’s opinion) the FBI has neither confirmed nor denied the legitimacy of the Dangle photos. If they deny their authenticity, they’ll be admitting publicly that they’ve been hacked. Confirming them will ruin the Congressman’s reputation, a man who supports the controversial work they do. Either way, they’re screwed, so naturally, they choose the path of least resistance: say nothing and let the jackals assume what they want.

Prad knocks for the second time. He can hear tunes playing from inside and some bantering. The bottle of Absolut Citron is sitting against his forearm and its starting to bite. He doesn’t even like the stuff, but he knows Angie and some others like Vodka tonics so it’s what he chose to pick up on the way. Since he drove himself, it only seemed natural to bring something he wouldn’t be drinking. Simple common sense.

Prad can hear footsteps approaching the door and a shadow falls across the peephole. He smiles and waves, hearing a click from the door’s locking mechanism. The door slides open, Lynette has shown up to greet him.

“Yammie,” she says, a touch annoyed. “You’re late. Angie was starting to get pissed.”

“Why? Sounds like things started without me.”

“She says the DeeP’s are on Skype, waiting to deliver a message. She’s had them on hold until everyone got here.”

“Oh shit,” Prad says, pushing his way in and thrusting the bottle towards her. “I got held up on the freeway. Didn’t mean to hold things up.”

“Whatever, just get in there!”

Prad pushes forward into the living room. Lynette declares his arrival when he gets there. There’s little reaction, everyone is huddled around Angie’s computer, the Skype screen minimized in her tray. Angie is sitting in front of it in her work chair, momentarily looking back to acknowledge Prad’s arrival.

“Good of you to join us, now let’s get this party started.”

Everyone closes in a little tighter around her terminal when she brings the Skype function back up to fill the screen. She hits the Call button to continue the conversation; the enlarged picture of a face covered with a black cowl opens up inside the box. Prad hears a few titters from the group and chuckles himself. Clearly these guys take the whole anarchist thing to the very edge. The face is alone, and even through the cowl, they think they can see some beady eyes admitting defeat.

“On behalf of the DeeP nation,” the person begins, even the voice is altered. Probably some Radio Shack voicebox modulator they picked up for Halloween. “I am authorized to congratulate you on your exploits. You have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that you have what it takes to take on the establishment. Fight on brave data warriors!”

The black cowled figure lets his righteous fist fill the screen, then reaches over to the cameras left side to click their mouse. The image is gone, the call ended. In the air hangs the sweet satisfaction of victory. Sa’id is the first to break the silence with some well deserved hoots and hollers.

“WOOOOOOOOO! Fucken eh!”

Achebe joins him. “Bragging rights! Who has bragging rights?!”

“Uh, we do! That’s who!”

High fives are given all around and Angie jumps off her computer to give out hugs. The first one is to Scott, predictably, and then she works her way around. Prad is last. She’s awkward about it too. There’s the momentary hesitation, followed by some palatable tension when it’s over. Even Scott appears to be shuffling his feet. To make matters worse, only the four of them get hugged, leaving out the ones who couldn’t or wouldn’t come.

It’s a bad moment, until Prad suggests what the next step in their partying might be.

“Okay, who wants to get drunk?!”

Getting close to ten o’clock and most of the guests are soused. Rage and a few of their offspring are playing from her iTunes, just a few albums seeing as how he’s heard a couple songs repeated by now. Lynette has also turned his vodka into a punch with a tall bottle of Angie’s grapefruit juice. The cocktail is a hit and Prad is on his third glass in as many hours. He’s proud of the restraint he’s shown tonight, but for some reason, he feels obliged not to embarrass himself, maybe even give some people a ride home at the end of the night. He’s not sure what reason he has for this sudden upswing in social responsibility, but there are several culprits. The new guy is one, the crap his parents have been giving him since his little outburst over the phone is another. Then there’s the very real possibility that he might be fired by the end of the month.

Yes, it’s all a rich tapestry, plenty of reasons to act all grown up. And it’s killing him. The punch is really good, and Sa’id’s drunk off his ass on it and the set of Rogue beers Claude brought. Being sober around him is just a tad bit annoying. Now he knows how other people must feel around him when he’s under the influence. At the moment they are standing together in the kitchen, Prad being nice and fetching Tania a refill while Sa’id keeps him company. The way he’s hanging off Prad’s shoulder and telling him how great he is is virtually intolerable while sober. He sees the bottles that have been arranged on Angie’s nice marble counter. He’s tempted to open one up and suck whatever is in it straight, at least until Sa’id’s fun again. Luckily, he can think of some interesting topics to talk about. For one, he’s got a chance to ask Sa’id some questions that have been on his mind for some time.

“Always wondered, dude, aren’t you forbidden from drinking?”

He knows from experience that Sa’id is a practicing Muslim, but every time they go out, he’s there tossing pints back or drinking some funny shit Prad’s never heard of. At some point, he knew he’d need to clear this up.

“Yeah, technically,” Sa’id replies mournfully. “But it’s a Persian thing, man. We do everything with wine. It’s kind of like the Turks. Them they got that Raki and Ouzo shit, just like the Greeks; been that way for centuries. So how do you tell people to give up something that’s such a big part of their culture?”

