The coffee in my go mug was already cold when I left my apartment, so although I made pretty good time, considering the morning traffic, I was now 20 minutes grumpier before even getting out of the car. Spring was still struggling in, and I snugged my hat down so the chill breeze wouldn’t get the chance to play keep away as I trudged up to the entrance of the precinct. The door was hardly closing behind me when my mood took another hit when the desk sergeant said, “Captain’s looking for you.” I grunted something that would have sounded like ‘thanks’ if I had the right amount of coffee in me and made for the elevator.
Captain Barry, my loving boss, is the toughest 5 feet 6 inches in all of the NYPD, let alone the ITSM Division I call home, so even though I had to walk right past the coffee to get to his office, stopping for a fill up did not occur to me. Well, maybe for a half second, until he spotted me and shouted, “Michael! Get your overdue butt in here!”
I managed not to look over at the beckoning caffeine as I traversed the remaining distance to enter Barry’s office, not surprised to see my partner, Kim Stuart, already in there. The third person was another story. Without preamble, the Captain said, “This is ADA Heidi James. She asked for my best ITSM detectives for something sensitive. Usually, that is you two.” Ouch.
“I was contacted yesterday evening and given some disturbing news,” Ms. James began. “I need a quiet investigation to determine if I should pursue it further, so I asked the caller to come here this morning and relate his story to you.”
While I raised an eyebrow, my partner said, “We can do quiet. Who are we talking with?”
The ADA looked at the Captain, who said flatly, “Eytol Bestpractice.”
I actually stopped thinking about coffee for a moment. Mr. Bestpractice is ITSM old guard; it made sense the prosecutor wanted some discretion. But she had an even bigger bombshell to relay.
“In a press conference yesterday, Mr. Bestpractice was accused of conspiracy and fraud, by the CIO of ProVyd-All, Devlyn Ops.”
Terrific. Relatively new to the community, Mr. Ops had recently become a household name in ITSM. I had to agree it sounded odd, as Devlyn Ops had always professed to be a fan of Eytol’s guidance. I was really missing that coffee.
Tuesday, 08:32 am
After another 15 minutes discussion, my partner and I headed down the hall to the “guest room”, where we found two people waiting. That only meant one thing, confirmed a moment later when the younger, flashier one stood up from his seat at the table and announced, “Chris Kaimar, Axelos; I’m representing Mr. Bestpractice.”
So much for cooperating, I thought. But then, old Eytol smiled and said, “Take a seat, Chris. I want to help.”
I’ll say this for him; he had a presence. His suit was about ten years out of date, but he still managed to look dignified, and somehow, relevant. His voice was full of quiet confidence. With a nod to my partner, we sat down across from the odd pair.
I decided to play it straight. “Look,” I began, “how about you just give us your side? Nice and simple, okay?”
With a side glance toward his legal rep, who sat back and looked both miffed and resigned, Eytol began telling us his story.
“About 6 months ago I went in to assist ProVyd-All, at their request, to look at improving ITSM practices in a number of areas. They provide applications development and IT services, and while they were doing fine, their CIO, Devlyn Ops, felt that they could do much more if I were to work with his team. Everything was going very well, until a couple of months ago, when we began introducing change management. Small things at first, like strange fluctuations in some key metrics, but despite investigating and mitigating various problems we kept losing ground. Finally, about a month ago, Devlyn – who had become very strange himself – ordered me out. Then yesterday I saw his press conference about his company’s ultra-secret software release this Friday, in which he made his accusations about me while stating this release would show the world I was a fake. That is when I decided to come in to talk with you.” Picking up the bottled water in front of him, he took a small sip, set the bottle down, and again, smiled.
I believed him. Don’t get me wrong; it isn’t like those attempting to follow Eytol’s guidance had always been successful in the past, often missing the mark while trying to implement rather than adopt and adapt. But this was different. I’ve been in this game a long time, and the guy was telling the truth. We spent another couple of hours going over some records Eytol brought, and we were more than convinced. “Thanks for coming in, gentlemen,” I said at last, standing. “We’ll look into this.”
