Illuminating Investigations Pt 2

It was a cool night in ACDC town's network. The paved streets of the real ACDC were closely mimicked, at least in layout, by the town's network, with digital 'streetlights' dotting the pathways here and there as you went. Identical houses-- no yards-- lined the pathways no matter which direction you looked, and far off in the distance you could see ACDC town's School.

Always off in the distance, however. You could never reach it, not from here.

ACDC's park was the main point of interest in this network, though; a wide area of trees, greenery and shadows, like a forest grown too thick-- a mistake of the programmer who designed the area, perhaps? Or was nature just taking its' course, even online...?

Regardless, it was at the edge of that park where Noir found himself, visage shifting in the dark of the night. "Stargazer"-- even if the name wasn't literal, the setting she'd desire was the same. She'd want somewhere dark, somewhere secluded-- somewhere alone. At night? In suburbia? That meant the park.

So Noir headed inside.
Bump #2

Amidst the darkness of the park, there was a single light, shifting and flickering with the shadows. At its weakest, it was a very faint light, but at its brightest it rivaled the artificial moon programmed into the night-themed wallpaper. As Noir got closer, the light appeared to split into smaller fragments, over an area, before all condensing into a single point.

The light led toward the center of the park, where a clearing was ringed with virtual park benches, and a squirrel statue sat in the center. On one of these benches sat a female navi. She didn't match Stargazer's description at all, however, sporting an elegant silicon dress and silver hair instead of bodysuit and helmet. A light pulsed in one of her hands, which she appeared to be using to read an otherwise poorly lit screen in front of her. She paid no attention to her surroundings, certainly not to a navi like Noir who could have easily been a part of the shadows.
Noir paused for a moment, considering. It was a dark night. Always was, in this town. Even when the moon on the wallpaper was full-- it matched the real moon's phases, so it changed in real time-- the place stayed dark. Noir wondered, idly, why that was, but then the answer came: It didn't need to be light.

Noir shifted again, his form breaking, and slid silently up against a Net Tree. His shadow curled lovingly around it, seeping into every crack in the bark, every inch and every fiber and every leaf, and then slid around the tree, then from that tree to the next, then to the next, then to the next-- until finally, the tree behind the girl was just so slightly darker than normal. Noir peered down, nearly invisible in the dark, and tried to make out what was on her screen.
Noir successfully managed to hide behind the female navi without her appearing to take notice, becoming almost indistinguishable from the trunk of the tree itself in the process. From this position he was able to read the screen over the navi's shoulder, although what was actually legible from his position came and went with the pulse of her makeshift reading light.

What was legible was very dense, highly technical writing that read like either an article from a network science journal or a user manual for the needlessly complicated. The key words "Star Field Server" and "monitoring tag" repeated multiple times over the page, as well as several references to navis named "Stargazer", "Laplace", and "Guru". Much of the rest of the page was filled with calculations that made no sense to Noir without any definition of the variables.

The light dimmed again, and when it brightened the navi had switched to a different page, which contained a single pictographical flow chart that looked like it was put together in a Paint program. At the top was a circular object, split down the middle. An arrow from that led to a large ellipse with the label "Star Field Server" and several small dots within it. Two more arrows led from that, to two poorly drawn stick figures, one surrounded by more small dots and the other by equally poorly drawn floating eyes.

In the corner of the screen was a minimized video window, too small to make out any details other than that whatever was playing in the window was recorded through a circular visual field with darkness along the corners, and that there seemed to be a lot of small objects blowing up. No more than would have been expected from a standard virus busting romp, though.
So she placed a tag on a navi, and that connected them to her through a server which let her watch them. It was an interesting way of going about things; a little roundabout, but just so.

Noir recorded everything he saw anyway. Crazy dames. He considered, briefly, heading back to his employer with the information; he could probably tell him if the names 'Guru' or 'Laplace' meant anything to him. As he continued to watch, he paused for a moment to think. That diagram...

Signal leads from.... ???

To the Star Field Server...

To Stargazer? and... who? One of the other targets? A partner of Stargazer's? This "Laplace" or "Guru"? Too many questions: Never good. The fact that he was out-of-practice enough to not see the words even in the dark: Worse.

Regardless, this girl here was obviously related to Stargazer. Noir didn't dare risk pinging her program for its' operating name; If she figured out someone was watching her, she might just fly the coop.

...Then again...

Noir took a few moments-- continuing to watch the book/pad and letting his "eyes" record-- to fake the credentials on a ping command so it looked like one of the routine filekeeping requests from the server itself. This wasn't too hard, given that he kept receiving those very pings randomly since he had logged in. Change the recipient target, change the recipient address... now he just had to give her enough of a distraction so that she didn't notice the weird address on it.