“Didn’t know that,” Prad admits. “Thought you all did the temperance thing.”

Sa’id slaps Prad’s shoulder playfully and laughs drunkenly, the kind of laugh that sends spittle and beer foam into the face of the listener. “Naw, we aint like those Arab or Kurdish fuckers who can get by on coffee and Sisha. Strict fucking dudes! No, people like us, we got too much to celebrate!”

“I thought you were Arab,” Prad says. Sa’id was in the middle of a sip and lowers the bottle. His face is twisted into a strange expression of betrayal and shock, until he’s had a second to remember it’s Prad he’s talking to and erupts in laughter. His hand lands on Prad’s shoulder a few more times.

“Dude! Don’t go saying shit like that to any of my relatives. They’ll kill you!”

Prad laughs and has to wait while Sa’id explains to him why this should be considered offensive. Apparently, and this is some surprise to Prad (in part because he can’t believe he didn’t already know this) Persians, Turks and a whole lot of Asians besides who just happen to be Muslim don’t like being called Arab. The reason: ethnically, they’re not, and it is offensive to assume otherwise. The confusion is a by-product of media misrepresentation and cultural ignorance. This Prad nods to and understands fully.

“Just like I don’t like being confused with a Chinese person, or a Cambodian,” which has happened to him repeatedly in his youth, as Sa’id knows. They’ve shared many a laugh over it, while drunk, no less. “I get it. You’d think I would have known better.”

“Yeah, you of all people,” Sa’id says half-seriously.

“Us half-breeds know best.”

Sa’id erupts again, spewing bits of beer and foam in all directions. Prad is able to join him this time, finding his own wit quite awesome. Done with their business in the kitchen, Prad and Sa’id bring Tania her drink and join the conversation already in progress. Tania, Lynette and Claude are sitting in semi-circle fashion in front of Angie’s couch, having hogged all the seats and the room’s chest. Achebe, Angie and Scott (her left leg strewn across his lap) have taken the couch with Achebe straddling the cushioned armrest. He looks to the balcony and accounts for Zuhair and Tommy, both of whom appear to be enjoying a thin joint. Prad looks longingly at them, his mouth watering at the thought of the sweet, sticky Buddha. But the couch seems to be emitting its own gravitational pull. He finds himself irresistibly drawn to it, if only to demonstrate how good he’s being.

He’s a little surprised to hear the topic of conversation, at least the path it’s taken.

“I’m just saying, I think this might have been a mistake,” he hears Tania say. It takes a few seconds of listening, but in time it’s clear that some kind of moral debate has erupted, one concerning the nature of their mission. It doesn’t take long before he also notices that a sort of partition has set in between the party guests. The little discussion groups appear to be more than just spatially divided. Now that he thinks about it, something has been amiss ever since Angie gave out selective hugs to people. Some must have felt left out, or possibly upset that others chose to do something they didn’t approve of and got away with it. Either way, he’s totally forgotten about Tommy and Zuhair and is dedicating his full attention to the debate before him.

“I mean really, what separates the DeeM’s from the DeeP’s now?”

“I told you Tania,” she replies calmly. “I’ve declared that we are a DeeMarchy now. The days of being a simple society have passed.”

“Right,” Tania says dryly. “And in this new order, are we allowed to ask questions?”

“Of course!” Angie says angrily. “We have not abandoned our principles just because we’ve upgraded. Everyone here has a say. I’m just in charge, is all.”

“Okay, but really, aren’t we supposed to be against doing all that illegal shit? I thought we were supposed to different from those DeeP dicks.”

Prad has to restrain himself from guffawing. He’s sure he saw a movie called that once, on pay-per-view or one of his many, favored many sites. Everyone else seems oblivious to the fact that she just said something potentially filthy since they are still talking about scruples.

“She’s right,” says Claude. “You guys could seriously get in trouble for this.”

“What are you talking about, we got away clean!” Achebe protests.

“For now, maybe, but what if you missed something?”

Sa’id laughs. “Missed something? Do you know who you’re talking to?”

Angie calls him over for a high-five. Their celebratory remark has only seemed to empower the detractors in their own little camp.

“Don’t be stupid. You guys went up against the feds; Christ, against the system! You think this is just going to blow over?”

It’s Lynette saying this now, and Achebe seems to be smarting a little from the remark. He looks over at Prad like he’s expecting him to say something. At first, he thinks he wants Prad to come to their defence. Then he remembers the objections he raised in private. It’s true, he did have doubts, but clearly he doesn’t like someone else giving him crap for this. A challenge was issued, and no one should make them feel ashamed for it now.

“C’mon, it’s not like we did anything wrong,” Sa’id replies. “All we did was plant some dirty and embarrassing photos of a very bad man where they could be found. The only reason we did it was to show we could.”

“Exactly,” Lynette says. “You always liked saying that the one thing that separated us from them was the fact that we could do what they do, we just don’t.”

“Right,” Angie says with a nod.

“I think it’s safe to say that that era has run its course.”

