Breaking in to the Edinburgh station was actually challenging. It was understaffed, but well-designed, with few convenient air shafts or window ledges. She had to steal some supplies, then take a running jump off of the nearest building to get close enough to loop the cameras. Once inside, she crept silently through the halls until she found an unattended computer, still logged in. Nobody ever expected security breaches deep in the heart of supposedly inaccessible bunkers. She put two tissues over the keyboard to avoid leaving fingerprints, plugged in her empty hard drive, and began to search.
She couldn’t risk taking the time to look at anything now. Instead she started copying whatever she thought she could use. The files transferred, megabyte by megabyte--
Someone was coming. She closed out all her activity, ejected the drive, whisked the tissues away, and dove for cover. A man appeared. From where she was hiding, she could see the side of his face. He looked at the screen, then frowned. Oh, shit. What had she done wrong? But he just shook his head, and went back to his work.
She waited, silently, without moving a muscle. It was a while before his phone rang again. “What? I’ll be right down.” He stumbled in his haste to get up, and hurried down the hall— again leaving his computer open. This sounded like a longer absence. She darted back to his seat and started copying files again. She grabbed all the upper-level personnel files she could, and the month-by-month summaries of S.H.I.E.L.D. activity. Someone senior enough to be running the Edinburgh office would have access to everything but the most classified stuff. And—
Returning footsteps. She canceled the copy, ejected the drive, and put the terminal to sleep, hiding just as someone neared the door. A bit sloppy there— someone with exceptionally good hearing might have heard her—
It was the same man again. He sat down at the terminal, woke it up, and then frowned again. He picked up his phone. “George? I think we have a virtual intruder in the system. Come take a look.”
Fuck. More than a bit sloppy. But as long as he really thought the intruder was virtual--
The agent bent down and rooted around under the terminal. After a minute, he straightened up again, holding the end of a cable. George appeared a few minutes later, puffing down the corridor. “What’s the problem?”
“I think someone’s gotten into my terminal. I’ve had problems with my webcam randomly coming on, the last couple of days, and today I noticed some weird date stamps— but only when I stepped out.” He held up the end of the plug. “So I disconnected from the main line.”
“Hmm.” George typed a few quick strings. Nat risked poking her head up slightly, to memorize his passwords. “I’ll pull the packets. If anything did go outside the base, we’ll be able to trace it”
“I don’t understand how anyone could have gotten into my computer. The firewall’s up, right?” “Yeah, no breaches.” More typing. “Have you opened any suspicious attachments lately? Downloaded any free and in-demand adult media?”
“George, please.” The other agent sounded pained.
“Well, I gotta ask.” He pulled up a screen and went hmmmm. “What about from people you know?”
“Porn from people I know?! No!”
“No. Suspicious attachments. Have you been looking at LOLcats again?”
“They’re just funny pictures. Clara finds ‘em for the kids…”
“Mac.” George sounded pained. “These are not ‘just funny pictures’ of cats. They could be vehicles for a worm or a virus, some form of potentially crippling attack on our infrastructure. Don't open them here.”
“But she gets them off the Internet! Millions of people look at them! They couldn’t possibly be—“
“Low-complexity files meant to be viewed and shared virally? That’s how I’d package something if I wanted to be discreet.” More typing. “Don’t worry, Mac, if the funny pictures of cats mean that much to you, we can get you a secure terminal just for that.”
Mac spluttered incoherently.
“And I can use it as a test case for collecting information on these things,” George added. “If that’s really what’s going on, I’ll notify HQ. They can put up defenses, start tracing them back. And maybe the cyber unit will exploit them themselves. Wish I’d thought of that…”
She had to stay there a long time as George typed and muttered under his breath. Finally he said, “I’ll take this back downstairs and get to work picking it apart. And I’ll bring you back up a clean terminal.”
She heard footsteps— heavy; he was carrying something now. Then the footsteps stopped and reversed themselves. “And no LOLcats!”