Sunday, February 22, 2015

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 412: Back In The Saddle

McGee-centric character study/romance. Want to start at the beginning? Click here.

Chapter 412: Back In The Saddle

Tim worked straight through Tuesday, 'round the clock, in at 11:00 to the next 11:00 to the one after it on Wednesday morning. And then on Wednesday he basically slept 'round the clock, too.
Abby took him home, grabbing a quick bite on the way there, and then he staggered off to bed, Tylenol 3 and Aleve coursing through his system (and if he still had any Percocet he would have found that and taken it instead) and crashed into a deep sleep where he woke up briefly to have dinner with his wife and daughter, and then back to sleep again for the rest of the night.
Thursday morning, usual wake up time, he's moving again, groggy and sore and planning on another 8:00 PM bedtime (and probably a nap in the afternoon) but he's moving because there's 200 emails in his inbox and most of them are not requisitions for more staples or time off.
He's feeding Kelly, while asking Abby, "Tony said something about there being 'data chips' in…" he doesn't remember his name, "the victim's arm. Did you guys get into them?"
Abby shrugs and takes a bite of her graham cracker. She's been craving them since yesterday. No idea what about graham crackers Sean wants, but he's getting a lot of them. "We got into them all right, but it's gobbled-y-gook. So, once we got them up and running, off to your guys they went. Last I heard, there's a guy out of Rota who's an encryption specialist—"
"Atherson." Tim nods. They haven't worked together yet, but he's thinking that if the mirror site he wants to add to his NCIS defenses works the way he wants it to, they'll need to. He's thinking that a hard but not impossible encryption placed on files that are actually collections of random numbers should drive anyone who tries to break into their stuff full-on raving insane.
"Anyway, we got them cleaned off and running a bit before I took you home. From there the data went to him, and the actual chips went to evidence."
Tim nods again as he wipes cereal off of Kelly's chin.
They hear the sound of the sliding glass door open as Heather comes in. "Morning! Oh, there's my girl!" She sweeps over to Kelly, giving her a kiss, and then turns to the adults. "Good to see you back here, Tim, Abby said you were on a case. They're not treating you too rough, are they?"
He smirks at Abby before replying to Heather. "This time the dark circles under my eyes are just from being tired. Apparently my working-round-the-clock skills are rusty."
Heather smiles at that. "So, is now a good time?"
Abby says, "Yeah, I think so," and then fills Tim in, "Yesterday, I told her we wanted to talk to her when all three of us were able to get together."
"Right!" Tim can see by the look on Heather's face that she knows where this is going and is happy about it. "How would you feel about being a nanny to two little McGees?"
Heather grins. "Two little McGees sound awesome."
"Wonderful!" Abby hugs her, very happy, and then puts her hand on her tummy. "Say hello to Sean James. If all goes according to plan, he'll be on the outside January 28th!"
"Hello, Sean! Oh, we are going to have so much fun."
Kelly's looking very confused by all this, which is when it hits the grown-ups that they have not made any sort of specific comments to her about all of this. Abby says to her, "You've got a little brother, here, inside Mommy's tummy."
Kelly's eyes narrow. That is not information that means anything to her. She does reach out and poke Abby in the tummy, but nothing happens, so she's not satisfied by that response.
Tim tries from this direction. "You're a big sister. And in the winter, when it gets very cold outside, you'll get a little brother to play with."
"Molly?" Kelly asks.
"Just like Molly! Anna is Molly's little sister. You've got a little brother growing inside your mommy. He's too little to come out, yet. But when it gets cold he'll be all grown and ready to come out."
Okay, she's looking a little more steady with that. She knows who Molly and Anna are and how they relate. "Bwofer?"
Good point, no one in their family has a little brother. (Okay, not true, Abby has Luca and Kyle, but Kelly doesn't know who they are, and Jimmy is the little brother, but no one's ever even met the illusive Clark.) And as of yet they have not gotten into what Aunt or Uncle means, just that that's the title certain people in the family have.
Heather's smiling at her. "You and your cousins and your mommy and I are all girls. The baby, Sean?" Tim nods, she's got the name. "Is a boy, just like Daddy."
And at that Kelly bursts into sobbing tears because she's got no idea what a boy is, but she knows that Daddy is bigger than Mommy and she doesn't see how anything that size can fit inside her without hurting her mommy. Unfortunately the adults have no idea what's set her off, and she's woefully ill equipped to explain what the problem is.
Finally, Heather says the magic word 'baby' which is when it finally clicks for Kelly that whatever a brother is, it'll be small, and she begins to calm down.
So, on Thursday, both Tim and Abby are twenty minutes late into work, and somewhat frazzled when they get there, but get there they do.