Prad looks at Lynette angrily. It might just be because she’s the oldest of their group, but she’s starting to sound quite pedantic. Those in the opposite camp can’t help but feel chastised. He’s been holding his tongue up until now, but he’s rapidly losing patience for her and her flock of doubting Thomases. But Sa’id and Achebe aren’t done with them yet.

“Hey, we don’t go around hacking people’s databases and selling the information off, alright? We do what we do because we believe in something, because we’re good at it.”

“Right, until now. Now we do what they do.”

“Except for free,” adds Claude.

“Fuck oooooooooff…”

Every eye in the room turns towards Prad. He’s a little surprised himself that the words came from his own mouth, but they’re out now and he can’t exactly put them back in. It’s like breathing wet vapor into cold air, the whole thing crystalizes before he can withdraw it. And at the moment, he’s not sure he wants to either.

“You got something you want to add to this little discussion, Yammie? You sound kinda pissed,” says Lynette.

Prad eyes her next. She did not just call him that! He directs his first response at her.

“Excuse me if I’m tired of all your little barbs and insults.”

“Well, you’re not exactly unbiased in this discussion, are you? After all, you did take part.”

Lynette says this and Tania scoffs, which only angers Prad more. Pedagogical moralizing he can respect, if not stand, but the way these other two are riding her coattails and sitting on their high horses tonight is beyond tolerable. Prad knows he’s only going to make things worse at this point, but something needs to be said in their defense. And since they’ve clearly given him the floor…

“Yeah, I’m biased,” he begins. “But so are you. You all backed out of doing this for personal or legal reasons, you didn’t say shit about the moral implications. And if you had a problem with it, I seem to recall Angie gave you a pass and said no one would think less of you. For you to come here tonight and judge her like you’ve got any right to do so seems kinda hypocritical.”

The three of them are taken aback, and a look over at Angie seems to confirm that she’s agrees. He’s a little impressed with himself right now. He’s got her in her corner and he’s even managing to smack people down in a debate. Amazing how not getting fucked up at this party seems to working in his favour.

“So we’re hypocrites, then?” Tania says. “Because we’ve pointed out that you’ve done something illegal? I mean, forget the morality for one second, you did commit a crime.”

“Since when did that stop us? Do you paid for your music or all those videos you download? Since when have any of you been against using your computers for a little guilty pleasure and social justice?”

“Are you comparing downloads to –”

Prad raises his hand to stop Lynette before she can make her perfectly valid point.

“Okay, not a fair comparison! But honestly, are you gonna’ look me in the eye and tell me you give a damn about the law? Are you really concerned with all that, or are you guys just the slightest bit jealous?”

“You think we’re jealous?” Claude asks directly.

“Yeah, I think you are,” Prad says with just a trace of self-satisfaction. “We did something pretty awesome. Might have been out of character, might have been a little crazy and just a little more illegal, but sometimes you gotta step up. And Sa’id’s right, it’s not like we did anything particularly wrong. All we did was make sure a bad man got a taste of his own medicine. You, me, we always complain about who controls the information, how bad men abuse the media and innocent people suffer. And we always say that the law is stacked against people changing things, don’t we?”

He looks at Tania and uses one of her annoying sentence starters, just to show her once and for all how annoying they are: “I mean, just look at the progression: bad men buy up more and more of the countries print and television media, and the amount of institutionalized evil just goes up and up. We got hijacked elections, illegal wars, civil rights being suspended, the government spying on its people, and no one seems to know how to stop it. We all say ‘if only we could get the truth to people’ –”

“We get the point, Prad!” Claude interrupted with his fiery Haitian baritone. “What the hell does this have to do with what you guys pulled?”

Prad stops for a second and re-marshals his thoughts. He himself is even thankful for the disruption; Lord knows he was beginning to run that particular train off its tracks and make himself look foolish in the process. He was also getting pretty far off topic.

“Sorry, folks. The point is, for once, we did something about it and made sure the right people got egg on their face for once. The only irony is we had to break the law in order to do it. You gotta know the system is fucked if you got to do that.”

“So… you’re Robin Hood now?” Claude asks gingerly. Prad can tell he’s kidding, but he treats the proposition with some seriousness. He’s sure that was the tagline from the movie, might as well work with it.

“We’re always saying how things need to be done, but so far, what have we done to make things better? As I see it, we got nothing to feel guilty about, and who knows, some good might actually come of this. At best, Dangle’s been embarrassed and might even be politically hurt from all this. At worst, we get in trouble and people feel inspired by the example we set.”

“You really think so?” asks Lynette. She sounds semi-serious too when she asks. Prad treats it as such at any rate.

“Yeah, I do. It was peaceful, it was precise, and best of all, it was appropriate. Tell me there aren’t millions of people nationwide who won’t be happy this happened. Hell, we know people hate the cocksucker, and it’s sure to piss off those right-wing assholes that support him.”

“Can’t argue with that,” Sa’id says, raising his bottle in salute. Prad nods and summarizes for them:

“And all we had to do to was pull a little stunt that just happened to be illegal. I don’t know about any of you, but I consider that a pretty sweet deal.”

