A/N I own neither of these shows. Sure wish I did! I'm aware that some of the backstory for Person of Interest may change as the show continues to dribble out clues about things. I'm working with the most recent information I have.
Pixels in the Night
This is how boring Penelope Garcia's night had been so far: When an acquaintance sent her a dumb joke (it involved tits and sausage) with a completely lame punchline, accent on the PUN ("It was the breast of times, it was the wurst of times"), she actually hit Reply and typed lol, good one carla, rather than just sighing, "Oh, cripes," and slamming her right ring finger down hard on the Delete key.
Her Team was off in Biloxi, Mississippi, and safely bedded down for the night. Kevin had left an hour ago for the night shift in White Collar Crime. The laundry was done and folded; the putting-away could wait for morning.
What she wanted to do, she could not do until close to midnight.
She checked her computer's clock for the fourteenth time. 11:34.
What people tended to forget about Garcia, perhaps misled by her troll dolls, plush animals, and silly toys, wearing her big heart on her brightly hued sleeve, was that she was genuinely dangerous.
She had proved so valuable and so dedicated at her job that she had actually become an active part of the Team, presenting cases, even interviewing some tech-savvy victims and suspects. Alone of all the FBI's technical analysts, she had her own Kevlar vest and had been known to enter a hot crime scene to negotiate with a suspect. She was passionate about her job and passionate about justice.
This was in spite of the fact that, like Frank Abagnale, she had been given a choice: Work for us, or spend your life in a federal prison. Penelope Garcia had, in her early twenties, been one of the four most dangerous hackers in the world.
In the world.
The powers-that-be had expressed gratitude that she was working on their side.
She knew that the aforementioned powers were monitoring all telephone calls, all email, potentially the billions of GPS pings per second that cell phones, PDAs—everything portable and digital—emitted all day, every day. She knew that it was getting harder and harder to avoid showing up on any surveillance cameras, which had become ubiquitous.
She didn't get all Big-Brother-y about it; her attitude was, Great, you have the data. Good luck trying to sort it all out, let alone analyze it.
It would take some kind of freaking genius to do it, and it would take years.
So it was out there, all that data, probably lumped into general categories like Dayton Ohio cell phones 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM, and slammed into folders unread like some digital version of the hoarders she saw on cable TV.
For Garcia, it was a game, partly the joy of a puzzle and partly the pride of a wild western gunfighter. Build your uncrackable database and I will crack it. Construct your impermeable firewall and I will permeate it, baby; I will dance right through it…just to show you—and myself—that I can.
So when she sensed the presence of a massive database sucking up input from just about everywhere, a database with industrial-strength firewalls, she obviously also sensed the challenge. The fact that the massive database was almost certainly the property of the NSA, one of the organizations keeping her employed, did nothing to dissuade her from trying her best to punch just a little bitty hole in it, just to prove that she could.
Something happened around midnight every night, something that teased at her inner hacker, that told her she was a layer closer to what she sought.
Time check: 11:47 PM.
She tapped in a few commands.
Game on, dudes.
~ o ~
New York City
The older man removed his glasses. He rubbed his eyes, massaged his temples, and sighed. He took a sip of tea, now grown cool, but still flavorful. He was exhausted, but obsessively he checked one last time. He sighed, studied his computer monitor, and typed in another command.
Officially, his surname was "Finch," and since the only person he had permitted to get anywhere nearly close to him only knew his first name from another of his identities, as "Harold," he accepted that from him rather than try to correct him, which would just send him guessing again…and John Reese was a very good guesser. So, OK, he was "Harold Finch." He could live with that.
In another life, with another name—and he'd had, he still had, dozens of names—he had been considered, well, a freaking genius. Over the space of several years, he had designed and built The Machine, a massive program capable of not only gathering all data from email, from blogs, from cell phone usage, from constant GPS pings from a billion users, but also sorting through that tsunami of data, matching it up with face-recognition software, and then analyzing it. It was an impossibly huge program, some aspects of it still technically in beta phase, now running on some impossibly huge multi-acre server farm somewhere, churning out security threats and identifying potential terrorists on a moment by-moment basis.
Only eight people outside a very small cadre within the Agency had known of The Machine's existence, and only one of them knew that he had built it. All of them were dead—the man whom people believed to have been the creator, and all of his associates—and all in manners that were believable. A heart attack here, an auto accident there. A suicide. A stroke. All so sad, so tragic. So credible.
