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TWENTY-FOUR

June 22nd

The level ended with the death of a particularly difficult boss. André took the opportunity to drink a sip of water from a glass, and set the game controller on his knee. Another mission loaded on the old cathode ray screen and he set the glass down on the wood floor again, picking up the controller. There was a cutscene which he impatiently circumvented. The mission began.

The laptop behind him beeped. He pressed the start button, and looked over his shoulder, setting the controller on the floor.

“Hey,” he said with an elevated voice. “It cracked it.”

Viktor got up from the couch. John, who was lying on his back in the other suite, got up with the sound of gradually exhaling springs and came in, leaning on the door frame for a minute and then moving up behind Viktor. André tilted the laptop screen so they could see it.

It had taken two hours to crack the password to the encrypted ZIP file they had found buried on Rodenko’s laptop. That was a long time given the method they had used, suggesting a particularly strong password. Other zipped archives on the hard drive had been far easier to open. Using an online file cracking service, of which there were now surprisingly many, they had managed to open those archives in less than forty minutes. This archive, however, had proven far more resistant. John and André had tracked down a promising program for the task and hatched a plan to run a cluster graphics processing unit instance in the cloud, utilizing Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud service, leveraging multiple processors on Amazon servers to multiply the power of the cracking software. Nothing revolutionary. White hats had been doing it for years. They’d found the software, Accent ZIP Password Recovery, from an online article in Wired magazine talking about cloud computing’s implications for the future of AES encryption. It hadn’t been cheap, costing forty American dollars for the full version, but it came highly recommended and had ultimately lived up to its reputation. The server time, on the other hand, had cost practically nothing.

The past day had been a whirlwind of excitement. Watching Kurt Stover flounder under the weight of public scrutiny was endlessly satisfying and had made a meaty addition to John’s journal, which he’d finally gotten around to writing in. Upon first hearing of the Greenpeace hijacking of Stover’s speech, he’d wondered if Josh gave them too little credit. However, he hadn’t reacted as well when he’d found out that the unidentified man he’d recorded with Stover and Rodenko was actually thought to be Aleksie Chichelnitsky of the Izmailovskaya gang, among the oldest and most fearsome subsets of the Russian mafia. No. That hadn’t gone over well with anyone, especially Josh who had warned a mafia connection was an unacceptable risk from the beginning. Further raising anxiety within the group was the fact that the Greenpeace people had put in their calling card, which upon Josh, John and André’s urging, they had deliberately refrained from using. If there was any chance the Russian government was involved, they didn’t want anyone to connect this job to their earlier body of work. To Josh, it just served as confirmation that his misgivings about working with Greenpeace had been on the mark.

And lastly, there was the final bombshell. It turned out as John was making his escape from the resort in the Alps, he had had his face recorded by a security camera in the lobby. Shortly after the Yan Rodenko scandal broke, including the revelation about who his second dinner partner had been, John’s pixelated visage had been displayed in more than a few news reports. Obviously, he had been horrified. The others had done their best to reassure him. After all, they said, how many bleached blond teenagers were likely in France? A compelling point, he had to admit. Nevertheless, he planned to change his hair color back tomorrow.

Peering down at the laptop, John wondered if he was on the verge of another disorienting discovery. The electrifying astonishment at how easy it had been to access the contents of the archive left them silent as they clicked on the fruit of the week’s labor. But when the sole folder contained in the archive opened, they were disappointed to observe that there wasn’t actually much in it. The whole folder was only about ten megabytes in size and the only files inside it were a bunch of PDF’s and a Microsoft Word file, none with names that meant anything to them. André clicked the first Adobe file.

The Toughbook was a nice piece of kit. Acrobat was a memory intensive program. But it loaded it with barely so much as a pause. Unsurprisingly, the writing was in Russian. The title was broad, and framed similarly to how it would appear in a scientific paper. It only took a few moments before they realized that that was exactly what they were looking at. Viktor began translating without being asked.

“Forced Arctic Melting By Tetrafluoromethane Emission.” They all looked at each other.

“What the hell does that mean?” John asked.

André Wiki’ed tetrafluoromethane. Another name for it was carbon tetraflouride. It was extremely stable. And apparently sixty-five hundred times more effective as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. André minimized the window and went back to the paper.

Viktor read the abstract, then part of the introduction. It read, by in large, like a meteorological paper. Some terms John understood. Others, most, meant nothing to him. In all, there were eight pages. They glossed over these, except for a few formulas which Viktor found particularly interesting. Differential equations that were used to describe the variability of circumpolar air currents. As they went down farther, it started talking about the residence time of inert chemicals in this region, tying into the fact that carbon tetraflouride had a lifetime of 50,000 years. The final conclusion of the paper was that sufficiently high concentrations of carbon tetraflouride could be produced by chemical processes, in a short span of time, to enhance warming effects in the arctic. The polar air currents would retain the PFC’s, in a mechanism similar to that which had made chlorofluorocarbons so potent an ozone destroyer in the Antarctic. They looked at each other for a moment and then opened the second PDF.

