Good Partners, Bad Partners

The Forge Region – Anttanen Constellation
Uitra System – Planet VI, Moon 4
State War Academy Station

8 March YC 121

The ‘full investigation’ didn’t take long – next day after the mission I received a message from Tarumo in which he invited me to visit his office ‘at my earliest convenience’. I recognised that turn of phrase as a euphemism for ‘ASAP’ and was intrigued as Tarumo was not known for mincing his words. Needless to say, my earliest convenience was now.

The agent greeted me and offered a seat; he looked more formal than usual.

“First of all, Mr Korff, I want to apologise for my yesterday’s behaviour.”

Aha, thought I.

“Although I had every reason to consider the mission unsuccessful,” continued Tarumo, “the show of emotions was totally uncalled for.”

Yikes! If a multi-billion-ISK failure is not a good enough reason to get emotional, what is?

Aloud I said, “No need for apology, Mr Tarumo. I was not offended.” Then, to change the uncomfortable subject, I asked, “How is the investigation going?”

“It is finished, Mr Korff, and its results are the reason why I summoned you.”

My heart skipped a beat. Although nothing could have been done to prevent the deaths of the envoys, the logic of the empire required to appoint a scapegoat, and I was the best placed person for that appointment. I braced myself for allegations.

“After our conversation, I again reviewed the mission report and decided to give you the benefit of the doubt. What I did next could have put me in a very awkward situation – I directly called Inherent Implants office and asked them to confirm the request for an escort. As you can imagine, Mr Korff, such inquiry made with full knowledge of the envoys’ demise could be seen… hmm… strange at the very least. Nevertheless, it turned out that your suspicions were correct – the Inherent Implants representatives have never sent us any request for assistance. Yesterday they spent all day in meetings with our mega-corporation executives and were nowhere near Uitra system.”

I started breathing again and asked, “So who sent that message?”

“We don’t know for sure, but it could be anyone.”

“How is that?”

Tarumo raised from his desk and started walking up and down the room, “It’s an interesting story. When I found out that the request was forged I engaged our security department. It took them just two hours, using their underground contacts, to obtain Inherent Implants’ digital certificate which was used to sign the fake message.”

I baulked at such revelation, “Are you saying it is that easy to steal a corporation’s identity certificate? Surely, it must take more that two hours to break their security controls.”

Tarumo stopped pacing and looked at me, “It was not stolen, it was hacked, Mr Korff, and it took not two hours but more likely two years.” He resumed his shuttling between two corners of the room and explained, “The cryptographic algorithm used by Inherent Implants has a known vulnerability which was discovered about two years ago. The corporation ignored the finding and, instead of rotating the certificate, continued using it. To be fair, the vulnerability is not easy to exploit and requires months of intense computation. Unfortunately, the corp gave the hackers all the time they needed, and as a result, the certificate appeared on the black market.”

“Have you informed Inherent Implants about it?”

“No, but we have apprised our mega-corporations of this finding. Ironically, my assessment of the situation turned 180 degrees since our conversation yesterday. I was concerned that we would be seen as unreliable partners because of the failed escort mission; now it is clear that it’s Inherent Implants that can’t be trusted until they upgrade their security. This discovery may still cause termination of the negotiations but in this case it will be for our benefit.”

“By the way, Mr Tarumo, about the failed mission, I wouldn’t like to have it in my service record – bad for employment. Given it was based on disinformation, can we simply remove any mention of it from my file?” asked I.

“Don’t worry about the mission, Mr Korff – it is recorded as successful.”

I raised my brows.

Seeing my bafflement, Tarumo explained, “During the mission you destroyed three Guristas frigates. Although it was not your objective, in my books any mission which culls the pirates is successful. The fact that you risked your ship and clone to save the station personnel has also been noted in the mission report.”

I was pleasantly surprised, “This is an unexpected but a welcome decision, Mr Tarumo. Thank you.”

“You are welcome, Mr Korff.”

“Now that it’s out of the way, can we return to our main target, Tahamar?”

“I wish we could, Mr Korff,” said Tarumo with a barely visible twitch of an eye. “Unfortunately, that Tahamar has proved to be extremely elusive. Our intelligence office continues the investigation and I will contact you as soon as we have new data.”

I was disappointed but waiting for a chance to deliver Tahamar’s comeuppance couldn’t be as bad as the last 12 hours that I spent dreading Tarumo’s verdict. And to be honest, after the stress of the last mission and the ensuing investigation I did need a few days of R&R.

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