Danica had her hands clasped in her lap, her face in the direction of her cabin ceiling, eyes closed tightly. She was silently hoping for a dimensional vortex to open above her and pull her from the room and into the multiverse, forever taking her away from this world, but more importantly, from this exact moment.
As she had no desire whatsoever to be here in it.
But sadly, the laws of physics stayed intact and remain she did.
She looked down and lowered the volume on the phone base. Hoping the weaker decibel level during the conference call would subdue any potential yelling through the speaker after she relayed her report.
Over the next few minutes, she walked the Thornes through everything that had happened. When she was done, she took a deep breath and waited.
Maximus spoke first, his tone tempered by disappointment. “So the chamber is completely destroyed?”
Danica felt chastened in having to tell him this. “I’m so terribly sorry.” She was in total disbelief at being both made director of this operation and in less than twenty four hours, calling to brief her superiors on her failure.
“Why are you apologizing?” Maximus asked. “Did you blow it up?”
“Of course not.” She was shocked at the implication.
“Then it’s we who should be apologizing to you.” He paused. “And trust me, I don’t apologize.”
Danica waited a few seconds.
He still didn’t. But Maximus then declared. “This is our fault.”
Danica was dumbfounded by the statement. She was about to ask, ‘How could this be YOUR fault?’
But Maximus resumed his tirade. “Knowing the value of the discovery, we should’ve dispatched a security team immediately.” He spoke quietly away from his speaker for a minute and returned. “Whoever this assailant is, he moved far faster than we anticipated.”
Maxima joined the conversation. “Be assured, there will be no opportunity for a next time.”
Danica was unsure how to read that, nor offer a reply, so she chose silence.
After a few seconds of scribbling sounds, Maximus asked. “Tell me. Is anything salvageable?”
Danica did not relish this part, but she had to explain it eventually. “The attacker used a very corrosive acid on the paintings inside the chamber. He obviously climbed down the ladder, sprayed the place with it and then placed his explosives.”
“Explosives?” Maxima stressed the fact it was plural.
“Yes.” Danica continued. “He set two individual bombs, activated by remote. At least I assume both were by remote as I only observed him detonate the second one.”
Maxima interjected. “You’re certain it was a he?”
“Of that I’m sure.” Danica added. ‘Only a man could get up after the hit I gave him.’
Combined with that, as a doctor, some things were unmistakable.
Maximus could be heard whispering aside again.
Danica waited for him to finish, but Maximus spoke up. “Please continue Doctor Swift.”
Danica almost stuttered, unaware Maximus was listening at the same time. “The first bomb exploded inside the interior of the chamber. It was likely designated to destroy the centerpiece and the surrounding carvings the acid could not eat off.” She took a quick breath. “The second detonation was designed to collapse the structure in on itself from the outside.” She sadly sighed. “Doctor Lattimer said it will be months before they could dig it out. And worst of all, the acid will be in there burning away the entire time, disintegrating whatever survived the shockwaves of the explosion until searchers reached it.”
“How does he know about the acid?” Maximus asked with interest.
“Doctor Lattimer found several empty bottles of it, one of which was outfitted with a handheld spreaying tool.” Danica replied. “He saw no other purpose for it outside an ancient chamber, even if baffling.”
Maxima could be heard fuming. “The bastard was really thorough.”
“He obviously did not want anything else to be found.” Danica replied, deciding quickly not to offer up the specifics of what the man said to her. It was as if the assailant was implying something far different should not be found than the chamber itself.
For the moment, she kept this one card back.
’You control the game, nobody else. So don’t play all your cards in your initial hand. You may need some for later….’
“I wish I could’ve seen that centerpiece.” Maximus offered up.
Danica queried in confusion. “But I included pictures of it with my report?”
Maxima replied. “Those were the corrupted files we spoke of the other day.”
Danica had not realized. But she had resent them. Maybe her Smartphone did not save them properly for transfer to her laptop. She would have to check into that.
“We also had our own problems last night in regards to the chamber.” Maximus stated rather dramatically, but not as loud as before, obviously not comforted by sharing their failure.
Danica leaned closer to the speaker. “What problem was that?”
“We were hacked.” Maximus sneered venomously. “Rather sophisticatedly, at least according to our I.T. department. It appears all your data and the report you emailed to us has been systematically traced, stolen and all remnants of it have been erased.” He took a hard fought breath. “Including the corrupted ones for good measure.”
Danica was shocked. She assumed their firewalls were impenetrable. “All of it?”
“All of it.” Maxima replied. “It seems they tracked it from your original IP address and then used it to infiltrate ours.”
Danica felt even guiltier. “Was it something I did?”