Well, Prad thinks, how about that? For once, he argued on the eloquent side of things. The opposition group is far from convinced and begin to nitpick some of the points he’s raised, but Prad decides to take a rest to listen from the sidelines. His one man assault has not won anyone over, but it’s clear that the moral tone has been dropped from the debate.

He looks back at Angie. He notices that she’s staying out of the debate too. In fact, she’s looking at him from time to time, bypassing her conversation with Scott to do so. She even looks a little… impressed.

Wandering back to the kitchen to fetch something non-alcoholic to help him sober up some more, he begins to wonder about that very thing. Why should she be impressed that he spoke on her behalf, or the groups for that matter? Does it surprise her that he happens to share her beliefs? He thought that was abundantly clear at this point. But then again, had he ever given her cause to think they had that in common? Come to think of it, have they ever had a conversation that didn’t involve sex positions or porn? Actually, during their last conversation, she brought up the subject of porn. He just threw some innuendo and sexual references her way. But who knows? Maybe if he tried talking to her more about what they do and less of what he wanted to do to her, she might actually show him some respect!

He feels a blow strike his shoulder, startling him and spilling the can of ginger ale he’s just opened. He turns around to see Sa’id again, who also appears mildly impressed. It’s hard to tell though, his expression is kind of disarrayed.

“Dude, that was cool!” he says breathlessly. He has apparently run himself out of breath just making it to the kitchen. “I didn’t know you thought all those things. Man, we should hang out more. I got some websites I think you would enjoy. My sis even runs one of them from back home.”

“Yeah, that sounds cool,” Prad replies.

“I mean it, man! We should definitely hang out more. We don’t do enough together and I think my pals would like you some.”

“I mean it too,” Prad replies insistently.

“Okay, man. And I mean it! I think it was cool what you said. I’ve never heard the fight characterized so perfectly. And what the hell is up with those bitches, anyway? Why are they busting our chops tonight, of all nights?” He leans in close to issue this last part.

“I don’t know,” Prad says, taking a sip of ginger ale to soothe his tired throat. “Guess we just didn’t count on people feeling left out, is all. And I guess Angie did kind of pull an executive decision, didn’t she?”

Sa’id looks at him through half-closed, glassy eyes. His face is still able to register confusion though, even through all the hooch. “What do you mean?”

“Nothing, I…” Prad takes another sip of ginger ale and wonders himself where he was going with that. “Maybe they just wish she consulted them first before accepting the challenge.”

Sa’id ponder it over, staring off drunkenly. He smiles and scoffs, blowing some spittle Prad’s way.

“Eh, man! Everyone’s got to take orders sometimes. Even us DeeMarchists!”

Prad nods and chuckles. He has to concede that. Not everyone can be anarchists and still be functional. He can only imagine how the DeePs do their thing. Probably with a lot of arguing and some bullshit dominance, kind of like they did tonight. Hopefully, this will be the last time they have to deal with those pricks. It’s bad for the group’s Feng shui.

“So whatta you wanna’ do now?” Sa’id asks him finally.

Prad thinks that one over. He sighs and wishes he could crack another beer or smoke a joint. Being responsible doesn’t exactly leave a lot of options. But then again, he’s been good for a few hours now and the urge for mischief is starting to back up inside him.

He casts a look back in the direction of the living room. The sitting circle has broken up and people are performing multiple tasks now. Claude and Tania are playing Xbox, Achebe and Lynette are surfing on Angie’s computer. And on the couch, Angie and Scott appear to be getting all lovey-dovey, talking all close and intimately like, punctuated with the occasional kiss. He thinks ahead to the end of the evening, when everyone else will be gone and Scott will be the last one here… with her. Oh things will start out slow, a few kisses, some petting, and some foreplay as they gradually make their way to Angie’s bedroom and slowly undress each other –

A devilish thought suddenly occurs to Prad. Should he? It seems risky, but then again, what’s playing it safe gotten him lately? And they’re in Angie’s apartment finally, it’s not like he’s going to be here again anytime soon! And now is the ideal time, while she’s totally preoccupied with that Scott fucker! When will he have this chance again?

He leans in close and whispers conspiratorially to Sa’id:

“Let’s go check out Angie’s room.”

“Prad, I don’t know about this.”

Sa’id whispers nervously from behind Prad’s back. His footfalls are remarkably stealthy for a drunken man. He’s obviously had lots of practice, probably from sneaking into such a well-populated house as a teen after a night of binge drinking with his hot-blooded pals.

“Take it easy, dude. I just wanna’ see what kind of digs the boss lady has.”

“You’re in her apartment, isn’t that enough?”

“Hell no, I wanna see where she goes to ground. Can’t understand a woman unless you see where she sleeps.”

Sa’id grumbles. “This is some stalker shit, man. I can’t believe you suckered me into doing this.”

Prad laughs quietly and steps forward, one toe at a time.