First matter of business, before heading into the basement, before battling his emails, is to head up to the Bullpen and check in on Tony. Namely, just because he had gotten his end of the case (and a bunch of other cases) dealt with, did not mean that Tony actually had a shooter… two shooters, Tim thinks Tony mentioned something about there being two of them, in custody.
When he gets up there, he doesn't even bother to get out of the elevator. He can see no one in the bullpen, which, hopefully means they've caught the guy and are all having a late morning, or are out getting him, as opposed to they're all out hunting down new leads.
Tim pulls his phone out of his pocket and then puts it back. He can't text and hold the phone at the same time.
Back down to his office, he flicks on his computers, and as they boot up he sends to Tony: Got your guy yet? Any specific information you want from what we get off the drives/computers?
Nothing comes back, so he hopes that means Tony's sleeping.
Next step: What the hell time is it in Spain? He checks. Six hours ahead. So he pulls up Atherson on his computer for face to face time. He'd expected Kim Atherson to be female, but a middle-aged Black man is facing him on the other side of the screen.
"Hi. I was wondering if you could update me on what you getting off the data DC sent over?"
Atherson snaps to attention at that. Tim might not have known him on sight, but he knows Tim. "Nothing, yet, Boss." Tim's itching to check Atherson's background, that's a very Marine sounding 'Boss.'
"Corrupt data or nasty encryption?"
"1024 bit key."
Tim knows that's code for this is impossible. "So, right out of the Cryptonomicon?"
He's not surprised that Atherson gets that reference. He's also not surprised to see that makes Atherson relax a bit. "Exactly. If you can find a key for it, if you can find me part of the key for it…"
Tim nods; he gets it. They don't make computers big and fast enough to break that encryption, not without help.
"That all, Boss?"
"Almost. I'm thinking of spiffing up out cybersecurity. We've got that mirror site in place right now, and what I want to do is make a fully functional version, with all of our files. I want file names, dates, and who is on them encrypted, tough but not unbreakable, and then I want all of the details in those files to be encrypted piles of random numbers and letters."
Atherson smiles. Anyone who breaks the first layer will assume they've got a dual encryption going. He laughs at McGee's idea. "You are sick."
"Thank you!" Tim nods, smiling. "Once we've got the full mirror up and in place, are you set to handle that?"
"It'll take me less than a day to write the scripts…" He pauses and thinks. "You just want me to do the encryption, right? Someone else is handling the script that produces a mirror file for every real one?" Tim nods. His crew in DC will handle that. "Just promise me, if anyone does get into it, that you'll make sure I get logs of the back tracking so I can see them try to break it." Atherson is grinning at that idea.
"Oh yeah. That'll be fun to watch. Trust me, we get someone take a whack at it, it'll be movie night for NCIS Cybercrime world over."
Atherson laughs at that. 'I'll bring the popcorn."
"Thank you, Atherson."
"No problem, Boss."
Tim logs off from that and then calls up his Mexico City team. No one answers and he realizes he should have checked the time there. It's… no they're only an hour behind, so... He double checks. He's only got two guys out of Mexico City, and they're on shift together, from about 10:00 to 14:00 and from 18:00 to 22:00. Interesting schedule, must have built in siesta time. But so far it's working.
He sends an email to them asking for facetime once they get in.
Then it's back to his email backlog.