On cue, Noir walked in from the pathway Noir had almost come in from, looking distinctly like Noir-- only without the omnipresent cloak of shadows. The clothes were all the same, but his hair was rougher, more unkempt.

"Hey." He asked like a total creep, swaggering up to the girl, "Is this seat taken?" Noir sent the faked ping at that moment exactly.

(Free: Decoy: Enter stage left.)
Another "page flip", back to dense technical text. As Noir watched and prepared to send a fake server ping request, the navi highlighted a section and deleted it. A keyboard popped up at the bottom of the screen, and the navi wrote something else where the deleted text was. Whatever the document was, she appeared to be editing it.

The navi looked up as Noir's decoy approached, studying him. At that moment Noir's faked ping request through. A notification appeared on her screen, which she dismissed as though on instinct. If she noticed that the address was different than usual, she made no indication of it, and besides that it didn't appear as though she'd even looked at it.

The request, meanwhile, returned exactly what Noir was looking for, the name Stargazer.EXE.

"No," Stargazer answered the decoy. "It's not taken. Although if it's company you're looking for you're going to be disappointed. I'm busy at the moment."
"What with? Writing a thesis?" the decoy said quizzically, putting a hand on its' hip.

The real Noir, meanwhile, continued to think in the shadows. Act and she could get away. Report back to the client and she'd certainly get away. Act hastily and the whole thing might be blown. Noir's eyes would've sparkled as he looked out at the bench from his viewpoint, his wooden expression blank and featureless as the rest of him. He thought for a moment, and decided on one thing for certain:

I can't let any of them see me, regardless.
Kinda-sorta 2 day bump but not really I guess technically
"Good guess, but not quite," Stargazer answered, relaxing her gaze. She opened a new window on the bottom of her screen, which Noir was able to recognize as a video feed of a dark, densely forested area before it was covered up by her hand. "It's more like a user manual, actually."
It was at that point Noir figured the game was up. If he'd had any illusions to throw, anything to alter her perceptions-- he would have, but the same rules and network regulations that let him get her name probably just gave him away.

Panic didn't fit a joe like Noir, though. No, guys like him, they had to play it smooth all the way to the end. Had to act like the jig was never up until the bullets were flying, then somehow come out with a smile on their... shadow face. Thing.

Okay, so maybe allegory wasn't his strong suit.

Not-Really-Noir tilted his head curiously, scratching a brow as he took the seat next to Stargazer. "Huh." he said, leaning back on the bench a fair distance away. "Never was too good with programs that needed a user manual, ya know? Things like LinkScape Navigator, Paintbrush, WordNote..." FakeNoir paused like he was considering rattling off more names, and then broke into the question he had been leading into. "What's that one for?" He asked nonchalantly.
If the jig was actually up, Stargazer still made no sign of planning to call Noir out. She tilted the screen away from the fake Noir just enough so that he couldn't clearly read it without leaning over enough to fall on top of her. This provided little obstacle for the real Noir, although for the moment Stargazer had returned to the page with the diagram, and seemed content to leave it there for the moment.

"I suppose some people would need a manual to figure out how to use anything that archaic," Stargazer commented. "No, it's for something my boss invented and I helped design. I'm not at liberty to give any details at the moment."
"Ahh, ahh. NDAs and all that, right? I gotcha." IDGAF-Noir responded, winking with a grin. The real Noir realized that he was running dry on conversation options very fast, so-- it was time to pull a fast one again.

Fake-Noir pulled up a little opaque datapad of his own, sitting on the far end of the bench from Stargazer, and started messing with it. A little twist of the hand here, a little access there-- the double mimicked the way Noir used to interact with datapads-- on the off times he found one worth caring about.

For a while, the bench was silent like that.

Then the fake Noir started murmuring softly, as if speaking his thoughts out loud, just on the near edge of perceptibility. At first it was random things about his work, most of them disjointed enough that nobody could piece together any of it. In reality, a lot of the little tidbits were from the scripts of at least twelve different soap operas Noir had downloaded just for times like these. That wasn't the hook, though.

The hook was when Nope-Noir let slip the word "Constant" through his mutterings, all by itself, not connected to anything else. Noir eyed Stargazer for her reaction, then, a second or so later, Double-Noir muttered a few other navi names-- some real, some not-- and then Oblivion. He'd wait a second before mentioning Laplace or Guru, and those were only if she didn't react to what Cloudsourced-Noir had already said.
If Noir were to look at anything other than Stargazer's data screen as his fake self pulled out the datapad, he would notice a single, faint speck of light appear next to him, situated directly behind his duplicate's head. Within seconds, a few more had appeared, situated around Stargazer. Were it not for the solid white light and lack of anything attached to them, they could have been easily mistaken for fireflies. As they were, though, they looked more like stars that had been pulled out of the sky.

