Element

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TWENTY-THREE

Forty-eight hours later, a package arrived in the mail at the Marshall residence. Asking her mother for a pair of scissors, Elle cut off the top of the priority envelope and stuck her hand inside. She withdrew a silver flash key, and then, sticking her hand back inside, extracted a note on a piece of paper. She inspected the flash key for an instant. Then, she took out her cell phone, dialed a number and put it to her ear.

“Hi, this is Sebby Santangelo. I’m currently not at my desk right now but if you leave your name, telephone number, and a brief message, I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Okay, bye.”

“After the tone, please leave your message. To hang up, press seven.” BEEP!

“Hey, Sebby, it’s Elle Marshall. I just got your thumb drive. Thanks, bro. I owe you one. I’ll let you know if I have any problems. Bye.” She pressed end and laid her phone on the counter beside her ASUS laptop. She picked the thumb drive up and slid it into a port on the laptop. The computer asked her if she wanted to open the flash drive. She clicked yes. A window opened. Inside it was a folder labeled Elle. And inside that was an installer, a large file with a .iso extension, and an application. She copied these to the desktop of her laptop and after reading Sebbie’s note a few times, clicked the installer. A series of confirmation requests, a disclaimer she had to acknowledge, and a progress bar as the .exe file began to install. Elle didn’t really understand how this program worked. Or the other application on the thumb drive, IP Zapo. Sebby had given her a bare-bones description.

According to him, IP Zapo was a tweaked version of an instant messenger application. Long story short, when you added a name to your buddy list, it would save their IP address whenever they logged on, which could easily then be used to give you their city. Even if you were away from the computer, a log entry would be made. It sounded too good to be true, especially when Sebby informed her it was free software from the Internet. But she gave him the benefit of the doubt. There was just one problem. The program only ran on an Apple. She had a PC.

To get around this, Sebby had sent her something called a virtual machine, which was what she was installing now. The virtual machine allowed you to run a compact version of an operating system, or something. Once the program was installed, she was to load the .iso file through it, which contained the information necessary to run the current Apple OS. She was then to open IP Zapo through that application. It was all arcane to her but she followed the steps he had written out.

Finally, she was ready to load IP Zapo. Centering the mouse over the application, she left-clicked. There was a splash screen. A box appeared and asked for a user name and password. She entered a name she hadn’t used for probably five years. A buddy list appeared. She added John’s screen name. Then, following Sebby’s instructions, she right-clicked it, opening a menu of options, one of which was Track IP. She clicked that.

Nadia Ingraham of Greenpeace capped her water bottle as they pulled to a stop on the side of the road. Leaving it in a cup holder, she climbed out, backpack in hand, wearing a tank top and jeans. She slung her backpack over her shoulder and worked her arm under the strap of another bag as a second Honda squeaked to a stop. A third one arrived a moment later.

Looking up, she regarded the big brick building bearing down on them, tall chimneys emerging from the top. Dressed unremarkably, the six undergraduates jogged towards it.

Kabul, the bald bodyguard, stood at the rear end of the makeshift stage, Bernhard, the other bodyguard, on the other side. Behind the banner they stood before, there was a broad network of catwalks and girders. And admittedly, it looked pretty impressive. Kurt Stover was wearing a white construction helmet and commenting on how he’d gotten his start working in a factory much like this. Behind him, on a big projector screen, flashed images of various blue collar workers who looked almost divine in their red jumpsuits and safety goggles. One was hugging a toddler. Now there was a shot of power lines.

He was here today because of lignite, otherwise known as brown coal. Berlin relied heavily on it in its energy infrastructure. The problem was it was the least energy rich variant of coal, owing to its high ash and water content. On top of that, its combustion emitted a lot of carbon dioxide. And so he was here to talk about his hope to improve factory emissions using more advanced scrubbers, while doing so in an affordable way, i.e.: by having the federal government pay for it.

Meanwhile, he had a plan to improve the organization of coal transportation, and thereby lower the cost, another shortcoming of lignite, so that he could avoid raising taxes. He didn’t mention sequestering and didn’t plan to. Too expensive. Amid heavy lobbying, Vattenfall, the key player in Berlin energy production and distribution, was drawing up plans to better integrate decentralized renewable energy into the power grid, and was pursuing a ten year plan to construct a pilot solar farm capable of supplying up to ten percent of Berlin’s energy. With any luck, Stover’s proposal would be seen as a mostly reasonable interim step. After all, he was a reasonable guy. Taking a few steps back, he approached the projector screen as a flow chart appeared.

Eugen Osborn peered up at the catwalk and gave a thumbs up. Concealed by pipes, Nadia observed the wireless video she was receiving from the front of the stage, as Helene Thompson peered through binoculars, to her right. If they hadn’t used a rear projector, this might have been more difficult. But as it was, Stover’s organizers had done them a favor. Peering down at Eugen, Nadia cracked her knuckles and gave him the signal. Wearing latex gloves, he yanked out the end of the cord that led into the projector and stuffed in the one from a tablet. It only took a moment for the computer to adjust to the new hardware.

Stover hadn’t been flustered when the image had gone blue. On the contrary, he took the opportunity to work in a good self-effacing laugh. It was only after he saw the video of himself sitting at a table with Yan Rudenko that his smile slowly faded. But in truth, it really wasn’t even that that gave him pause. Or the diagonal arrow that pointed down at his head and connected to a block of text that read, “Kurt Stover enjoys a pleasant drink with Russian natural gas magnate Yan Rudenko, CEO of Novell Energy.” It was the other arrow. The one that pointed down from the other direction. The one aimed at the third man at the table. The one linked to a block of text that began simply with “But who is this…?”

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