Helena agrees to help, and fills Kurt in on what she knows about the Third Power's communications. It centres around a defunct network called Relaynet, which is laid alongside the city's underground rail lines. Kurt is sure the Cube Hunters on Earth can help to track down where the Third Power's messages are being sent from. Helena offers him (and us) access to her case notes.
Violet isn't one to get stressed out easily. It's one of the reasons why she's a good poker player - she manages to keep composed and rational even under pressure. Even when she and Scarlett were on Lancewood, at apparent risk of being killed, she managed to stay in control.
In control. The problem now is that she isn't in control. Scarlett's been kidnapped and there's absolutely nothing she can do about it. She's been reduced to hanging around my apartment all weekend, waiting for Helena Frye to call. At one point on Sunday I had to talk her out of marching down to the police headquarters to find her.
At noon, I got the call from Helena. Violet was curled asleep up on my couch - she hasn't been sleeping well at all - so I took my key into the kitchen and quietly closed the door.
"So?" I leaned against the kitchen door, stretching my back, waiting for her answer.
"Everything checked out. We found the messages on the Babel site, and I've decided we'll investigate it further."
"Great! What's the next move? Have you had any luck checking out the CRR?"
"Not so much at the CRR. The place is locked up tight, and if we went in there, there's a good chance that they'd notice. But we had a tip-off on Friday about the Third Power using a system called Relaynet. Have you-"
I jerked my head up in annoyance. "Wait, you knew about this on Friday? Why didn't you tell me? I could've been checking it out this weekend instead of sitting around and wasting time!"
"Look, shut up, Kurt. You're not the only one who has something at stake here. My team has been going after the Third Power for years and we aren't going to jeopardise a lead by you setting off alarm bells everywhere. We have to do this operation carefully, and that meant checking out all the information, including you."
"It wasn't just a lead, it was my lead." I held the key closer and whispered furiously, "And I don't just have 'something' at stake, I have a friend who's been kidnapped and interrogated. My girlfriend was one of them, and she tried to kill me. The Third Power aren't just another star on your shoulder, they're murderers. So don't tell me to shut up and wait around while they kill someone else!"
Helena went quiet for a while, and I wondered whether I'd blown it. She was probably deciding whether it was a mistake involving me at all.
"You mentioned Relaynet." I forced myself to calm down and think. "No-one uses Relaynet any more - it was abandoned decades ago. Low data rates, plenty of lag, plus it needed signal boosters. They switched over to copper bundles pretty quickly, then fiber. But..."
I saw the answer in a rush of insight, revealing connections between facts and ideas that I'd learned long ago. "It was a military project. A military prototype, an experiment to see if they could make a hardened communications network that could withstand attack and multiple failures. So, it definitely would've been buried underground. Around the same time that the subway started up. It probably even used some of the same tunnels!"
"Go on," Helena prompted.
"So you think the Third Power are using it, but you're having problems tapping into it," I guessed. But that didn't make any sense - it was so low tech that it should've been easy to listen in. It had to be something else. "No, you can tap into it, but everything's encrypted. Okay, scratch that - that's not the issue. You can't tell where the messages are going. Hah! I remember, my tutors said Relaynet had a bizarre routing system, the messages went all over the place before getting to their destination."
"That's good enough," interrupted Helena. "It took us hours to dig up that information, so let me save you a little time. Our tip-off was that the Third Power are using Relaynet to receive messages from Earth via the CRR. Like you say, we can intercept the messages, but they're using strong encryption. At the moment, we can't figure out where they're going either, but one of our sigint guys has said that - in theory - we should be able to extract how long the messages bounce around the network before they reach their destination from the servers.
"Right, right," I said, "and combined with the lag times across the network, you might be able to deduce the destination. So, what's the holdup?"
"We can get the lag times, that's easy. But extracting the time to reach destination, that involves querying the servers, and I'm informed it's 'non-trivial'."
"No problem. I want to help, I have a few ideas. I can be there in about twenty minutes, if I leave now." I glanced at my watch, and thought about subway times. "I just have to-"
"I've got a car waiting outside for you. Hurry up." I ended the call, and walked through into my living room. Violet was still asleep. I briefly considered just leaving a note, but concluded that she wouldn't be pleased if I'd taken off when she woke up.
I gently shook her shoulder. She sighed, but didn't wake up. "Violet," I said.
"Hmm?" she said, tiredly looking up at me.
"Helena called, we have to go to the police headquarters now. Come on." She nodded, rubbed her eyes, picked up her bag and stood there, waiting for me.
We're in Helena's offices now. I was pulled into a technical meeting with the sigint guys as soon as I walked in, and have been analysing the raw data dump we got from the servers. I think we have something. It's not a lot, but we managed to pull out the transit times of five messages.
Helena's put all the information on her page on the police intranet - I said that I had a team on Earth who could help me find where those messages are going. Let's get to it.