999 emails to read
999 emails
Open one up, deal with the muck
999 email to read
He swears the damn things are coming in just as fast as he's dealing with them. It's occurring to him that part of being able to get through with his back log was doing nothing but emails, but part of it was also that no one was sending him anything of any substance. But as of Tuesday, he's really back, which means that, in addition to requisitions for staples, he's also getting case work, thorny code issues, and requests for 'opinions' (aka, please tell me what to do) on sticky cases.
It feels good. Sisyphean, but this is the hill he wants to be rolling a boulder up. (At least now, in a week or two the shine may wear off.)
He's absently rubbing his ankle, reading over a request from one of his Techs in the Seattle Office for how to translate what he just did so the Agent in charge understands and is able to use the information he's found, let alone get the right stuff for him once he's out again, when it hits him how much he's not hurting right now (only a mild ache in his foot and shoulder), and apparently the combination of light work and adequate sleep is very good for keeping his brain off of his body.
Another hour after that he gets face time with Valenz and Droit, his agents in Mexico City.
"What have you found?"
Valenz, who judging by both accent and skin tone, actually is Mexican, replies, "Lots and lots of data, but nothing useful, yet."
"1024 bit encryption?" Tim asks.
Droit, a woman in her early twenties, shakes her head. "Word files."
Tim stares at them. "Word? Word for Windows?"
They both nod, looking forlorn.
Valenz adds, "None of them are less than a thousand pages long, they're just blocks of random numbers and letters. No spacing. No punctuation. No paragraphs. Just millions of characters."
"Some sort of code?"
Droit shrugs. "Maybe. Since it's in Word we can't even use our usual tools on it. Right now we're trying to get them into a form the computer can mess with."
Tim nods, not like you can give the computer a .docx and tell it to decrypt.
"Um…" He's thinking. While he does write on his typewriter, he also writes on his computer for any sort of second or third drafts and all of his editing, and he knows Word inside and out. "Okay, so, either you produce your information, encrypt it, and then…" He winces. His computer geek wants to scream at this, and the writer is appalled at the work involved. "God, this is messy… Cut and paste it into Word. Which version is it?"
"Word 2015."
"Newest version. Give me a second." He pulls his version of it up and fiddles around. "Okay, open one of the files."
He sees Valenz and Droit focus on the screen, and Droit's hand moving over the keyboard. "Top of the page, see all those options on the toolbar?"
Droit nods. It's similar, but not identical to Open Office, which is the software his team is using. (Tim prefers Word for writing novels. He doesn't write novels at work, usually. His employees really don't write novels at work. Switching to shareware software for anything he didn't absolutely need the licensed version of saved his budget 500k a year in licensing fees. He's fine to swap that out for a bit less functionality.)
"See the 'Review' tab?"
More nodding.
"Go to versions." At the very least, the versions tab will show him what changes happened between saves, and if everything was uploaded all at once, he'll be able to see that, too. "Open the most recent version, open the version before that." He's half waiting for Droit (who's doing this) to say there aren't any other versions, but she's clicking away. "Okay, save both of them with different names." He waits a few more seconds. "Over to compare." He uses that all the time when he's writing for his edits. It's an easy way for him to merge two versions of the story into each other. "Put both versions up, and let's see how different they are."
They all wait, Compare takes a while on big blocks of text, and this is supposed to be thousands of pages long. After ten minutes of heel cooling, he sees his tech's faces light up, smiles spreading wide. "What?"
"Lots of letters are popping up as different between the newer version and the old one," Valenz says. His eyes are skimming over the screen.
"It's in Spanish, one letter at a time, but no code beyond being buried in this. A meeting place and time."
Droit adds, "Maybe fifteen words buried in thousands of pages of text."
Tim's thinking that's actually a clever way to hide a text. A book code of sorts. As long as you had the base document to compare it to, you could hide whatever you wanted in it and it'd be impossible for anyone to find. And unlike a book code, you've actually got to know your way around the software in question to find the cipher.
Tim's smiling as he says, "Dig the good stuff out and let us know what's going on. You're up to date on the fact that the CIA's read into this, too, right?" He catches some less-than-perfectly professional eye rolls between his techs and sympathizes. "Yeah, I know, it'd be a lot more fun to 'share' everything we know and just give them the raw files, and let them stew until someone figures out how to use Word, but sooner or later we'll want them to be nice to us, so suck it up and hand it over."
"On it, Boss."

