[A Game Called Murder] Chapter 2: Megasys (Part 1)

Maybe it was his jaded mentality at having been thrust onto yet another business trip. Maybe it was his anticipation and excitement for his ultimate destination and the company he was to be assisting. Maybe, instead, it was the fact that Mikhail was operating on six hours of sleep if he was being generous with himself - and three of them were on that cramped old plane. Whatever it was, Mikhail knew that he had arrived at his destination not by the passage of time or the sights and skyline of Seattle whipping past his window as the Tesla roared up the 405 to the Bellevue headquarters of Megasys, but by the fact that his cup of coffee was running dangerously low. Getting another one would be a priority when he arrived.

Almost as if on cue, Mikhail feels the Tesla glide to a halt outside a security gate. After a moment’s pause, the light turns green and allows his car entry. Taking up an area of several city blocks, there was no way that he could appreciate all the sights; nor could he tell what took place in any of them. All Mikhail knew was that he was here! He was absolutely brimming with excitement and had to take a moment to compose himself before he made some sort of less than professional first impression. The car glides to a stop in front of an immaculately polished set of glass window panes that towered over everything surrounding him; the lobby beyond, he had to guess, was a three story courtyard, allowing all who entered to feel small when compared to the great heights that Megasys was reaching. One of the smaller panes slides open for Mikhail and he steps in. The lobby is surprisingly barren, with its most notable features being the coffeeshop along one side and the security desk that stood between him and the bank of elevators. A tall and fit man with brown hair steps out from beyond the security checkpoint and strides quickly toward Mikhail.

“Hello, would you happen to be the consultant we are expecting from Houston?” He says with a smile and an outstretched hand. Mikhail gives it a shake as he responds. “From Coyote Security? I’m Mikhail O’Neil, pleasure to meet you.” The man recoils slightly when he hears the name of Mikhail’s firm escape his lips. He leans in. “I would appreciate it if we kept your company’s name quiet. Please.” He adds hastily, whispering. “I am Scott Mitchell, Chief Information Security Officer and, as of this morning apparently, interim Chief Technology Officer, of Megasys. Please come with me.”

Mikhail is taken aback. Who he worked for was not a big deal - consultants came and went from most larger companies all the time after all! What was the big deal? He wondered about this as he checked in with the security guard. Getting fingerprinted, millimeter-wave scanned, and sniffed by a dog was no big deal to him. A little on the strict side for security, but his company had once sent him on an assignment to a defense contractor and did some business with various state federal agencies - it was not a huge deal to him that he had to go through this. Matt had said discretion was a high priority, so fair enough. Mikhail learned that Megasys corporate security would take care of his baggage and ensure it was brought to the room he would be staying in. It was not quite even 10:00 AM in Seattle and the room would not be ready for another few hours.

Once the formalities are taken care of and visitor’s badge in hand, Scott leads Mikhail to the elevators. Once inside and on their way to the twentieth floor, Scott seems to relax quite visibly.“Sorry about that. Kaseem and I would rather that it not get out that we had a security consultant flown in across the country all of a sudden. Our normal consultants would rather not know they’re being kept out of it. I’m sure you can understand.”

It was then that Mikhail noticed that Scott appeared to be in an even more dire need of coffee than himself. The man was haggard and running on even less sleep than Mikhail had managed. He had not even had time to shave, it seemed. “Fair enough. My boss said you would rather this be kept as quiet as possible. What am I walking into?” Mikhail asks as the doors slide open. His casual tone of voice left the fifty year old executive a little put off, but Coyote Security Solutions had a well-earned reputation according to an old friend from college, so he was willing to give the kid the benefit of the doubt. “Understand that anything you hear from this point forward will be covered under the non-disclosure agreement we executed with your company while you were in the air.” Mikhail nods his agreement. Again, par for the course. “Well, at around 2:00 this morning I got a call from our network security operations team. Apparently our data loss prevention system saw something funny just after midnight and after some investigation our guys decided they needed to wake up the old man.” He rolls his eyes, trying his best to find some wry humor in the fact that he had been interrupted. “They had traced the suspicious activity to none other than Kaseem’s workstation, as well as that of my CTO.” His tone of voice shifts to the defensive. “Now, I know my CEO. We have worked together for ten years building Megasys to what it is. He is not the type to do stupid things on his computer. Trust me on this one.” “I take it you quarantined the suspected machines, then, taken them off the network?” Mikhail prods. It was a standard first step, and one whose execution - or lack thereof - would give him an almost instant sense of the caliber of information technology organization he was working with. “Of course. My first call was to cut the network to this floor and copy the machines’ drives to a known clean drive to analyze while they were still running.” Mikhail is stunned. That was almost better than the best case scenario they typically worked with. Scott knew his stuff, it was clear. “Who is reviewing the images?” “One of our analysts was a digital forensic examiner with the Seattle police before he got tired of all the unpleasant cases and came to work for us. He’s reviewing it. Of course, we will let you have a look yourself as well if you would like..” “I think I would like to start from the beginning, if that is okay with you Scott. Can I review the network logs your team was investigating, starting before the appliance raised the red flag? I want to get myself into the same frame of reference your guys were in and get familiar with your environment before looking at whatever suspicious activity might exist on the executive machines. It will help me to approach your incident with the methodology we use at Coyote.” “Sure thing. We brought you in because, quite frankly, we are out of our league on this one.” It was Mikhail’s turn to be outright shocked by something the other had said. “With respect, it appears y’all are fairly adept at security and IT as it is. I have no problem with what you have told me of your approach thus far. If anything, it sounds almost like something I would read in the Department of Defense Revised Security Standards bulletin.”