All in all, her bedroom is pretty much what he expected. Light blue coat of paint, cool and relaxing. Perfectly conducive to sleep, if you’re the kind of person who likes its cool. There’s a quaint little work desk with a lamp, a book case and armoire in one corner, and a double bed next to the wall. Everything smells like lavender and a hint of familiar smelling perfume, plus the faint scent of fabric softener. His feet inch their way intuitively towards the bed. Something about its size is comforting. Two people could never fit there, comfortably.

Wait, he tells himself. Why is that good for him? It would be bad for Scott, but where would it leave him if…? He shakes the thought off. Not good to let his mind slip in that direction. Not when he’s already trespassing in her room.

“Jesus, it’s not like I’m going through her panty drawer, take er easy.”

“Man, I figured that was next for sure.”

Prad chuckles quietly. He’s sure Angie would blow a gasket to see the two of them rifling through her underwear. And one look at the armoire tells him that they must be in the top drawer. Why is that? What is it about a top drawer that suggests underwear storage? Maybe if he were just to check…

“Dude, if you start jerking off on her pillow, I’m going to freak.”

Prad looks back at him in shock and disgust. What’s he think, that he’s some kind of pervert? This is just for fun, simple curiosity. It’s what the grunts must periodically do, tear the veil off the cool exterior of their superior officer to see what’s behind. Wasn’t it the moral in the Wizard of Oz that everybody needs to pull back the curtain to see where the real wizard resides? It’s totally harmless, provided they don’t get caught!

“I’m out, Prad. Anyone asks, you’re in the john.”

Prad waves him out. What a pussy! At least now he’s free to roam without all the noise to distract him. Drunken Sa’id! Lord knew that if he’d been around much longer, he would have alerted everyone in the apartment as to their whereabouts. His freakish negativity is also something he can do without right now. Angie’s bed is looming before him, and the last thing he needs is perverse suggestions to make him feel guilty. Leaning forward ever so slightly, he opens his nostrils and takes a deep breath. Her pillow is where her long hair is laid out every night. He can see that glorious dark mountain of curls spread out across it, trickling down her shoulders and reaching out to the pillow next to it. Whoever’s there probably thinks it’s a nuisance, but what a lovely nuisance! He doesn’t want to think about that too much, or he’d be forced to acknowledge that someone else has that pleasure.

Too late, he thinks. His mind has gone there, and it’s a mighty sad place, not to mention pathetic. Someone else gets to sleep in that bed; meanwhile, he’s stalking around her room like it’s some kind of exercise in political subversion. Ah, whatever, he hasn’t done anything irredeemable yet. And he can still leave while that’s still true. Straightening up, he eyes the door, his escape route, and starts to inch his way towards it. Just a few feet and he’s free, nothing to answer for and no reason to hang his head in shame. Just a few feet, one foot in front of the other…

Once clear, he spots the bathroom to his left. Away from the living room, where everybody, including Sa’id (who he must thank for planting the suggestion in his head), are busy rambling about stuff. He can hear the music, a song by Tom Morello. He’s heard this one at least twice tonight. Now seems like a good time to void his bladder and justify that alibi.

In contrast to her bedroom, the bathroom is a warm pink. The wall next to the bathtub is tiled up to head level. And the seat cover is pink with fluffy edges. The colour scheme is a little bit outside his comfort range, but it too feels appropriate given the purpose of the room. Nothing like a warm-feeling room to get guests to unclench. He finds it easy to urinate under these circumstances, and is even polite enough to do it sitting down.

And it appears the party is winding down when he returns. Tommy is passed out on the couch, Zuhair sitting next to him, not far behind. The weed they brought appears to have been a little too strong for their taste. Lynette and Claude have split a cab and left while Tania and Achebe are smoking the remains of Tommy and Zuhair’s second joint – the one they couldn’t finish – on the balcony. He looks back at Angie again. That look of newfound respect appears to have faded somewhat, but she’s still looking at him strangely. It’s the kind of look you give someone when you’ve seen a whole different side of them, almost like coming to grips with a whole new person. And she starting to look tired too. So is Scott, he notices. It seems pretty clear they want people to leave so they can have some alone time.

“So…” he says, searching for something appropriate to say. He’s determined to end the night on a good note, go out with a final display of maturity, no matter how small. He can see Sa’id is about ready to fall on the couch, the one occupied by Tommy and Zuhair. He’s quick to grab him by the arm and slink it over his shoulders.

“Ready to go, bud?” he asks.

“Huh? Oh, yeah!” Sa’id mutters. He’s still able to stand on his own, but Prad can tell he’s more than his fare share of weight on his shoulders. “Yer’ the best, man. Taking me home like this.”

“Doesn’t mean we’re married,” Prad replies. Angie and Scott titter. “Alright, let’s go. Goodnight, guys. Thanks for the party.”

“Yeah, goodnight man.”

“Goodnight… Yamal.”