"Hi, Ziva." Tim looks up from his computer as Ziva heads into his office. It hits him that he texted Tony hours ago and hadn't yet heard back. "Everything okay?"
"Yes, McGee. Tony sent me a text. He'd apparently just gotten one from you, but right now he and Bishop are in Kazakhstan."
"Because why wouldn't they be?" Phew, he breathes out, happy his part of this case is keeping him nice and comfy in DC. "So, I guess you want the heads up?"
"That would be nice."
"Pull up a chair. It's good."
Ziva nods and sits next to Tim.
"First off, those chips in…"
"Yeah. They have the encryption of the gods on them. Without help, there is no way to break them." Though he had sent Atherson a heads up to compare the encrypted files to each other to see if possibly there was a similar sort of code that they were using with the Word docs. He knows that it's a beyond long shot that they'd use the exact same encryption on the almost same base documents and end up with a letter for letter comparable text, but, in that they're getting precisely nowhere without the key, it was worth a shot. "No news back on that, yet. However, if you've got anything, or the CIA has anything they think might be an encryption key, or part of a key, we need it."
Ziva's paying attention, looking through her notes. Back when they did just plain murders she could keep it all in her head, but with cases like these, where there are hundreds of actors moving through years' worth of data, she needs notes.
"I'm not seeing anything listed as a key."
"Okay. It's worth keeping an eye open for, and if CIA has tech guys with more data, it's worth pressing them to see if they can find anything."
She nods and makes a note of that.
"Next part, how many Word files have you run into?"
That does seem to trigger something for Ziva. Her eyes light up. "A lot of them. They're sending emails back and forth to each other with these files on them. CIA has been over them with a fine tooth comb, and they know there has to be something there, but not what." She's flipping through data pages on her phone. "Like this one. A Word document with 400 pages of the New York City phone book on it. CIA thinks it's a book code, but they haven't found the matching cipher, yet."
"That one's older isn't it?"
Ziva nods.
"They figured out some new tricks. Anything that matches something else, something you can check… Okay, this is going to be boring, take a lot of time, and probably not get you any information you haven't already figured out, but here's how it works. Someone scanned in the New York City Phone book. Then they went through and just added letters and numbers to spell out whatever it is. To anyone looking for a code it'll look like typos. Anyone who has the real version scanned in can use Word, which has a compare feature, to compare the old version to the new version, and it'll light up all the changes.
"Now, the ones that my guys pulled out of Mexico City are blocks of random numbers and letters. Nothing you can compare to, unless you've got the original, or they've written them on Word 2015, and you know how to use the Versioning Tool."
"So, you are saying that I need a herd of interns to scan documents so we can compare, and the secretarial staff to start going through any of the new ones we've got?"
"Unless you want to do it yourself."
For a moment Ziva looks overwhelmed, and the she smiles. "You know, I think this looks like a job for all of those students at Quantico."
Tim has an evil smile on his face, too. "I'd think that pulling a class of CIA wannabes off training and making them scan documents seems like a fine way for them to grasp the truly grueling nature of spy work and how remarkably unglamorous this whole thing can be."
Ziva's getting up when it hits Tim that he's got no idea how the actual case from upstairs is going. "So, you guys have your shooters?"
She shakes her head. "That's why they're in Kazakhstan."
"Your shooters ran there?" Okay, yeah, it's probably a good place to hide out, but McGee wouldn't ever want to be there. From what he knows about the place, ever since it lit up in civil war back in early '15 it makes Afghanistan look like a garden spot.
"No. Or at least, we do not think so. We think the shooters may be in Belize. The CIA and the Mexican Federales are tracking them along with the Local LEOs in Belize. The explosives that were taken from the site of the shooting ended up being used in Kazakhstan ten hours after the shooting."
"Why would the personal secretary of the main Mexican Diplomat have explosives in his possession? And what the hell were they flying to get them there so fast?"
Ziva sighs. "And this is why I will now take a quick and easy murder any day of the week over one of these."