Friday, 01:24 pm
After conferring again with Barry and the ADA, we spent the last half of Wednesday and all of Thursday investigating on site at ProVyd-All, and in reviewing records and talking with some of the operations staff, it was there. Missed targets, lost goals, etc. But so was something else: fear. Though the people we spoke to gave us the right answers – the expected answers – to our questions, you could feel the anxiety radiating from them. Even stranger, we never laid eyes on a developer, though Devlyn’s admin assured us she was arranging for that; they were “…just so busy finishing for Friday”. Something was indeed going on, but we couldn’t nail it down.
But now we sat with the man himself, Devlyn Ops, arrayed in a $3000 suit in his richly appointed office; not what I expected from what I had heard of the guy. And the more he talked – which he did without pause for a solid ten minutes – the odder he seemed.
“Eytol’s ideas are far behind our current needs,” he finally told us. “The more we tried to implement his methods, the clearer it became they would not work for us. I had to tell the old Greek enough was enough.”
And that was the last nail. “Actually,” I said, “he’s British.” I watched closely for the reaction, and the slightest twitch crossed his face, only for a moment.
He smiled thinly, then said, “I’m sorry detectives. I have to head up to the roof for the launch party. Feel free to attend.” He all but gave us a back-handed wave.
We stood up, dismissed, and made our way to the elevators. As the doors closed Kim asked, “What was all that?”
“Maybe everything,” I replied. “Think about it. All the records we reviewed showed signs that there was something deliberate about the failures. The operations people act like rabbits in a fox den. Devlyn Ops was always a supporter of Eytol, but now he seems clueless about him and his framework. This might sound a little conspiracy theory, but I don’t think that is Devlyn Ops.”
“I hate to admit it,” she said, “but I actually agree. But it’s going to be hell to prove; everything we have is circumstantial.”
The doors opened and we stepped into the parking garage. “Possibly,” I said. “But sometimes an obvious solution presents itself.” Walking right toward us, flanked by two guys that were card carrying goon squad members, was a much scruffier version of the man we had left 16 floors above us.
Kim and I drew at the same time. “The ground,” I said. “Don’t make me ask twice.”
They didn’t. Backup arrived within five minutes.
Friday, 02:47 pm
Conspiracy did not begin to cover it.
“His name is Noah,” the real Devlyn Ops had told us. “I didn’t know he existed until a few months ago, when he showed up at my home with his pals. He had me brought here to witness his ‘achievement’ – thank God the private elevator didn’t work! He has everything programmed to launch from the ProVyd-All cloud at three o’clock today. He has this crazy vision that computers should run themselves, without any operations control, and within an hour he had me convinced he had come up with the code to do it. I wouldn’t go along with him, so these guys have kept me a prisoner in my own home all this time. I know it sounds insane, all AI sci-fi, but he proved it. He ran a model for me that showed how he could exploit a zero day he found that would basically turn everything on the internet into one neural network that results in an AGI that…”
I held up a hand and said, “I get it. End of the world, etc. Do you know how to stop him?”
He grinned, which actually looked a little scary. “I have something he would not think of: people. You have a cell phone?”
Twenty minutes later we (Devlyn, Kim, me, and four SWAT officers) stepped onto the rooftop and into the party. I had the SWAT team flank our Bond villain host, who had just taken the stage. Noah’s grin as he saw us was actually much creepier than Devlyn’s.
“You’re too late,” he shouted. “Everything is automated, and unlike the movies, I didn’t design a kill switch. In just minutes humanity will take its proper position in this world!”
I shook my head. “Wow,” I said, “drama. You’re under arrest, Noah. You have the right to remain silent; do us a favor and use it.”
Devlyn stepped up and said, “I had my operations guys invoke my total shutdown protocol, for use in case we ever were hacked. No hardware, no power – no cloud.”
Noah’s frustration was palpable. He thought about jumping, and I thought about letting him. In the end though, the green dots on his chest won out, and SWAT hauled him off to what I hoped would be a really deep hole. “C’mon partner,” I said. “I could really use a coffee – with a double bourbon shot.”
It was the end of a day a bit more exciting than average in ITSM – but not by much.
What? A consultant can’t dream a little?