Prad would stop and turn around, but with Sa’id on his arm, the best he can manage is the former. Another first for the night. He can’t recall Angie ever using his first name. If Sa’id weren’t so close to him right now, he’s sure he’d be getting chubby in his pants. Or at least he’d be feeling a warm sense of satisfaction, the kind that’d put a swagger in his step. But that’s not possible either. He smiles and carries on, his left foot, Sa’id right’s foot, their middle foot. It’s a three legged race to get to the door. Once there, Sa’id is able to put his weight on the small table by the closet while Prad gets his jacket and keys from the table. He spots them in a small pile, the auto lock with the Mazda logo identifying them. They’re right on top of a pile of mail, next to a brown box which appears opened at one end. The small piece of twine running down the length of it gives him a curious feeling of déjà vu.

Prad grabs his keys with one hand and pushes the other bits of mail away so he can get a better look at it. The inkling he had a second before becomes a full blown torrent. The box’s edges were secured with duct tape, now torn but neatly folded over. Next to the table, in a wastepaper basket, he spots the telltale bit of crumbled brown paper. He reaches in and grabs hold of it, using the table to unroll it.

“Prad, what are you doing?” It’s Angie asking this. She’s spotted him from the couch, picking through her garbage and examining the contents. On any other day, he might be worried how this looks. Not right now though; he needs to see if the printing is a match. Then he’s sure he’ll feel a lot of worse.

“Prad! Will you answer me please?” She’s up and coming to the door now, Scott not far behind her. The writing is exact, the same block lettering, done with a fine-tipped permanent marker.

“Angie?” he says, the last vowel heavily inflected. “When did you get this?”

“What, that?” She points to the box’s remains. “A few days ago, why?”

“Was there a book inside?”

“Yeah, ‘Ghost in the Machine’.” While Prad is deathly silent, pondering the possible meaning of this, she draws an obvious conclusion. “Did you get one too?”

“And there was a note inside? A yellow sticky? Said something like, ‘Read this’ and ‘learn’?”

“No,” she shakes her head. “If I remember right, it said, ‘Consider this a gift. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it’, or some such thing.”

“Where is it?” Prad demands.

“In my room, on my bookshelf, why?”

Prad is out of the doorway, past Angie and Scott and back down the hallway to her room before anyone can stop him. Hopping back over the threshold that guards her cool little cell of a room, he makes his way for the bookshelf he spotted during his earlier recce and begins rifling through the stacks. Angie is quickly behind him, standing in the doorway and demanding answers.

“Prad, what the fuck are you doing? Get out of my room!”

“Where is it?”

She groans and enters the room. She grabs a book that was on its side, on top of a stack and facing with its pages outward. Checking the cover to be sure, she then thrusts it into Prad’s chest and raising her arms out sideways, palms up. “Satisfied?”

Prad looks it over. Same exact copy, same exact publisher and everything. Only difference appears to be the broken binding, which only proves that Angie has been doing what Prad was instructed to do with his.

“I got one just like it the other day, in the mail.”

“Really?” Angie asks, her tone flat.

“Angie, who’s sending us these?”

Another groan. Her arms are now folded across her breast. He can tell she’s really annoyed. “Did you bother to read the foreword?”

“What? No, why?” Prad asks innocently.

“Because if you did, you might have noticed it’s by Professor Germaine. As in Albert Germaine, the man who educated us and is now sick.” She says all this calmly but emphatically. Flipping open the book, he turns to the aforementioned foreword section. Sure enough, the title reads, Towards a New Understanding: Behaviouralism and Metaphysics in the study of human thought. What more proof does he need that Germaine was behind this?

He looks up at Angie, who is still staring down at him. She’s not seething anymore, but everyone in the room, which now includes Scott and Sa’id, can tell she’s pissed. Prad, for his part, is standing there perfectly still, looking at her with vacant-eyes and a neutral-ish frown. When he finally gets around to saying something, all he can think to say is: “Oh.” A long pause. “Sorry.” An even longer pause. “Guess I should read it, huh?”

“I believe that was what the prof asked you to do.”

Prad smiles nervously. Another pause, this one terribly long. Angie takes back the book and returns it to her shelf. She doesn’t appear all that angry now, just a little disappointed, and expectant for sure. Without waiting to be told, Prad decides to try to salvage whatever dignity he has left and leave before he does anything else stupid.

“Okay! Well, I got to go! Sa’id, we got to go!”

“Sure, right, man.”

“Thanks for everything, and uh, you know, sorry again.”

Dataminers – Chapter 8

Prad’s steering wheel looked to be a tad bit dented as he pulled into the employee parking lot that morning. It might have had something to do with the fact that he was beating it with his fist for the entire drive. Caught between ecstasy and anxiety, he expressed himself by repetitively thrusting his fist against it. It was a happy beating, but it left his fist sore nonetheless. He checked the time just as he pulled in.

9:13 am. He would be fifteen minutes late by the time he got inside and to his desk. The sweat was already collecting on his brow the second he got to the front door. The weather was nice and warm, the sun shining. The welcoming concrete of the front entrance was already baking and radiating some heat up at him. Not a good combination at the moment. He forgot to apply his Speed Stick and his grimy extremities are also getting warm.