Still, she didn't react, and as the copy Noir fiddled with the datapad in silence, she flipped a page on her screen and set back to work. This continued for awhile, in silence. Once not Noir started muttering to himself however, Stargazer finished editing the line she was on, then minimized the document. Several more windows opened of their own accord. Some were video feeds like the ones Noir had already seen, while at least one other was a rapidly populating list printed in infuriatingly, or at least indecipherably, small text. Another still appeared to be an e-mail window.

This very easy assumption was only reinforced when Stargazer typed a quick message into it, which Noir was able to read as it appeared on the screen before the message sent and the window closed again.
SFS manual delayed until I shake off company. Passwords changed - will email Const, Met, and Lap with new ones later. Admin access still works as usual. Next report soon.

She glanced over at the Noir of many not-names as she finished. "Interesting choice of names, there," she said, tilting her head to one side. "Do you know them?"
"I know that I know what I know." Decoir smirked, standing up. "And what I know is... The precise velocity of a jack-out beam is 1.2225368 NetMeters per picosecond. The trajectory required to hit such a beam with the average Cannon shot is easy to calculate from there; All I need to do is fire in--" Decoir pointed upward at an angle above Stargazer, "--that direction in about 0.1566772 seconds after activation of a jack out routine. And a'course, such an impact would either delete whoever I hit with it outright, or at the very least give them a few real nasty scars to remember me by." Decoir's face remained locked in that cool, disarming smile.

His operator had the chip queued up already, that was true. Noir could probably make the shot, that was also true. But he was no cursor navi, and half of those numbers he had just pulled out of his ass. This was a bluff. He needed her to fall for it.

"I ain't here to shoot nobody, though. I'm just here to talk, Miss Stargazer. And this... is just Laplace to do it, wouldn't you say so? Away from all the prying eyes you could think of... 'cept maybe those stars of yours." He pointed at the dots that were already beginning to swarm the place, as well as at the wallpaper.

"So." Decoir said as Noir began to line up that shot in preparation, "Why don't we talk for a bit? 'Cause I've got some questions, ya see. 'Specially about this 'Met' of yours."

((1: Noir: Take Aim))
"Ohh?" Stargazer asked. "And what's to stop me from attacking you instead?" Nevertheless, she seemed to know that she was exposed. The dress she wore clung to her body, molding instead into a midnight blue bodysuit and matching helmet. A star projector, like one might see in a larger size at a planetarium, materialized on her back, and a telescope appeared in her hand.

"I'll play your game though, Mr. Noir," Stargazer answered. She stood up as well then, notably, turned to address the real Noir in the trees rather than his decoy. "Although I'm curious what would prompt you to ask me about a metool I supposedly own."
Noir-- the real Noir-- pooled down off of the tree, slid underneath the bench, and then rose up through the cracks into a sitting position upon it. Decoir sat down beside him, and they both spoke as one, single voice, one shadowed, one not.

"Rather coy, aren't you? Shorthand. The same way you Shorthanded Constant and Laplace's names, you shorthanded someone else's." The Noirs rattled off. "I've certainly got to ask, Miss Stargazer, when exactly did you realize my presence? I try to pride myself on stealth, so being revealed like this is a big faux pas for me."
"Likewise, I try to pride myself on perception. If I didn't notice you, it would be an equal faux pas for me," Stargazer answered calmly. "You had me going for awhile, though. Next time I suggest you don't say anything that might expose yourself so soon.

"As for Mr. Met, I think I'll leave him as such. My work at the moment does not concern him, aside from him needing access privileges."
The Noirs shrugged. "So be it. I would like to ask you a very simple question, however; You say, or at the least I have gleaned, that you know Constant; would you happen to know a navi by the name of Oblivion? Rather kitschy name for my tastes, but..." The Noirs leaned forward, white, disarming smile of his teeth breaking through even the blackness of his shadow-self. "...I didn't pick it."

On his decoy, the smile was what he probably intended it to be; disarming, charming, the kind of smile that only a master liar or a kind-hearted gentleman picked up. On Noir himself, surrounded by blackness as it was, it seemed more... predatory.
Stargazer remained silent for several seconds, as more of the star-like lights appeared surrounding her. She turned her head briefly to look towards one cluster, as though seeing something in them, and then turned back to the Noirs. "I would," she said plainly, with no elaboration.

Then, "Who wants to know?"