Another paper. “Pan-Seasonal Perfluorocarbon Emission Utilizing A Near-Arctic Platform.” Viktor read the date on the paper. Newer than the first. They scrolled back down. Lots of text, and then, a few pages later, a black and white cutaway drawing of a building. This included numerous tanks that were gigantic, judging by the human figured included for scale. Some of the tanks were labeled simply as flourine. Others were labeled as dichlorodifluoromethane. They were segregated, on opposite sides of the structure, and in between them, there was a large bulb, with pipes going into it.

Looking it over until he had a fair amount of its features internalized, Viktor went a few pages down. They saw another image, this one a simplified diagram of the bulb, which turned out to be a chemical reactor. A formula for a reaction between dichlorodifluoromethane and flourine was written underneath it and linked to it by a narrow line. On the right, there was an outlet tube which exited the reactor before turning upwards and going beyond the top of the diagram.

The final diagram showed an illustration of a chimney with curving arrows indicating air flow. There was a series of equations. Following these, there was a new section, this one comprised of a detailed cost analysis, spread over fifteen years. This went on for five pages. Next was the conclusion. Here, there was a note that warned that sufficient precautions should be taken to prevent employee asphyxiation, since PFC’s were heavier than air. High temperatures would permit their predominant ascent into the atmosphere. Finally, citations.

John took a seat on the sofa across from the TV and folded his arms. Viktor scratched his head. André looked at the diagrams again.

“What’s in the last PDF?” John asked. André loaded it. Viktor read the title.

“Improved Bulk Liquid Natural Gas Transport Via Suppression of Boundary Layer Waves.”

“And the word file?” A spreadsheet and a brief report describing predicted gas prices for the next six months. André closed the file. John looked at the crack between two pieces of wood on the floor. “Is it possible?” he asked, “that this whole accelerated arctic warming trend we’ve been witnessing has actually been artificially forced?”

“I don’t think so,” André said matter-of-factly. “These papers are way too new.” John conceded the point. “The better question is why would someone want to speed up melting in the arctic?”

“Drilling,” Viktor said. The thought had already half occurred to John. But Viktor beat him to it. “Oil, gas, minerals.” John was suddenly reminded of all the articles he’d read recently about how several countries, including the US, Russia, and Norway, were all jockeying for control of arctic resources.

“Shipping,” Viktor continued.

“A lot of people would benefit from this,” John concluded. “The whole country. Russia that is.”

“Yep,” Viktor replied.

“Can you go back to the first paper for a second?”

“Sure.” André clicked the file again. John squinted as it loaded.

“Does it say who published the paper, Viktor?”

Viktor looked around the first page. “Russian Foundation for Advanced Research Projects in the Defense Industry.”

“What is that?” John asked. “Do you know?”

“Never heard of it,” Viktor said.

How about the second paper?” André opened it back up.

“Same.”

John suddenly felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up. “Do you suppose they’d ever actually consider doing this?”

“They paid for the study. Clearly they’re at least thinking about it.”

“Perhaps,” John said. “I guess it comes down to how corrupt their decision-makers are.”

Viktor laughed. “I’d say pretty corrupt. Look, their economy is in a major recession. The west is still sanctioning them for Ukraine. Gas is at two dollars a barrel. And fusion isn’t science-fiction anymore. They need this. Badly. And to stay in power, the people in control need this, badly. So yes, in my opinion, of course they’re considering it, if they haven’t already started. ”

“Jesus Christ…” John was silent for a moment. “If anybody knew we had this…”

“They’d probably kill us,” Viktor said.

Around noon, Katie came in with a new summer dress. Erika and Cory came back with her, carrying little trinkets. When Katie was shown what they had found, she shot a Viktor a knowing look.

“So it’s like we thought,” Viktor said. John looked at him. Katie nodded.

“Yeah.”

“Wait what?” John blurted out. Katie looked at him but Viktor didn’t. “You knew this was going to be there?”

Long pause. “Our source suspected,” Katie said, finally.

“Jesus Christ!” John exclaimed. You all knew?” His volume seemed to surprise her.

“No. Just me and Viktor.”

“Man, stop being melodramatic.”

“I’m not being melodramatic, dammit!” The room got silent. “You knew what this guy was into and you put me in a room with him?”

“We needed a tape of them together.”

“Bullshit. You should have told the rest of us.” Katie and Viktor didn’t say anything. “And… how long have you been talking to this source about this?”

“What do you mean…?”

“When did he first bring it up?”

“…A month ago.”

“A month ago.” He laughed, disgusted. “They’re gonna come after us,” he said at last, the full weight of what he now realized and was saying channeling itself through the compressed tone of his voice. He turned to the rest of the group. They looked back at him. Bloody idiots. “And mine is the only face they know.”

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