I love you, McGeek! Pops up on Tim's phone a few hours later.
Got cell service, I see. Tim writes back.
For the next five seconds. Bishop's been complaining about those damn Word documents since we got this case dropped in our laps four months ago. Everyone knew there was something up with them. No one could find what. CIA has whole teams of cryptographers going through everything we found trying to find the ciphers for those damn things.
Glad it's useful. Mexico City's team is handing over everything it can find. Can you get me in touch with whoever's in charge of Cryptography at CIA on this case? I've got my own specialist and some really encrypted stuff from your victim.
Sure. Okay, moving again.
Stay safe, Tony!
No problem.

Ever since last summer, Tim has (and this is putting it mildly) not been the CIA's biggest fan. And apparently, as he's dealing with this CIA cryptography asshole with a chip the size of a nuclear submarine on his shoulder, the feeling is mutual.
"Look, it's a simple question; have you guys found anything that is or might be an encryption key?"
"I'm really not authorized to share that information with you," CryptoAsshole says, smirk in his voice. "You are not read into this operation."
The first response, which Tim bites down before it gets out of his mouth, is that if this fucker ever wants to get a look at what he's got on those five chips, let alone what comes out of Mexico City, he better damn well get read into this op, as of the day before yesterday when his team found them a functional terror hub with all of the computers intact and in play.
He's feeling pretty proud of biting that back because that means he's not screwing up Tony's delicately balanced team of alliances.
The second response, which actually goes get out of his mouth, is this: "If I'm not cleared for this information, why do I know you're the person to talk to about it, what precisely it is I need from you, and what exactly I need to do with it?"
"I wouldn't know, Agent—"
CryptoAsshole is very clearly not impressed by Tim's level. He might have just as well proclaimed himself director of a local pre-school. "Director McGee, but I can't be too careful. Once I get the OK from my higher ups, I'll answer the question. Until then, I don't know you, I don't know your agency, and I don't know anything about this case you're asking about."
Tim hangs up. "Asshole." Now would be a really great time to have a secretary, because he'd love to say, 'Get me the head of CIA Cryptography,' but there's no one but him to go about getting this person. Instead he scoots his phone over an inch and starts typing.CryptoAsshole won't talk to me.
Ha! When did you get good with nicknames? I call him Smithers. He gets back from Tony eight minutes later.
If you're ever in a room with him and his boss, he's right out of the Simpsons.
So, his boss is Mr. Burns?
Pretty much.
Don't want to upset your apple cart. Want me to go hardass on his Boss's Boss? Or you want to handle it?
Boss's Boss?
Think Leon's going to be happy if I tell him some CIA pissant won't give me the encryption key I need and is claiming he can't because I'm not read in. Next step on my side is to have a chat with the Director of Cryptography at CIA.
(Laughing) Let me make a few calls. Yes, I'd love to see the look on Smithers' face, but I want them to keep playing nice with me. Give me an hour, let me see what I can pry loose.
Okay. How's it going on your side?
Sifting through debris, body parts, and explosive residue. Mostly Bishop and I are making sure someone who knows how to handle a crime scene is keeping an eye on things. Hope to be home with a pile of forensic evidence tomorrow morning.
You know, I don't miss that, at all.
Yeah, I could handle a bit less hot, dry, dusty middle of nowhere, everyone hates us, body armor chafing from the sweat, you're afraid to take a step for fear of ending up with someone's liver on your shoe, and only catching cat naps sitting up riding/flying between stops.
Ugh. Tim's having vivid flashbacks to Afghanistan and how much he did not enjoy that trip. How many died?
Not sure. At least six.
Yeah, I know. Bishops looks ready to puke, and I'm sure Flyboy wouldn't be doing any better.
Tim nods, staring at his phone. He can remember his first meat puzzle case. Not good at all.
Just got an email from your guys in Mexico City. Tim's computer just chimed, too. Time to do some reading.
Yep. Me, too.
If you don't have what you need from CIA by… 20:00 feel free to go hard ass on their Cryptography department.