Maximus consoled her. “Absolutely not. Whoever did this had access to both our servers and seemingly all servers your email travelled. They inserted themselves somewhere along the line and wormed their way into our network. And in their electronic travels, wiped everything from source to finish.”
Danica was shocked with the speed, as well as the technical knowledge required to pull off this expansive form of data theft. “This can’t be coincidence.’
Maxima replied. “We’re sure it isn’t. We assume the attacker got your laptop?”
Danica was proud to offer her response. “Of course not.”
Maxima let out a gasp, sounding elated. “What?”
“The attacker tried to take it last night…” Danica noted.
Maxima cut her off. “And you still safeguarded it?”
“I’m a third degree black belt.” Danica answered matter-of-factly, no arrogance in her tone. “And trust me, he’ll regret that decision to seek the laptop for some time.”
Maximus laughed loudly. It sounded like a boom through her speaker. After a few seconds, he proclaimed. “You my dear have earned your bonus. In fact, I’ll personally see to it that it is deposited by tomorrow.”
Maxima could be heard in the background. “In fact, I’m keying it as we speak. Don’t ask how much, as tomorrow, you’ll be floored.”
Danica was smiling broadly from ear to ear. “Thank you.” She was glad there was no camera in her cabin as she was blushing.
Maximus could be heard on his cell phone in the background dialing someone. In seconds, he quickly interrupted. “I have I.T. on the line. They told me to have you get the laptop right now. Seconds are vital.”
Danica grabbed it instantly. “I have it.”
“Excellent. Now underneath it, near the battery pack, disengage the Wi-Fi network connectivity capabilities.”
Danica pressed the switch. “Done.”
“Now under no circumstance should you either reactivate the device’s roaming or connect it to the internet in any way. We’re not sure if the hacker is still in our system. We have I.T. working overtime to purge any and all traces of their presence, but until such time, your laptop must stay offline.”
“Will do.” Danica felt confident now her executive team had taken charge and things were back under control. “What should we do for now?”
“For one thing, under no circumstance are you to have that laptop out of your sight. Not even for a second.” Maxima stated. “We’ve no desire to lose our last vestiges of that chamber.”
“Understood.” Danica felt like the guardian of a great treasure.
Maximus declared. “We need you and Doctor Lattimer back in Toronto on the first flight out. Use your procurement card to get the two quickest flights back.”
Danica was shocked at the request. “But what about all my research here?”
Maximus replied with authority. “My private plane has been boarded with a clean-up and moving crew to take care of everything. Both your camps will be cleared, packed and ready for re-opening anytime in the future for your return. Mr. Darby will oversee everything.”
Danica smiled. She knew her COO was nothing if not meticulous.
Maxima pointed out. “All your plant experimentation and discoveries will be catalogued and prepared for transport by Doctor Feller.”
Danica knew him. He was a good research officer from development. She knew he could be trusted immensely to care for her acquisitions.
“So there is no other reason for the two of you to stay is there?” Maximus pointed out.
Danica admitted, she had none. Then one question came to her. “What about the chamber?”
Maximus answered. “Well it seems, as Mr. Darby has informed me, having a historical discovery destroyed before reporting the find and getting a permit to investigate it has caused a few issues for Maximum Pharmaceuticals.”
Danica felt terrible all over again. “I should have…”
“Done exactly what you did.” Maximus cut her off. “Had you reported it, we’d never have gotten all the details as quickly and as accurately as you were able to procure them.” He paused and added with some rigidness in his tone. “And trust me, had we been forced to deal with the government from the onset when you had the unique opportunity to search the site beforehand and chose etiquette over curiosity, then I can assure you, we’d have been disappointed.”
Danica felt better in her decision.
Maximus finished his thought. “So your hard work and getting all the information you did for us without all the red tape is exemplary. And don’t you forget it.”
Danica felt recharged again.
The dips and troughs of an emotional corporate roller-coaster.
“Plus, let Mr. Darby worry about the ramifications. It’s what I pay him for.” Maximus declared with confidence. “As for you and Doctor Lattimer, my directors of this operation, see you in Toronto.”
With that, he terminated the call.
Danica rolled her eyes, happy Maximus could not see her right now.
Her only thought being, ’I’m can’t tell Doctor Lattimer he’s now a director too. He’ll be unbearable to fly back with. She could see him now, in all his glory, demanding I call him Director Lattimer.’
Danica grinned inwardly. ‘I’ll never call him Director.’
She pulled out her cellphone to book the flights.
All she could think was. ‘What possible discovery from a hundred years ago warranted all this trouble? None she could imagine.’
She dialed the airline customer service and let her mind drift as she prepared for a long hold time.
‘Maybe I simply need more imagination.’