The powers-that-be had seen to that, had recognized the danger of some damn civilian surrendering its secrets, either for profit or under duress. They had anticipated the shitstorm of outrage that would erupt if its existence were to become known to the general public.
But the man whose closest associate knew him as Harold Finch was about the most paranoid sonofabitch you were likely to find, in this world or any other.
Which was why regardless of his first name, Finch would remain Finch, and the man that he had once been would remain dead, lest the Agency discover that not only had it missed the most critical civilian to wipe out, but he had managed to take most of his billions with him. If they found that he was still alive, they would have the assassination done again, and this time they would get it right.
He typed in a few more commands and moved closer, in terms of cyberspace, to the outer limits of The Machine. Somebody—somebody frighteningly good—had been sniffing around his little back door to The Machine lately. Not often, just once or twice, but the appearance had troubled him. Like many natural-born programmers, he had started as a hacker. He recognized the intruder's moves as those of someone who would not give up, just because.
When his only friend, the assassin, had claimed that a certain crime had been carried out in a certain manner, and he knew that because that's how I would have done it, Finch accepted that easily. He felt the same way about his hacker problem. He knew what he or she would do, because that's how—and why—he would have done it.
Midnight was fast approaching.
There it was. Someone had access to a peripheral file area adjacent to the NSA feed. It wasn't inside, far from it, but still closer than he wanted anyone to get to figuring out how much was there.
While he scrambled to identify the intruder's IP address, he moved to meet the intruder on his own terms. He entered a few characters, opening up a tiny dialog box—a little program of his own design—next to his command prompt and over to the right a bit. He chose the letters VoD, standing for Voice of Doom (an old in-joke), as his identifier. Only he and the intruder could see it. If they really wanted to read the dialog box they could access it.
$Z ^ Open di_LOG3.04
user=VoD says: Go away
To his surprise, rather than fleeing backward or charging forward, the intruder selected the option to provide a name for himself…or herself, of course. But most hackers were male. It was an aggressive drive, a masculine behavior.
user=just_me says: why?
That was just as well, since it gave him more time to trace the intruder's IP address, and he was racing against the clock here.
user=VoD says: Doesn't matter. Just go.
The intruder evidently wanted to play. Fine. He almost had the creep now, and he was running out of time. His fingers flew.
user=just_me says: does matter. why?
user=VoD says: Go. Now. It isn't safe for you.
After only a slight hesitation, user=just_me left the area.
That instant's hesitation gave Finch, who had never lost his hacker chops, the opportunity to complete a connection that startled the living hell out of him. He almost forgot to check for any number (there was none tonight) that The Machine might leak to him.
He sat there for several minutes staring at his screen and sipping cold tea, trying to make sense out of what he saw there.
What on earth am I to make of this?
~ o ~
Washington, D. C.
Well, that was weird.
Penelope decided to call it a night with things computer-related. She backed out of all her programs and set the machine to go into defrag mode in her absence.
Then she shrugged into a faux-fur jacket, grabbed her purse and her phone and her tablet and headed out into the night for a four-block walk, at the end of which would be a double caramel frappuccino at Longtime Louie's.
She still was not quite sure why she left the area when VoD warned her off. In part, of course, because nobody had ever, ever opened up a dialog box and warned her off anything before. That the warning had been crisp and precise, punctuated, proper use of caps, and completely free of even common contractions on networking sites (Not safe 4 u, for instance) had triggered instant interpretations of "mature adult" and "professional." Both of those identifiers tended to suggest the the speaker knew what he/she was talking about.
Once she was snuggled into a corner of a booth at a pretty-much-empty Louie's, tablet out and hooked in to the wi-fi, she started in with the rest of the questions.
What was that little app that VoD had opened up? And what the hell did VoD stand for? The lower-case "o" was almost certainly "of," as in, for example, Department of Defense. Legion of Doom. Prisoner of Azkaban. Lords of Discipline.
The "D" had to be Death, Danger, Doom, Destruction, Defiance—something intended as threatening. But the "V"? Vigilantes, maybe. Or Vampires. Vampires were big then, although zombies were bigger. Vipers. Victors. Vassals. Virgins.
The Virgins of Destruction.
Oh, you definitely need to call it a night, girl...