A quick run up the stairs to the second floor, where the air conditioning is running, the colours are muted greys, and the lights are fluorescent. He knows his pits will be cooling in this and will surely begin to reek in just a few minutes. But what can he do? He needs to get to his desk and act like he’s been working this whole time. Lunch will be the first opportunity he gets to take care of the smell problem. Flex hours are a thing of the past, abandoned in favour of the easier-to-monitor and regulate eight hour day. Under that ancient regimen, the hours of nine to twelve and one to five are spoken for. If he’s absent for any amount of time within those two blocks, he’ll be penalized. And he can forget about staying late, that’s overtime.

Prad takes a moment to curse the one group of assholes in management and the other in labour who created this ridiculous system between them. He hopes there’s a particular stinky corner especially reserved for them in hell (the smell that’s wafting through his shirt at that moment is what makes him think of this).

He wonders what the words in his native tongues would be for the condition. He wonders mainly because the English word is just so damned appropriate, and yet so abrupt. Like many such words, missing entirely are the long flowery descriptions that just don’t translate well.

Grime.

One can practically hear the old English usage, the Germanic roots that feel so folksy and earthy. So much meaning wrapped up in a tiny poetic statement consisting of only a few phonemes. He has learned the Thai and Filipino equivalents, but somehow, they just don’t seem to do it justice.

Magdumi… S̄kprk… Just not the same.

The endorphin rush from the mad dash he made getting to his desk seems to have triggered another episode of temporary lucidity. But right now, its swimming upstream against the Purple Haze. He hits the power button on the monitor and calls up his last task. His fingers begin to navigate code, one keystroke at a time.

“Hey,” Rohit says from behind him. “Didn’t hear you sneak in.”

“Are we married now?”

“There’s a list up on the break room wall. You should take a look.”

“What is it?” Prad asks, turning around.

“Schedule for interviews.”

“Interviews? For what?”

Rohit raises his hand from behind the cubicle, revealing a cup of coffee he had stashed there. He sips from it slowly and shakes his head, his lips formed in a tight grimace.

“You got a short memory, don’t you? I told you the other day.”

Prad looks at him cockeyed. Rohit leans in closer and whispers it to him.

“When you were bragging to me about that ‘thing’ you did?” he uses his fingers to make quotation marks. Prad’s memory kicks in. The parts that make it through the haze come back to him. Rohit was muttering something about HR and how they all have to explain why they need to keep their jobs. He remembers Rohit being pretty bitter about it, or maybe that was him. And wasn’t there something about bosses, unions and the industrialization of work time? No, that was definitely him, and that was only a few minutes ago! Damn, Prad thinks. He needs to stop getting messed up on weeknights. In any case, he considers the partial recall sufficient and nods.

“Anyway, it’s on the wall in the break room. People need to sign up and most of the good spots are taken.”

“When’s left?”

“Mainly late night, Tuesday and Friday.”

Prad jumps to his feet and runs to the break room. Sure enough, a sign up sheet is on the bulletin board with a permanent marker hanging by a string next to it. Someone is in the process of signing it. Prad joins them to get a better look, also because he feels like he has to stop them. Sure enough, and Rohit really wasn’t kidding there, just about every time slot and every day of the week have been spoken for. Tuesday, morning and afternoon, are gone, much the same is true about Friday. Some late comers have taken the later afternoon slots, lengthening their stay to after five o’clock. But as of now, Prad has to decide between an interview that will waste a Friday evening or one that will compromise his next meeting with the Society.

He turns around and sees Rohit standing there in the doorway, coffee cup in hand.

“When did this go up? This morning?”

“Yep.” Rohit puts his cup to his mouth with an air of smug self-satisfaction. Prad sees why a second later. Rohit’s John Hancock is in the prime location, Monday morning of next week, second timeslot (which is scheduled for ten o’clock). This ensures that he can get his out of the way early but he doesn’t have to go first. It also means he can take his time getting ready for it in the morning. As time slots go, it’s almost ideal. Prad, on the other hand, is screwed no matter what slot he takes. All the remaining interviews will be held late, but not late enough that he can go home and come back. Either night, he’ll have to stay several extra hours and then have to go through the demeaning interview process. Angrily, Prad takes the marker and sacrifices a few hours out of his Friday night rather than mess with Tuesday meeting of the Society.

Yamal Pradchaphet, he writes, in the 7:00 pm slot.

He recaps the pen and flicks it away in a motion that leaves no doubt as to how little he cares for this arrangement.

“You fucker!”

“Early bird gets the worm. Besides, the time slot isn’t exactly what you should be worrying about. If I were you, I’d be working on what I’m going to tell the panel.”

“Panel? There’s a panel?”

“Yes,” Rohit says, slamming his cup down and fetching another dose of coffee. “As I’m sure I explained already.”

“Nope,” Prad says, searching his memory, which for the first time that day seems pretty clear. “Nothing about a panel. So who’s on it?”

“Your HR rep, your supervisor, some of the execs. Basically, you got five people all looking to nail you and you need to be able to tell them why they shouldn’t.”

“They can suck my ball sack. They need me!”

“Sure they do.”

“If they knew half of what I could do, they’d be begging me to stay.”

“Really?” Rohit says disbelievingly, taking another sip as nonchalantly as he can manage. Prad is now following him back to his cubicle, like a little runt dog barking after the bigger one that doesn’t want to pay attention to him. He knows a brush-off when he sees it, and it’s pissing him off.