“Well thank you kindly for your assessment, Mr. O’Neil. Kaseem is eternally grateful to this country for taking him in, and no regulation or proposed best practice from the government is too onerous for him to want to implement. It may frustrate some personnel, true, but I dare say Kaseem is as fanatical about the United States as he is about building Megasys.” He pulls out a chair in front of a workstation, leaving a slip of paper on the keyboard. “Anyway, here is your station, and your credentials for accessing our network resources. Once we got confirmation that you would be working with us in this, I took the liberty of setting up the access you might need. I unfortunately must get back to work, but Bob here is one of my brightest technicians. If you need anything at all, I’ve assigned him to support you.”

With that, Scott walks out of the room and boards an elevator. Mikhail takes a moment to look around the room before logging in. Filled with rows of computers arrayed in a semicircle around a central podium, it appeared to be almost something out of a movie. The gigantic screens showing various status messages overlaid on a map of the world helped matters. How much use this operations center got out of those monitors he had no idea, but it was cool nonetheless. He blinks his eyes. The lack of coffee was getting to him, and he would need to be sharp once he logged in; on a normal assignment he might be more or less left alone to do as he needed to, and so it sounded like from when Scott left. For some reason, though, Mikhail could not shake the feeling that perhaps he was being watched. Fortunately, it smelled as if someone had just brewed a fresh pot somewhere. After a few minutes of wandering aimlessly, Mikhail finds the break room. It is fairly sterile in appearance, being little more than a kitchenette and a couple of tables. Sitting at one of them is a balding man who is also fairly overweight. Mikhail, to his delight, finds the same strong brand of coffee he stocks his home with. Unfortunately, the coffee machine appears to be something out of a science fiction movie; Mikhail is presented with a touchscreen and numerous buttons, but after several attempts at pressing different ones alone and in combinations, he is unable to get more than a smug beep from it.

The balding man gets up and approaches Mikhail, a bemused look on his face. “You need to insert your Mega Badge.” He offers, helpfully. “Come to think of it, I’m not sure I recognize you. Name’s Bob. Bob Hansen. You a new guy?” Mikhail turns. “I’m Mikhail. Scott Mitchell brought me in to help with the investigation.” Bob’s eyes light up. “Oh yeah, you’re the guy! Station 3-12. Scott told me directly that I was to put aside all other projects and help you out today! Sorry I wasn’t at your workstation - I needed a cup of coffee myself. Try the Colombian if you’re undecided!” “I understand. Have not had nearly enough myself today. Thanks for the recommendation, but maybe later. I need more of this mocha in my life.” Mikhail finds the slot where his badge is to be inserted. With a much more helpful ding, it starts brewing his cup of coffee. “Everything sorted out, then. No trouble getting in?” “Nope, none at all. I was wondering about a couple of things, though. First off, there weren’t any guards at the post, yet I was let in the gate anyway. Also, if this is Megasys headquarters, where is all the Webwar stuff?” Bob tries to suppress a chuckle and fails. “Hah, so you’re a fan too. I think we’ll work well together. But yeah, the Webwar posters and memorabilia are on other floors. Really, there isn’t much down here other than us support staff and the suits. Creative types are all down at what we call Camp Defiance, or the Tacoma campus. That’s where all the real magic happens. Even though it’s turned into a really nice area, it’s just hard to convince people who can work anywhere in the metro to go down there, even with SeaLink running that new high speed service. As for the gate, don’t worry about it. We were tracking you since you landed. Rental car company gave us the ID, so it was simple to add an exception.”

Mikhail was not quite sure whether that was a comforting thought or a disturbing one as his coffee finishes brewing. Cup in hand, he walks back to the workstation with Bob. He logs in and, after connecting to the system indicated on the piece of paper, he begins looking through the log files. Scott had told him approximately when the alert had gone off, so he decides to start there and work his way forward. There is a file appropriately covering the time period in question, and Mikhail opens it. A puzzled look crosses his face.

“Hey, Bob? There’s… nothing here.”

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About Charles Herrera
John Doe's true identity is unknown. Maybe he is a successful blogger or writer. Nobody knows it.