Sam took a sip, tasting the bitter coffee, willing the warmth to calm her nerves. The window in front of her looked out on a sidewalk filled with people dodging raindrops. On the road beyond, cars sped past, windshield wipers on full power.
She chose this spot because it was quiet and low-key. Not too much noise. Coffee was coffee. No one asked for frilly drinks full of sugar and milk.
Unfortunately, the coffee wasn’t exactly helping. She had never before agreed to meet someone she’d met over Tor in person, but it was necessary. Normally she’d be doing standard government contracts. During a recent job, she’d found information that chilled her to the bone. She felt compelled to figure out what was going on, but she needed help.
This man she was to meet, who went by Spyder on the dark0de forums, had a reputation for being one of the best. He wanted something valuable in return for his services. She had already installed a backdoor into a Chinese data center for another job, so she encrypted the login information and sent it to him. For him to decrypt the information, he needed access to the secret key she’d created for the job. She had it in her pocket on a piece of paper, encrypted with Spyder’s PGP public key. Only he could decrypt it.
Her coffee cup sat empty in front of her, and she was now both nervous and jittery. She pulled out the only thing that would truly calm her — her pocket knife. She spun it around discreetly under her chair, the way her father had taught her. The weight was familiar and comforting.
A hand touched her shoulder, and she spun around, knife hidden but ready to use. A man with dark hair stood before her, carrying a green military-style backpack.
“Coffee in the rain,” he said. It was the code phrase she’d included in a message to him, to prove to her it was him.
“Yeah, it’s ugly out there,” she responded. It was the phrase he’d given her. “Nice to meet you, Spyder.”
“Same to you, Raven.”
She dug around in her pocket for the piece of paper, and handed it to him. He took it, looked it over, stuffed it in his own pocket, and sat down in front of her. The rain poured down outside in the window behind him. The neon sign from the coffee shop reflected in his face, turning it slightly orange.
“Now, what is it you want help with? Can we talk here?”
“It’s secluded enough, yes. I’ve… been doing some government contracting, and found something troubling. I want help discovering what’s really going on.”
“What is it?”
She leaned in and spoke softly. “I discovered some encrypted email communication between Google and some high-ranking government officials. Our government’s being blackmailed for power. All that data we trust them with… our e-mails, browser history, location history, text messages… they’re using it for their own means. The government started PRISM to counter Google’s effort. A war has just begun, and we are all pawns.”
“That’s a serious accusation if you’re speaking the truth.”
“I can send you proof. It’s real. I need to get to the bottom of this, without alerting anyone I work for. I don’t want Google to find out I discovered this.”
He looked at her silently for nearly a solid minute, appearing to think. She held her breath, suddenly scared he wouldn’t follow through.
Finally, he nodded. “Send me the information and I’ll send out some feelers to people I know that could help you.”
Relief washed over her, calming her enough to slip the knife she still held in her hand back into her pocket.
“Keep in touch.” He stood up and left abruptly, apparently not one for small talk.
Sam relaxed into her chair and stared into the rain again, watching people pass. It was starting to get dark now, and the crowd on the street was thinning. Hoods and umbrellas obscured peoples’ faces like ghosts. She’d been feeling so alone lately. This information had been hanging over her head for weeks now, and she finally was able to not only make progress, but share the emotional load. The small triumph made her smile.
She stood up and left the café, pulling up her hood to shield herself from the rain, becoming another ghost on the street.