An hour later, his computer chirps to let him know someone wants face time. It's Atherson.
He's smiling. "I don't know how you did it, but I've got a key in my inbox."
Tim smiles back, shaking his head. "Not me. Agent Tony DiNozzo and the miracle of how charm, a smooth delivery, a talent for BS, and a spine of steel works wonders for inter-agency cooperation."
"Good. There's a ton of stuff here, and it's late. I'm setting it up, making sure the guys in Okinawa," where it's morning and not almost (or way past) quitting time "keep an eye on it so there're no surprises."
"Sounds great. Have a good night, you've earned it."
"'Night, Boss."
He grabs his phone again and fires off. Got key. Prepare for massive data dump in the morning, to Tony. Tim checks his computer, it's a bit after five. Abby should be down soon. Heading home soon. Ortho appt. in the morning.
Heading home tomorrow morning, your time. Get in early Saturday morning. Monday morning get together and debrief?
Sounds good.

"You look really tired and really satisfied," Abby says, leaning against the door to his office.
Once he put his phone down and realized he was done for the day, Tim started to crash.
He nods, beat. He really should have gotten a nap this afternoon, but until two minutes ago he hadn't noticed he needed one. "Good day. I love my job!"
"Well, come on, let's wrap it up with a good night." She heads in, wraps her arm around him, gives him a kiss, and he slowly lurches up. They head off, him leaning heavily on her, and she holds his crutch.
As they're heading out, Brand is snoozing on the sofa.
"That's your new cyberbaby, right?"
He nods, and sees she's looking chilled, all curled up on the sofa in a little ball. Tim grabs the blanket that's on the back of the sofa and tucks her in.
He straightens up, noticing she didn't even move when he did that. "Sound sleeper."
Abby nods. "Um… I saw her when I dropped lunch off on Tuesday. Is she wearing the same outfit?"
Tim looks at Brand. He can't tell what she's wearing anymore, because she's covered now, but, best he can remember she is wearing the same outfit, and she's been here the whole time he's been around. He can see her hair is looking pretty greasy, and… he inhales… yeah, she's a bit whiffy, too. It's a much milder version of a smell that immediately pulls him back to grad-school. Hacker that's been on a coding-binge. On the upside, she's a teen girl, instead of a teen guy, who, in his memory, tend to smell so bad after three days they can knock a person out.
He gently shakes her shoulder. "Teenage hacker with no set hours overdoes it, alert the media."
Abby smirks at that.
"Brand, come on, wake up. You gotta go home."
"Mrghm." She flails a hand at him. "Too tired."
"Come on, get up. I'll drive you home. Well, Abby will."
"Mmm?" He hasn't introduced Abby, and Brand doesn't know who that is.
"Abby, Mrs. McGee, my wife. I haven't been driving since I got hurt, and I'm not starting tonight. Come on, get up. You need real food, real sleep, and a shower."
Brand sits up slowly, glaring at him, teen whininess and coding funk radiating off her skin. She's about to complain when the part of her brain that knows who she's talking to (namely her boss and not her parents) snaps into the front of her head, and she blushes hard.
"I'm fine. I don't need to go home."
Abby picks up what's going on before Tim does. "Home's kind of spooky and lonely all on your own, isn't it?"
Brand rolls her eyes, but nods.
"Okay, you're coming home with us. We've got a guest room, bed's made up. Come home, have something to eat, and crash. Your place'll be a lot more comfortable when you're not running on empty."
Brand stands up slowly, shuffles back to her desk, looking like she's sleep walking, grabs her purse, and Abby leads her tired man, and his tired tech, to their car.
Brand's awake enough to say, "Cool car," but she's pretty much asleep again by the time Abby's got the car in gear.
Abby chuckles at this as they head home. "Gibbs did this for me. First major case on my own, running my own lab. It was the dead of winter, snow on the ground, and I'd never driven in it before, never seen more than an inch of it in real life. We'd been working the case for three straight days, and I was dead on my feet. He took me home, tucked me in on the sofa, and made sure I got fed in the morning. Only time I ever saw Stephanie look like she approved of something he had done."
"I didn't know you knew him when he was married."
"Only saw them together a few times. They were usually fighting then."
"Is that how he adopted you?"
"Step one." She checks Brand in the rear view mirror; she's dead asleep in the back seat. "We adopting a teenage hacker?"
Tim chuckles at that. The idea that he's old enough to be the father figure to someone out of diapers is vastly amusing to him. "Maybe. Let's see how it goes."


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