“I’m serious man!” he says persistently. “People like me need to stay hired by companies like this, otherwise we’d be shoving viruses up their asses.”

“Right.”

They are almost to Rohit’s cubicle now. Prad is not about to follow him all the way there and bark at him while he gets back to work. It would just look so undignified. He has one final salvo to throw at Rohit, something to turn the tables on him a little, even though it’s a little used.

“You don’t believe me, huh?” he says with a forceful whisper, loud enough to get through but not to so loud the other employees can him over the din of work. “Maybe you should ask Congressman Dangle what he thinks of my skills.”

“Jeez, that again!” Rohit says with obvious annoyance. “You know, you keep bringing up that name, but we both know you’re not about to explain that one, so why not just let it go?”

“Fine,” Prad says angrily. He lowers his voice again to a forced whisper. “Then check in with the FBI. I’m sure they’ve got something on their website.”

Prad turns around before Rohit can answer. He’s sure he can feel his eyes boring into his own back. Maybe he hasn’t heard the news yet, but it’ll hit him in a few. At worst, he’s probably going back to his desk where he can Google it from. Then he’ll see!

Ah, but fuck it all. Now he’s really breached protocol with that little act of self-gratification. Protocol about the Society is, you do not talk about the Society, or what it does. You mention them as friends should they come in conversation, maybe; but never what you do with them. Only the DeePs are such dishonourable scourges as to brag openly. One may have bragging rights, but one does not use them around third parties. It’s just common sense. And in mentioning the FBI, he’s really been way too open. Why didn’t he just write Felon on his head with a big, black permanent marker? It’s a lucky coincidence for him that no one else from the Society works there. Otherwise, he’d have a lot to answer for.

He’s back at his desk for less than ten minutes before the grime becomes intolerable. He needs more coffee too now that he thinks about it. But his bladder needs to be emptied before he fills it up again. Getting to his feet, he makes his way to the floor’s bathroom for a quick pee break and a touch up. Voiding his bladder, he takes his time at the sink to spruce up his facial situation. His eyes are bloodshot and his hair speaks of poor maintenance. Several handfuls of cool water feel good on his unshaven, unwashed cheeks. The quick burst of adrenaline from the sudden shock of cold is also nice, the dribbling water washing the oily, stale feeling away temporarily. He runs a few spare handfuls over his head too, just to get at the main source of discomfort. No matter how many times he washes his whiskers, grime from the top of his head seems to seep down and dirty them again. He knows this from experience. Always need to get the hair too.

Washed up, he grabs a handful of towels and runs them through his hair to partially dry it. The remaining droplets need to air dry, thus dissolving the grime and taking it away with them. It’s a practiced ritual, he’s found, the daily fight against the grime. One imagines if it can ever be truly won, or if it’s like trying to hold back a flood with a broom. How strangely enlightened a thought this seems right about now. How many lucid moments does that make for him today?

His taste of enlightenment is abruptly ended when he spots O’Malley walking into a stall behind him. Pausing to notice Prad standing there, looking into the mirror, he fires off a quick salvo.

“Forget to wash up this morning, Prad? Or did they shut off your water?” he says with a derisive laugh.

“Must have, Brad,” he replies with a fake smile. “Why else would I be washing out of a sink?”

He tries his best to say O’Malley’s name in a way that makes it sound offensive. Brad. Braaaad. Well, it sounds bad to him. Hoping to justify the hate with which Prad views him, O’Malley goes on.

“Must not be used to bathing every day where you’re from, huh?”

“That’s funny O’Malley. You fuck your mother with that mouth?”

“Asshole,” O’Malley scoffs, shoving the door shut.

“Dickhead,” Prad fires at the stall door and O’Malley’s shoes. At least he didn’t make a toilet paper joke. Then Prad would be forced to bring up O’Malley’s questionable hick ancestry. He doesn’t like that, he knows. O’Malley insists he’s from New York, umpteenth generation Irish stock. But he knows he’s a racist prick, so the inbred hillbilly references are all good.

Prad tosses the wet bundle of towels into the wastebasket and makes his way to the break room. Freshly washed cups are hard to come by in the cupboard. The sign on the front urging people to wash their own dishes apparently has not made a dent. Here too, the war on grime is being lost, the kind that invades chinaware and glass. Taking the least shmutzy one, he gives it a quick rinse, ignoring the brown line at the bottom, then fills it with coffee from the dispenser. He’s surprised that Rohit is not at his desk when he returns. He is sure that by now he’s had a looky loo on the web and found the story: the one about one asshole Senator and some photos that surfaced about him from the FBI’s own surveillance database. Lo and behold, he’s still at his desk. His back is busy typing away on his machine and he appears to be working.

Oh well, Prad thinks. Just as well, let him find out about it in time. Alternately, maybe he’ll forget Prad said anything and his little breach of protocol will never be revealed. One can always hope, but damn he wants to see the look on Rohit’s face when he realizes he’s been in the presence of a veritable cybergod for months.